Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Girl's Guide To 'Break-ups'

I was talking to my ex last week for the first time in over a year or so, and she was telling me about her 'cheap' new boyfriend, who had already skipped paying for 2&1/2 of the three meals they had had together in their short relationship. Being an ex, I abstained from throwing in my say one way or another, because well nothing is less cool than someone's ex interfering in your relationship.
But with that I thought a more general guide to breaking up was in order, particularly from the female partners point of view.

1. Guilt only goes so far.

The relationship failed, and maybe, maybe it's your 'fault', you didn't try hard enough, he's still into you, he has fallen back into his destructive drug habits, he's threatening to kill himself etc. Maybe you are just a precious bitch, who demands to much and up-and-goes any time you see an opportunity to trade up. Fact is, the fault is almost irrelevant to the process. A) a failure of a relationship is not necessarily a failure of either individual. B) If there is one hard and fast rule, it is that if you don't 'feel it' ie. you have to put enormous energy into just being in the relationship, any decent guy, girl or goat that you are dating doesn't want to trade a disingenuous girlfriend for the potential of meeting someone who is actually into them.
So basically, it can't be helped, if you aren't into the relationship, you aren't into the relationship, and if you can't show up and do a decent job of being in the relationship don't show up at all.
One caveat, make sure it is the relationship that is the problem though. You may be clinically depressed, or it may be your shitty job that absorbs all your energy but you don't look to the job as the guilty party, because you've been trained all your life to want it, largely for extrinsic reasons.
The rule of thumb though, is that a relationship should generate its own energy on one level or another, in the heady early days, it might be that just being with the person gives you that energy, and you have an addictive drive to be with them making the whole relationship effortless.
If you think anyone has a relationship where this state of affairs persists, you are deluding yourself. Eventually the energy I'm talking about comes from the investment you have made in the person, so even if it's no cakewalk/picknick to see them day in day out, you should at least have the energy to try and make it work. It's once that energy goes that you should walk.

2. The Odds of 'Breaking Up' are very small.

'What?' don't 30% or 50% of marriages end in divorce? Don't women on average have 5 sexual partners in their life? Surely this means people are breaking up all the time?
Well yes, all these are true and correct. But saying 'the likelihood of any relationship lasting is fairly low' and 'People break-up all the time' are not strictly speaking equivalent statements.
You see when I get 'dumped' I feel the temptation to present to the world the facade of the 'break-up' which does a few things A) It makes it look like it was a joint decision. B) It's in the passive tense (shirks responsibility) C) It saves 'face' and I don't have to humiliatingly confess that I was found wanting and dumped.
And as understandable as it is for spineless tohm to want to use an ambiguous term like 'Broken-up' or 'Broke-up' I don't understand why girls who dump their boyfriends use this term.
I guess it could be looked on as a kindness, a softening of the blow, because sure while you don't 'love him/her' anymore you still care about them. Except you are doing a bigger cruelty by not taking responsibility for your decision.
You see, the mathematically intractable fact in at least western relationships, and on the psychological/emotional level is that it takes 2 to make a relationship work, which through symmetry tells us that it only takes 1 to end it.
What I mean by passive term is the difference between 'the report was poorly written' which is passive tense and 'I wrote a poor report' which is active.
In the same sense saying 'We broke up' vs 'I broke up with Hernandez' or 'I dumped Hernandez' is the difference between you being over it, and 'dumping' Hernandez in a predicament where he has to figure out what happened, who he is, and where his future lies, and you and Hernandez amicably meeting at UN headquarters and mutually drawing up a charter that says 'Both parties mutually agree to the cesation of intimacy and exclusiveness with each other, to be ratified amicably by signateries below'
The odds of two people arriving at the same point are incredibly low. Breaking up is going to go down one of two ways. You get dumped. Or you dump them.
The key point is not to be one or the other, the key point is to take fucking responsibility for the decision, and don't act like its a joint decision when it isn't. At the very least you will be giving more useful information to your mutual friends. As per point 1 the guilt is pretty irrelevant, you are simply not up to the task of sticking with the relationship, so take responsibility for getting out of it, you deserve it.

