Breaking Up Is Hard to Do – So Why Not Drag It Out for Years?

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do – So Why Not Drag It Out for Years?

In spite of my habit of deserted friendships, I’ve never been one who can just cleave a romantic relationship, as one of my mentors, Chuck Trautman, refers to it. It would definitely be easier, but it’s just not my way to end things in one fell swoop. When it came to breaking up with boyfriends, every one of those splits was a long, drawn-out process. Not because the guys wanted it that way, but because I just held on and held on until I was finally able to let go.

New Age classic, The Celestine Prophecy, explains the reason for the difficulties in disentangling from a long-term relationship. Our aura – or personal energy field – becomes entangled with that other person’s aura, each one forming tentacles that intertwine and fold in on each other. Even though you break up – literally and figuratively disconnect from one another – it takes time, deliberation, and focus to peel back the tentacles in order to fully free yourself, energetically, from the other.

I continued this habit of prolonged good-byes with Tony. Good gawd – I dragged that out for a loooonnnnng time. Understandable, perhaps, as it was my longest-term relationship and we did have a son together. I finally managed to wean myself from trying to contact him after close to a year. Then 9/11 happened, and we started talking again. Before I knew it, I was making plans to go back to New Jersey over Valentine’s Day weekend 2002.

In the two-year interim, Tony had dated a woman named Molly. In a case of what I might charitably call “what comes around goes around,” she strung him along for a while and then finally dumped him to get back together with an old boyfriend. But not before he helped pay her child support for a number of months, took her and her boys on an expensive tropical vacation, and shelled out a lot of other cash for her and her family. I’m not saying she was a gold digger, but he certainly made life quite comfortable for her until the other guy gave her an ultimatum.

So the Valentine’s trip back East was eye-opening. Seeing the apartment I’d shared with Tony looking so different was startling. It was clean and neat and organized. When I lived with him there, we’d had a third roommate – his childhood best friend, Mike. Mike was one of the coolest guys I’ve ever known. We had the most amazing, hours-long conversations – discussions that Tony and I could never have. But to call Mike a slob is like calling a marathon a casual jog. At the time he lived with us, he was a VP at American Express. And it wasn’t unusual for him to need to dig through the empty pizza boxes littering his bedroom floor to find his tie or suit jacket. I’d never seen anything like it … until I met my husband, John. The interesting thing is that I found in John a guy who seems to embody the best parts of both Tony and Mike.

As I write this, John and I are preparing to move. I was packing today and came across a slew of old journals, written on yellow legal pads. The following undated entry was the top page on one of those notebooks – but based on the contents, it must have been written the first week of February 2002.

Was thinking about Mike B. on my way to work today. I asked Tony the other night if he’d talked to Mike lately. “Not for a few weeks,” was his answer. I asked him if Mike knew about Molly’s departure. Negative.

So then I got to thinking about how much things changed over the years. I went East. Tony followed. Then Mike showed up. Followed by one year of hell living with him because I couldn’t find the voice to tell him that we didn’t live in a fucking pigsty and my title was NOT maid! Then I moved out. Got pregnant. A few years later, the whole Gwen thing. A couple more years and I moved back to Phoenix. Oh yeah – and somewhere in there, Cecilia and I fixed Mike up with Annette, and they got married.

So now Mike’s got this life out there. Wife. Kid. House. Real job. I’m not sure it’s what he wanted. Envisioned – yes. Wanted? I kind of doubt it. She makes all the rules and he follows them.

Then you have Tony and me. Tony got started down the treacherous path toward a normal life – and I could tell the house of cards wouldn’t stand for long. Gee – how many different ways have you said, “I told you so?” Another unflattering realization.

And what about me? My life? What does that even mean? I’ve got so much enthusiasm and so many ideas, and yet I feel like I’m moving through mud trying to achieve them. Here I am with a ticket to go back to NJ/NY next week. Why do I have this sinking feeling that I’m moving BACKWARDS??

Things were OK until last night, when Tony wanted to chat with someone named Kelly more than talk to me. But why am I jealous? I don’t even know if I want to consider seeing him again, but I’m still upset at the thought of him talking to someone else.

The only thing I know is that I don’t want to stay single. But I’m not convinced that my partner is lurking anywhere in my immediate vicinity. Back to trusting the Universe, I suppose. Nothing else ever seems to work.

Come to find out that even though the two of us had done a bit of growing up over our two-year break, Tony and I were together for one lovely night before we began pushing each others’ buttons in all the same old ways. I continue to think that if I were to run into him again tomorrow, he and I would find that same initial, comfortable simpatico we’ve had since we met in 1989 – but long-term, it was never meant to be. Fortunately, we both moved on, married other people, and seem to have embraced our respective lives.

