Breaking-Up is Hard to Do.
My husband told me about this woman he knows whose boyfriend dumped her while she was at work. He texted her, saying: When you get home tonight, I’ll be gone.
Surely after the initial shock, one can only expect her to be thrilled that she didn’t have to spend one more moment with someone who didn’t have the guts to tell her in person. And at work? On the one hand, you might need to ask your supervisor for the rest of the day off to collect yourself, but then it hits you…you’re going to have to pay next month’s rent all by yourself. Now you must spend the afternoon smiling at customers who are celebrating their engagement as you pour them champagne filled with the tears of your breakup.
Ending a relationship is never easy. In 'You’ve Got Mail', the protagonist and her boyfriend break up and are both mutually elated at the idea, but I think this scenario is less likely than the tearing out of one’s hair and the gnashing of teeth. Personally, I prefer the long goodbye. I find slowly disentangling myself bit by bit works wonders. Over a period of several months to a year, the relationship simply ceases to be. One day he comes home with someone new, and it’s like you were never together to begin with. For the most part, however, I find guys like to rip the band-aid off quickly. I once had a guy dump me after sex, and the worst part about that was he lived on Vancouver Island. He waited until the last ferry had departed for the mainland before telling me that we were through. I don’t think there is anything quite so humiliating as having to sleep on the couch of someone who’s just dumped you counting the hours until the coming dawn when you can finally slink away. It gives the term “walk of shame” a whole new meaning. What’s worse, this is the guy who fought tooth and nail to date you, the one you NEVER wanted to go out with but were slowly won over by.
My husband had a similar experience. He dated a woman who let him do everything for her while she continued to ask him advice on other guys she was interested in. One day his shrink said, “She just doesn’t love you.” And bam! That was it. It certainly excuses you from agonizing over what you did or didn’t do. When someone breaks up with you and says, “It’s not you. It’s me.” Maybe the best response would be to say, “No fucking kidding.”
I realized, pretty early on, that relationships have one of three possible conclusions. 1. Long-term cohabitation 2. Break-up or 3. Some kind of uniquely defined friendship in the vein of gothic romance novels where watching the one you love with someone else rewards you with a sort of excruciating masochistic pain. Having read far too many romance novels as a teenager, I often found myself in the third category pining over guys I had crushes on but who had no interest in me whatsoever. By introducing them to my best friends, to whom they were immediately attracted, I could date them vicariously. Eventually, in the true gothic tradition, you realize that you are, in fact, dating a ghost, and this makes you beyond pathetic.
As a feminist and equal opportunist, I must admit that I have been shallow on occasion. I once dated a guy because he had a six-pack. He had other qualities to recommend him, but the muscles made me stay. My girlfriends would often say to me, "How did you get so lucky?" And I sort of understood what they meant. I enjoyed who I was with Six-Pack. No longer the nerdy girl with glasses who could recite poetry by Lady Gregory, I was the girl with contact lenses who wore short skirts and loved watching sports. With Six-Pack, I didn’t have to think. I just shopped and went to parties and probably laughed more than before. We didn’t date long before he asked me to move into his house with him. This was a slightly ambiguous invitation because he shared a home with four others. Still, the location and rent were excellent, and my current domestic arrangement had gone sour when the apartment was overrun by cockroaches. Six Pack was probably not the best judge of character. If he had been, he wouldn’t have dated me, and of course, at the time, I was too narcissistic to notice. I mention this because his roommates reminded me of characters in an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
The creepy couple who retained control of the house embraced me with open arms.
“Welcome,” they said as they prepared a communal meal in the kitchen, where every surface felt sticky from residual honey and grease. The shelves were stocked with organic liquids and dried substances from various sources, which they added liberally to their meal.
“Did Six-Pack explain that in this house, we share everything?” they asked.
“When you say “everything” you mean…?”
They laughed. “Obviously, with your consent, of course.”
I looked around. A quick inventory in my head, and I could tell they didn’t have anything I’d want.
“Yeah,” I said, “sharing is fine. I mean, milk, butter, that sort of thing.”
I started to do the math in my head. It was June, and I could be unattached to Six-Pack by the new year and out of this house by February at the latest.
There were two bedrooms in the attic – mine and the one belonging to the guy across the hall who I never ever saw. The light from his room went on as soon as it was dark, shining a ghostly glow from beneath his door, but otherwise, no sign of life was ever evident.
Downstairs, Six-Pack had a considerable bedroom facing the street, and in the room beside him lived a bouncy airline attendant named Inga who only crashed there between flights. At the end of the hall lived Creepy Couple.
The house was an old Victorian mansion on a dead-end street in Yorkville. Beautiful at one time, it now looked depressed and neglected. “If these rooms could talk,” I said to Six-Pack, “We’d probably run out into the street, leaving everything behind and never look back. How many dead bodies do you figure have been carted off out of here?”
Six-Pack would just laugh.
I had been living there for three weeks when I came home from work and discovered my computer was missing. It was one of those weird moments when, because it seems impossible for a Bubble Mac to just disappear, you actually have to take a moment to keep from second-guessing yourself.
Down in the living room, Creepy Couple was having an argument (one of several a day).
“Ah, excuse me,” I interjected, “Have either of you seen my computer?”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” She said, looking at me the way a hunter might look at grouse. “Are you too dense to notice that we are in the middle of something?”
“Yeah,” I admitted, “Sorry to interrupt, but it’s my computer, and I need it.”
“Well,” she added, “You’ll just have to wait.”
Wait, I thought to myself, for the computer? For an answer? What am I waiting for?
Six-Pack was in his room reading, Crime and Punishment. “Hey,” I said, “you haven’t seen my computer, have you?”
He looked up from his book. “Oh, I think Creepy Couple took it to write their communist manifesto and wedding invitations. Did you hear? They got engaged?”
Until this moment, I had not adopted the attitude I refer to as “most people are crazy.” I believe the seeds for this line of thinking were planted, watered, and tended to by Creepy Couple, who, with a great deal of resentment, returned my computer to me while trying to make me feel guilty for owning it. The screen had smudge marks on it, and the keyboard was sticky.
“That’s it,” I said to Six-Pack, “I’m getting a lock for my door. You have a key in case of fire, but otherwise, under no circumstance are you to ever let them in.” And that is how things stood for the remainder of the summer. The Bolsheviks and the Romanovs under one roof.
As August approached, so did their nuptials.
“We would greatly appreciate it,” they said, “If you could make arrangements to be out of the house that day.”
So, Six-Pack and I made plans. When we returned later that evening, the bay window in the front had been smashed, and there was litter everywhere.
“What the hell?” I said as I made my way through beer cans and empty bottles of wine.
“Mind if I sleep in your room?” Six-Pack asked, “Since it’s the only bastion of protection.”
I was going to need a miracle to get out of this mess.
The following day Creepy Couple called a meeting. “It will cost about $500 to replace the living room window, which comes to $100 bucks each. You can give us a cheque or just add it to the rent.”
“Nyet!” I said and stormed off to my room.
A few days later, the miracle arrived in the form of a phone call to join a theatre company in Vancouver. It was rip-off the band-aid time.
“I’ll be touring a children’s play across B.C.,” I told Six-Pack, “It breaks my heart to say this, but I think this is goodbye.”
“No,” he said, “Not goodbye. I’ve been accepted as well.” He smiled at me in his tank tee and jeans. “Isn’t that great?”
“Yup,” I thought, “How did I get to be so lucky?”