3. Don't Play The Gender Card

You've been done a disservice all your life, people have been telling you you are more emotional, more sensitive, more vulnerable, more attuned to your needs. Because you are female, someohow intrinsically the relationship failure will be harder on you.
My experience contradicts this, and yes, I live in a world surrounded by well educated, intellectual and progressive thinkers, but alas there are some sad ironies to the whole gender divide when it comes to relationships.
Unfortunately, the womens movement has not succeeded to the point where women can take career opportunites for granted, to the same extent that guys do. Thus in my experience if any partner is going to sacrifice a relationship at the alter of their own career ambitions, it is going to be the female in the relationship, not the man.
Because to most men, the prospect of financial independence, career advancement etc. is a given. They will figure on being able to get a good job most anywhere they live, and if an opportunity goes by, another will come along.
But many a woman will agree to take that Vice Presidential spot in the Timbuktu branch without even consulting their partner. Obviously this will vary based on the level of commitment, a married couple with kids could be seen as having passed that hurdle of making sacrifices in order to commit to eachother.
My lifecycle is probably heading out of the years where general experience is 'the skys the limit' for my female colleagues and many are starting to (if not realise) at least confront the fact that if you want kids and a father to be present in those lives you are going to have to take the enormous leap of making decisions mutually and also expecting you wont get your way all the time.
I would actually like the women's movement to progress to a point where career opportunites are not viewed as so precious, women will masochistically sacrifice their personal lives to work under wage slave conditions, all for some vague notion of a stainless steel kitchen down the line.
Such gender role considerations may serve as preventative, but further to that, in terms of dealing with emotions, men typically are less likely to seek councilling, less likely to take time off work to deal with their emotions, less likely to be honest and up-front with their peers, more likely to try and deal with it in isolation and far more likely to have periodic emotional breakdowns.
Fact is if you are basing your assumption of the situation on gender roles, and outward indicators like 'who cries more' you may be grossly overestimating how they will cope with the unfolding drama that is the break up process.

4. Seek councilling.

Okay enough describing of shit, what do I do? Here, ladies I am going to go out on a limb and say, in terms of meaningful advice and reassurance, your friends are useless. The perception remains, and damningly so, that Women have vicious tendancy to make decisions about their relationship not, with the primary stakeholder being their partner, but some shadowy Cabal of friends. And sadly, they sometimes do, particularly in break up scenarios.
Pre-break-up it goes down somewhat like this, you notice that your boyfriend starts spending his weekends doing some activity that doesn't involve you. You start getting irratated by the fact that your boyfriend doesn't appear to want to spend time with you. It grates for a few weeks until finally you decide to do something about it... unfortunately you talk to your friends. Your friends are happy to pass judgement and opine to their content and vote on your options and reinforce your views one way or another. Very few possess the intellectual and adult maturity to say 'you know what, you shouldn't be talking to me about this, you perhaps should be talking to YOUR BOYFRIEND about it.'
(Case in point, Miki my ex was asking what my opinion was on her 'Cheap' boyfriend, I ironically have a soft spot for cheapskates, and if he was being a smartarse would probably applaud him, however if he was some hopeless mamma's boy, I would condemn him. The point though is that I don't know him, so I advised her to address the behaviour, not pass judgement. ie. give feedback. Or one could also say, trying to solve the problem with the key stakeholder.)
Pre-break-up this method does damage. Because the behaviour communicates a number of things like A) you don't trust your boyfriend. B) you let your friends make decisions for you. C) You trust your friends advice on people they haven't met/don't know very well.
I realize how important your friends probably are to you, which is why I have learnt from the ashes of about 4 failed relationships now, that I have to make an effort to befriend typically a bunch of women I would never be interested in in the slightest if not for the fact that they are somehow, inconcievably important to my girlfriend.
Post break up it all goes pear shaped though, the fact that the decision on 'whether to try again' or 'get back together' etc appears to be made/controlled by your buddies, serves two purposes A) It makes the dumped partner more desperate to make their case, and put up counter-claims against all the black marks against you being made by these shadowy 'friend' figures. B) It makes said partner activly dislike your friends for their presumptuousness on a matter that is of no where near the same level of importance to them.

Paradoxically, my recommendation for breaking this nasty habit, is to seek out a complete stranger.
Seeing a councellor has numerous advantages, so many infact that I consider it really mandatory. Let's see A) A councillor can substantiate a 'consideration of disadvantage' should the 'emotionality' of breaking up actually effect your study. B) The councillor has heard it all before and they don't care! (ironically) they just want to get you over it, unlike your friends who will say all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons and flip flop around. C) They can give you exercises to help deal with the emotional stress, and will do so in a professional context. D) The sessions can help you gain REAL insight into why the relationship failed, your contribution, your real reasons, etc. My own empirical experiences indicate that women who dump guys can get caught completely off guard by their own reactions to it. D) They can give you perspective on what you actually control. Ie you controlled the decision to break up, you don't control your partners reaction. E) You send a message to your ex that you are invested in preserving what you can of the relationship. Hopefully your ex then has the sense to trust your councellor is a professional, something that is unreasonable for him to trust your friends to be.

In short you are crazy not to seek councilling, your University probably provides a free service, and many employers have what is called an Employee Assistance Program, which whilst not being as unexhaustive as university councilling services, are typically of much higher quality. You employer may provide these sessions because they do really care about you, and will I think get a huge return productivity wise.

