This essay is one I wrote for submission to a literary magazine in New York that wanted break-up stories from the perspectives of the people doing the breaking up, since historically, break-ups are always examined from the POV of the person that got dumped. And the Dumper is pretty much always totally demonized, regardless of the circumstances. Luckily the person curating the magazine loved my essay. So we'll see if it actually sees the light of day beyond this blog. (And yes, I'm sure my ex would probably tell this story very differently as well. But that's why he can go write his own stupid essay if he wants to.)
For years now (3 years, one month and 7 days, actually…) I’ve resented that my last boyfriend forced me to break up with him. I take no small consolation, however, from the fact that I was his longest relationship to date (by 9 months) and that I was the first person that had ever broken up with him; he’d always previously been the Dumper. Never mind that it was a decision I made grudgingly and only because I knew he wouldn’t do it. I never expected, I guess, that he would be so relieved by it. I had let him off the hook. I had done the bastard’s dirty work for him.
The Dumper should never underestimate the power that he or she holds by doing the dumping. I might also add that they should perhaps never overestimate that power either. Aside from threatening to toss yourself off a cliff, breaking up with someone can be the most supremely manipulative action to take in a relationship. I was hoping that by breaking up with him, he’d know I meant business and it would frighten him out of his complacency and he’d realize what he was losing and beg me to stay. Only it didn’t happen that way.
Our relationship was dead. I think we were both aware of that, but neither of us was quite ready to admit it, at least not out loud. We had never gotten totally comfortable with each other, and we were both exhausted. It was no one’s fault, we were just mismatched. Timing, many people say, is the real key to relationship survival, and for both of us, it was the worst timing possible. I, however, was prepared to start over, begin from scratch with our new knowledge of this, but J. wasn’t. This was a fact later confirmed to me when a short time after our break up he told me how “relieved” he was that it was over. What was left of my heart, at that moment, crumbled to nothing. I think what’s most infuriating about that is that I knew he wanted out long before I did the breaking up. Except that J. lacked the fortitude and courage to break up with me. Partly, I think, out of a genuine love for me, and not wanting to let the dream go, but also, I am firmly convinced, because he didn’t want to be the bad guy.
My friends were all pretty sick and tired of hearing me whine about how miserable our relationship had become; how much he’d pulled away; how afraid I had become to be myself around him and the tension that created; how much I hated that he didn’t trust me enough to be truly open and giving of himself. Finally, after J. had been out of town for a week and made no attempt to see me for days upon his return, I decided I was finished. He had out-of-town guests coming in the next day for a full weekend of Central Texas barbeque-hopping that he was very excited for me to meet, so I had to wait until the weekend was over.
One might think having this kind of knowledge, and hoarding it from your completely unsuspecting lover of a year while you had to entertain his friends would make for pure misery, but you might be wrong. It’s sort of like how when someone commits suicide, and all of their friends are so shocked because they seemed so much happier than normal right before it happened, and they thought for sure the suicide committer was feeling much better. Well, that’s because the person committing the suicide had already made the decision to do so, thus freeing up that previously occupied part of their mind, or emotions. They vow to simply enjoy their last few days, or weeks, or whatever. Well, that’s sort of how I felt about this relationship. I was ninety-nine percent certain it was over, and that I was pulling the trigger, I just wasn’t positive about when.
So we had a lovely weekend taking his Northeastern friends to five different BBQ joints in one day, gorging ourselves stupid, hitting up flea markets, and having a great time. That evening back at his house he and I made fresh gazpacho from tomatoes and ingredients we bought at a farmer’s market in Luling, Texas. We had incredible sex that night and slept like babies. The next morning, however, he irritated me, we got in a fight, and I stormed out of his house and skipped out on breakfast with the guests. The next night, Monday, I showed up at his place and broke up with him on his front porch.
I told him I thought it was something we should do, but not something I wanted to do, and left the decision up to him. I suppose that was a bit cowardly of me, but what else was I supposed to do? I was in love; so in love. And he wasn’t. And we both knew it. He said he’d have to “think about” my proposal, which basically amounted to, “This seriously needs to change, or it needs to end,” but as we talked it became quite clear that we just didn’t see things the same way anymore. We’d had a good run, but it was done.
As I gave him a goodbye hug, his lip trembled and he choked up, and it was the only time I’d seen him show any real vulnerability in the year that we were together. I walked off his porch and went home. It was 2 days before I cried about it, but once I started, I didn’t stop for a year.
Being the one that instigated the breaking up, in essence being the Dumper, gave me a false sense that it wasn’t really over. If he’s always dumped everyone else, I reasoned, but I dumped him, and he sends me emails telling me how sad he is and how much he misses me, then surely I’ve made a mistake, I thought to myself. I kept the hope alive that all we needed was some time apart and a chance to miss each other before we got back together. It took me two years to let go of that. We talked occasionally during that time, but it became increasingly clear that we had nothing left to talk about, and even less still in common. And that he had zero interest in getting back together. Did he love me? Yes. Did he want to get back together and be in a romantic relationship with me? Uh…no.
Emotionally, it still feels like I was the one that was broken up with, even though intellectually I know it isn’t true. If I hadn’t brought it up that day, who knows how things might have turned out? I suspect he wouldn’t have let it go on much longer, but I can’t say for certain. It was a milestone in my emotional development, to be able to recognize that it wasn’t working, that maybe, despite all I wanted to believe, he wasn’t the One for me. For the first time, I had to make a decision to let go of something I wanted more than anything.
We’ve both moved on, and I think probably much happier with other people now, but I can always look back and say, “I let him go, and we both survived, and we’re both probably the better for it.” I still think of him often and hope he’s doing well. I suspect we’ll never speak again, and I don’t particularly want to. If I were to ever see him again, that little spark, that little “What if?” might still be there, and that’s nothing I’m interested in ever opening back up.