Jenny Block observes breaking up (well) is hard to do
My mom always used to remind me that one should never put others down in an effort to make oneself look — or feel — better. It doesn’t work. In fact, it makes you look worse. And there is no occasion on which this is more true than during a breakup.
I have long admired couples who were able to breakup gracefully. I can’t say that has always been my experience. I have hurt women I have broken up with. I have been hurt by women who broke up with me. But I have always done my best to heed my mom’s words and not self-soothe by speaking ill of my ex.
It happens all too often. You get that call from a close friend or family member. “We’re breaking up,” the teary voice on the other end of the line says. “I’m so sorry,” you say. “What happened?” The story ensues and it goes one of two ways. “I couldn’t do it anymore” or “She left me.” Either way, the danger zone awaits.
In one case, the person on the line then laments over the loss saying how much she loved her, how she really thought they could make it work, how it was some of the best — and maybe worst — years of her life. There are confessions of wrongdoing and stories of being wronged and then the pivot point.
The person on the line then makes a choice, likely a subconscious one, to either talk about how much better they are than their soon-to-be-ex or not. In doing so, they reveal not who that other person is, but who they are. Either they are a self-confident person who is sad about a loss or an insecure one who can only see to raise themselves up by putting someone else down.
I’m not talking about things like abuse — emotional, sexual, physical or otherwise. If your ex abused you, you have every right to share that and every responsibility to report that. I’m not talking about saying, “One time she did [fill-in-the-blank]” followed by, “Of course, one time I [fill-in-the-blank]” or “And, yes, I enabled that behavior.”
I’m talking about, “Well, she’ll be sorry because I have lots of friends and a family who loves and supports me and she doesn’t.” Or, “I am an amazing gardener and now every growing thing she goes near will die.” Or, “Our dog never listens to her, only to me. She won’t be able to handle Spike without me.”
I get it. You’re angry, especially if she did the breaking up. I understand. You didn’t want this. You wanted the girl you fell in love with and the relationship you dreamed of. I feel you. This sucks. And if you’re married or domestic partnered, own a house together, and/or have a kid together. It’s going to be tough. Not just in the immediate future but for years to come.
Here’s the thing: If you need to put her down to bring yourself up, you’re leaving yourself on very shaky ground. Of course, she has friends and family and when they start showing up, you’ll look silly at best, bitter at worst. Of course, she can keep a plant alive even it means she has to get help, and when her garden grows, you’ll shrink. Of course, she can get Spike in line. It just might be time for obedience school. And when he sits and stays, you’ll want to stand and run.
That’s the problem with putting someone else down. They don’t look smaller. You do.
In the moment, I can imagine it makes you feel better to think that you’re, well, better. But you aren’t. None of us are. She’s great. That’s why you were with her for 20 years. You’re great. That’s why she was with you. And now, 20 years later, you’re no longer great together. That’s OK. It happens all the time. People grow and change, and that growth and change is apart rather than together.
It is very likely that the two of you have mutual friends. It’s very likely that your circle is even smaller than you think. It’s very likely that you will continue to have dealings with one another. Looking silly and bitter is not going to help your cause. Clearly, if you’re feeling the need to belittle them, things are already in a bad way. Trust me, this will only make things worse.
People will see you as the pitiful one. People will feel sorry for you because you feel the need to behave this way instead of because of your loss. It’s hard. Your ex is going to say what she’s going to say, and people are going to think what they’re going to think. And you may look like a villain even if that feels unfair.
Saying unkind things about your soon-to-be-ex won’t change that. The only person you are in charge of is you. It’s true. What other people say or think about you is none of your business.
You need to know that you are fine. You can stand on your own two feet. You were good with your soon-to-be-ex, and you’ll be good without her. Michelle was right — “When they go low, we go high.” Have a question about sex, relationships or life you want Jenny to address? Email it to [email protected].