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August 16, 1999   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Predicament of the Week
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 up.

Dear Breakup Girl,

I've spent the past three months thinking almost continuously about my disastrous first relationship, with the last month devoted to some pretty hard core study of your most excellent advice column. I've read every single archived column on your website, from the very first word to the very last, just finishing today,, and if that's not enough for me to be able to declare 99% recovery, I don't know what else I can do. (I've also done hours of thinking, discussing with friends, crying, writing of bad poetry, reading other web sites, etc. etc.--I figure the last 1% of recovery will be when I find a new girlfriend.)

You might be shaking your head thinking, "uh oh, this fan is truly off his rocker", but, restraining for the moment my urge to laugh maniacally, I would first argue that my near-OCD level of research and analysis is justified. Because, nine months ago, I finally broke up my extremely unhealthy relationship with my first girlfriend, with whom I had been going out for 18 months, and with whom we had each lost our virginity.

The breakup was not pleasant: she subsequently called the police on me and I voluntarily checked myself into a mental hospital because things were that bad.

Essentially, she was an unfortunate girl with many psychological problems (borderline disorders) resulting from her childhood molestation (father) and abuse (mother). She had extremely low self-esteem, being prone to depression and self-mutilation. Initially, I was quite a bit healthier emotionally, but I'm afraid to say that I deteriorated as our relationship went on and grew more unhealthy. She would have periodic depressive episodes where somehow I got sucked into the role of being the punching bag (or the supportive bf whom she became completely dependent upon, whatever). OK, the 'somehow' is a euphemism--if you psychoanalyze me you'd find that my own low self-esteem found some twisted satisfaction in being used like this by her. Or something. I tried too hard to be the nice guy. And eventually I got twisted.

So even though occasionally I felt like I had taken enough crap from her that I realized that I did not deserve, nor desire this crap, and consequently break up (or try to break up) with her, it was either that neither of us was strong enough to hold to the breakup (as we were lonely at a depressing college), or she would do something completely psycho (like cut herself) and make me feel like I couldn't leave. There were many incidents, and many explanations. Bottom line is that the relationship was REALLY unhealthy.

Over time I got so miserable I started getting a bit unstable myself. As I mentioned before, the college played a considerable role in my misery, although I would say that she still accounted for at least half of my problems. And occasionally, in the latter half of our relationship, during our really bad fights (so painful I try not to think about them) I would be so overcome with rage and resentment to become physically violent. And yes, I did hit her. And I'm truly truly sorry about that.

It's just that, if you knew all the details of what I was going through, e.g. having to watch your girlfriend cut her wrists, having her wipe her blood on your face and say that it is all your fault, but feeling so trapped in the relationship that you don't know what to do. Oh my god, it was a horror. I think you should be able to excuse my temporary insanity, my being overcome with rage. If not excuse, at least understand (empathize, sympathize?), because I do understand myself that violence is not excusable. (At least in personal relationships, ignoring Kosovo and politics for now). I'm just very sorry!

Anyway, so that's a brief overview of why I feel compelled to analyze the heck out of this first relationship. My friends accuse me of "thinking too much", and that I should "take things at face value" but I quip in reply--"Dammit! I DID take things at face value with her for a year and a half! And look at what happened to me!" to which they have no response.

I've worked it out to:

1) I should have gotten out and STAYED out of the relationship way in the beginning when I already had all the warning signs of her instability, although in retrospect I can still see why I felt like I couldn't (miserable social network at college, low self-esteem, too much stress in general to think straight, etc.)

2) goddamn hubris where I thought I had the ability to "heal" her, change things so that they worked, yada yada yada. There are lengthy explanations behind this hubris, but I won't go into them in this letter, and

3) (for the sake of completeness) all those other little reasons, such as Passive-Aggressive defiance of my mom's prohibition on dating non-Chinese girls, the oxytocin hormone-bond resulting from our loss of virginity (and frequent ...) together, the lack of a 'life' (social network, friends, whatever) at the miserable college, caused by our 24/7 bond (definitely more at her insistence though) and lots of other interlinking causes.

Hey, so this high-flying academic nerd was a COMPLETE dolt in the emotional intelligence department, OK?!? (referring to myself), and that's why I'm putting myself through this remedial relationship/emotional/interpersonal education! I'll be damned if I get stuck in another unhealthy relationship of this degree again! I'm taking steps to ensure that the next time around, I'll be smart enough to see the warning signs and get out before it's too late! (And before the police come for me again, or something melodramatic like that--not that I have a police record.)


Getting slowly but surely to my question(s)... Thanks for sticking with me so far...

You'd think that after all this backdrop I'm going to ask you something about myself. But no! I actually have a question about a female friend of mine!

So she is kind of stuck in limbo with a three-year relationship with her boyfriend, a nice but somewhat dependent and uninspiring type of guy. My friend, to whom I shall hereafter refer as "C," feels like she is no longer in love with her bf. She's not happy with him for many reasons--their level of communication for example. They stay together because it's gotten so comfortable after these years, and even though they had been breaking up and getting back together several times during the last year, she just now doesn't feel like getting out.

The problem is that C has been kind of cheating on her bf, in that while she's away in college she's been doing some serious flirting with other guys --i.e. leading them on when they express interest by not telling them that she's 'taken', being slightly physically intimate (no kissing or exchanging of bodily fluids, but..), just in general acting like her heart's not in her relationship with her bf. Which it isn't.

And so, logically, she knows that she should break up, but during this summer, while those other guys with whom she was kind of playing around (flirting and such) are no longer an issue (with them being out of town and such), and while her relationship with her bf has improved now that they're able to spend more time together, she doesn't really feel like breaking up with her bf.

