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i'm ok. you're ok. we're a mess
the breakdown on breakups
by roger striffler
5.27.01
pop culture


It's rare that my columns contain a disclaimer, but this one does; and it's a pretty obvious one. I am not claiming to understand relationships or have the secret to making them work. I mean, let's face it. If I knew that, this would be a book, not a column, and I'd be off on the road right now on a very successful (and lucrative!) tour.

No, this is merely a little list of things I've learned over the years from being in or witnessing relationships that were something short of successful. I share this with you now, not because it's earth-shattering, but because I think sometimes people like to hear something and say, "Hey, you noticed that too...". Call it a hunch, but I'll bet we can all relate to some of these.

First of all, a little relationship math:

Good person + good person does not equal good couple.

Just because two people are very cool, have similar interests, share a group of friends, and may even like hanging out together, that in no way implies that they'll be a good couple.

Example: I knew a couple in college. Everyone thought he was a great guy; fun and enthusiastic. She was bubbly and witty and everyone loved being around her. But together, the combination was explosive. It was like rubbing two sticks together until...no, wait. Bad analogy. It was an almost daily roller-coaster ride between agony and ecstasy. One minute it was young lovers in paradise, the next you could hear the fighting three dorms away. And it wasn't for lack of caring. They loved each other to pieces - almost literally.

And really, that doesn't surprise me much. Why would think that they should be such a great couple? When I think of the people I care most for in the world, I realize that I couldn't live with half of them, and probably couldn't have a relationship with any of them. And I'm sure they feel the same about me.
(Note: the couple above finally went up in flames - not literally, thank God - though that certainly was a possibility. Both ended up meeting someone else, getting married, and are now good friends.)

Another simple rule:
Breaking up is easier when one of you is a jerk.

Anger is a much stronger emotion than sorrow, and it carries a lot of energy with it. Why, you can spend hours, days, or even months imagining your ex being roasted slowly over an open flame, being torn apart by wolves, or involved in a grisly car wreck. Better yet, how about falling for some gold-digging tramp and being taken for all he's worth? Even temporarily, hating someone can become a whole reason for living in and of itself. Besides, it's a welcome change from wallowing in self-pity, and hey, he deserves it, the bastard!

Think back to one of your own breakups. Ever notice how your significant other started acting really odd, almost begging for a fight? That's exactly what was going on, because it's always easier when there's a bad guy - even when you're the bad guy.

If it's easier when there's a jerk, it’s worse when it's nobody's fault.

This happens all the time. Two people meet, feel some attraction to each other, and have enough in common that it seems obvious that they should date. So they do. And it's great. It's new. It's fun. Thing is, it doesn't stay new. And great becomes good. Then good becomes comfortable, which quickly becomes boring. Next thing you know, someone asks you why you're still together, and you don't know what to say.

And it's nobody's fault. The magic faded and there was nothing to replace it. Maybe you grew slowly apart. Maybe you ran out of things to say. Maybe you feel pressured because, as a couple, you feel like there should be more there than good friendship. Maybe you’ll never know, but you do know one thing; there’s no one to blame.

If you're lucky, you part as friends, though even then there's a period of time when you really can't deal with the other person, because in some indescribable and yet very profound way, you can't help feeling like they betrayed you. They let you down, and you can forgive that, but they'll never be quite the same in your eyes again.

And finally we have the worst breakup of all; the ten little words that will rip out your still beating heart, throw it on the ground and grind it into the dust:

"I love you, but I'm not in love with you."
That sucks.

But why is this the worst? Because it's completely unarguable. If someone isn't in love with you, well, then that's pretty much it. You can't make them love you, and they can't make themselves love you. They would if they could (or so they say), and you want them to (or so you think), but it’s not going to happen. Deep down in side, you know that, but you still want them to try. Just once more. Maybe with time you'll come to love me... And when it doesn't happen, and you know it’s over, there's just one thing need to know.

Why?

I loved you. - Why wasn't that enough?

I gave you everything - Why wasn't that enough?

I thought of no one but you every day we were together. - Why wasn't that enough?

And the painful answer is, “It just wasn’t.”

And you’ll torment yourself, poring over memories looking for a reason. You’ll blame yourself, believing you must have done something wrong. And finally, you’ll accept that some things simply don’t have reasons, and you’ll let go and move on.

Now, if this sounds negative - if it sounds like I'm down on relationships - I'm not. I look forward to every one I'm going to have, especially the last one. But the fact of the matter is, until one sticks, all the other relationships are going to end in a breakup.

