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Predicament of the Week Annex:
The Second-Longest Kiss Goodnight
In which Breakup Girl addresses the situation that has, this
week, brought her the most (a) amusement, (b) relief that it is happening to
someone else, and/or (c) proof that she could not possibly be making this stuff
Dear Breakup Girl,
Sorry for my verbosity, but after I wrote this litany of patheticness I felt
like deleting any part of it would be like cutting off a limb. Please feel free
to skip over any drivel you feel unnecessary.
I used to be pretty good at handling my romantic entanglements when I was
younger, but now everything seems to be a big mess. I am really at a point
where I am so confused and no longer trust my gut instincts. I have been on
this manic roller coaster for almost a year and a half and I just don't know
what to do. I should be happy -- I have a very successful career on Wall
Street, am intelligent, creative, and have the means to do or go wherever I
want. I have a wonderful family, supportive and caring friends, and I know that
I am loved.
But my life is not perfect. I was divorced earlier this year after 4 years
of marriage preceded by 5 years of dating. It wasn't one of those
messy-throw-all-the-china-at-each-other type breakups. We just got married too
young (we got engaged when I was 21 -- I am 28 now) and realized that we both
changed and wanted different things. We tried to work out our differences, but
it just wasn't meant to be. So we cried, separated, cried, got divorced and
cried some more.
My husband and I were separated for almost two years before the divorce was
finalized and during that period, I met someone on-line. Honest, I wasn't
looking to meet anyone and it started as just a casual flirtation but the
harmless banter in the chat room led to sexy all night chat sessions to
megabytes of e-mail to multi-hour phone conversations every day to finally
meeting. My head was screaming "Oh no you don't!", but my heart and I
were abysmally lonely and I fell really hard. So did he, or at least I thought
as much from the longing looks we exchanged over dinner and the passionate
kisses we exchanged afterwards. We saw each other again and talked for hours
about our hopes and dreams while holding hands, kissing, and staring into each
other's eyes. I felt happy for the first time in three years. I felt beautiful.
I felt like I got my groove back. I felt like this was the beginning of
something really special.
Of course, I wouldn't be writing you if we drove off into the technicolor
sunset leaving a trail of little red cartoon hearts and Cupids behind us. Over
the next five days, his feelings towards me disappeared. He didn't call. He
didn't respond to my mail. He ignored me on-line. We had plans to see each
other the following weekend, but I didn't hear from him until the day before
and he said that he had been sick but told me to come to see him if I wanted
to. I took the train to see him the next day and he didn't kiss me hello,
wasn't affectionate and didn't talk. We spent a few hours together twiddling
our thumbs and as he dropped me off at the train. I guess that my wide-eyed
questioning looks prompted him to tell me that while he cared for me, he
couldn't commit to me. If the relationship progressed further (meaning if we
slept together), he couldn't handle the feelings he would have for me.
I began to try to reason with him -- "It's only our third date. I'm not
asking for a commitment. I wasn't planning on having sex with you now.",
etc. etc. But I could tell that he was no longer interested and there must be
more to the story that he was not planning to divulge. So he hugged me, I got
on the train, and cried the whole way home and for the next week. Still feeling
miserable, I heeded the advice of my friends and chalked it up to my first
post-marriage foray into dating. I picked myself up dusted myself off and began
to date others. This time, however, I didn't stumble blindly into relationships
led by my heart. I realized that it wasn't the right time for me to find
"the one" (I was still technically married after all) but just to
have fun and meet new people.
But I still thought of him. At first, I thought that it would just take some
time to get over him, but a month later, that rationalization no longer held
true. Sure he was smart, funny, romantic, and gorgeous and I had never met
anyone who had made my heart flutter like he had -- but he was no longer
interested! And I had dozens of other smart, funny, romantic and gorgeous guys
beating down my door now that I was dating again. Yet, I still wrote volumes of
pathetic letters to him in my journal and used him as a standard to compare all
of my dates. I had dreams about him. I would find myself daydreaming about him
at work. I kept asking myself why -- maybe he was scared off by the divorce
thing, or couldn't deal with the fact that I lived two hours way, or that I
made considerably more money than he did. Maybe he wasn't attracted to me.
Maybe he had found someone else.
Still determined to forget him, I threw out his phone number, deleted all
his e-mail and in addition to working myself to death, joined every team, club,
class, and volunteership I could find. I learned how to swing dance, play
center field, oil paint, write poetry, and became a regular at story time at a
nearby children's hospital. But I still couldn't forget him. And I guess that
he couldn't forget me either because he finally called me and admitted that he
was wrong. Okay, so he was drunk. And it was in the middle of the night. And he
doesn't remember doing it. But he said that he loved me, and missed me, and was
a jerk for letting me go.