And now for the Hidden Agenda(s): yes, I'm somewhat attracted to her, but I'm not really interested in a relationship with her. NO POACHING, RIGHT BG?!? (See, I'm a good student!) And I don't want to be a Rebound guy anyway. She has a habit of getting Rebound guys anyway (this current 3-year bf is a Rebound... go figure). Anyway,, my real Hidden Agenda (I think) is I'm ultra-analyzing her relationship for her and arguing to her so strongly for breaking up because I see so many similarities with her dissatisfaction and my own in the latter (unhealthy) half of my relationship. In a way, I'm trying to atone for my own mistakes.

So she's currently stuck in limbo--she's perfectly capable of breaking up with him, but she doesn't feel like it because she still loves him (she's just not "in love"with him--subtle difference), and because she is afraid of how devastated he'll be when she leaves him (he has acted rather crazily before). She doesn't feel like hurting him this badly especially when things are going pretty well (but not great!) at the moment.

The problem is that her heart really isn't in the relationship--I guess she's waiting for him to gain some backbone (and his own life) so that she'll feel like he can handle her dumping him, eventually. Or maybe he'll sense her lack of devotion and dump her himself, maybe. She knows a breakup will happen, some day, it's just that she doesn't want to do it herself right now--she's been postponing it for the past half year.

I've tried almost all the arguments I could think of (mostly gleaned from your archives of wisdom) and while some hit home, and some don't apply; the bottom line is she just doesn't feel like breaking up just yet. So my question is, what else can I do? I've told her she rocks, guaranteed my support, et cetera, but that's not really the issue--she just can't get the resolve together to dump him--it's totally a Catch-22 or limbo state, whichever you prefer...

I guess the best thing I can do, which I'm preempting you from telling me, is to just sit tight. Hahaha, but this is where my aforementioned internal drive to atone for my mistakes (not dumping my psycho ex earlier) is pushing me. I guess I can just hope that her indefinitely postponed breakup won't explode in as melodramatic a way as mine did--involving Campus Security, the police, a mental institution, and (did I mention) being forced to go on Medical Leave by the college...

Yeah, heck, you could say that my breakup was almost the most spectacular possible. I guess chances are that C won't be experiencing anything as painful to that degree, but still I worry.

Dammit I think too much, eh?

Which is a good question to ask you--does Breakup Girl think I think too much?

My thinking too much might be my hubris in action once again--perhaps I'm trying too hard to "control" my life, and it's just bringing me misery? Argh, I dunno! I'm getting confused!

I'm going to stick with my current strategy of ultra-analyzation because so far it's helped me achieve separation from my ex--I haven't communicated with her at all in these past three months and counting. (I started my process of true reflection right after I stopped communicating with her). I think it's working. All the things I mentioned at the beginning of this email have helped.

To end this email on a positive note, I'll tell you my current plans for the future--at the moment I'm working for a preeminent test preparation company, teaching high schoolers how to take the SAT, and having great fun improving my public speaking and people skills, while being paid rather well. This spring I took an art and creative writing class; this summer I'm taking the creative writing class again, since my poetry still needs plenty of work. And in the fall I'll be attending UC Berkeley, pretty much starting all over (different major, etc.), which is perfectly fine with me. I could care less about my current institution.

I would say that my life is pretty good right now--it had been pure hell before--I'm just trying to be extra careful and thoughtful (especially about emotional and interpersonal things) nowadays--hopefully my next relationship will be much healthier.

What do you think, BG? Do you disagree with anything I've written? If you do, could you tell me why? Do you have any general thoughts/opinions?

Also, have you thought about compiling nuggets of your own wisdom? There have been moments where I've been blown away by your insight--I've copied a couple of them down (hurrah for cut and paste!)--some of them are Important Breakup Girl Maxims, and some of them just come out in the midst of your advice, and sometimes from some of the people who write in. It'd be cool to have them collected for ready reference... (Although perhaps some of their power comes from their context, but still...) Here's my favorite (for the moment): "You do realize, of course, that the people with all this 'experience' are the same people with all the 'horror stories.'" I think I broke out laughing when I read this. I think you understand why. Okay, hope I haven't exhausted you. Love, Your Devoted Disciple,

-- A.

Dear A.,

Well, I think we're all a little tired. But all in all, I have to say you're pretty dead-on -- if slightly overblown -- in your analysis, and not just because you've cut/pasted/memorized my oeuvre in its entirety. Which I hope doesn't mean you won't buy my new book (coming from Little, Brown in March). Which, in turn, should answer the question in your last paragraph.

You're right, for starters, about Ms. Hidden A. Genda: no dramatic interventions, please; you're doing everything you can. "Can" in the sense of "what will be effective," and "can" in the sense of "are allowed to."

But let me just finesse this one point: your past relationship/end thereof was indeed unusually spectacular; but the way you relate to Hidden Agenda and her situation is pretty standard. I mean, we ALL consider current and future relationships -- ours and others' -- through the funhouse filter of our past. I mean, maybe there's some sort of weird "atoning" psychology here, sure; or maybe you just LIKElike her a mighty lot and it bugs the bejeezus out of you that not only is she taken, it's pretty much by default. Please know that from now on, your relationships themselves -- even potential or non- -- need not be hardwired for melodrama. That part's pretty much up to you.

Meaning: the main thing you're right about is this: YOU DO THINK TOO MUCH. In fact, all this analysis is -- if you'll forgive me -- your bitch. Don't let it -- in the guise oftake the place of (see paragraph 2) that final 1%.

Breakup Girl



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