ponder: breaking up broken down

fair warning: this is long and i don’t feel like breaking it up (har har) into multiple posts.

got breaking up on the brain. whilst i’m not planning to break up with anyone just now, i have friends at points all along both sides of the breaking up spectrum. on the one side, you’ve got everything from that intuition that a breakup is coming (sometimes right, sometimes not) to signs of relationship failure to dumped and trying to pull it together. on the other side, you have everything from wondering if you ought to consider a breakup to pondering how best to achieve a breakup to blissfully done and moving on. until you either learn your concerns are baseless or you recognise that you’re better without them, none of these are awesome places to be, even when they’re leading to good.

a few years ago, there was a rash of bad breakups in my social circle. not just bad because hearts were bruised, but bad because of how it went down. sometimes it was the dumper being remarkably horrible and sometimes it was the dumpee clinging and crying in a way that didn’t change anyone’s mind, with a nice dose of breakups due to cheating to make it all feel extra icky. at that point, i made a mock quiz where one was meant to match the relationship scenario with the appropriate way to respond, whether as the dumper or the dumpee.

the fact is, even if you’re the dumpee and you feel you don’t deserve it, everyone involved can contribute to whether or not it’s an extra craptastic situation. so i thought i’d sort of ramble on about a few points here, because that’s what i do. no doubt, some of this will come back to haunt me in future breakups. though i readily acknowledge i haven’t always been a stellar example, so no need to rub my past in my face. and, for the record, this is all about romantic relationships. ending friendships or business relationships or otherwise ending your association with someone other than a partner would each have its own set of “amber guidelines.”

let’s start with reasons for breaking up. the thing is, relationships are sort of supposed to be consensual situations. unless you’ve gotten married, chances are really good that you didn’t commit to a certain amount of time with the other person. i think some things are clearly reasonable triggers for considering a breakup, like infidelity or abuse. some things are in a murky realm where you have to ask whether it’s just that you might want to put a little more work into saving something awesome or cut your losses and get out before there’s real damage done. and there’s that final group that sounds really silly when you say it out loud.

if you’ve got abuse, i’m a huge proponent of Get Out Now. i’ve rarely seen an abuser (physical, mental, emotional, or sexual) actually conquer those behaviours. if you’ve got infidelity, that’s a grey area. in amber-land, if you’re an otherwise awesome partner and you made one mistake and are truly sorry and don’t do it again, we can talk about fixing the relationship. but the instant you embark on infidelity number two, or if you aren’t worth the effort to me to work it out, you’re gone. and, in case you’re jockeying to be my next someone, you ought to know that i include emotional infidelity, cybering, sexting, and phone sex on the list of things that count as cheating. i know; i’m no fun.

in that murky set of reasons…well, it’s a case-by-case situation, isn’t it? for example, if you’re fighting all the time, is it a sign that it’s time to end or that it’s time to fix root issues and regain the happier days? seriously, i don’t even know for me. because it’s going to depend on the situation. i do know that relationships take a certain amount of work. i don’t believe that every relationship merits the same amount, though. which means we’ll find out when we get there. though, at this point, i’m not wont to get into any relationship unless i think it will merit some effort. and if i marry you, i’m up to the task, and i probably think the relationship is worth loads of effort. (other stuff that seems to fit in here is general stuff like indoor person vs outdoor person, adventure person vs tv/computer person, lots of alone time person vs minimal alone time person, purple vs green, liberal vs conservative, indoor cat vs outdoor cat, money use differences, getting on with each others’ friends and family, and…well, probably loads goes in here…) maybe you can sort out more of my mindset on this, if you’re sorting me out, by reading my previous ponder on fitting…

that leaves the silly things. but what i actually want to say is that this stuff isn’t all so easily written off in my mind. sure, you have to ask whether their inability to close a cupboard after they get out a plate is enough to outweigh the goodness you have. and, sure, it’s hard to see clearly when they’re actually a good person (so much easier when they’re obviously just damaged goods). and, sure, that they’re fun to fool around with makes it even harder to see clearly. plus, you don’t want to be one of those shallow people or one of those people looking for (impossible) perfection. but! some of this stuff is going to make you crazy every day or every time you see them. and you’re not going to get used to it. and eventually, you are going to want to shove sharp things in your eyes. it may be annoying or a case of not fitting (again, see my previous ponder on fitting). but maybe they need to be free for someone who isn’t going to go mental over that little thing. (i’d share a personal example, but if the person ever read this and felt bad, i’d be mortified.) from the dumpee side of this, honestly, if all you see when you look at me is that silly little thing, i might be better off with someone else anyway.

