Friday, December 12, 2008


Earlier this month I broke up with the man I'd been dating since February. I've mentioned or alluded to him on-blog several times, but never properly introduced him--and maybe nothing is greater evidence of my shittiness than the fact that I'm only doing it now, after we've broken up, in an effort to assuage my conscience or whatever it is that I'm doing.

This is the first time I've broken up with anyone. Back in my early 20s I did pull a few fades with guys I'd gone out with a handful of times and just wasn't into--but it felt inconceivable that I could tell them as much. And several of my friends have argued that, in a sense, it was I who broke up with my long-term partner--since I was the one with persistent dissatisfactions, who had suggested that the relationship would end if certain changes weren't made. I'm fond of this interpretation, but the fact remains that I wasn't the one who actually ended things.

Each of the times I've been broken up with has been awful, but I wasn't prepared for how awful it would be to initiate a breakup, too. I knew I'd feel bad and probably rather sad. I didn't know I'd cry for three days.

I suppose it's always hard to cause another person pain, but when that person is someone you truly think is fantastic, who has been a perfect boyfriend, and is even--in all the usual and some unusual senses--a great "catch," it's hard, too, not to believe that you're crazy or at least ungrateful and possibly constitutively dissatisfied.

But I spent months telling myself that I was crazy, and that as long as being with him made me happy, I shouldn't worry about that vague sense that something was missing or my feeling--which I could never explain--that this wouldn't work long-term. Surely I was just resisting commitment, or wasn't completely over my previous relationship, or whatever. He was amazing. My friends loved him. Surely I'd settle into it.

And of course, it's not impossible that I could still settle into it, given yet more time, but I don't think so. I've never understood what people mean when they say "trust your gut" or "follow your heart": I don't feel things when I make decisions; I tend to know, with great clarity, exactly what it is that I should do. I didn't break up with him until I knew it was the right decision. Or rather, since knowledge implies the ability to explain--to point to specific problems or incompatibilities--maybe it actually is more accurate to say that I felt it to be right.

But what I feel, primarily, is awful.


Anonymous said...

Choice is a horrible thing. Pre-arranged marriages are the way to go. Intelligent self-reflection will be your doom.

Steve Fellner

Dr. Crazy said...

Man, that sucks, Flavia! Breaking up sucks no matter who does it. I advise chocolate and alcohol.

heu mihi said...

Yes. It sucks. Every time I've broken up with somebody I've wished that they had just dumped me--it always feels like that would be better, because then the responsibility would be out of my hands and I could just focus on my *own* feelings instead of the feelings of the person that I've hurt.

But you did the right thing, for both of you. You'll feel better. I'm sorry.

Dr. Virago said...

Wow, that sucks. {{{{{Flavia}}}}}

Doctor Cleveland said...

Sorry to hear it, Flavia.

Breaking up is always a miserable experience. Even that rarest of rare birds, the genuinely mutual decision, feels just terrible. But I hope that you're feeling happier and more peaceful soon.

A White Bear said...

It is awfully hard. I've managed not to do the breaking-up except in one long-term situation, and I do think it's a lot harder than being broken up with. But it wasn't a hasty decision, and if you need comfort, remember that you gave it a good try. If you're at MLA this year, give me a buzz and we can kvetch at the Hilton bar together.

I have to see the Dude In Question today. He's been putting off seeing me for seven months, which just makes it more nerve-wracking for me, and now we can't avoid it. Lord knows why we have the emotional reactions to things that we do.

I feel like it's not even predictable. Some of the most big-deal breakups in my life, I've been able to respond to with stoic rationality, while some of the most fleeting affairs have left me crying for weeks. Someone breaking up with me can be a shock, but I bear up fine, while something I see coming a long way off can really hurt. I wish there was some kind of graph that would show how much these things are supposed to hurt.

I hope you feel better very soon. Feel free to email if you want commiseration and a place to hash things out.

Hilaire said...

Oh, I'm sorry, Flavia. I know how hard that is, having done it myself to someone I loved deeply. (((Flavia))).

Renaissance Girl said...

Oh, how sucky. So sorry.

Addy said...

Giiiiirl, I feel you. I have done my share of fretting over "why the hell don't I like this fantastic guy more??" relationships... and of breaking up with guys when I realized that, yup, in fact, I just didn't like them enough.

You know you did the right thing. It hurts because you are a good person, you don't want to do harm if you can help it, and don't, in fact, enjoy hurting people - especially good, kind people who have never wanted anything but the best for you.

As much fun as it is in theory to think of oneself as a "heartbreaker", in actual fact, if you are a person with feelings, it mostly is just complicated and sometimes painful to go through multiple relationships. It's easy to see why sometimes folks probably settle for something comfortable and mostly ok... and then divorce a few years later when they realize comfortable isn't enough, and they couldn't sleepwalk through the remainder of their lives.

Anyhoo. Let yourself be sad. Wish him well. He will be fine. You will feel better. We take the risk, every time we open ourselves up for love, that it won't work out. Only one person (more or less) ends up being the one you are with forever... and the rest? Get hurt. Better that than the alternative, for most of us anyway.

