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August 14, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

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1. "But Breakup Girl, you're always the one reminding us that even the bestest relationships are tough! Then what's too tough? How can I tell the difference?"

Excellent question. And the answers lie along a twisty continuum. So let's try and draw some clear comparisons. Then we'll talk about what to do. (Note: everything here is for girls and guys, and grownups, too. Everybody stick around.)

There's challenging, and there's crappy.

Remember what I told Skinny Insomniac? "Work" and "magic" aren't opposites; they cooperate to make sure a relationship is the stuff of both fantasies and reality. Or how about Too Picky? Couples who have all the waterfalls also have dumbass fights.

See, love is a complicated emotion for one human...imagine how nutty things get when two people have it and spend all their time together! So no, it is not always easy, and it is not always fun. But: is one of you always "right?" Is one of you always apologizing? Is the other one always apologizing...in a pretty over-the-top way...to "make up" for being really, really mean? Is the fighting getting-someplace arguing, or just insulting? Does the "work" part never seem to...work? Are the "good times" never really that good -- just more like a walking-on-eggshells lull? From letters I've received:

"I make little mistakes sometimes and he gets so mad for the smallest thing. Why does he have to question every little thing that happens or every little mistake I have ever made in my life?" -- Confused

"He always allows girls to flirt with him and gives out his phone number even though he knows how much it hurts me. He chased away my best friend and cousin. I'm not allowed to hang out with them now or he'll 'get pissed.' I don't have any friends now. Nothing I do is right." -- Eleanore

"He made me feel so terrible about myself. But I didn't think I could get a guy who would treat me any better." -- Juliet

See? People clashing because they're human vs. people getting treated as if they're not human. Disagreement vs. disrespect. That's the difference.

There's protective, and there's possessive.

I have to say, it totally cuted me out when Man-Guy would make sure I wore my helmet, and frankly, even when he told me he didn't want me to skate in New York City traffic (safer to fly). He made clear that yes, he knew I was an excellent skater; it was just "the other wackos" he worried about. He wasn't giving orders; he was showing concern, respectfully. I dug it. And "obeyed," out of my own respect for him. (See, it doesn't work when a mom says it -- but when a BOY does...)

But I also get letters that go like this:

"My boyfriend is controlling -- he tells me what I can and cannot wear, where I can go, who I can talk to. I am not allowed to have friends because he thinks the only thing we'd talk about is guys." -- Skyjacker

I know it can feel pretty good, at least at the beginning, to think that someone gives enough of a darn to notice what you wear and where you go and whom you see in the first place. But there's noticing vs. saying NO. Concern vs. control. See? That's the difference.

There's scared, and there's scared.


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