Last night, my dearest male friend phoned me for a long overdue catchup. Once we moved through the requisite “the way we live now” summaries, the conversation turned to diamonds. Yes, those kinds of diamonds. Earlier in the week, one of his coworkers had “popped the question” and suddenly found himself a fiance to a fiancee. His coworker’s news set off an alarm — now firmly settled in Los Angeles, with his own longtime squeeze readying herself to join him and armed with a bonus to be put towards a mortgage on their first home, my Main Mellow Man’s own engagement had become eminent. Understandably, the boy had bling on the brain.
His phone call and the excessive number of bridal magazines accosting me at the Whole Food checkout counter this morning were glaring reminders that February is a month for declarations of love and promises of everlasting devotion.
Well…maybe not for everyone.
Only a few days earlier, another dear friend called with some relationship news of her own. She had received an email from her ex-boyfriend. They hadn’t spoken since he had abruptly and badly broken up with her. It wasn’t a post-it note break up, but in many ways it was far worse. 5 months had passed and she was finally settling into the freedom of her new singleton status. The attempt to reestablish contact stormed her inbox without warning. It was a “mustard gas” email and she was ill-equipped for the attack.
The email sought absolution for his sins — he felt guilty for being so selfish. The email was apologetic — he was sorry, so sorry, for ending their 5-year romance without having voiced his concerns about their “problems.” The email sought her sympathy — the silence eradicated their entire relationship, and he didn’t want to do that, after all, some of those years had been good years. The email, with its saccharin sting, was the meanest thing he could have possibly done.
When she showed me the email, in an understandable fit of panic, I had this awful sense of deja vu. The story was all too familiar: terrible break-ups initiated by the guy. Several months of silence — usually demanded by the “injured” female. Then the email from the ex-boyfriend attempting to reestablish contact. The language is the same — from the apology to the request for some sort of response, even if negative. I’d seen it all before — in my own inbox and in the inboxes of too many of my girlfriends. Don’t these guys understand that no apology is going to let them off the hook? They don’t get to stop being the bad guy in the story of “us.” They gave up their right to absolution when they told us they didn’t love us anymore.
When a relationship ends, the power dynamic changes. In theory, while a couple is together there is no dominate “leader” — both parties exercise equal responsibilities. Of course, we know this isn’t true. There’s usually one person who makes more demands on the relationship than the other; one person who needs to have his/her way, who needs more support, etc. And more often than naught, it’s this lack of symbiosis that is the root cause of a breakup. So half of couple decides they want out. At the moment of the breakup, the initiator of the end is fully in control — after all, they got to close the book on the preceding months or years. Once things are over, however, the one left with the broken heart takes the reins. The person who ended the relationship has to respect that they no longer have a say the course of the relationship.
“As the initiator of my breakup, I certainly feel like that position comes with certain responsibilities,” a trusted, and shall I say enlightened, male friend told me. “Mainly, these are straightforward– following the principle of, if you’re gonna break someone’s heart, don’t do things to make your ex’s life even worse…There are things that only my ex really knows about me, or understands, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to call and lean on her, no matter what kind of a spot I’m in… ‘please talk to me, I think about you all the time’ just isn’t allowed.”
Get that fellas?