I probably should have realized that he was clueing me in to the fact that
he was a jerk, but I just heard that he loved me and melted all over again. I
wrote him a letter telling him that I missed him too and that even though it
was the wrong time for me to get involved with him or anyone, I just wanted to
be in his life somehow, even if we weren't romantically involved.
We never spoke of the phone call or the letter again, but he called me a few
days later and we talked as if nothing was wrong. We became friends, and over
the next few months, really good friends. We talked all the time and sent
e-mail back and forth at work all day, and we confided in each other about our
problems, hopes & dreams, which were incredibly similar. We just got along
so well and it felt so comfortable, but there was no flirting going on. We even
told each other about the people we were dating and gave each other advice.
Of course, I still thought about being more than friends. I never brought it
up and tried to deny it to myself, but it was still there. He must of felt that
way too because he would always make comments when we were on the phone & I
was getting ready to go out that I should wear a potato sack or wear funny
hairstyles so my date would be repulsed or so men wouldn't approach me. But he
never said that he wanted to be with me and he never asked me about how I felt
towards him. And he never, ever touched me. We even spent a night together in a
hotel room after a concert and slept in the same bed and nothing happened. I
mean, I'm no Cindy Crawford, but I think that most men would have difficulty
resisting me if I were laying next to them while we were both in nothing but
our undies. But he did. And no, he's not gay.
Meanwhile, I was still dating others but nothing ever felt right. I would
date someone a few times and then lose interest. And he was dating others too.
I discovered that he had a "thing" for foreign women -- and had
placed ads in the on-line personals looking to meet Asian and Hispanic women.
After this discovery, I felt like I had my answer. No wonder why he wasn't
attracted to me. He also began making plans with me and then canceling or
forgetting about it. He seemed to be busy every weekend and was very ambiguous
when talking about who he was spending his time with. I felt that he must have
met the geisha of his dreams and I began losing interest. There was no way that
I could make him want to be with me and there was certainly no way I could
become Asian. I started thinking about him less and coincidentally I was
traveling on business a lot and didn't have time for our daily e-mail
correspondence or have time to return his phone calls.
After a month or so of not talking, he called me demanding to know why I had
been ignoring him. I explained that I wasn't ignoring him, just busy and he
said that he missed me when I was away. He said that he wanted to see me the
next weekend that we were both free. I said sure, figuring that he would cancel
on me like he usually did. But over the next few weeks, he wrote me constantly
about what was going on in his life and we began talking on a daily basis
again. Sometimes at night we would chat on-line and he began to flirt with me.
He admitted that he had wanted to be with me that night we stayed together,
that he thought that I was beautiful, that he still thought of me all the time.
I felt those feelings resurface. I began to think that maybe he really was
interested in more than a buddy. It also didn't help that due to some
malfunction at work, all of my long deleted e-mail was restored, including
those first notes we sent to each other so many months before. After reading
those old notes, I fell for him all over again.
He finally came to visit me on a Saturday night. We talked for hours. We
walked around. We shared an ice cream. We watched TV. We fell asleep. We woke
up. We had sex. We fell asleep again.
Yes, you read that right. We finally did it. I fell asleep watching TV, and
then I awoke with his arms around me. One thing led to another and we did it
until dawn. It was as amazing as I thought it would be. Of course, again, there
were no technicolor sunsets and red cartoon Cupids to follow. We woke up the
next morning and I could tell that he thought it was a mistake. He didn't say a
word and didn't touch me. Surprisingly, he didn't run home immediately and we
spent an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon together walking on eggshells. I
finally asked him how he felt about what had happened and he said that he was
always curious what it would be like to sleep with me. Then he kissed me on the
cheek and went home. I cried and cried all night. I was stupid to think that
just because we had sex that he was going to fall in love with me. I felt like
an idiot for sleeping with him without finding out what it would mean
beforehand. I felt like I must be so awful in bed that he changed his mind
But he called me when he got home and sent me e-mail saying that he had a
good time. He also send me a\ teddy bear with a card saying that he was
thinking of me. But he didn't talk about what happened. And then a few days
later he began giving me advice on how I should meet other men and told me to
place on-line personal ads because they had been so successful for him. I felt
sick to my stomach. Before all this happened, we had made plans to go to a
martial arts seminar together the following week. I was going to cancel, but
wanted to go to the seminar and he was really quiet the whole day, kind of like
that awful day when he told me that he couldn't commit. We had coffee together
in the evening and talked for a long time about the future -- I was thinking
about moving to San Francisco. He was thinking about taking a job in Asia. When
he dropped me off at the train station, I expected some devastating comment
about how he still couldn't commit to me. Thank goodness it was left
Our relationship deteriorated after that. He forgot my birthday (and
apologized afterwards, but he still forgot.) The infrequent times that we
talked, he began mentioning the personals again, and how he actually found
someone he was interested in. They hadn't met yet, but she was Asian and
sounded cute and lived near him and was so perfect blahblahblah.
