If you don’t know what I’m talking about, count yourself lucky.
But I’m betting most of you do. Life is pretty messy, after all, and it’s not always as easy as finding your wife in bed with the gardner, or the traditional lipstick-on-the-collar. It’s not as neat as a shouting match and a hastily packed suitcase or as satisfying as a slammed door.
Life is not that tidy. That is why we have classes on communication, books on healing, seminars on communication. We learn to use non-violent techniques like mirroring (“What I’m hearing you say is…”) or even that magic healing phrase “What I need to hear you say is…” We are told about the crappy ways to break up, like showing up at a public event with someone else, or texting “KTHXBAI” after you’ve already moved in with the hot redheaded masseuse. I even read an article recently that explained how to change your Facebook status more gracefully, to avoid the deluge of “OMG! SORY2HERE!” and “likes” sticking their annoying thumbs-up at your pain.
You may have been through this before, and remember the way hindsight bias kicks you in the ass, the “shoulda-known-better” or the classic “That was the last time we fucked/scened/ate ice cream?” Relationship coaches try to comfort us by telling use that nothing lasts forever, that we should value what was and not let it be tarnished by what wasn’t and even more to avoid the what-might-have-beens.
Fucking assholes. As if that helps.
You can be careful. You can realize, when that tipping point occurs between “I can make this work” and “I can’t take any more”, that any procrastination is at best laziness and at worst deception. Maybe you’re lucky and the last few interactions were enjoyable, and so you try to do everything “right”. You take the time to break the news to your partner in person, in a space where they are comfortable, with time set aside both to talk to them after and to be with yourself. Hell, you might even manage to not bullshit or pussyfoot around the subject, and use first-person statements to take responsibility for the crap-ton of hurt you are about to heap on yourself and this person you love but can’t love.
It’s bullshit. Well, it’s not, really, but don’t fool yourself. In the end, it won’t matter much.
That’s what they don’t tell you, whether it’s Cosmo or Thich Nhat Hanh or Sarah Sloane. You can do everything exactly the way you’re supposed to, and it will still suck. The best of the worst of times is still the worst of times.
Your ego will still vacillate between second-guessing and laying a guilt trip, even while your super ego tries to stoically logic on through the “right” decision and your id just screams about all the magnificent sex you’re giving up. The first time they say “Get out!” you’ll want to because that would make it all easy, but we’re trying to do things right, remember, so instead you stay, and try to bring the two of you to some mythical place of “understanding.” The second time they say “You need to leave” you get a little closer to actually doing it, but when they collapse against a wall, crying, it still might feel cowardly, a bit douchey, because there is a part of you that doesn’t want to be responsible, that wants to escape this world of pain you’ve created. But you stay, positioning yourself in the classic non-violent cooperative conversation posture, same level, non-confrontational, and I’m telling you it doesn’t help at all.
Because the third time they tell you to leave, accompanied by the threat of throwing things, it won’t matter that you did everything “right”. It won’t matter that you kept your temper in check, that you used positive language. Yeah, you were honest, yeah, you were true to yourself and yeah, you may even be doing what you know is right for the both of you.
Yippee-fucking-skippee for you. You’ll still walk away feeling like crap. You’ll still keep looking over your shoulder, worried that a weeping now-former partner might be following. You’ll still worry when the ambulance goes by in the opposite direction about what your words might have caused.
A long time ago, at an event in Florida, Mollena Williams and I had the mother of all miscommunications and damn near ruined our friendship. We managed to get some face-to-face time, work through the issues, and sat there in the hotel room, staring at each other as our individually self-righteous adrenaline rushes subsided. She looked at me, and said “You know, we teach this shit. You’d think we’d be better at it.”
But we’re not. No one is. No matter how much you do right, it’s still going to suck.
Don’t fool yourself. There is no easy way out of the necessary pain of love and the end of love. You always pay, one way or another.