Economist: ‘Tis the Season to Break Up

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If you find yourself unexpectedly single this week, then you are not alone. Evidence culled from Facebook status updates finds that the phrase “we broke up because …” is more popular in the two weeks before the Christmas holidays than any other time of the year. While there are many reasons relationships end, the timing of the breakup surge in the pre-Christmas season can be explained by wholly unromantic economic theories that illustrate how we behave when it is difficult to observe the intentions of others.

Imagine we have a couple that is looking forward to the Christmas season. Each person in the relationship knows how committed they are to the relationship but does not know if their lover is fully committed; only the individual has that information.

Relationships require an investment of time and energy, and so each would like to know with certainty if the relationship is going to last before investing too much. As a rule, we give our hearts only to those we feel are likely to reciprocate.

The two people in our imaginary couple might tell each other they are in love, but words are cheap. To feel truly secure in the relationship, each will look for indications of the other’s devotion. They expect their partner to send costly signals that they are committed.

The Christmas holidays are replete with opportunities to signal how committed we are to our relationships. If many couples are breaking up before Christmas, the most likely explanation is that they are either finding themselves unwilling to pay the cost of sending the appropriate signals or they are not receiving the signals they would expect from a partner who really cared about their relationship.

(MOREWhy the Holidays Don’t Make Everyone Feel So Jolly)

Take, for example, gift giving. Christmas gives us the opportunity to buy gifts that demonstrate how invested we are in meeting our partner’s needs. A person who is fully committed to his or her relationship probably already knows what those needs are and so can find a perfect gift fairly easily. A person who is less committed to the relationship, however, will find looking for the perfect gift less of a pleasure and more of an unwelcome chore.

While it is too early to know what gifts we will receive, it is not too early for gift givers to wonder why they are spending time looking for a gift when they don’t see themselves with that person in the future. After all, why send a costly signal that you are committed to a relationship when that is not, in fact, the case? Maybe it is just easier to end the relationship now and skip the hassle of trying to impress.

Christmas is also a busy time of year for socializing with co-workers, friends and family — meaning that social conflicts are inevitable. Being in a committed relationship generally entails attending social events together, even when your friend’s party sounds like it will be more fun than spending the evening at your romantic partner’s obligatory office party. However, not going to your partner’s party sends him or her a fairly clear signal that you are not committed to the relationship.

(MOREIt’s a Man’s World, and It Always Will Be)

It isn’t hard to imagine that a number of people typing “we broke up because …” in their Facebook status will be ending it with the phrase “he/she didn’t seem to think that it was important to spend time with me” after having to spend an awkward evening alone at a Christmas party.

Finally, nothing says commitment like the phrase “Let’s spend Christmas with your family, we can always spend next Christmas with mine!” Uttering this sentence to your beloved could have two possible effects: it could fill them with joy (he/she thinks we will be together next Christmas!) or horror (he/she thinks we will be together next Christmas!?). How the beloved reacts will almost certainly determine whether or not you will survive as a couple to the next peak breakup period … Valentine’s Day.

Despite the dismal statistics on breakups at this time of the year, it is worth noting that the same conditions that are helping couples figure out that they no longer want to be together are helping other couples figure out that they do want to be together — until death do them part. According to TheKnot.com, December is the most popular month of the year to get engaged. For some, costly signaling pays off.

MOREHow to Tell If Your Relationship Will Survive the Holidays

20 comments
Neilanderson121
Neilanderson121

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sharronjenna
sharronjenna

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Ariana32
Ariana32

I had a huge bust up with my partner and he left me, i was so frustrated and i email Dr. Stanley and he said he could help, I must admit, I was very, very skeptical as didn't really believe he would be back after all he said, but it was just a few days when he phoned and asked to come over to talk, we talked and talked and the silly misunderstanding  was all forgiven and we are back together now for good, all thanks to drstanleyspelltemple@hotmail.com, I would highly recommend his services, they do really, really work.

IvanKatz
IvanKatz

My wife got me a $40.00 bottle of cologne for Christmas this year. That's it.. However, She managed to sock away 15K into her retirement plan (she makes 6 figures)... She did manage to spend 2K on gifts for clients though... Wow.... Just wow! I guess I know who is important to her.

straydog
straydog

Hmm. I think making the case that relationship satisfaction is measurable by the effort in which one does or doesn't put into Christmas shopping to be weak at best and materialistic at worst.


Personally, shopping for a Christmas gift is an incredible chore that often fills me with anxiety/dread -- Not because I am uncommitted to my relationship, as this article implies, but because: How do you sum up the affection, dedication and overall care you have for someone into a material possession that they will 1) want, 2) understand and/or 3) use? There is overwhelming pressure from all sides (family, friends, society) to give the 'perfect' gift. You aren't just getting them a gift, you're giving them a gift that everyone else will see, judge, comment on, and perhaps even, as this article does, take it as a statement of commitment (or 'how you really feel').

No pressure or anything.

DrunkardsTalk
DrunkardsTalk

Maybe, factor into the equation the prospect of rebounds at the holiday parties, supportive family everywhere, gift giving (thinking outside yourself), gift receiving, overall joyousness of the holidays,and new years eve rebounds, I don't think the holidays bring anything new to the table that we didn't already know about our relationships, but for those afraid to leave a relationship the season makes for a very cozy landing back into the wasteland of singlehood.

