This already-epic Predicament of the Week from April 27, 1998 actually includes three responses: One from Breakup Girl, a second from the mysterious “Guy at the End of the Bar” and then a rebuttal from BG…
Dear Breakup Girl,
This gets a little complicated, but bear with me, I’ll try to be succinct. “Ted” and “Carol” move into town, where they meet “Bob” and “Alice,” who are good friends of mine from college. All five of us quickly beome tight and hang out regularly. Inevitably the breakups happen. First Bob and Alice split. It’s long and drawn out. Then Ted and Carol split. It’s long and drawn out.
At this point Bob and Ted are living together as roommates and of course within a few months Carol and Alice become roommates. Then my girlfriend, “Millie,” goes away for several months. Carol and I hang out, a lot, and discover, ka-zaam, this wonderful connection. We don’t act on it, even though we both acknowledge it and talk about it. Finally in a defiant stupid drunken evening we do act on it. I feel like sh*t because I didn’t want to cheat on my girlfriend and we were both worried about all the possible ramifications from Ted, Bob, and Alice. So we agree not to be so stupid and forget about it.
Years pass. We can’t really completely get each other out of out minds. The tension is still there but we hold off acting on it and I am essentially in denial about how crazy I am for Carol becuase I am in fact still going out with Millie (who unfortunately lives a shuttle flight away). Finally it happens again. Millie and I have been talking about breaking up. Carol and I have dinner and next thing I know we’re halfway to naked. But I can’t go through with it. I don’t want to cheat on Millie, even if we are breaking up.
Two months later Carol goes to grad school a shuttle flight away. Several months after that my five year relationship with Millie gets scuttled which takes me a very long time to get over. Bob moves to the shuttle flight away town and goes to grad school. Ted also moves there to pursue his lifelong dream job. As you can undoubtedly guess Bob and Carol hook up and in short order start living together. This naturally freaks Ted and Alice out to no end but this isn’t really their story. It is still a festering wound. In the meantime when Carol and I see each other (3-4 times a year) the connection between us remains as strong. We decry the fact that fate has kept us apart and we both agree that hopefully sometime will be our time.
But now we have all hit that 30-zone when the music stops playing and everyone grabs for a chair. That’s right: Bob and Carol have announced they are getting married. This freaks me out, Carol and I talk, she is happy about getting married but sad about us (rather, the lack of there ever having been an us). What can I do? The thought of Carol marrying Bob (or anyone else for that matter) kills me. I ache for her and I really always have, but something always kept us from being together. The problem is that we really did become great friends over the years and I know our feelings for one another are not just of the “grass is always greener on the other side” variety. The other problem is Bob. He’s great to have as a guy friend, smart, fun, good to hang out with but he is a sh*t to women. Always has been and I’ve known him for over 12 years. Definitely not who you would want your sister to marry, for example.
Can I try to prevent the wedding and ramifications be damned, in the I love Carol and I will do anything to be with her scenario? Or do I listen to my head and let it all pass and start looking for a whole new bunch of friends? Tell me, Breakup Girl, heart or head.
Advice Alert from Breakup Girl: The answer that follows immediately was my FIRST response to this letter — which caused a bit of a commotion over here at BG HQ this morning. Okay, read on.
Here’s the problem with ramifications: unlike torpedos, you can’t damn them. That is why Breakup Girl does not endorse stunts or sitcom stop-the-wedding! plots. I mean, they don’t even turn out right on television. Breakup Girl’s sense is that– awful as it is — you may just have to suck this one up. Here’s the key distinction I’m going on: unless I’m mistaken — and despite what you say about Bob’s icky treatment of women — Carol has not traced the letters “HELP ME” in the condensation on the window of the speeding car that is her impending marriage. At this point, all you can do is trust her: she is happy about the marriage, but sad about the you two that never was. Lots of people have One that Got Away; it just sucks if you’re that One and you didn’t really want to cut bait in the first place.
So right now, I don’t see an effective or appropriate way for you to intervene directly. BUT. There is precedent — both actual and literary — for The One That Was Meant To Be unions that come after The Wrong Marriage That We Had to Get Out of Our System. This is kind of what happens (before the wrong marriage takes place) in the current international bestseller “The Notebook,” which was just recommended to me by someone whose taste I respect. I will say that is not a book that should be tossed aside lightly; rather, it should be hurled aside with great force (thanks, Dorothy Parker). Don’t get me wrong, Breakup Girl is all for a good love story, like “Gone with the Wind,” or “100 Greatest Moments in Hockey.” And “The Notebook” is better than “The Bridges of Madison County,” though that’s like saying “Waterworld” is better than “Cutthroat Island” (thanks, Michael Musto). But anyway, point is, as I said, it’s a bestseller. And, evidently, a true story (for real. Not a “true story” like Bridges was a “true story”). People do find that kind of thing plausible, if not readable. So there’s hope. Just don’t pine, don’t wait — and if something does happen between you two, please don’t write a book.
