August 24, 2006
The Candy Man Can
If you've ever tried to split a Big Hunk candy bar -- the kind made out of brittle white nougat and peanuts -- then you understand a typical breakup. It's usually not neat, like a Kit Kat, two for you, two for me, let's go our separate ways and we'll run into each other in three years at the Whole Foods with a good-natured hug in front of a platter of cubed cheese.
No, it's usually more of a messy and twisted divide, with a few peanuts falling on the floor and someone always getting less than his or her fair share. While everyone knows the "clean break" is the way to go, it's rarely possible. Two people who were once in love are just not a Twix.
In fact, I will postulate that if you have ever succeeded in a truly clean break on the first try, you are most likely a sociopath. Not to be judgmental, but you're not capable of real love.
To be honest, I would assume the "clean break" was an urban myth, if I hadn't experienced one, against my will, at the cruel hand of an episodic television writer who had a lingerie model on the back burner.
He had no interest in my desperate plea to "just be friends while we figure things out." In fact, he never wanted to speak to me again, and he never did. In fact, he once ducked out of a coffee shop after noticing me inside -- with a theatrical sprint toward his BMW, years after we broke up. I would like to say I admire his sanitary approach to people-leaving, but I would like even more to point out that his mode is out of reach for all but the most disciplined or emotionally crippled among us.
Instead, the majority of us face a few agonizing days alone before launching into a despair-fueled effort to shove the pieces back together again. In my experience, there is usually the mini-reconciliation, the second break up, the third mini-reconciliation and the final coup de grace when one or both of you inevitably remembers why you broke it off in the first place.
Alternatively, if you are gifted at conning yourself, you may set up a series of spectacularly delusional relationship "experiments" to be played out before the final curtain comes down.
These experiments may include any of the following: Let's try seeing other people, but only sleeping with each other. Let's go back to "dating" and recapture the "honeymoon phase." Let's only see each other once a week. Let's move into separate rooms of the house. Let's take some "time off." Let's avoid ever mentioning: that girl from the office you cheated with, your mother who insulted me at your nephew's bar mitzvah, the job you quit because it was "boring," or any other topic that always leads to a blow-up. Let's up the couples counseling to twice a day. Let's only communicate via e-mail or sonic vibration and echolocation. Let's come up with a cute code word for every time you do that thing that drives me nuts, maybe "Octopus."
You know how it goes. For a couple of weeks, you're both on your best behavior. You say "Octopus" and giggle at the relationship's former infirmity. Those few tear -- or bourbon -- soaked nights of being apart are still so fresh in your memory, you will give any farkakta plan a try just to avoid being alone and truly accepting that a thing which was once viable is now on the slag heap.
I am now six weeks past a second faux break-up and mini-reconciliation and into the real Break Up. The talking, texting and doomed plans are all behind me. It's over, and I knew it would be, but I loved the guy, and after almost three years we were intertwined (think Nestle 100 Grand Bar), so I did the human thing and sunk my teeth into a few squares of denial and pain postponement. I don't have a new boyfriend or any new addictions, I'm just feeling sad now like I'm supposed to, and that's the best idea, as far as I know.
My friend Cammy says if you don't feel ripped up after a break up, if you don't try some idiotic plan to make it work again, you didn't do the relationship right. If you don't hurt, your heart wasn't in it and that's why you can walk away neatly with your half of the Almond Joy, leaving nary a crumb on the floor. All these candy bar metaphors, while hopefully evocative, have made me hungry. And break ups make me hungry. So while I couldn't manage it in "real life," I can now pay a buck for two great tastes that taste great together. And a confection that's easy to split.
Teresa Strasser in an Emmy Award- and Los Angeles Press Club-winning writer. She can be heard weekday mornings on the syndicated Adam Carolla morning radio show and is on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.