On Finding Closure In All the Wrong Places

My boyfriend and I recently broke up. That is to say, I broke up with him, but it was mostly mutual. And by that I mean it will be mutual in the future when he realizes we weren’t right for each other. It’s just that we’re not quite there yet. This is how I know.

In late July, exactly one month after the date of the untimely break-up that occurred shortly after he’d finished undergrad and followed me to Brooklyn, which happened to coincide with the date of the True Blood debut, I received a call from the illustrious ex-boyfriend. After contemplating the screen of my Droid until the cymbal-ridden ringtone became unbearably grating, I answered the phone with a degree of enthusiasm that straddled the line between the squeaky, “Hey there, acquaintance I just bumped into on the street after months of not seeing each other even though we live on the same block”-friendly and “I’m trying to mask the awkward with exaggeratedly high decibel levels”-friendly. Needless to say, I kept my cool.

“Hey!” he responded with identical cadence and inflection. I should have taken this as a premonition of doom.

He had a landed a fancy job in the suburbs at a hedge fund that was big on yoga and hefty salaries. As a requisite, he’d be moving to Connecticut and had signed a lease that very day for a studio that cost exactly twice my monthly rent. As we chit-chatted and hit a moderately relaxed rhythm of meaningless banter, I began to forget that this was the first contact with someone who probably hated me and was pretending not to in an effort to salvage all that we’d once had. I recalled the drunken sidewalk make-out sessions teetering into the nearby foliage that you can only have in college. I remembered fancy dinners at cozy New American bistros we went to courtesy of Restaurant.com discounts printed on 8.5 x 11” computer lab paper while we pretended to be grown-ups, before we realized that being grown-up would be so, so hard. I considered the sweet practicality of said ex-boyfriend, the times he’d assented to watch seven straight episodes of Sex and the City when I was feeling mopey on a Sunday afternoon. The time he left me a voicemail saying he’d hoped I was still awake to talk to him, but that now he hoped I was sound asleep—I needed it. The three Christmases in a row he bought me the same iPod because I immediately broke it every time.

Through the speaker, I heard him say, “So I was wondering if it would be okay if I got you an early birthday present.”

“Absolutely not,” is what I remember saying. “That would be completely inappropriate.”

This may not be true. It’s possible that I was curious about what said birthday present could be. Potentially, I was a bit more ambivalent in my assertion that accepting a gift from an ex would definitely not help the situation and could only hinder both of us from moving on and ceasing our attachment. Unfortunately, we’ll never know, since just hours later, I deleted the text history from my phone in yet another attempt to cut ties and foster a steadfast, albeit forced, sense of growth.

The following day, I returned home from work, unlocked and shoved open the perpetually swollen wooden door to my apartment, and cast my eyes upon an alluringly paperback-sized parcel from Amazon lying among the white envelopes strewn across the floor of the entrance. Since childhood, I’ve been unable to resist checking the address label to a package, despite the fact that now nearly every tiny brown box in the lobby has somehow belonged to my upstairs neighbor whose life I vicariously live – through her bubble mailers from Michigan and Vermont for which the only explanation is that she is undoubtedly an undercover drug lord. This time, the name on the cardboard was my own.

After complaining loudly and conspicuously to my roommate that the ex had explicitly ignored my request to not send any gifts and thereby minimally reducing my level of guilt, I scurried to my room and unsealed the clear duct tape.

The note read, “A book: pretty lame present for a pretty cool girl.”

My excitement mounted. Perhaps it was the new Jeffrey Eugenides. Maybe he’d seen my Facebook post on David Foster Wallace and sent along the hefty Pale King I’d meant to lose myself in, or at the very least keep on my nightstand. I’d even be thrilled if he’d thought to return my copy of Watchmen.

Inside, I found a dazzling, gold-leaf-edged, hardback copy of… Lolita.

“Hi. Got the book,” I texted. “Question—do you know what Lolita’s about?”

“Nope. Saw it on your Goodreads list, why?”

“Give it a Google. Goodnight!”

Sometimes clarity’s hard to come by. But sometimes, it comes in the form of a modernist Nabokov novel about pedophilia and when to stop romanticizing the past. TC mark

image – Lolita

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  • http://umcheckplease.wordpress.com umcheckplease

    what if he did get you one of those books you were hoping to receive??? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504951716 Tau Zaman

    That is fucked.

  • Bkenned8

    lolita is a pretty solid read…but you’re right, the person who sent you that is a dick.

  • http://hydeparkblvd.wordpress.com Allison Berger

    Wonderfully written.