Okay. After careful thought, Breakup Girl has decided to add a special guest opinion, that of someone around here whom we’ll call The Guy at the End of the Bar. The plot is thickening, yes, but don’t worry, BG will make sense of it all at the end. Stay with me.
IMPORTANT GUY AT THE END OF THE BAR MAXIM: If you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, and they are unmarried and not related to you by blood, you should propose marriage to them, regardless of any “story” that surrounds it and any prior offers. It should be the most important relationship of your life, so consequences to other relationships should not really be all that important, right? Practicality should not play a part, at all.
First, let’s disregard Bob’s alleged treatment of Carol/women This is just an excuse you would like to use to justify taking her away from him. Truth is, you want her, and it’s hard to reconcile that with your friendship with Bob.
I don’t think the Bob-Carol thing is meant to be. The marriage won’t last, she will end up with you, so why wait. I think they got together because of proximity (the number one determiner of whom you ultimately end up with), and are now latching on to each other, as you say, post-30-musical-chairs-style.
If spending the rest of your life with Carol is more important to you than knocking back brewskis with Bob a couple of times a month, I think you should ask Carol to marry you. Sounds extreme, but you have to make her the same offer that Bob made. And you have to be serious about the whole kit and kaboodle. If it’s not worth getting your hands dirty, it can’t be love. Anyway, you can’t be too concerned about losing everyone’s friendship (the “repercussions”), because you’ve asked in your letter if you should maybe just find some new friends. But it wouldn’t even come to that — sounds like Ted and Alice would be relieved.
Now then, simply ask her. No scenes at the wedding, no capers. This way, if she says “no” nothing will have to change.
You don’t want to live with regret the rest of your life, like I do, son! Just ask her!
Okay, now that I’ve told you exactly what you want to hear, if you are not out the door in 30 seconds, you and I will know definitively that it is NOT Meant To Be, after all.
The Guy At The End Of The Bar
Okay, G, here it is. BG does not fully retract her first answer, but in light of what GATEOTB had to say, she does now find it a bit too … reasonable. Here is the middle ground she has now carved out for you.
I still am not convinced that Carol will say “Yes! Take me away from this musical-chairs hell that is the marriage that was never supposed to be!” I am thus not convinced that you should up and propose. Something — and dare I suggest that it may have been more than proximity/circumstance …it wasn’t that far! or cumbersome !– has been keeping you two apart thus far. Marriage may ultimately be a step you two will take, but it’s not a conversation either of you is prepared to have, I don’t think.
There is, however, a conversation that you two have not had. The one where you lay it on the line, Mister. Sounds to me like so far you didn’t talk about It; you talked around It. You were both trying to be reasonable, understanding, diplomatic, and say/do the right thing. So here’s BG’s version of BG (Bar Guy’s) exhortation: Tell her. How you feel. That the thought of her marrying Bob (or anyone else, for that matter) kills you. That you ache for her and really always have, but something always kept you from being together. That you two really did become great friends over the years and you know your feelings for one another are not just of the “grass is always greener” variety. That you’re willing to be with her right now — wherever it goes — and to shoulder the ramifications of what you’ve just said. (If you think that’s pretty good, heck, you wrote it: BG just cut, pasted, and tweaked.)
Now remember, one of said “ramifications” may well be that Carol says, “Um, I’ll pass.” Be prepared, G. Remember, not even Love-at-all-Costs Bar Guy is guaranteeing you that this will work. Nor are we glib enough to say that if she says “No,” well, at least you won’t have any regrets, end of story. You may still have all sorts of regrets and longings and dreams deferred… but: you will not have any open, festering questions. Especially if, as Bar Guy has pointed out, you consider the bean-spillage option — especially the modified version — and can’t go through with it. In that case, well, there you go. Also, remember that if/when you do confront her, don’t demand an immediate RSVP. This one’s a biggie, and I don’t think she’s expecting it.
Sorry to have waffled a bit with your life, G. Everyone over here at BG HQ (even Breakup Mom, at her satellite office) is gunning for you. Let us know what happens.