Relationships have a habit of ending in eerily similar ways. Regardless of the circumstances of the split, neither party ever wants to be considered the villain. Our culture is too myopic and narcissistic to birth beings capable of living with their baser impulses. People will fight to their metaphorical death to claim moral superiority. I don’t even mean to say that both people have to be right about a disagreement, it’s that both people have to think they protected their opposite from emotional ruin.
When a relationship terminates, everyone needs to be able to say “I am a good person,” even if that’s not true.
A woman that dumped me recently made many tear soaked appeals for understanding during our final evening together. “David, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry to have hurt you. I just know I need to do this for my own sanity. It’s all too much and I’m too young and not ready to walk away from my life for you,” she said in between sobbing fits. I felt her emotion was genuine, that there was real regret inside of her. This was not an easy choice for her. At that moment, it was important for me to prove that I was a good person and leave without crushing her delicate spirit.
“I understand. I do. You need your space. I won’t stand in the way of your happiness.”
If I had turned around and walked home at that moment, firstly I would have won the moral high ground forever. I could be Lord of the Moral High Ground, the first person in the history of humankind to not be a vindictive bastard in the face of a breakup. President Obama would give me some sort of medal or commendation. Kate Middleton would show up at my doorstep with a basket of cookies. Little children would sing songs about my bravery. I’d probably get to guest host The Today Show and the government would run tests on my brain.
Instead of becoming a damned breakup legend, I said “I want you to be happy, even if I have to be miserable.”
No longer the bigger person, lacking the will to claim my pride from her clutches, I stood in front of my newly minted ex-girlfriend without so much as a molecule of pride.
“Please, David, I’m so, so, so very sorry. Tell me how I can help you get over this. What can I do to make this better?”
She had won. She could have left, but she chose to feign an interest in my well-being. Emotional support from your ex is akin to a serial killer feeding you expensive meats and cheeses before he or she cuts your tongue out. It’s not exactly any consolation.
Despite all that, her question was a gesture of goodwill, and my ex can always take pride in the fact that she made an attempt to ease the damage. My response to her was to insist that there was nothing she could do to erase my heartache. Only time, alcohol and Smiths records could save me.
Not only did I squander my chance to claim the moral high ground, I also failed to capitalize on the opportunity to be brutally honest with her. There are plenty of things she could do to make me feel better. I was too distraught to express myself in person, but I have more than enough courage to tell the truth on the internet.
Darling, I hope you’re reading this, because I want you to know that I would be thrilled if you could do one of the following five things within the next thirty days:
1. Introduce me to your cute friend. Remember Trish from NYU? She was in your sculpture class sophomore year. She came to visit us in LA for a week. Out of those seven days, she bathed about three times. You mocked her to me for her lack of hygiene, while I declared her to be a brilliant artist who lived outside the mainstream. We bonded over our love of Keith Haring, The Contortions and bendy straws. You got jealous and I had to make it clear that I loved you and would never cheat.
Well… I’m single now. What’s Trish up to? Do you still have her number? How open would she be to a more regular showering schedule? Can I still watch basketball on TV with her, or is that too bourgeois?
2. Cut me a large check. You owe me a lot of money. No, you didn’t really borrow much from me, but I also spent quite a bit on our apartment, on certain pieces of furniture you decided to keep and on countless dates to places I had no business eating in due to my shabby writer’s existence. I think I should be reimbursed for my time, energy and patience. I have created a detailed expense report, along with all pertinent receipts. I think you’ll find that everything is in order. Please mail me my check for $5,297 to my current address, or you can also send me the funds via Pay Pal at firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Move to another city. Both of us don’t have to live in LA, right? We are bound to run into each other and create an awkward moment of some sort. I might see you on a date with a new gentleman caller, which will just cause me to dunk my head in a public toilet and repeatedly flush until the image of you snogging some wet blanket is washed out of my eyeballs.
Let’s remedy this in an efficient manner. I will stay here in Los Angeles. I think you should be the one to move. If I remember correctly, you don’t even like it here. You say it’s too ‘impersonal.’ You say it’s ‘disjointed.’ You feel ‘stifled’ by the ‘philistines’ in their BMWs and Armani boots. “No one reads,” you say. “The public transit system sucks,” you moan. “I’m going to get cancer from the pollution.”
I’ll buy you a flight back to New York. Enjoy the pizza.
4. Announce you will be forever celibate starting immediately. One of the most painful aspects of a severed relationship is the ironclad truth that your former partner is eventually going to share his or her bed with someone new. You shared intimate moments with each other. You made love, likely on more than one occasion. You might have even made plans with this person for the future.
Those plans are meaningless. The future is a nebulous thing you can’t even fathom controlling. The only way to make that bleak reality palatable is to not have sex after our breakup. I’m sorry, dear. You have to cease inviting people into your bed. The mere thought starts me hyperventilating, and now that you’re gone, I have no one to drive me to the pharmacy to refill my prescription for Xanax (the generic, of course). You are welcome to stimulate yourself in any way you see fit, as long as that activity does not involve another living creature.
You probably deem this demand the most unreasonable thus far. You’re not necessarily wrong about that. Keep in mind, you did ask me what you could do to ‘help.’
5. Don’t break up with me. Please don’t do this. Please. Please. Please?