As a wise band once said, breaking up is hard to do.
When you’re young, breaking up is the end of the world. Your chest is always tight, your eyes always on the verge of tearing up, and every song you hear is either a repudiation or an anthem of your personal pain.
It doesn’t matter what side of the breakup you’re on, either. It really sucks to be dumpee, but it also really sucks to be the dumper (and how gross does that term sound?). Constantly questioning your values and your value as a person is exhausting, producing the kind of existential angst only matched by 00s emo (I’m looking at you, Taking Back Sunday).
Breaking up is also super important. It puts everything into sharp relief – what’s really important to you in another person, what valuable contributions a partner brings to the relationship. I read once most relationships are broken apart by sex, money and childrearing. I believe this only because those are three of the biggest issues dealing with personal values we can face, and that couples must face. I doubt it’s actually money or sex or kids that are the problem; it’s our beliefs about how things should be done, how the world functions, and our place dealing with these things, that create relationship turmoil. Our schema, if you will.
Rougher still for me personally is the uselessness of my old standby for decision making, the pros/cons chart (here’s a great one, if you’re into that sort of thing). You can list good and bad all day, but a relationship has weighted grades. One con may outweigh 10 pros, or vice versa. It makes things very complicated. I’ve never met anyone who thought the person they loved was all good or all bad, and even when things get shitty (like, really shitty), it’s tough to discard the non-shitty parts.
More recent narratives and articles don’t help (Mr. Right Now, anyone?), although lately it seems more women (and men) in feminist spaces are extolling the virtues of the single life. In a world still obsessed with finding The One, ticking biological clocks, and stories of the sad, lonely misfits brought low by lack of relational prowess and partners, ending a lackluster or unfulfilling relationship seems like selfishness, like betrayal. Shouldn’t we be grateful anyone exists to love us at all? Shouldn’t we just keep trying because nothing and no one will ever be 100% perfect?
(see this quote from the Wedding Planner)
Jerry Seinfeld, the greatest philosopher of our time, compared breaking up to pushing over a vending machine, because it takes a couple tries to get it done.
Here’s to picking candy out of the broken glass.