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March 16, 2000

Breaking Up Is Moderately Hard to Do

http://www.jewishjournal.com/old_stories/article/breaking_up_is_moderately_hard_to_do_20000317

It wasn't the right time. It was totally mutual. He wasn't "the one." It just wasn't working out. Blah, blah, blah.

You know the drill. The why-we-broke-up speech. Sadly, one is usually asked to sum up a relationship's demise before really understanding it. That's why the above clichés prove so useful.

Nine months ago, I met a guy. He laughed at my jokes and didn't mind my smoking. I made a much better impression on his friends than the blond Ralphs checkout girl he dated before me. Things had potential. We gave it a try. Sometimes, two people of goodwill just don't get along, or aren't meant to be romantic soulmates. Sometimes, things just don't work out.

Still, I am determined to orchestrate the perfect breakup.

There will be no burning of photos, no vindictive giving back of stuffed animals, no late night hang up calls. This will be the best breakup I've ever had. "Let's just be friends" will ascend from cliché to reality.

In the perfect breakup, you don't torture yourself with the myth of the "clean break," cutting off all contact immediately. You wean yourself off each other, making sure to make other social plans but still seeing each other for the occasional movie, or bagel and coffee. This softens the blow during the critical post-breakup weeks when you could end up listening to all your Stevie Wonder albums and throwing yourself at losers. This counteracts the doomsday feeling that you've wasted your time and that a person you love is gone for good.

E-mail is critical to the perfect breakup. It is a way to be close and express how much you miss each other without having those dreary, weepy three-hour phone calls that go nowhere.

In my mind, the perfect breakup entails a realistic vision of what it is to cleave yourself from another person. There will be backslides as long as there are cold nights and loneliness and nostalgia and alcohol. You accept this without guilt or the confusion that a pleasing backslide means you should get back together. You are always one step ahead of your neuroses. That's the trick.

Of course, none of this is possible without that rare breed known as the North American Truly Mutual Breakup. If it's one-sided, don't even try this. If someone dumped you, you've got to cultivate what my dad calls "the grudge garden." You will water it with your tears and nurture it until you no longer miss the person you have convinced yourself is not worthy of you.

For the first time, I'm neither dumpee nor dumper. I take this as my opportunity for growth, for my first mature breakup.

I'm not saying I haven't had my moments. For example, I don't recommend plucking your own eyebrows in the wake of goodbye. I did so, overplucking one side and overcompensating on the other, all the while distractedly wondering what had gone wrong. Next thing I knew, I looked like one of those trailer park ladies who have to pencil in that creepy brown Maybelline line. I've had my low moments, but I've tried to factor them in and forgive myself. Eyebrows grow back.

I admit there are times I feel like a failure, that I've somehow exceeded the acceptable number of relationships one should have before they're 30. Maybe I have. At least this time, the end will be as bloodless as possible. I refuse to waste time envisioning him running off into the sunset with some goddess while I get a condo in spinster city. What's the point?

Last weekend, I was going to a baby shower in a faraway land called Sierra Madre. The directions, I was convinced, were so poor as to be intentionally so. The hostess must have been attempting some Darwinian weeding out of the weak. It was arrival of the fittest.

I made it only because I was traveling with my ex, who agreed to come with me and has a good sense of direction. I was glad he was there, even if friends were shocked to see me with him.

I guess neither of us has a map to where we're going. Standard advice about cutting ties and moving on aside, each and every relationship is its own destination, a place that only the two people involved can find.


Teresa Strasser is a 20-something who writes for The Jewish Journal. She recently received an Emmy nomination for her writing on "Win Ben Stein's Money."

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