We're coming up on Valentine's Day this week, kids. Love abounds! Except when it doesn't. And you know who you are. And believe me - though I am crazy-insane in love with my wife for decades now, there was a time when I treaded the ground of "Having to Figure Love Out." And that inevitably included break-ups. And man, I hated those.
I used to work with a girl named Tobie.* Tobie had lived in Las Vegas for a number of years, but originally heralds from Planet Drama, where she is considered royalty. (*Names have been changed. Kind of. She spells it without the “e.”) Each morning when I walked into the office, I couldn't wait to see what the Crisis De Jour would be. The dramatic episodes ranged from “Last night I talked to my mom for the first time in three years!” to “I lost 1.5 pounds!” And most memorably, when she broke up with her boyfriend of eight months. Or more accurately, he broke up with her. And what, I ask you, could be more dramatic than that?! (Well, if you’re Tobie, then just about anything.)
So I’m listening to her heartbreaking story, line upon line and precept by precept, when I suddenly begin having flashbacks to my own breakups. I start getting knots in my stomach, I get a little moist under the arms, and I find myself looking for the opportunity to assure Tobie that her and I can still be friends, even though we aren’t the ones breaking up. It’s just instinct.
For me, breakups were the absolute worst. I avoided them like they were cancer. Oh, how they pained me to the core of my dating soul. It’s still hard to talk about some of them…
Tess Dresher. Fourth Grade. I can still recall the day she walked up to me during recess and asked me to “go with her.” “Sure,” I answered. And those were the last words every exchanged between Tess and myself. We occasionally sat by each other, and I gave her a very special Peanuts Valentine’s Day card, but we never did speak, or even make eye contact. So I guess technically we are still “going together.” Boy is she going to be mad when she finds out I got married and had eight children. She’ll want to break up for sure. I’m not looking forward to that conversation.
Julia Zimmerman. High School. It was the summer of 1987, and I was sixteen years old – with a license to drive and to date! I knew Julia really liked me when her mom had grounded her and she promptly ignored said house arrest to go to the movies with me. Yes, we were young and crazy in love! I was pretty sure that after the summer of 1987 I could die happy. By fall of 1987 I was so miserable I was praying for death. We went to different high schools and Julia was first to acknowledge that our long distance relationship wasn’t really going to make it. I nodded my head in agreement, but inside I felt like somebody was cramming my heart through a paper shredder.
College break-ups were the toughest, obviously. You've all been there. Sometimes it's almost cliche. But there was genuine pain, due to genuine feelings and possibilities. It might be too soon. I don't think I can talk about it. Her name was Danielle. It was Halloween night. We had gone to a party and we were sitting in my car in the parking lot of her apartment complex. I was dressed as Aladdin, she was Jasmine. Things had been in the pooper for quite some time, and it felt like a stranger walking by could glance in our direction and know exactly what was happening. It was silent for a few minutes, and then I spoke up. Tell me if you've had this exact conversation before:
“I think we should see other people.”
"Define our relationship,” she said.
“Define our relationship!”
“Uhm…we should…see other people…but we can still be -”
“Are you giving me the Friend Speech? Don’t you DARE give me the Friend Speech!”
“Uh…NO…never, never. I think it’s just me.”
“OH, NO – the ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ bit?”
“Noooo! That’s not what I mean at all...”
An eternal silence. Like…three days have passed while we’ve sat in the car. And finally she speaks.
“Well, what do you want me to do?”
“I…don’t understand the question.”
“I can’t do this!” she yelled, and bailed out of the car.
Joy to the world.
It was truly painful. Of course, not as painful as Tobie’s overly dramatic reaction to the hair she found in her salad at lunch one day. “I almost ate this and diiiiiiieeeeedddddd!”