(note: if you dump me over a silly thing, i will likely say something like, “you’re dumping me over that?!?!” because it’s a silly thing. but that doesn’t mean, in the grand scheme, that i won’t eventually realise i’m better off without the partner who just saw me as that one silly thing.)

in summary: not every reason is actually a good one. but even if you’re leaving me over a stupid one, even if i derisively note said stupid reason to friends for days to come, it doesn’t mean that you should have stuck around.

before we talk about the dumping and the being dumped, i’d like to pause a moment to talk about other people. because i know only a few people who go through either side of the spectrum without involving other people. we go to our friends to say, “ack. i’m getting the paranoia. i think i’m going to get dumped.” or to say, “i’m thinking of dumping them. am i crazy?” and then we keep going to them for advice all through, until we finally go to them for comfort and/or to go out with once it’s done. i have just a few thoughts on other people, in case you want to know how i roll

remember that friends and family who love you more than your partner will remember the negative things you said about your partner, even if you stay together. for this reason, i try to stick to just talking to my top friend or two, because they’re the kind of people who won’t let that cause drama or cause them to be rude later.

involving other people is likely to lead to drama. drama sucks. i don’t want it, and if you want it, i don’t want you. sorry. another reason to keep it to just a tight friend or two who won’t be drama-prone. because sometimes a tiny issue can get turned into a huge one with the drama, and then you’ve thrown out a perfectly good something over nothing.

whilst i’m a very introspective girl and very good at being honest with myself, the other benefit of my top couple non-drama-prone friends is that they are outside. they aren’t blinded by being too close to the situation (or not as close as i am). they aren’t blinded by the way my knees buckle when we kiss. their emotions are not so tied up. so, even if i want to think it all out myself, i think it’s a good bet to go to them, especially if they have a real handle on my relationship history, and tell them what i think. not only are they people with whom i can be honest, even if it makes me sound bad, but they will be honest with me. which means that they will listen, question, and then either support or tell me i’m being stupid.

if you’re one of the other people, it’s a dicey situation. we all know that if you are honest about what you dislike about the partner, that can come back to bite you if the friend stays with said partner. i know i have held my tongue before, though i prefer not to. if you are one of my other people, there’s no need to constantly harangue me (but i know you won’t), but be honest. i think i’ve shown that i never hold it against you. and the person you’re offering criticisms of never finds out.

no matter what they say, though, i have to remember that, in the end, it’s on me. i have to own the choice i make. i have to live with the consequences of staying or going. so they can advise, but it’s still up to me and my responsibility.

and, finally…unless we are talking about an actual abuse situation where there is fear of bodily harm, try not to bring other people along for the breakup. you need a ride because you want to do it face-to-face? your ride needs to stay in the car or go into another shop. you realise it has to happen now and you want to call and break up that way, but you’re with a friend? go into another room or send them into the hallway or out to grab a snack. really need them there so that you have the courage to do it? you better make sure they’re going to keep their mouths shut and be compassionate toward all parties. but if they’re there to watch the show, to add some attitude, or because you’re doing a quick dumping before you head out for drinks with them…seriously, they can go wait at the bar.

now, how to dump…i know some people think the only acceptable way is face-to-face. i totally understand, as i used to think this way myself. for these folks, that’s a sign of respect and of owning your actions and the hurt you’re causing. but i’m not one of those people anymore. dumping me via text or email or voicemail, via a friend or on the maury show, by throwing my things on the lawn or writing rude things on my car with lipstick? not cool. any breakup done with nastiness or destruction or done in a public place when you could have let me get the hurt privately isn’t cool. though i will allow for things like email if you’re overseas. and i used to allow for that if you just lived long distance before mobile phones made calls cheap. especially since the bulk of our relationship would have been in email and chats anyway, so that was just the way the relationship went. but even if you’re overseas, you can now use free online voice chat options to at least make it a call.