It was around the holidays and I wanted to die. I couldn't even listen to
the radio anymore. I was on volume four of my journal of pathetic ramblings. I
was too sad to leave my house much less date anyone else. I wore only black and
listened to the Counting Crows. It was really a bad time for me. To make
matters worse, he sent me a card saying how glad he was that we were friends
and that we got to know each other better. He signed it "With Love".
Yeah. Sure. I was so friggin' glad that we were buddies... especially when I
was home alone on New Year's Eve.
So in this demented and disturbed state, I met someone else. He was a lawyer
-- funny, cute, super smart, successful. He treated me like a princess. We had
incredible sex. I thought that I was happy -- happy enough to stand a visit
from my "buddy". He came by my office and we went to a hockey game
together. He was sweet. He was friendly. He said I looked great (which I did)
but no sparks. Nothing. I knew it was over. I cried again when I got home, but
this time only for a few minutes. I continued my relationship with the lawyer
for another two months until he told me that he couldn't get serious with me
because I wasn't Jewish. Maybe he could have mentioned this while he was
telling me how much he loved me and never met anyone like me, but that's
another story altogether.
So I found myself alone and lonely. I missed him (the first him, not the
lawyer guy) yet I couldn't bring myself to talk to him. He would call me and we
would talk like nothing was wrong -- I just felt like a big stupid happy animal
when I heard his voice -- but I couldn't pick up the phone or initiate contact.
I didn't want to feel like I was chasing him. Over the ensuing weeks, he
started talking about his ongoing relationship with that Asian woman who
answered his personal ad. She was pretty, smart, and perfect, of course, but he
felt like he couldn't be himself with her -- her family wouldn't accept him,
she wouldn't accept his friends or understand his past. He could never be the
type of guy she wanted because he didn't have a college degree and could never
make enough money. He even had to hide the fact that he smoked. But she was
cute and successful and Asian. I would have rather have my eyelids peeled off
than to talk about this with him, but I told him that if he wanted to have a
relationship with her, he should be honest. And if she couldn't accept him for
who he was that it would be her loss. Because it's important to be with someone
who he could be friends with... someone who could accept him for who he was....
someone who wanted the same things that he did. You and I know who I was
talking about, but he just didn't get it.
That was seven months ago. We keep in touch every so often and I guess that
we are friends, but I feel like I am just hanging on to something that will
never be. I saw him again for the first time since the hockey game a few weeks
ago. He invited me to a concert. He was glad to see me but clearly still
uninterested in anything more than being friends. I didn't cry after we said
goodnight, but I did get a lump in my throat.
So what's my problem? I met someone last month who is loving, caring,
mature, intelligent, passionate, attractive, and wants to be with me. It feels
wonderful to be with him and I know that this could be the start of something
special. But I am still hooked on that guy even though it has been so over for
so long. I still feel butterflies when he calls me or sends me e-mail I know
that he will never love me, but I still can't accept it. I just saw "My
Best Friend's Wedding" over the weekend and I feel like that's my destiny.
I know that when I get that inevitable call, I will be devastated. How come I
can't let him go? What's wrong with me?
--Teary-Eyed in New York
Try this one on: you ARE over him.
Don't worry, I'm going to walk you through
Of course it feels like you can't let him go. He was a
big deal, Teary! He was the first guy you felt -- and did -- a little
somethinsomethin with after your divorce! He occupies/d a larger-than-himself
place in your heart.
But look, the definition of "over" is not quite as neat and
clean as we would like it to be. Does "over" him/her mean that we are
indifferent? Does it mean we never think of them? Does it mean that they can
tiptoe through our minds in the dark, silent, unnoticed, without knocking
anything over? Hardly.
Here's what "over" means: Gone, yes.
Forgotten, as if. Butterflies, maybe always. The difference is this: the
"over" butterflies flit around and whisper: "Ooh, ooh, looky
looky, there's that person who was a big part of my life..." "Oooh,
ooh, I feel both tingly, and also sad." That's all. They are not icky
moths that hang out and chew holes in stuff. Okay, let me repeat that without
all the lepidopterous mumbo jumbo: When we're over someone, we may still have
feelings for/about them, but those feelings don't interfere with anything, they
don't make us act on them. The feelings are just there. Of course they
So here's what you need to do. Quit talking to him.
Quit hanging out. No hockey, no concerts, no e-mail, and for God's sake no
sharing about dating. Ask him nicely to cease and desist: "Hey, you know
what? Being in touch with you is actually kind of hard for me. I'd like to cut
off communication, at least for a while. I respectfully request that you not
call or e-mail me. I'm not angry at you. This is just what I need for me, and I
ask you to honor that." ( <- cut and paste into e-mail if you like).
