Nothing milks the pathos like telling people you’ve never been dumped. This piece of information provokes a whole spectrum of Strong Feelings, from the relatively benign “lucky bitch” to the more pointed “fucking sociopath” (a gem from a former university TA I’d run into on my 24th birthday, when excess beers turned both our nights into one big, sloppy confessional booth).
When my friend recently wrote about the pains of being dumped, I made it my mission to counter her argument with my own: that, if you have any self-respect, being the dumper can be infinitely worse. I speak as an expert. An expert in dumping.
I haven’t been in a whole lot of relationships in my life, but I’ve been in enough to know how they work. And here’s the thing: when a relationship comes to an end, it generally means it wasn’t working. There may have been deceit. There may have been denial. I could speculate all day, but the point is, needs weren’t being met for both parties (and, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll pretend that all relationships involve only two people).
I know some people who have been dumped in cruel, unforgivable ways. I know someone who got married, paid off their spouse’s credit card debt instead of their own student loans, and dutifully served as the household breadwinner before being swapped after 9 months for the town exterminator. In that case, I side with the dumped—even though one might argue that this person had their own poor judgement to blame for the situation—because, in that particular instance, the dumped had been completely disrespected, used, and discarded. It was about more than romantic rejection.
But when referring to garden-variety 20-something relationships (the ones that don’t involve life savings and/or offspring, say), being dumped doesn’t automatically equate being wronged. Often it’s a preventative measure, keeping situations like the one I just described from ruining people’s lives. Some might argue that it’s even (!) a mutually beneficial act. But it’s painful. And only the dumped gets the right to complain about it.
People love to ruminate over heartbreak. Ask someone about their favourite album or book, and you’ll inevitably be treated to some gorgeously turgid tale of lovers lost. Being dumped gives a person license to act like an art school teenager, no questions asked, for weeks and even months at a time. Years later, experiences gathered during these post-dump periods are recalled with a certain dramatic gravitas. It seems that, for some people, being dumped is almost a gift—an opportunity to superimpose oneself into a Smiths song or any episode of The OC. Being dumped makes stuff feel really significant.
While the dumped gets free reign to go all Angela Chase, dumpers aren’t allowed to wallow, even though dumping someone you genuinely care about is THE WORST. After I broke up with my high school boyfriend, with whom I feebly attempted to maintain a long-distance relationship for a few months into university, I couldn’t sleep for a week. I wrote him letters at 4am and ripped them apart. I collapsed into shriek-sobs when I ran into him the following summer at a hometown ice cream shop. Over six years later, it’s still one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But, it had to be done. Because we were too young and too different. Because I owed it to myself, and to him.
And, here’s where the self-respect I mentioned earlier comes in: a person who cares about their personal integrity isn’t dumping someone they hate. They’re cutting things off before an ill fit leads to resentment. They’re signing themselves off to be villainized in the sake of their own mental health and personal growth, and ideally, that of their partner as well. They’re knowingly positioning themselves as the Bad Guy, because it’s what needs to be done. It’s a huge, unwieldy, unsympathetic burden.
Wouldn’t you rather be dumped, too?