• Thu, Aug 25 2011

Sex And The Sixties Girl: The End Of The Affair

How we handle ourselves when a relationship breaks up is quite revealing. I’ve learned that whether it’s been six days, six weeks, six months or six years, what people do tends to remains fairly consistent. Some are cavalier and embrace very much a “Good riddance and on to the next” attitude. Others go into denial. (Those two groups have crossover.) Some move straight into vengeance mode, which increasingly seems to take the form of email hacking. Then there are the people that fall the fuck apart, lamenting the other person but mostly lamenting themselves. From my extremely unscientific research on the matter, I would say that not a lot of men fall into that final category.

Helen summarizes the post-break up mode well when she wrote in Sex and the Single Girl, “There is no question that an affair adds to the emotional problems of many women; however, the ones who suffer the most are probably the ones who have the most emotional problems to begin with.” At first, this quote just amused me. Well, of course, I thought. Emotional problems + end of affair = greater emotional problems, while no emotional problems + end of affair = not as great emotional problems.

Then it occurred to me that this quote described me. I’ve never really shied away from confessing that I have emotional problems. While part of me thinks to be human is to have emotional problems and some of us just admit it, another part wishes I’d just been born with a kinder brain, a more blissful form of simplicity, and a higher level of serotonin—a bit of Kardashian, if you will, tossed into my all-too-David DNA.

Of course, I don’t lose it at the end of every relationship. More specifically, I tend not to lose it when I’m the one doing the leaving. People say that being on both sides of a breakup is difficult but I beg to differ. While leaving someone doesn’t feel great, the truth of the matter is that my overwhelming feeling at those times is more relief than guilt.

When I’m the one being rejected, however, I find that rather than launching into “good riddance” or vengeance mode, I take the opportunity to dwell on every single relationship that hasn’t worked out before and put some serious attention into trying to get to the bottom of what, exactly, is wrong with me. In other words, I turn on myself before I even realize there are sides to be on. Trust me, if I could go into “let me hack his email and try to cock block every woman he may be trying to get with” mode instead, I would.

But those I’ve envied the most in their break-up handling skills tend to be the men I’ve left. I remember one guy, a television writer I’d been desperately trying to convince myself I liked and finally felt ready to end things with, vacillating, while I was giving him the speech, between being passive aggressive and urging me to take a risk and really surrender to what we had—as if he couldn’t decide whether he should believe what I was saying or try to convince me that I only thought I didn’t want him because of my own fears. I’ll never forget how he wouldn’t let me go when we hugged goodbye at the end of the night or the way he whispered, “Why don’t you think this over again tonight and call me tomorrow?”

Another accused me, when, a few months later, I considered going out with someone he tangentially knew (who asked him if he minded) of only doing it to make him jealous. And still another told me, after I returned from some time away and explained that I’d reconsidered our relationship while I was gone, that he needed a few days to process what I was saying. When we got together a few days later, he explained that he had been feeling the exact same way and that surely I’d only come to my conclusion because I’d sensed where he was. I remember feeling left off the hook—there wouldn’t be any five-minute creepy hugs or exclamations that I just needed to jump off the cliff with him this time—but also amazed by the denial that had managed to save him from having his ego bruised. I feel every bruise, even ones that aren’t there, I’d thought. How do you manage to get a psyche that protects you so? And finally I’d wondered if the ability to change the facts to make yourself feel better signified greater or fewer emotional problems than the ability to face it in all its unpleasant glory.

I don’t really have an answer on that one but I have noticed that I’ve gotten far better at handling rejection since embracing the philosophies of St. Helen. I now seem to get that I don’t need to make it a global issue if it turns out a guy doesn’t want to be with me and to also understand that I’m learning from each and every relationship. I have a friend who says, “All relationships are successful—some are just shorter than others.” I like that idea: that there’s no such thing as a failure and that who rejects who isn’t nearly as important as gleaning what you can and not letting it cripple you as Samsonite (or Tumi) that you drag to your next romance.

Which doesn’t quite make me a Kardashian in my good-natured simplicity but doesn’t make me an email hacker either. And, come to think of it, I’m fine for settling right there in the middle of those two.

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  • Chi_Mike

    Your unscientific research is pretty accurate. Another great, honest and incredibly open look at you. Really looking forward to the book!

  • Anthony Mark

    oh my I just want to thank you Anna David for sharing so much of yourself in these columns!

    I hope that the book is a huge success

  • Marc

    “While part of me thinks to be human is to have emotional problems and some of us just admit it, another part wishes I’d just been born with a kinder brain, a more blissful form of simplicity, and a higher level of serotonin—a bit of Kardashian, if you will, tossed into my all-too-David DNA.”…..

    ….Ouch, that will leave a bruise…..

    Anyhoo, after my last relationship blew up in my face I decided to take myself out of the game. Not for ever, just until I figured out what my problem was, and yes it had to be my problem because I was the main common factor.

    Turns out I was lazy. I was attracted to damaged women because it meant I got to fix their problems, and fixing their problems meant that I didn’t have to fix my own. The irony is that by forcing to look at myself as the problem instead of blaming her would be one of the driving factors that got me away from alcohol. Being sober has allowed me to grow up.

    I guess it’s a male thing. We are comptetive, and we measure ourselves with our ex’s next boyfriend. So that real sense of loss will come later. So if you ladies really want to stick it to your ex-boyfriend – date up.

    The key is to realize that one should learn to be happy alone, and not to define happiness through another person.

  • Joe

    “All relationships are successful, some are just shorter than others” — that’s great way to look at it. I always try to realize that if either person in a relationship doesn’t want it to continue, it’s better to just move on a quickly as possible. That’s obviously easier said than done because emotions are always involved. But you can’t let emotions dictate your actions. When you do, you sometimes up doing some very irrational things.