because, in amberland, there are now two mainly acceptable ways to end a romantic relationship with me. the old face-to-face is fine. i do prefer it not happen in a public place, in case you make me cry. (and, yes, even if you’re very nice about it, i might cry. because i might still like you and it always hurts not to be liked back.) though, if you’re worried, i’ve proven to be pretty good at waiting until the dumper leaves to cry. as long as they don’t hang out for more than a few minutes. i might get a bit misty and choked sounding, but i probably won’t sob in front of you. honestly, there may be other hurt i feel you need to own, and you ought to be aware you’re going to hurt me. but you don’t need to own or manage my heartbreak. if we aren’t a good fit, however much it hurts me to learn that, you’re doing us both a favour (and doing a favour to whomever our better fits are) by ending things. if you weren’t mean about breaking up, the most i think you owe me is honesty. you can even just say, “i’m sorry, but i don’t feel like we’re a good fit.” i might want to know more, and if there are reasons beyond just not being a good fit it would be nice of you to calmly tell me, but that would be enough. especially now that i like me, because i’m not going to need to go home and search myself for flaws.

if you feel like i need to know my damage and you can communicate it in a non-mean way, maybe you can send me a letter. but this sort of thing usually just comes off wrong and doesn’t help anyone. might even make you look like a jerk.

the other acceptable way is by phone. yes, i’m serious. as the dumper, this means that, in case i go into an unreasonable “but why? but why?” spasm or get mean on you or start sobbing or doing something uncharacteristically sad like begging and pleading, you can say (though i may not hear it over my mania), “i’m going to hang up now. you take care.” and then you hang up and go on with life. i am not prone to those things, but just in case…

as the dumpee, oh, i love the phone. because i don’t want you to see me cry. i’d rather process that pain privately. feel like i’ve kept some dignity. not let you see my makeup get messed up. it also means that your tempting hot body isn’t there, putting my brain into the mixed signal land of “want!” versus “ouch!” seriously, call me. now, if you are going to ring my mobile to dump me, there’s an extra something you need to do. you need to ask what i’m up to, because if i’m out or at work, not okay. you can just say you were thinking of me (true) and ask me to call you as soon as i am home and can talk. sure, that might make me suspicious. but when i ask what’s up, you’re totally okay to say we’ll talk later and that you need to go. yes, i’ll be tortured, but i’ll appreciate it later. you can even go so far as to say that we need to talk and, when i ask, to say, yeah, it might be unpleasant. but if i badger you into saying it right away, then it’s my fault for badgering. (okay, actually, if i am at home, in my car alone, or with one of my best friends, you’re probably good to just do it then.)

for both dumper and dumpee, though i understand if you have some choice words when you’re leaving a cheat, an abuser, or someone who has actually treated you poorly, we’re all going to feel better about this if people try to keep it civil. you don’t have to pretend you want to stay friends. you don’t have to hold the dumpee or tell the dumper that this is fabulous. but nasty remarks, meanness, attempts at guilt, drama…that all does no good and just makes it uglier for everyone. as a special note to the dumpee, rarely does anything good come of you begging and pleading and guilting them into staying. if you have to do that to keep them, chances are you’re better off without. really.

plus, if there is an actual hope of staying friends after (which can only happen if you both want it and can both behave), you aren’t going to want to smear the situation with ugly, are you? (that goes for both of you.)

okay, so you’re broken up. just a few thoughts on post-breakup behaviour and then i’ll shut up for now.

it is not cool to destroy their things that you have. it is cool to arrange a quick contact really soon to return things. it is cool to keep that contact super short and simple. you can even be wordless and just hand over the box or bag. really. if you can’t keep it civil, this is an okay time to send a friend. but make it the friend who will be civil and won’t use this as a chance to say nasty things, okay? and return their stuff in its current condition. no petty breaking, secretly dropping it in toilets, or whatever.

it is not cool to make out extra hard with your new partner in public just to hurt them. if it’s been years and you see someone who hurt you and you want them to see you’re just fine, thanks…okay. but when it’s all fresh, just be breezy and normal. if you dumped them recently, they are already hurt. no need for more. if you got dumped, they will know what you’re doing and it will look sad. instead, just look hot and happy and normal.

it is cool to turn the hurt into art, especially if it doesn’t come across as petty. for me, this means you can’t tell the song is about you. heh.

it is cool to give the other person space. you don’t have to avoid hangouts, unless you can’t be nice. but you don’t have to wander over to say hullo or sit where you can stare at them the whole time.

i’m sure i had more to say, but it’s a friday night. time for me to go and enjoy. because who knows how long it is until i break up with you or you dump me, right? ha!