  • Guest

    You know what’s douchy? People who pretend that breaking up with someone is the same as being broken up with, or that it’s okay to call a break up mutual when it wasn’t. Having your heart broken is a completely different experience that deciding you’re done with someone. Not that I think you were wrong to end things with this person; if you felt strongly you weren’t right for eachother, obviously it wasn’t going to work.

    • MayNoActofOursBringShame

      I completely agree. As someone who has also had their heart ripped out by someone who wanted to “find themselves”, I know that this break up was not mutual at all. I only wish your ex a speedy recovery from the pain you continue to put him through. Do you think airing the dirty laundry of your relationship on the internet is ok? He clearly cared very deeply for you, even after you led him to New York to break his heart. What surprises me is how much this article focuses on money, rent, ipods, material goods, dinners, and WHAT YOU WANTED. You should stop thinking about people in your life and relationships in terms of money, and your self centered view of the world. Start by remembering all of the times he was there when no one else was. Do you think he wanted to spend his Sundays watching four episodes of Sex and the City? Yes, things didn’t work out, and it’s probably good they didn’t, but show some respect, and don’t use your recent breakup and his pain as fuel for your published works.

      • Guest

        some guys actually like sex and the city 

  • Rah!

    lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      rah~

  • http://mannaarie.tumblr.com/ Manna Arie

    I really don’t see what the big deal is.

  • Anonymous

    That’s just depressing.

    You know what, if he bought you a book he didn’t bother to find out the contents of, despite knowing that it was on your reading list (and therefore the contents are what you are primarily interested in), that shows….a fundamental incompability in values. Not that yours are better than his, you’re just different.

  • another alum

    By “New American bistros” “courtesy of Restaurant.com” I could totally tell you went to UP.

    • http://hydeparkblvd.wordpress.com Allison Berger

      ZOLA

  • coffeeandinternets

    I have quite a few thoughts on this, and wasn’t sure how to address them.  So I’m going to put a play-by-play of what I thought as I first read:

    “My excitement mounted. Perhaps it was the new Jeffrey Eugenides. Maybe he’d seen my Facebook post on David Foster Wallace and sent along the hefty Pale King I’d meant to lose myself in, or at the very least keep on my nightstand. I’d even be thrilled if he’d thought to return my copy of Watchmen.”

    Alright, I’m with you.  I have novels I really want to get as gifts too, so that I don’t have to pay for them.

    “Inside, I found a dazzling, gold-leaf-edged, hardback copy of…Lolita.”

    Why the dots, girl? Do you already have the copy in, like, three different editions? Are you more a silver-leaf-edged kind of lady??

    “Hi. Got the book,” I texted. “Question—do you know what Lolita’s about?”

    Starting to side-eye.  I mean, what if he did get you Pale King?  It’s about IRS WORKERS — just as much as Lolita is about pedophilia — which isn’t exactly the most romantic novel theme in the world.  And from your earlier sentiments, it seems like you would have been excited to get the books you actually wanted regardless of whether your boyfriend knew the plot.

    “Nope. Saw it on your Goodreads list, why?”

    I don’t know the dude and I’m sure you have valid reasons for breaking it off, but I have never dated someone who was so thorough as to check out a Goodreads list to find a gift for me.

    “Sometimes clarity’s hard to come by. But sometimes, it comes in the form of a modernist Nabokov novel about pedophilia and when to stop romanticizing the past.”

    Unless you’re 14 and he’s…old, I don’t know why Lolita’s plot is such a sticking point to you.  To be sure, Lolita is very well-known for its eroticism and creepy stuffs, but it’s also one of the most well-written novel in the English language.  It is a beautiful example of the power and persuasiveness of words. 

    SO ANYWAY just wondering why Lolita was a thoughtless gift but the other books you did want would have been okay.  He checked your Goodreads, girl! He got you a hardcover! I should be so lucky as to ever have an ex who upgrades a birthday gift to hardcover.

    • Customconcern

      Duh, coffeeandinternets. It’s not about what the books are about. It’s what they’re perceived as being about: what people will think the book represents, not what is actually in it. Never mind that Lolita has some of the most beautiful writing in the English language. 

      Hence: 

      Lolita– creepy book about creepy relationship between old guy and young girl. 

      Pale King– ‘cool’ book by that guy who wrote that thing about the cruise ship and killed himself, or something.

      I’m so sick of people namedropping books/authors as a way of signalling their identity. It’s like a post-university version of “I love Green Day and therefore I am…” that everyone did when they were 13/14. I’m also sick of people who say ‘Question’ before they ask a question, but that’s just a personal thing. Anyway, this was a fairly well-written article, but if the author doesn’t want that copy of Lolita… I’ll have it. 

      BOOM! Am I creepy now? 

  • Mikehrom

    I don’t get why you are upset. What is the point of this post?

