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BREAKING UP IS hard to do. Well, it used to be. Now you just need to be handy with your thumbs. A recent survey of online daters has found one in three has been dumped by emoji.

In the survey of 2,000 people on dating site, most dumpers used a suitcase to signal the end of a relationship. In other cases a black heart was popular and some opted for both a black heart and a suitcase. This was perhaps an inevitable development in the digital age and while many will decry the practice as evidence of the further crumbling of civilisation, the erosion of manners and civility, the death of romance and rise of disposable relationships, you could argue that while certainly clinical and efficient, it’s not as brutal as ghosting.

It could also be par for the course in the modern dating scene–emojis are a feature not a bug of many relationships; it’s possible some even start with an emoji and progress from there. For these relationships denouement by emoji is a fitting one.

It’s also further evidence of the pervasiveness and acceptance of efficient visual communication: World Emoji Day was on July 17, Emojipedia is a legally recognised reference source—the site was described as a “reputable” source of expert information in a defamation case involving the actor Geoffrey Rush; while Moby Dick has been translated into emoji, a move that might give many of us a shot at finishing it.

Even so, like any language, misunderstandings are inevitable, particularly if an emoji is in its formative stages of use and hasn’t attained widespread cultural acceptance. A black heart with a suitcase, for example, could be interpreted as an invitation to go to Dark Mofo, or a call to pack your bags for a weekend of S&M. The recipient would be well within their rights to reply with anything from a question mark to a thumbs-up to a fist pump to an eggplant emoji. That would then necessitate an awkward second message, perhaps a cracked heart, maybe a coffin. Only at last resort should the dumper resort to something as semantically bloated as words.

Still, don’t matters of the heart deserve more delicate handling? Yes and no. Obviously emoji dumping is a practice that should be restricted to the early stages of dating—let’s impose a three-month cap. After that, you probably need to put on your big-boy pants and do it in person.


While long removed from the dating game, I am inclined to give a big thumbs-up to the idea of emoji-dumping. As someone who’s allergic to difficult conversations, the idea of casually deploying an emoji is appealing. It also brings back memories of a shudderingly awkward exchange I once had around the three-and-a-half-week mark with a girl I was seeing. Having decided that I no longer wanted to see this person anymore, I reluctantly picked up the phone when she called, then let her bang on for a good 15 minutes about God-knows-what, then said I actually didn’t want to see her. I recall the shock and hurt in her voice and afterwards wondered why I had answered the phone in the first place, vowing I would become a professional ghoster from here on out, at least within the three-month stage.

But how would an emoji have gone down in that situation? As a chronic empath, would I actually have the guts to deploy it? I’m not sure, for as fun and seemingly benign as emojis generally are, in this case you are essentially firing off a missive freighted with a lethal cargo that’s set to detonate in the recipient’s inbox. You have to ask yourself if heartbreak is leavened in any way by the cuteness or cleverness of computer graphics? The truth is it probably isn’t; pain and suffering probably deliver the same kind of gut-punch regardless of the manner in which they’re received.

But let’s put ourselves in the recipient’s shoes anyway. I personally would prefer the graphic ordnance of an emoji to the silent, invisible shank with a blunt blade that is a ghosting. As a ‘victim’ of this practice I know it can open up hairline cracks in your psyche as you cycle through potential excuses for the sudden evaporation of comms in your head: ‘maybe they’re busy’; ‘perhaps my network is down, should I try emailing them?’; ‘they did say something about work being crazy at the moment’; maybe their grandmother died, that’s a thing that happens to people’; ‘shit, I guess I’m being ghosted’; okay fine, well if they ever contact me again then I am not responding to them; ‘shit, they’re really not coming back’.

At the very least, emoji dumping offers you the opportunity to respond, preferably in kind. You can fuck with them with a crying emoji, though that could be read as a sarcastic response–the goal here is not to betray any signs you’ve been emotionally wounded. Similarly, a laughing emoji probably carries too much hurt, you’re overcompensating. In theory, the sunglasses emoji would appear to be a winner, seemingly communicating sunny optimism (and how bright your future is), but again, emoji pedants might rule it’s trying too hard. A tap with a duck, (that’s water off a duck’s back, not let’s go for a swim in the duck pond) is creative but again, and I’m sorry to harp on this, probably too passive aggressive.

Thankfully, the ideal visual retort is right there waiting for you in the form of the emoji OG, the thumbs-up. If there’s a better way to radiate casual optimism while simultaneously dismissing the gravity of what’s just transpired, I’m yet to see it. All the better if you’re crying when you send it.


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