Neil Sedaka was being a bit of a drama queen.
Yes, I get that whole conflict-avoidance thing. Ghosting may be a relatively new term but the concept has been around forever. And then there are the socially-distanced Dear John letters that can now be reduced to a Post-it or a text. The object is to deliver the message and then make a run for it. As if it almost never happened. History erased.
When you are the one doing the breaking up, you’ve got the power. You decide the time, the place and the manner. (This assumes, of course, that you don’t just blurt “It’s over” in the heat of the moment, a totally justified response when your guy takes the last slice of pizza—without even asking!—or says, “Who’s Donna Summer?”)
Being the one who is broken up with is so much harder. Sometimes it’s completely unexpected and, even when there are plenty of clues, it can feel like being blindsided.
Are you really doing this? Now? Here?!
Right time and right place seem more connected to marriage proposals. If it’s a perfect breakup, it strikes me as being like one of those proverbial trees falling in the forest with no one hearing: did it really happen?
When I decided to end it last month with Daniel, I didn’t waste time. It would have felt disrespectful to stick around in something longer once I knew things weren’t going to deepen for me. Still, I didn’t want to have what I figured could be an awkward conversation—hell, who does?
As Daniel pointed out during our breakup discussion, I have usually been the one doing the deed. (And, yes, he mentioned that as not just an observation but as a slight—like I have commitment issues, like I can’t handle conflict, like I’m just absolutely, indisputably evil.)
Oh, a Post-it would have been so much easier!
Why am I never in a situation where I raise the subject and the other guy says, “This is uncanny. I was thinking the exact same thing”? Not that I yearn for another such situation. Contrary to what Daniel may intone, I despise breaking up. There is no sense of triumph. Relief? Yes. By the time I’ve concluded that the relationship is irreparably broken, my mind and my emotions are pretty fried. But a break means failure. In my head, I hear Freddie Mercury telling me, “another one bites the dust.” It was an epic song during my years attending college football games. (I mainly went to watch the cheerleader routines.) It’s taunting, verging on harassing, when Queen’s classic hit is the theme song for my dating history.
Initially, the breakup seemed to go well. Difficult conversations are always foggy when I try to recall them. Still, I’m rather certain that I led with a direct statement, something like, “I’m really sorry but I don’t see our relationship continuing.” To me, that’s more humane than launching into a long prelude so that the guy on the receiving end starts to sweat while thinking, Are you breaking up with me? And then, Shit, you are breaking up with me! And then, “You’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?” I think it’s incumbent on the breaker to say the words first. It’s part of putting on your Big Boy pants.
Right after I said whatever it was that I said, Daniel nodded and said, “Okay.” There was no change in facial expression. Gosh, this is going well, I thought. It stunned me. I wondered if I could just leave it at that. But I rambled on. Something no doubt about him being a good person, about how I’d hoped things would build and, alas, that just didn’t happen for me.
Another nod. Another, “Okay.”
I got up and gathered a few of his things. There was a patio chair he’d loaned me. I said I’d haul that down to the parking garage. I needed to grab the Visitor’s Parking pass from his dashboard anyway.
I was too hasty. Daniel objected to the fact I’d already parceled up some food items: dark chocolate bars, a bag of chips, nonalcoholic beer—things I would never consume. “So you’d already decided this,” he said. Like an accusation. That’s when it became clear that Daniel expected a discussion, not just about the reasons why, but about whether breaking up should even happen.
That’s when things unraveled. When there’s a problem—maybe about sex, maybe about a difference in values—you try to talk them through. We’d had those discussions. I raised them as I’d been intent on better communication during this relationship. This was not about some Topic of the Week. I just didn’t see my feelings deepening.
Daniel is a professor. He’s a facts guy. He kept bringing up moments—mostly positive ones, along with a few previously identified hurdles. He expected me to counter with facts to show why we were suddenly completely incompatible.
Maybe that said it all. I’m a feelings guy. I don’t know how many times I had to say it—in my living room, in the parking garage, on the phone during many distressed calls from Daniel over the next two weeks. It felt like flogging someone repeatedly. “I’m not feeling enough. I’m not in love and I have come to realize I’m not going to get to that point in this relationship.” Please let me stop saying this. Daniel stuck with his facts.
After phone calls, Daniel would follow up with angry, accusatory texts. My phone would ding and ding until I turned off the sound and put it in the other room. At some point the next day, Daniel would always apologize for his texts but by then I felt like the one being flogged.
Payback, I told myself after the first few rounds. Shut up and take it.
I agreed to play tennis with him. I met him for a walk. I hoped to keep things light, to steer us to something different. Friends? But he’d follow up with more angry texts and I’d move my phone to the other room again.
It got to the point when enough was enough. On several occasions, I’d suggested that Daniel talk things out with friends but he dismissed that option, saying that when his twenty-five-year relationship ended a couple of years ago, he’d yammered on and on to them about it. He wouldn’t do that again.
I’d had good intentions in making myself available. Too often, I’ve heard about people not getting closure after a breakup. I’d provided ample time for that over a period of several weeks. My god, this was nothing like his relationship that spanned a quarter of a century. We hadn’t even lasted five months. I’m a guy who should be pretty easy to get over. I’m not all that. I’m not even half that.
Still, I had to get colder. I became direct. I wanted some space. To Daniel, that meant a day off from contacting me before a casual text: “Hey! How was your day?” No, no. Much more space.
He didn’t like it. He didn’t like me.
Progress. Let me be the fall guy. Let him finally turn to his friends. Let me be the guy they hate.
It pains me that I hurt Daniel. It’s beyond disappointing when two people put themselves out there with the best of intentions and things come up short. For some of us, And They Lived Happily Ever After remains but a fairy tale.