Sunsetting: the art of ending ambiguous relationships

If you’ve ever wanted to see a man ugly cry, you should’ve seen me on the LA Metro last summer.

The wave of emotion hit me after I sunsetted yet another relationship.

We met at a park to say goodbye in person.
We weren’t a couple, so it didn’t feel like a breakup.
But it wasn’t nothing either.

Modern dating is full of gray zones. Between casual and serious, “situationships” sit in the middle. These are the most ambiguous to end – if you even care to end it.

Maybe the two of you met while traveling.
Or someone has to move far away.
Or simply that both of you had a great time, and things just ran its course.

Whatever it was, it didn’t last. But it was emotionally significant.

Since I started online dating, I’ve been in a lot more situationships than I care to count.

For the ones that mattered, it felt wrong to do nothing.

So I decided that if I had an emotionally significant experience with someone, then I was going to honor the connection that we had.

Instead of calling it a breakup, which implies a level of connection that doesn’t match the level of a situationship, I call it a sunset.

In the product management field, to sunset a product is to end it gracefully.

Within the realm of contracts, a sunset provision means that something will no longer be in effect after a certain date or event has transpired.

To sunset a relationship is to honor it, and also bring it to a definitive conclusion.

The Benefits of Sunsetting Situationships

I started the practice of sunsetting in the wake of being ghosted by someone I was head over heels with.

We had a great time. We had a great connection. She disappeared.

It made me question… what was I to her? Did what we have mean anything?

And it gave me the karmic clarity to never make someone else go through that mental agony.

Sunsetting was my way of preempting the question: Did I mean anything to you?

Every sunsetting has gone better than I expected. A first time response:

Thank you for giving a damn.

And another:

“I’m really glad we did that instead of just texting.”

What’s more is that taking the time to gently lay down a relationship – even an ambiguous one – has created the space and closure I needed to move on to the next relationship.

Don’t be sad that it’s over. Be happy that it happened.

For the glass-half-full types (I love you), sunsetting relationships has helped me focus on the positive –  celebrate that something beautiful has happened.

While ghosting leaves a bad taste in the mouth, sunsetting feels like blowing out the candles on a relationship cake. The gratitude that follows was always worth the discomfort of doing it.

How to sunset a relationship

I’ve sunsetted relationships over the phone, on social media, written letters, and lawd have mercy – in person.

It doesn’t really matter. Sunsetting is more about the intent than the delivery method.

Tell the person what you enjoyed with them.
Tell them you appreciated their time and attention.

It could even be something vague:

“It feels like our relationship ran its course, but I just wanted to say that I appreciated our time together.”

No need for criticism. No need to promise anything you can’t give.

Only a message of a gratitude and recognition of the feelings passed between.

Figuring out the right words matter less than showing someone that you care.

If you’re about to exit an intimate space with someone, consider this practice.

Have a nice sunset.

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