So you might as well get used to the idea, take some comfort in the knowledge that it's the same for everybody, and dive in. Admit the risk and focus on the possibilities. You won't be the first to get hurt, you won't be the last, but you may very well end up with the person of your dreams, and that makes it all worthwhile.


ABOUT ROGER STRIFFLER

See that job title? Check it out: "Spy". How cool is that? I know, you're probably wondering what it means to be a spy for an international organization like Intrepid Media, huh? Well I'd love to tell you, but I can't. It's all part of the spy game, baby.

more about roger striffler

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COMMENTS

tim lockwood
5.27.01 @ 4:32p

You know, that "I love you but I'm not in love with you" thing has never made sense to me. I just may have a different view of love altogether, but as far as break-up lines go, it is stupid. I believe, if I love someone, I'm in love. The preposition in that phrase is, to me, redundant, and the sentence is politician-meaningless.

It's a cop-out that makes as much sense as, "Can we still be friends?" To which the answer is NO, dammit, you just yanked my heart straight from my chest and horked a loogie on it. None of my friends have ever done that. If they did, they wouldn't be my friends, now would they?


matt morin
5.27.01 @ 11:52p

First I was told it was because I wasn't Jewish. The second time we talked she said it was because she didn't want a serious relationship. The third time we spoke it was "just a gut feeling." I later discovered it wasn't any of those reasons. And whe I found out she had lied to me, my months of wallowing and self-pitty evaporated. I was mad. And that got me over her in less than a second.

matt morin
5.27.01 @ 11:54p

Postscript... Another rule: It gets so much easier when you meet someone you like better than the last one.

yasameen sharif
5.29.01 @ 10:10a

I disagree with Tim about the differences between loving someone and being in love with them. I dearly love my male friends, but would never consider myself to be "in love" with them. Even if at first when we met there was that element of "are we going to date or be friends" and even if we did date for a time and then ended up as friends, I may love them to death, but it is very different than the feeling of being "in love" that I get when I'm with someone that makes my toes tingle.

jael mchenry
5.29.01 @ 10:30a

I'm with Yasameen. There's a difference. However -- and this is a big however -- I think it should never ever be used as a breakup line. Anything that's this cliched, even if it's true, sounds like a lie. I'd distrust it the way I'd distrust any words that sound like the guy didn't come up with them himself. Which goes for the good as well as the bad -- I never buy "I've never known a woman like you." Or, back on the negative side, Matt's example of someone "not wanting a serious relationship right now." Where do people learn this stuff? Movies? TV?

adam kraemer
5.29.01 @ 11:35a

I think the hardest break up line I've ever gotten (mostly because it was impossible to argue) was "I'm just not happy." I was like, "Is there anything I can do? No? Okay. Well, I'm sorry, then." And that was it. Beats "It's not you; it's me."

roger striffler
5.30.01 @ 2:51p

Ugh. You're right, "I'm just not happy" really does stink, because the implication is "Without you, I would be happy."

I have to agree with Jael too - I've been on both sides of the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" thing, and even though it may be completely accurate, it's become so cliche that saying it is not helpful at all. At best, it's a one-line cop out that keeps you have having to actually express yourself.


roger striffler
5.30.01 @ 2:54p

Come to think of it though, the harshest line is probably, "Oh, you're still here?"

lee anne ramsey
5.30.01 @ 10:06p

Put me in the Yas and Jael camp: I actually FELT the "I love you but I'm not in love with you" feeling a million years ago. And as Jael recommended, I did not use it to break up with him. But he never really believed my other reasons, and years later he still doesn't understand "why". Sometimes, you just never understand. And what comes around goes around. Always.

lee anne ramsey
5.30.01 @ 10:08p

And Matt, I told you if you could just get MAD at her, you'd be over her, didn't I? Which brings me to another thing: you cannot help someone who is wallowing in grief over a breakup. I have never found the right thing to say to make someone feel better.

adam kraemer
5.31.01 @ 10:09a

I find, "Stop your friggin' crying and suck it up, you pathetic pansy," works at least as well as, "Come on, man. It'll get better in time; you'll see," except that with the former, at least you feel better.

joe procopio
5.31.01 @ 10:40a

Adam is right, which is why guys handle breakups less emotionally on the whole. The best advice I ever got was "shut the fuck up and let's go get a beer."

matt morin
5.31.01 @ 1:04p

Never underestimate the emotionally reconstructive powers of alcohol.

lee anne ramsey
5.31.01 @ 3:13p

Hmm. While I have indeed used the "get drunk for 2 weeks" method for my own recovery, I have never suggested it to others. Good point.



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