  • Anonymous

    I think the problem with us girls, maybe particularly with us girls that enjoy literature a bit too much, is that we are always expecting deep meanings out of something, a perfectly designed character. You know, like a sign of “I really care about you and went to great lenghts to get you the perfect gift/book” [AND it doesn’t have to be fancy/expensive]. One could argue that, yes, he was sweet enough to go a check the goodreads list and get something out of it BUT it also sounds a bit lazy like, bam she wants this, I don’t know what it’s about, but let me get it. Also, when someone doesn’t know Lolita [and hey, I’m not a big Nabokov/Lolita fan btw] it is kind of a bad sign for all of us hoping for the perfect guy whose excellent braincells match his appearance. But then again, perhaps that’s why I’m a hopeless bachelorette.

    • coffeeandinternets

      I could be reading too much into it, but what you’re describing reminds me of the Lloyd Dobbler Phenomenon…an unreachable standard created through a fictional character who supposedly conveys what love is supposed to look like.  We want that boom box moment; we want to be saved by a boy playing Peter Gabriel only for us.  Per Chuck Klosterman:

      “I wish I was Lloyd Dobler. I don’t want anybody to step on a piece of broken glass. I want fake love. But that’s all I want, and that’s why I can’t have it.”

    • Anonymous

      No, you’re a hopeless bachelorette because you come off as an insufferable bitch.

  • rose georgia

    i’m confused. from his perspective he was getting you a present he knew you wanted and that he hoped you would appreciate. he bought you a beautiful copy of a book that wouldn’t fall apart like a shitty paperback, and that you would want to treasure.
    okay, so it was lolita and if he was your secondary school teacher that would be all kinds of weird and inappropriate, but as it is he had no idea what the book is about so ultimately the lovely copy of a book is just a lovely copy of a book – it could have been any title. that’s great that you figured out you really weren’t supposed to be together, but i think you’re reading too much into the book title and too little into how ungrateful you sound. 

  • http://sans.deadti.me/ Amy McDeath

    This is hilarious and brilliant and I didn’t see it coming at all. Got a sharp edge.

    Fuck tha haters.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=42002098 Mage Baltes

    You know that you weren’t right for each other because he bought you a book that you wanted without knowledge of the book?
    I’m sure you have other reasons, but that’s the argument that I gathered from this essay. If that’s the case then I know my parents aren’t compatible with me because they’ve bought me all sorts of gifts I’d expressed desire for that they didn’t know the significance of.

  • Jordan

    this was confusing.

  • fulldamage

    Nice work!

    @confused people:  It’s a description of a moment of epiphany.  It’s about realizing when you’re reaching for comfort from the past, from “childhood things,” by accident or without clear intention.  It’s not about dumping someone who got an unconsidered gift.  Come on.  

    • Anonymous

      What? What is the “epiphany” here? You’re saying the choice of gift confirms, for her, that she was right to break it off? That’s stupid.

      • fulldamage

        Is it?  Do you know anything about the relationship outside of the context of what’s written here?  If so, do tell!  If not, you’re making a lot of assumptions. 

        I’m amazed that so many people, ostensibly with some degree of higher education, are really stumbling over this.  It’s a moment of insight into feelings that were already there and needed clarity in order for her to stop waffling and act on them.  I don’t know how much more it can be spelled out.  It’s a slice-of-life, not an article with a thesis and not an analysis of WHY the relationship was wrong.  

        Do you think that people don’t fall in and out of love unless they have good and specific, rational reasons for it?  What a curious world that would be.  

  • Anonymous

    fuck the bitch who wrote this, fuck thought catalog writers bull shit pretense.

    • coffeeandinternets

      That’s a lot of hostility for a Sunday afternoon.  But then again it must be a shock to read about your relationship with someone on Thought Catalog.

      If that’s too vague, what I’m saying is you sound like the ex. And if you are, please continue while I go get some popcorn.

      http://i35.tinypic.com/x2wa4l.jpg

  • Anonymous

    fuck the bitch who wrote this, fuck thought catalog writers bull shit pretense.

  • a.

    You just had to put the DFW name drop in there, didn’t you?

    Out of curiosity, have you even read him before, or do you just have a copy of Infinite Jest that you casually leave lying around, hoping someone will comment on how literate you are?

    • Customconcern

      Everyone knows DFW has an abundance of syntactical swag. 

    • Jordan

      In her defense, sort of, 83.5% of posts on TC have a David Foster Wallace namedrop in it.  I checked COFFEEANDINTERNETS’ stats.

      It unfortunately just comes with the TC territory…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=707272007 Alex Thayer

    you dated someone that didn’t know what lolita was about?

  • WeAre...Ashamed.

    Kelly, it’s great that you have friends (Allison Berger) that clearly support you on your “I am woman, hear me roar” quest to shame and embarrass your ex, but this was completely tasteless.  You come off looking petty, insecure, and completely enthralled with material objects.  Wait, did I mention I’m wearing an Anthropologie dress while typing on my Mac and ironically listening to Katy Perry?  But I digress.

    I’m completely confused by why you felt the need to read so much into the book he got you.  Maybe he should have gotten you a gold-leafed version of a book called, “Kelly, I’m trying to be mature about what we had and show some respect to our past.” But I am certain that would have elicited an even harsher (and possibly more material-laden) post. 
    One thing here, however, is absolutely clear: If he ever reads this, he will be certain that this so-called “mutual break-up” was the best thing that ever happened to him.  As a former victim, too, of your selfishness, I just would like to say: Have fun wasting away in Material-land.  It will get lonely someday. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9383607 Kelly Murphy

      In the interest of full disclosure, this article was read and pre-approved for publication by the ex-boyfriend in question.

      • Dayum

        well then tell him he makes for a crappy editor, too

      • Guest

        Sounds like another case of you being a shitty ex who won’t let him move on. Also sounds like just the sort of person who might move to be with someone and get broken up with immediately thereafter.

    • Guesticulating

      Just as breakups are rarely mutual (which she admits, to her credit), the post-break-up gift to the ex is rarely about maturity and respect. It often has (conscious or not) self-serving intentions. In fact, it seems that this very thing is what the writer both feared and hoped for. Intentions aside, however, it missed its mark. This is someone whose interests no longer coincide with her own, and she’s realized it’s time to stop dwelling and move on. This is the whole point of the exposé.

      This has nothing to do with materiality – if it was, the article might have been written about receiving a book for a present full stop.  You are interpreting through your own admitted bias. Where does she supposedly roar about womanhood? And speaking of catcalling, you, more than the author, come off as petty and insecure.  Sticking with the theme: it’s time to stop dwelling and move on.

  • Guester

    I get that this website is a prime stomping ground for women to complain about/degrade men–especially the ones they used to fuck–but seriously, the guy tried what probably was a nice gesture and this is how you repay him? With a haughty, pretentious, condescending, way-too-revealing Thought Catalog post about how you dumped him (but he’ll get someday that it was for the best) and the moves that he did to deserve it in your mind.
    Believe it or not, men have feelings, too. And just as it wouldn’t be cool for some dude to rip on a chick he recently broke up with on a very public forum because she got him a book from his wishlist he found inappropriate (?!?!?!) it’s equally uncool for a girl to do it. I’m all for women being empowered, but let’s set the limits somewhere. You don’t get carte blanche to shit all over your ex-boyfriends just because you have a vagina.

    • coffeeandinternets

      “I get that this website is a prime stomping ground for women to complain about/degrade men”…really? Really. Reallllly though?? Half the articles here are written by dudes. Exactly half, trust me — I moonlight as a statistician when I’m not wasting Sundays analyzing TC comments.

      Anyway, I just want to say that I think you’re teetering on the precipice of sounding misogynistic here — your comment of “just as it wouldn’t be cool for some dude to rip on a chick he recently
      broke up with…” is what’s redeeming it.

      I’m not necessarily a fan of the article either, although I did like her ending sentiments.  However, I don’t see any part of her missive that is blaming gender.  I don’t think any of her observations would undergo radical change if all aspects of the story stayed the same and she was in, say, a relationship with another woman instead.

      But full disclosure — I am endowed with a vagina and my comments should thus be taken with a grain of salt.

      • Guest

        i dunno i kind of agree with guester — in heterosexual relationships women get way more leeway to criticize/embarrass men because men are expected to be stoic/not have feelings, especially post break up. there is not enough emphasis placed on the sexism men face and the damaging expectations and standards they must live up to. 

        if kellys exboyfriend wrote this about her, her friends would come to her rescue with “hes an asshole, how dare he publicly humiliate you? how dare he not consider your feelings?” but its not as socially acceptable for him to do the same, even though his feelings might be just as hurt. 

        this is why feminism is misconstrued as man-hating. which hurts everyone just as much as sexism against women. 

      • Guest

        I was with you until you said ‘sexism men face’. Probably not the best way to put it, but I feel your intent.

  • Bobby Barrett

    What is wrong with you, seriously? Do you have any idea how much of a bad person this post makes you look like? I can only hope he finds this and realizes, immediately, how much better off he is without you. People exploiting others’ pain like this is absolutely disgusting.

  • Joy

    This article makes you seem incredibly immature. 

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