The Folly of Proving “God” Wrong

The Folly of Proving “God” Wrong

There were a lot of signs that dating Tony was a bad idea. Things that, had I followed my intuition – or common sense – would likely have taken me on an entirely different path. Of course, I often come back to the premise of the movie Sliding Doors, with Gwyneth Paltrow doing her best British accent, where two very different paths lead to the same outcome.

The first sign was that I called him to check on the status of our first date. I’m not really one to dwell on what if’s, but I occasionally indulge and wonder how things might have been different if I’d just left the fucking phone alone. We worked together at the newspaper in Tucson. I was nearing graduation from the University of Arizona, and he was loafing in the sports department. Our flirtation began over his ridiculous taste in basketball teams (the Boston Celtics) and music, or so the pretentious 20-year-old me thought at the time. He had a stack of CDs on his desk which he listened to on a Walkman while coding agate for the sports section (e.g., game scores, stats, etc.). One was an AC/DC disk and another was Guns ‘N Roses. Now I’m still not really a fan of either, but having since married a musician whose current taste in music has some overlap with what Tony’s was then, I’ve learned to at least develop an appreciation for those classic rock bands.

So we flirted for a few weeks, and then he asked me out for New Year’s Eve, 1989. I said yes. And waited to hear more. Because of his job, he had a late schedule and typically slept till 11 a.m. or noon. But when I hadn’t heard from him by 4 p.m. on the day of our scheduled date, instead of making other plans, I called him. Plans were finally made, and we went on our first date to the movies – War of the Roses – another red flag, for those who are counting.

Things were fun for a time, but before long we settled into that horrible push/pull, chase/flee, clingy/leave-me-the-hell-alone pattern that so many immature people see as normal. Many years later, I read a book called The Surrendered Single by Laura Doyle, in which she spelled out very clearly that the right guy never makes you feel clingy or needy. He makes you feel loved and treats you like a queen. It was strangely reassuring to hear that no matter what I had done, all those years I spent trying to get Tony to notice me and to love me even half as much as I loved him were never going to create that result. It just took me the better part of a decade – a baby placed for adoption right in the middle, there – to figure that out.

The signs were so in my face that I remember going to sleep every night for six months or more hearing a little voice whispering, “He’s not the right guy for you.” Instead of listening to that angel, God, the Universe, or whoever you think might have been talking to me, I dug in, determined. “I’ll prove you wrong!”

someon lets you know how much you matter

Then one night, on my 28th birthday, the voice went from a whisper to a loud, clouds-parting, Charlton Heston bravado. We were living in New Jersey at the time, again working for the same company. Our son was a year old by then, though we rarely spoke of the adoption. At this point, Tony was still determined he’d never tell his parents. Things were definitely in the valley part of our typical peak-and-valley cycle. So naturally, he blew me off for my birthday. I went out to dinner with some friends (where were they on New Year’s Eve 1989?!) and had a few drinks. I’ve never gotten drunk in my life – personal preference – but this was the closest I ever came. A bit buzzed, I made the stellar decision to stop by Tony’s apartment on my way home and give him a piece of my mind. That went swimmingly.

I was around the corner, less than a block from his front door, tears streaming down my face, when I asked out loud, of no one in particular, “When are we going to fix this?” That’s when I heard it – the voice from ABOVE. Literally, as clear as day, I heard a booming male voice say, “It’s done.”

Of course, my interpretation of “It’s done,” and the Universe’s interpretation were completely different. Because it took me another two-and-a-half years to finally get my shit together enough to decide to leave. There was no other way to do the split than for one of us to geographically relocate. Otherwise, I could see, we’d just keep doing the same dance for another decade, or more. So in December 1999, I packed up my dog, my cat, my computer, and a few clothes and headed back to the desert. I cried most of the way – but they weren’t all sad tears. Every several hundred miles or so, I’d actually manage to be grateful, knowing this move was the best decision I could make.

He has since apologized for being such a shithead, but one of the most galling things Tony ever did was say to me, as I was getting into the car to drive away, “I don’t understand why you’re leaving. Things between us have always been pretty good.” The other was telling me, the day after I signed the adoption papers, that he would have stayed if I’d kept the baby.

It seems a bit unfair to pile on him now, after all these years have passed. But we lost touch and I don’t know that our connection will ever resume. I know he got married, and she seems like a nice enough person from the little Facebook stalking I was able to do. His sister also seems pretty cool now (we never really got along when Tony and I were dating). And if my husband is any proof that an angry, alcohol-fueled twenty-something can morph into a pretty great guy, I like to imagine that Tony might have made a similar transition.