AdalbertoCervantesRodriguez
AdalbertoCervantesRodriguez

Please stop hiring indians https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=656064504433479&set=a.439823932724205.99092.439468932759705&type=1&theater, and get rid of them http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxFKWc0mMXg Really diabolic, get out of the Americas right away The mexican illuminaties are really really so lazies http://lnkd.in/bw5835X Indians are good well for not paying USA and other countries taxes. Indians are totally wrong in taxes around the world http://lnkd.in/bSC3EYK Only the IT indian people can afford to pay for it. That it is why Texas is a mess with human traffic, it is the place of the IT indian consultants, and it is spreading in all USA. We have to add low level mexicans and others. http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/impacto/vea-impactante-campana-contra-prostitucion-infantil-india-video/comment-page-1/#comment-254856 Stop giving money to Mexico for the Merida Treaty http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion-mexico/2013/senadora-de-prd-facilito-cita-con-34templarios-34-968722.html Do not use our tax money in that. China is using mainly slaves http://lnkd.in/bqDBs77 Master illuminati of Mexico, partner of Bush, ex-CIA working against mexicans for so long time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fz03bpffx88&sns=fb

AdalbertoCervantesRodriguez
AdalbertoCervantesRodriguez

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4I_wvMsPwT0 China is going to learn how to control the population using an illegal media.Mexico currently is worse that the Soviet Union at this time. http://lnkd.in/b3ZtmQg Mexicans are really stupid for sure http://lnkd.in/bcpeyck . No doubt about it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K9SJai6PxY Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayas are alive, they survived, and they are against the illuminaties, lazies, homosexual among others https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=614153231964704&set=vb.478715722175123&type=2&theater The Aztec, Olmecs, Mayas and others are alive in Mexico against the Illuminaties, I hope can be extended to the north of Mexico and South of USA http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/video_fotos/2013/11/131129_audio_entrevista_pablo_escobar_rcn_ch.shtml?ocid=socialflow_facebook_mundo . Integral education at all level to protect our companies and our nation. Bill Gates copied me wrong https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=630317220339709&set=a.628957993808965.1073741825.620414357996662&type=1&theater Mexico and USA want their illegal Presidents in jail http://lnkd.in/bBPACTQ Both of them are workig as ex-CIA agents working for Bush https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=598481463552509&set=a.534281529972503.1073741827.105105869556740&type=1&theater https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3QFCKEbO9A The right way for not paying taxes in LATAM http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MnS0AwoHQw&feature=youtu.be How to get ride of dictators http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHezFksIM68&feature=youtu.be Instead of studying, the government is saving money because capos are paying the students to work for them https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8Qa6s74GDI

tedshep
tedshep

I quit reading when I got to this expression: "only the individual themselves has that information." How can an individual be "them"? That usage is illogical and ungrammatical but evidently completely correct politically.

TallJohn
TallJohn

Nobody wants to shop for the gift....  Easier to break up before Christmas and make up before New Years....

briteleaf
briteleaf

Christmas can be very stressful economically. Sometimes the partners are having to confront a different set of conflicting religious or social customs. Social gatherings are also a great stage for social conflicts.


We don't do gifts for anyone except children and attempt to share our love and affection for everyone as the greatest of gifts.

CharlesDarwin
CharlesDarwin

It is best to think before you publish.  This author has inferred from the datum that people are most likely to post to Facebook "we broke up because…” in the two weeks before Christmas, that more people break up during those two weeks.  Many other alternative explanations are possible, for example, (1) people who break up shortly before the holidays are more likely to post an explanation, because they are anticipating encountering people who won't know yet and who will wonder what happened, or (2) some people who break up during the year don't tell their full Facebook audience until the holidays role around, when it will become obvious they no longer have a partner, (3) the season of "good will" induces some people to justify breakups when, at another time of year, they would walk away without posting "because" to their Facebook account, or (4) expectations of togetherness at Christmas cause people to post explanations of "because" they would not bother with otherwise.

eetom
eetom

...We promise to love each other until death or until the next Christmas season...

raidx259
raidx259

"A person who is less committed to the relationship, however, will find looking for perfect gift less of a pleasure and more of an unwelcome chore."


Not always true. I don't like Xmas shopping for my wife because she's so hard to please when it comes to presents and so particular about what she wants. AND she has a hard time hiding her disappointment when she gets a gift she did not want. I gave up trying to surprise her and now just go with gift cards for the most part. 

granitesentry
granitesentry

Or, it's a good way to thin down that out of control Christmas shopping list.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@CharlesDarwinInasmuch as you seem to want to make a point, I don't get it.

You assert that the author inferred that more people post to Facebook that they're breaking up during Christmas simply because it's Christmas.  You implied that the inference wasn't correct and that they just post that kind of thing more often just because because it's Christmas, but likely break up at the same rate or even more often but don't bother posting it. 

And then you offered multiple reasons why the author was actually correct in his inference, and that undermined your own implied point.

The author made a valid point, and offered several reasons for it.  The article didn't say it was a comprehensive list - just some of the reasons people might break up this time of year.  You simply added to the list.

If you thought the author needed more points, simply add them, instead of calling him out for making inferences the author didn't make.

mhoffbauer
mhoffbauer

@DeweySayenoff @CharlesDarwin The author states that there are more break ups around Christmas as a fact, solely based on one piece of data (a facebook status of "we broke up because...". @CharlesDarwin rightfully points out how this piece of data could come about without there being more break ups around Christmas. Rather than giving an explanation how this unproven statement works, the author could perhaps try to account for the interference of the other explanations first, rather than parrot it as an unquestionable truth.