5. Learn from your experiences.

If nothing else, once you have dumped 2 guys, sit down and actively look for fucking patterns. From a guy point of view, I have a friend that recently deduced a pattern from his own string of failed relationships that he should 'date people he actually likes'.
This blinding flash of the obvious, has lead him to realise that he now has a 'keeper' for his partner, yet such patterns can be easily overlooked, no matter how ridiculous they seem.
If you keep dating your type, which happens to be really aggressive, macho, football players and wonder why you can't find a really aggressive, macho, football player that doesn't beat you up. Maybe, just maybe you should stop dating really aggressive, macho, football players. Hell there's a world of possibilities, you could date a really aggressive, feminine, football player. A really aggressive macho, football fan, a really sensitive, macho, football player. Or you could date a decent, intelligent, ordinary guy.
Just as one would turn around and say 'tohm you idiot, if you always date provocatively dressed girls, who believe in "free love" and have long histories of cheating on their sexual partners, you have to start blaming yourself that your partners are always cheating on you"
But more likely, if you have had two great long term relationships, and each time your career ambitions have forced you to move, the long distance thing has failed and you break off the relationship, there are one or two testable theories. A) you can stop taking every job opportunity offered you, in the pursuit of more money, less boyfriends, and try just keeping your boyfriend for once. B) You can stop trying to make long distance relationships work, invite your boyfriend to come with you, or move on.
In general, conduct the autopsies of the relationship, ask those confronting questions: Did you give them a chance? Did you let them know your problem? Was there any danger if you took a different course? Did you contribute to the demise? Are there any behavioural patterns that cropped up again? Are you being realistic?

6. Don't Hedge Your Bets.

I might be being condescending here, and I hope that this doesn't need saying. But fact is, people do. 'Hedging your bets' is simpy, waiting until you've lined up the next boyfriend before you dump your current boyfriend.
It bespeaks, nay, bemoans tremendous insecurity. Whilst it makes sense to stick with a job you dislike (so long as you don't hate it and it eats you up inside) until you have lined up another job before you resign, it isn't the same for partners.
You won't lose your house if you don't have another boyfriend to go to. (okay maybe you will, but man there's a lesson right there about having a job to support you moving out) You won't starve to death for want of a boyfriend. You may: feel lonely at night, have nobody to talk to about your day, may feel awkward going to brunch by yourself etc.
But, and this is personal, the most sickening thing about hedging is that people sometimes think they are just being sensible, and not actually cheating. They may even get technical and say they weren't physically intimate, therefore it wasn't cheating. But make no mistakes, hedging your bets is cheating, you've had sex and kissed other guys, you are not supposed to be having sex with your boyfriend when you don't love him, whilst loving some other dude who loves you back.
I've been cheated on twice, and it isn't the leaving me for another guy that bothers me nearly so much as the fact they stayed with me until they were certain enough of the new interest.
I have also been tempted to cheat on several occasions, which I am highly flattered by, and made good on once in a drunken stupor, that inspired me to give up drinking for a year.
Here is the sad and lonely truth. Guys/Girls you can fall in love with are a dime a fucking dozen. Whilst love varies in definition person to person, here is what I am sure of. There are enough fucking people in this world, that no matter where or when you find yourself alone, there si somebody out there that can actually stand to be around you without being paid to do so.
Conversely this means, you don't have to chase every opportunity that comes your way. You can choose to walk.
Ideally if you meet someone, you connect with them and you realise that your partner is never going to offer you what this person does, walk away from both.
Even wait a 'respectable 3 months' as one of my friends puts it. But don't walk from one straight to another.
At worst, you simply avoid confronting the failure of one relationship, which leaves you ill equipped to deal with the failure of another.

And that's all but I think it covers the basic follies.


BC said...

Tohm Curtis, if this is you, you are way cooler than I ever thought you were in IH. and that's a compliment.

Karen Chan said...

hello tohm,

i came across your blog through harvard's post on fb. it's an interesting blog, and some confusing parts, but it's a good guide, perhaps. then again, i have yet to read something of this sort that i can actually relate to.

just thought i'd leave a note to the author instead of the guy who posted the link...

karen (one of the many karen's harvard knows, as i just saw on his friend's list)

Anike said...

Relationships are a science. And you, dear friend and counsellor, are the nutjob running the lab here.

I am particularly concordant with the energy spiel. And reluctlantly accept your proposed resolution to the rock and the hard place pickle, where I find myself the beautiful distraction to someones comfortably stable partnership.

I'll definitely give this a second, more thorough, perusal when I am less jacked up on caffeine, but first pass was like peppermint tea to my my intellectual palate. Very refreshing.

ohminous_t said...

I have to say I'm overwhelmed by the positive response to this post, and as always underwhelmed by people still pointing out my lack of grammatical correctness. But having reread it for the first time ever I think this parodies it well: