When my boyfriend told me, just shy of our one-year anniversary, that he didn’t want a girlfriend anymore, I almost choked on my savory pork belly dish and $12 cocktail. This candlelit dinner had seemed to be to signal that our relationship was on the upswing, and my boyfriend—who had been drifting a bit lately—was back. I couldn’t be more wrong. This wasn’t a let’s-try-again reunion dinner; It was our last supper.
My nervous system began to shut down. I went numb as I nearly tackled the waitress (“We need our check! Now!”). I was out the door in a shot; He was right on my heels. When we got to the subway station, I told him to give me back my keys. He resisted: “Can’t we wait till I come by and get my–”
“No. Now,” I said, fighting back tears (and failing). I stood there, rigid, as he wiggled each key off the chain, dropping them all into my hand with cold finality.
I cried the whole way home. What else was there to do? I got off a stop early so I could call my sister who answered sleepily, from her cozy bed in a suburb of Massachusetts. I was stunned—and furious. How could he? Why?!
In the wake of an emotional rupture like that, you do what you need to do: You call and email everyone in your support system. And then you wait. For the pain to wear off, for the healing to begin. I sought the unwavering support of my girlfriends, who rallied around me, even coddled me. My friend Renee texted, “I’m so sorry you two broke up. Should I hate him now? Tell me and I will.”
That’s why I love girlfriends; they’re angels in a crisis. They told me all the things I felt like I needed to hear: “I’m so sorry, honey. But he didn’t appreciate you.” “You know you can and will do better.” This is the role of girlfriends: to turn in the wagons, nurse you back to health, point out the flaws and, in many ways, hang lights in your darkest corners.
At a business lunch the next day (which I almost cancelled), I looked and felt like crap. I had been crying all night. “You want him back?” a man I’d known—a former colleague—boldly interjected. I was mute. Of course I did. I wasn’t the one who wanted to end it.
This guy—we’ll call him P.T. Carlito—continued to say the most outrageous things to me. He suggested he could show me how to get my ex back in a matter of weeks. He also said I was far too needy and straight-up crazy (“You know that, right?”). He said that if I wanted to get different results, I had to change my behavior, trust him implicitly and do exactly as he said. He was aggressive, obnoxious, cocky. I didn’t believe a word he said.
Not to mention, this guy has no business offering me advice. He’s just some middle-aged dude, married for 20 years. Just a guy, just some dingbat who hadn’t dated in forever. Who was he to tell me who I am and how to date? The feminist in me threw up a little in her mouth.
I was willing to listen to him once he made a wager—because of course I would come out on top. There was no way this guy could possibly do what he explicitly claimed he could do: Get my ex to come crawling back on his hands and knees.
My problem, P.T. said, was that I wasn’t choosing actions based on what I ultimately wanted; I let my emotions gain the upper hand and dictate my responses instead of the other way around. “No wonder you’re a disaster,” he said.
And what’s most embarrassing of all? I am a relationship expert! It’s true. I help other people all the time. But like even the best surgeon, I can’t operate on myself. No one has that talent. I needed that outside perspective. I just hated that it had to be coming from him.
“I’ll have him crawling back before the end of the year,” P.T. said, mouthful of arugula with a dribble of dressing on his lip.
“What?” I asked, incredulous. It was already late November. “Don’t you understand? He’s never coming back.”
“Before the New Year. You can count on it. I’ll bet my $1,000 to your $10. I’m that sure. And by the way—begging for you to come back to him. Begging. You better just be careful what you wish for.”
I scoffed, blew my nose, and entertained the idea. Why not try? What did I have to lose?
P.T. leaned in and aimed his fork at my forehead. “But I will need three things from you,” he insisted. “One, do exactly as I tell you to. Two, write a story about what a genius I am. You got that so far?” I nodded. “And three, when you do get him back, I need you to sing the song for me.” What song? “I got the beeessst daddy in the world…I got the beeeest daddy in the world,” he crooned to the tune of that American spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” He then broke into hysterical idiot laughter.
I cringed. It was a deal with the devil. We shook on it.
Rule 1: Cut Off All Contact
Later that same evening, I was sipping a potent mezcal cocktail at the Soho Grand with P.T. and a few other colleagues, my finger hovering over the “unfriend” button on Facebook. I felt like I was about to step off a cliff.
“Do it,” P.T. said firmly. “Trust me. It’s the best thing for you.” I did it. In a single gesture, my ex was instantly evicted from my digital circle of trust. I cried a little. Moving on to Twitter didn’t feel quite as painful, since ceasing to follow someone doesn’t feel as final as Facebook exile.
This was the first lesson: Doing the opposite of what you really want to do: Cut off all digital contact. “This process is not going to be easy,” said P.T. “It feels like the wrong thing. But it’s not. It’s about strategy.”
And it’s something women are rarely taught, by the way. We’re told to nurture, to empathize—but not strategize. We’re never shown how to act wisely in spite of our emotions in order to get the best possible outcome for ourselves, the thing we want. Feelings should be acknowledged, endured, managed, but let them rule your actions and your reactions, and you lose.
What happened: My ex not only watched my feeds more closely, he started tweeting and retweeting me in ways he never did when we were dating. Once I’d taken him off my radar, I had his full attention. (And turns out my Facebook posts were public, so he saw them anyway. Whoops.) But rest assured there was no “poor me” public ranting about it. None.
Rule 2: Enter radio silence.
Of course I missed him, wanted to talk to him. But, if you follow the rules, as I did, you will not. I not only resisted and didn’t initiate contact; I didn’t respond to any, either. This was hard. Because he wasn’t “gone”—he was sending a text here, a funny YouTube link there, a video of his roommate’s puppy.
I was itching to say something, anything. To sound my way out of the dark hole I was in. I missed him. I felt his absence like a gaping hole in my gut. But P.T. wasn’t having it. “You never made him chase you enough, that’s the problem,” he said. “Say nothing. You hear me?” Even in his texts he was yelling at me.
I feared what anyone would: That I’d come off cold, or give the idea that I didn’t want him when I did. Wrong. Far too many women think that if they “keep the door open,” that the ex will beat a path to their door. This is not the time to be friends, and doing so won’t bring him back. Reach out now and no matter what you say, you’ll broadcast your pain, need, and even resentment—the very things that will make him glad he ended it in the first place. “Stop it,” P.T. said. “Needy is not attractive.”
By shutting him out completely, I gave myself a chance to heal, but more importantly, said P.T., “You’re giving him a chance to feel what life is like without you.” After all, that’s what he had asked for.
And by the way, if someone really does want to come back into your life, he shouldn’t be slumping in through a back door you’ve left open, anyway; he should have to come around the front. And knock.
What happened: He started emailing and texting me more. It’s human nature; he felt he wasn’t getting my attention, so he tried harder.
Rule 3: Pack it up and ship it out.
As if the dinner-dump wasn’t enough, the second kick to the gut came when I looked around my apartment and realized his stuff still darkened the corners of my apartment. I told P.T. that I loathed the inevitable weepy, sad exchange of goods.
No, no, no. “Messenger all his stuff and send it to him immediately,” he said. “I’ll pay for it.” (Truth is, I’d have done it anyway, but I appreciated this gesture and accepted it). The message: Extricate it all, now.
Rather than play Radiohead and fondle his old razor, though, I put on Beyonce (I strongly recommend “Irreplaceable”) and packed that sh*t in a bag, taped it up and shipped it via messenger to my ex’s office downtown. And you know what? It felt good; empowering even. Because I wasn’t sitting there “waiting” for him to come and strip away what was left. I was deciding. I was in charge now.
This is key, because when you’ve been dumped, you feel your power has been taken away from you. You must make decisions and take action to get back in the driver’s seat. You may never be in control of all that happens to you, but you are always in control of your response.
Rule 4: Don’t show bitterness.
When my ex received his goods at his office via messenger, you better believe I got a round of riled-up texts. “Why would you do this?” he wrote. “I could have come pick it up. Do you really need to get rid of me that quickly? Are you trying to embarrass me?? That’s cold.”
My emotions tugged at me to retaliate, defend, argue, point to the irony of his response (really, dude?). But P.T. was not having it. “Never, ever be bitter. Never be resentful. Wish him well,” he said. “Fact is, he’s being a bitch about it. He’s doing whatever he can to get a response from you.”
When I resisted, he said something I’ll never forget: “You will never teach someone by explaining. You show through actions, not words.” I hated this guy. Because I knew he was right.
So instead of emotionally engaging, I replied, “Stop being dramatic. Now you have your stuff back and you can move on with your life, as will I. I wish you only the best. Goodbye.”
Then I returned to silence.
I figured that was the last nail in the coffin.
Rule 5: Go on a few dates.
I wasn’t counting on my ex coming back. And I knew that in order to move on I could only cry so many nights in a row; I had to get out into the world and fill my time with other people. Now, I should mention, sad as I was, I am a quick rebound and return to dating far more quickly than most. If you’re deep in mourning, you may want to wait a couple weeks.
Me? Two days. I was dumped on a Wednesday, and out drinking wine with a worldly air force general on Friday. Of course it was early, some would say too early. But I didn’t go out with the intention of finding a new boyfriend. I went to remind myself that I could enjoy the company of new men as soon or as often as I liked. I gave myself that option, and you should, too, if you can compartmentalize your grief (i.e., not spend the date discussing your ex).
(Added bonus: I also blogged about what it was like to be dating again, in a spirited, curious way…and posted them on my feeds. Where I knew my ex would be reading them.)
Rule 6: Expect the unexpected.
Or, in P.T.’s world, the inevitable result.
So you want to know what happened? My ex’s texts grew in intensity, frequency, and anguish, until he finally said, “If you want me to stop writing you say something. I’m starting to feel like a crazy person.” After a few weeks of silence on my end, right before Christmas, he broke: He wrote me a gushing letter confessing that he had made a mistake, he had taken me for granted, and that he wanted me back. He didn’t want anyone else. He wanted me.
I swelled inside with relief and, quite frankly, disbelief. And a little bit of annoyance: Curse P.T. He was right. That bastard!
With P.T.’s blessing, I did accept his invitation for dinner a week later (instead of making him wait until after the holidays, which was the original goal); it had been a month since we’d broken up. When we met up at a very nice restaurant in Tribeca, he was wearing a tie, and had an armful of flowers waiting for me at the table. He only asked that I consider dating him again.
I said I’d consider it.
We have been dating again, with renewed vigor; my ex came back to the relationship having learned a powerful lesson, as did I: That you have to be careful what you wish for. And know what you want. In this case, I wanted to give it, and us, another chance. But if that’s not what I wanted, it would also be okay; I’d have laid the groundwork for completely moving on. Either way, my path toward a fulfilling relationship was completely in my control.
What I learned was that it pays to resist the tug of emotion and do what will get you what you want, not encourage more of what you fear. Fact is, even if my ex did not come back, which was a real possibility, I still would have been better off—and well on my way to a perfectly fine life without him.
Next time I saw P.T., at a swanky lounge in Tribeca, he folded his arms behind his head, gloating like a king who had brought yet another hamlet under his rule.
“Well?” he asked, cackling like a fool. “Let’s hear it.”
I’ve got the beeeest daddy in the world…..