You people are way ahead of me.
I wrote a long series on commitment-phobia, followed by last month’s column,“He’s Just Not That Into You.” I was figuring the logical follow-up would be to start talking about breaking up – how to do it, how not to do it, how to know it’s time, etc. Then I read your comments to last month’s article, which confirmed that it’s definitely time to start talking about breaking up. More than half of the currently-at-40 comments pertained somehow with difficulties in dealing with the end of a relationship.
And apparently, I need to start at the very beginning. Based on what I’m hearing from all of you, it would appear that many out there in dating land still haven’t seen the first memo:
When you’re ending a relationship with someone, you are obligated to actually break up with that person.
I can’t believe I have to spell this out, much less write an entire column about it. But I’m alarmed at the number of grown adults – many of whom claim the title of “Christian” – who seem to believe it is acceptable to establish a relationship with someone and then to disappear without explanation. We aren’t just talking a casual date or two and then no follow-up, but rather real relationships that end without actually, formally ending.
Nor is this phenomenon limited to my CatholicMatch readers. I’ve run across numerous articles about it in the past few years. Greg Behrendt’s He’s Just Not That Into You even dedicated a chapter to it, saying, “There’s no mixed message here. He’s made it clear that he’s so not into you that he couldn’t even bother to leave you a Post-it.”
And so apparently I need to explain why this is immature, cruel and very un-Christ-like behavior.
I get it, of course. Everybody gets it: Breaking up is hard. There is probably no more difficult conversation in the world than the one that says, “I have dated you and found that I don’t want you.” Of course it would be a lot easier on the breaker-upper to skip it and go straight to “We’re broken up and not speaking anymore.”
In Fantasy Wonderland World, our feelings about the relationship would be communicated by some sort of osmosis, and we wouldn’t need to have difficult conversations at all.
The selfish route
But we don’t live in Fantasy Wonderland World. Here in reality, we communicate by speaking, and we communicate hard truths by telling them. Those who attempt to avoid this are often, on some level, sensitive souls who hate to cause pain to others. But they’re attempting to avoid pain via a type of if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest mentality. If I don’t see the pain, then the pain isn’t there.
And that, my friends, is the epitome of selfishness. Because the only pain you have escaped is your own relatively minor discomfort in having a straightforward discussion. The pain that was caused is still there. Only, in leaving without an explanation, it has been magnified tenfold.
A break-up is a defined ending. A mystery, on the other hand, is by definition unfinished. What is the answer? What happened? Was it me? Was it him? Was it her? Is she lying somewhere by the side of the road? Did he wait too long to call me, and how he really wants to but he’s afraid? It is nearly impossible to get “closure” without some answers.
Of course, the disappear-er often feels justified. “How could I explain? The reason I left was so bad/private/embarrassing that I couldn’t share it.”
And you think it hasn’t already occurred to your former beloved? What, you met someone else? You’re broke? You’re gay? Addicted? Already married? Trust me, all of this and more has already crossed her mind, plus virtually every other possible explanation. And she has been trying to somehow simultaneously reconcile all of them in her mind. In sharing the one that’s true, you would merely be eliminated all of the others.
Which would be a great mercy.
The other Great Rationalization is that “he knows why I left. I gave lots of subtle hints.” Or “It couldn’t be a surprise. I stopped calling gradually.”
Sorry, but none of this flies, and none of it eases the absolute insult of the ultimate non-verbal message, that he or she wasn’t even worth the hassle of an explanation.
What do you do if you are the one left behind? The temptation is to call, or to march over and demand an explanation, or to somehow make him understand the pain he’s caused. But, according to Greg Behrendt, “100 percent of men polled who have disappeared on a woman said that at the time they were completely aware of what a horrible thing they were doing, and no woman calling them up and talking to them would have changed that.”
Greg, who himself confesses to having disappeared on a woman in his dating days, says the best reaction is to simply leave him behind and move on. “Do you deserve to know what happened? Yes, but fortunately, I can tell you what happened. You were dating the worst person in the world . . . Nothing he could say will be satisfying to you. But what will be satisfying is if you don’t spend another moment of your energy on him. You picked a lemon. Throw it away. Lemonade is overrated.”
This, I believe, is the key to moving on after a disappearance. The incidental reasons for the departure are not nearly as important as this one central fact: to leave you with no explanation reveals a lack of character. You misjudged him or her. You thought this person possessed a certain level of integrity and you were wrong. It would have been nice to know that earlier, but better now than after a walk down the aisle. That’s the truth you need to work through and move past.
And a final word to you disappear-ers and those contemplating it: don’t. Dating isn’t merely about amusing yourself, or looking out for your own comfort, or fulfilling your own goals without regard for the other. It is about intertwining your life – to a certain extent – with that of another person created in the image and likeness of God. And thus it means taking on responsibility for treating that person as His image and likeness, and for looking out for what is best for him or her.
That is just as true at the end of the relationship as it is at the beginning.