Mackenzie is used to breaking hearts.
Today isn’t the first time he’s broken up with someone this week, and if business is good, then it won’t be the last. He and his brother Evan, who asked to be identified by their first names only, are the founders of the Toronto-based Breakup Shop. They’ve just recently entered a business market previously monopolized by coffee shops, park benches and anywhere else that saying “we need to talk” leads people. “The response we’ve been getting from a lot of people is ‘Is this a joke?’” Mackenzie says. “So we have to tell them: we were hired to break up with you.”
Even after browsing the Shop’s online gift store, that sells cookies alongside DVDs of The Notebook, it still feels like a joke. But a hyperbolic parody of our rampantly growing obsession with digital services, this is not. Instead, The Break Up Shop is another undue addition to the canon of things you can accomplish with WiFi and a credit card.
For $10, customers can have a break-up text or email sent on his or her behalf, while the more old fashioned services (customizable phone calls and letters from professional ‘heartbreakers’) will run you up to $30. Paying someone to do something you don’t want to do is really nothing new, but the concept of receiving emotional news in the same way you’re notified that you’ve exceeded your data limit? That’s new.
“We thought if there’s services that let you get into relationships really easily, why isn’t there one that allows you to get out of one?” Mackenzie says. “We wanted to provide that service on the other end. Funeral homes provide the ugly job at the end of the road for everyone, but it’s an essential service.”
There are many reasons that you’d think would prevent most people from using this service: the inevitable explanation you’ll eventually owe your ex the fact that you can easily copy a template from the website and do it yourself being in possession of a functioning human conscience. Regardless, Mackenzie’s site has been drawing plenty of visitors, from those who wish to use the service to those who are eager to work for the company.
“We’ve had over 250 applications for heartbreakers so far,” he tells me. “We don’t want to say what we’re doing is good or bad. It’s a matter of people overcoming their built-in negativity towards online apps that deliver services based on human connection.”
As someone who’s been broken up with abruptly in the past, Mackenzie assures me that his main goal is to provide people with the closure that doesn’t always exist in ephemeral relationships. “It’s not easy dealing with other people’s emotions, but we always keep it in the back of our minds that if it’s tough for us, imagine how hard it is for that other person.”
While the right or wrong way to break up will remain eternally subjective to the human experience, in Mackenzie’s world of fast flings and non-confrontational futurists, the traditionally empathetic human touch needs only to go as far as the push of a button. Perhaps even one day as we cozy up to the synthetic flesh of our robot lover’s latest update, we will look back on this service and laugh at the nostalgic inefficiency of dating a human. Or at least get someone to laugh for us.
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