Then don't you go and call, you!? If you do this, you are not punishing or
stomping off in a girly huff. You are doing it because you are over him. Wait,
wouldn't "over him" mean that you're enlightened enough to deal with
being friends? Nah. It's
not about being enlightened. Some oysters (relationships) have pearls
(friendships) inside, what can I say (pelecypodous mumbo jumbo) ? But hey,
Teary: you guys aren't friends. I don't see any evidence of a true post-romance
platonic pearl here. It's pretty much in-person weirdness with blips of
uncomfortable communication in between. With friends like that, who needs
He is not your friend, Teary. He is your fix. That is
why you take his calls even though they suck, that is why you see him even
though it makes you lumpy and weepy. He's a gizmo, like a cell phone e-mail, or
a plain paper fax: when (because?) you have it, you need it. The more you have
it, the more you need it. Before, you were fine. It might feel like you can't
live without it anymore, but if you try it -- though it might be tough at first
-- things will be truly okay.
Another relevant possibility: maybe you're really just
not into guy #2. (I'm not reading between the lines and saying all-knowingly
that you're not; I'm really just suggesting it. You tell me.) We all know
excellent people whom we don't happen to be dating -- take Paul the Intern, for
instance. (And it's not just 'cause he's a Loft-Builder. Or an
Intern.) Maybe you're thinking you should be gaga about Lawyer because he looks
great on paper and you feel like you should, but maybe you're using what could
be a simple inexplicable chemical case of je-ne-spark-pas as some kind of
confounding, status-quo-keeping proof that you're not over guy #1. Just a
thought. It's okay not to go out with Lawyer if your heart's not in it. It
doesn't necessarily Mean anything. It might just mean: Next!
I'm not done yet. (Equal-time laws give me like 2900
You mentioned Cupid, so so will I. You guys: watch this show. (The only people who do right now are BG and
Chris@breakupgirl.net -- oh, and the TV guy at Time Out New York -- but that is
rilly rilly wrong.) Not only is Jeremy Piven delightfully meddlesome and saucy,
but the show does a winning job of exploring (not settling) the thoroughly
modern debate between Love as Some Enchanted Evening and Love as Project. On
the one hand, people approach this love thing with rules and lists and
"if...then..." functions and spreadsheets. Which are not ill-advised.
But Cupid's point is: Yo, make room for the magic. When your head's buried in
Compatibility 2.0 for Palm Pilot, you might not notice the stranger asking you
to dance. Thing is, though, it's not even that simple. I mean, hey, sometimes
it's the kind of magic where the girl disappears. It may look as if Cupid has
made a perfect out-of-the-movies match -- cut to: the guy's married. Or
conversely, a match that starts out in hell turns out to be dreamy. No one --
not even Cupid, or Breakup Girl -- can ultimately say why.
Yes, I'm leading up to another Breakup Girl
Inspirational Speech. Look, teary (haven't forgotten about you), at least
recognize that your letter -- all the minutiae, all the micro-introspection,
all the madness -- is part of the whole great big crazy messy pungent love
thing. Which is big and crazy and messy and pungent because people are
-- no matter how mathematical we may try to make everything. Just because we
(or your Guy #1) do A doesn't mean we do The Thing That Should Follow From A.
Or The Thing We Expected from A.
Maddening, isn't it? As psychoanalyst Adam Phillips
recently wrote in the NY Times (to use one case study, guess which): " If
I am faithful to my partner I am more likely to be faithful to everybody and
everything else, to my country and my ideals [point being: Yuh, AS IF]. As
though my character will be all of a piece." He continues: "It is
always a question of how complicated we can allow people [ourselves] to be
without feeling the need to punish them [ourselves] for it." This
rumination also explains that Smart [People], Foolish Choices chestnut to which
you allude at the top of your letter. As though our character -- or our
relationships -- will be all of a piece. The best we can do is write to
Breakup Girl and let her take some educated, superpowered guesses. That's
really it. (This revelation should make you buoyantly happy. As in, not
"Ugh, this is hopeless." But "Yay! It's supposed to be this
So teary, it's not good or nice or fun that this
guy has been all over the place with you. But you're getting on your own case
for being led into relationships "by the heart?" Um, teary?
That is how you get there. But remember how I freaked you out by saying
you are over him? Now try this one: you aren't being led by the heart.
(You said it yourself: "I ... no longer trust my gut instincts.")
Hearts are heart-seeking. But you know this guy's not coming through with one
for you. You, therefore, are being led by something other than your heart --
some oddball masochistic attachment, or something. So turn the corner. Go with
your gut, hear your heart; make room for butterflies and pearls and penalty
shots. This whole thing is supposed to be cluttered and complicated. You clean
up what you can, fashion the rest into some sort of autobiographical still
life. Keep it, but put it somewhere out of the way, where it won't deflect
BACK to the advice page!
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