I'm around if you wanna talk.

Sisyphus said...

Ahh, Flavia, I'm sorry and I hope you feel better. I second the offers to drink with you at MLA and send you virtual chocolate and strong martinis.

moria said...

You done right, girl.

Another in this string of hugs for you.

medieval woman said...

The certain knowledge that what you did was the right thing *is* your gut talkin'...I know it sucks, but it was the right thing.

Martinis on me at MLA...

What Now? said...

Oh, poor Flavia! And poor guy. It sucks for you both all the way around. I hope that the passage of some time helps you both.

phd me said...

Very sorry you feel awful. The end of relationships...well, they're hard, and it sucks, and there's pain. Just wish that wasn't the case for you.

Anonymous said...


The only thing that ultimately me is relationships, so I apologize if I sounded abrasive in the lead off comment to this post. But it does concern me that you're unable to articulate why you feel the need to break up with him --especially since a.) you are so deft in communicating these posts that it makes it such an entertaning read and b.) it does seem that this inability to name seems to be such an anomalie for you. Why do you that is so? It's such a disruption in your pattern, as you admit that I can't help if it's because there's a deeper part of you that feels (to use your word) you shouldn't for legitimate and even more significant reasons.

Regret can be a good thing. It causes useful panic--(ie the need to get back together with him.)

And I do think that any relationship does go through a break-up whether it's literally or on some psychic level.

I hope you realize that I predicted that the posts would inevitably affirm, and I think as a distant voice that it was my responsibility to be devll's advocate. That's the role I love to play and I would hope someone would do it for me in my more emotional times.

With respect.

Flavia said...

Thanks, guys.

AWB: I think you're right about the unpredictability of our emotions. I, anyway, am often caught off guard by them, and am frustrated when they defy rational explanation. I'm good at analysis, and I'm usually very good at understanding and articulating what I'm feeling, and why. But sometimes emotions just do their own thing, acting out of all proportion to what I know to be true.

Sheepish: Had been thinking about dropping you a line, actually, as something about the circumstances here reminds me of at least one of your own breakups--but I think you already said, here, more or less what you'd say. So thanks!

And Steve (whom I'm assuming to be Anon 9.58 as well): I took your first comment as half-serious and half-joking, and as such found it both funny and true. I'm not offended by the second, either, as you raise some reasonable questions (and as comments really shouldn't simply be an affirm-fest for a blogger!).

However, I'm not going to answer those questions substantively on-blog, as a) I wish to respect the privacy of the person I was dating, and b) part of what I try to do with my posts, as autobiographical as they are in many ways, is to abstract and generalize. That's especially true with posts that deal with my personal life. It's a useful discipline, for one, and I'm skeptical about how interesting truly confessional, blood-and-guts posts are to a wide readership.

So all I'll say is this: I would not have stayed in the relationship if it hadn't made me actively happy, and if I hadn't truly cared about the man I was dating. But I spent a number of months feeling that something wasn't quite right. I thought it might be A or might be B or might be C, but gradually each of those issues got worked through or evaporated on its own. And yet the feeling of not-quite-rightness remained.

During that time I'd occasionally wondered whether I should end the relationship, but it never felt right: the impulse always seemed born of either very minor conflicts or of external factors that I knew weren't related to the relationship in any important way.

So I waited. And then one day I did feel, truly, that it was the right decision.

Might I have made a mistake? It's possible. But I don't feel that to be true. And if I did realize it to be a mistake--in a month or six months or a year--it might not be fixable. I know that. And the fact that I now accept that risk may be the surest sign that this was the right decision.

Pamphilia said...

Flavia, I think you write about this very succinctly. A feeling of "not quite right" is clear enough.
I think many of us, at one time or another, have felt that way but been unable to state it so simply. You are both insightful and courageous.

But it sucks, I know. I already owe you a drink anyway, so the scotch (& champagne) is on me at MLA.

Margaret said...

I broke up with my fiance in my twenties and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I think part of the difficulty in being the breaker-upper is that you know that you are actively closing a door on someone, or something, or some kind of future... and it's often unclear as to what you are opening another door to. (Awkwardly stated, but hopefully you get the point.)

Jack said...

1) Let's not be hating on your gut, even if it is a teeny tiny bit of at thing compared to your giant brain.
2) That said, I am terribly sorry for and empathetic with you both for what aforementioned gut is making you feel right now.
3) Being actively happy, for whatever period of time, is no small feat. In that sense, you're both lucky people.

RLB said...

Late to the game, but wanted to say: I'm very sorry to hear this news, and I empathize -- I *know* how hard it can be to initiate that conversation. That said, though... my personal experiences over the past couple of years of dating have meant I've come to believe that one should trust one's instincts, as you have in this case -- if you feel it's not right, there's a reason for that, and there's no point second-guessing that or trying to convince yourself that the positives outweigh that feeling. If it's not right, it's not, and you both deserve something that *is* right. So try to pay minimal attention to any doubts that you did the right thing. You did, for both of you.