I guess it is Break-Up Month on Sassafrass Says So! Consider it spring cleaning, lovies.
The conversation about whether it is ever a good idea to give a goodbye gift while ending a relationship, all spurred by a Ryan Seacrest-Julianne Hough rumor (worry not, TMZ put an end to the controversy with a definitive statement by a “source”), led my thoughts back to the dating and break-up days before I met the Not Boyfriend.
During that time, I was dating (which was new, after a divorce from an 11-year relationship), pushing myself to go out with men I might not have previously considered (corporate lawyers? much older men? much younger men? also new) and being observant of how and who I was on each of those dinners, hikes and even one-nighters. It wasn’t all a science project, but there was certainly some healthy experimenting. I was finding my way to a different identity and it was good for me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. That included taking note of how the relationships (or arrangements, or meetings) came to an end.
Some were friendly hand-shake kind of goodbyes. And other farewells were bittersweet or a sad-face text at 2 a.m. A few were full of lame excuses (both mine and their own) and several were earnest “Hey, this is just not a good fit”-kind of departures. The time we spent together, the intensity of the connection, the other stuff going on in our lives, exhaustion — all of it played a part in how I parted with the men I dated during that time. Somewhere, I knew I had to work on leaving as much as I had to work on recognizing when it was great enough to stay.
One of the worst ends is the break up that happened several years ago and that came back to mind this week. That partnership was a low in my self-esteem, a time when I was full of stress and second-guessing and distraction. I was actively trying not to be alone when what I needed most was to be alone. The aloneness came. It just took a lot to get there. And I found myself using excuse after excuse to push off the inevitable, including (and maybe especially) holidays.
It was the closest I’ve ever come to a consolation prize-break up. I was dating someone I refer to (perhaps more tenderly than I should) as The Crazy Alcoholic. We dated for nine months, which was six (or eight) months longer than we should have been together, blowing past the first red flag on the night of my birthday, a very strange interaction on Fourth of July, awkwardness at Labor Day, my deliberate exclusion of him at fall family events, my decline to participate in his Thanksgiving, a wobbly sort-of-reunited Christmas and a secret New Year’s meet-up.
My therapist kindly said, “You clearly have to learn something here that you have not gotten yet,” and she waited patiently with me, collecting co-pays while I broke up and got back together and sobbed and reflected on this wreckage. The day I realized it really was truly, completely, totally, for-good over and it must end immediately was, of course, just a few days from his birthday.
I sighed loud enough to keep myself from crying. Sure, I should have just dropped the hammer. Instead, I dove into finding him a thoughtful, lovely gift. I stressed out over it too much, rationalizing that he’d given me several thoughtful, lovely gifts.
The end was near, yes, but the birthday was nearer. I planned a dinner out, wrapped the present, wrote out just enough sentiments in a card and shelved the break up for a few days.
I felt guilty, but all for being disingenuous rather than for what I knew was over. I saw him grasping, thinking we may be on an upswing and it made me hate the few hours we were out even more. It wasn’t kind of me to keep up the charade — not to him and not to myself. But it felt even crueler to break up on the day of his birth. He went home with his thoughtful, lovely gift and I went home with the crumpled up wrapping paper and empty envelope.
A day or two later, it crashed and burned on its own. He lost his shit and called me to say a bunch of crazy stuff, I responded with my own crazy stuff and then he texted me more crazy stuff. Finally, I stopped responding. For good.
Maybe we were more on the same page of that fake birthday card than I realized. Maybe my strained wishes were more telling than I knew. Maybe I (and we) had gotten all we needed to learn over that awful, happy-ish birthday.
We haven’t spoken since. I moved on to a few far-less volatile, kinder meetings with very nice, super-cute men. No gifts were given, no drama when it was over. I imagine he’s moved on as well, and I hope he’s found someone who celebrates his birthday with the whole heart those kinds of holidays deserve.
Sometimes still, I chide myself for letting a holiday take precedence over my happiness and my well-being in that old relationship. It has made it more important for me since that time to speak up when I am concerned or feel cagey or need to sort something out with the man by my side. I think that’s a healthy hangover from the Crazy Alcoholic break up, which makes me think that maybe the therapist was right — I did have something to learn.
There will always be toxic, unhealthy people in our lives, whether they are a partner or boss or family member or finger-wagging parent at the playground. And there will always be holidays or other outside justifications that we should put up with it for just one day longer. I don’t have a truth or formula or personalized advice for people who are having a hard time getting out. I just wish that I’d given the holiday (and him) less power and handed more over to myself. I wish I’d let Independence Day or my own birthday be the impetus to wave goodbye, rather than a holiday months away on the calendar.
Is a holiday a good excuse to stay? I think not. Not given how my own story went. Is a holiday a good excuse to go? Absolutely. Especially if it is the one happening today.
Have you ever held off on a break up because of a holiday? How did that work out?
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