It used to be that when I was on the receiving end of this behavior -- the monosyllabic conversations, then the unreturned calls and then the rather sudden end to a great relationship -- I was perplexed. I used to find it all upsetting, aggravating, exasperating, murderous. (We women are not crazy ... men drive us to the brink. Then they push us over.)
But now that I'm friends with a lot of single guys, I have started to understand their point of view. (They talk to me, since I'm not one of the women they're avoiding.)
They don't like to have difficult discussions with us (any discussion where we might disagree), because we cry. Sometimes we also get angry. We get angry and say mean things. (I know this because I've plotted especially evil and subtle comebacks, "psychological time-bombs," I call them, set to go off sometime in an ex's future: "Maybe it's just because you can't deal with your mother that you have problems with all women...")
But here's the worst thing for guys: Even when we don't cry and we don't get angry, even if we're able to have a discussion like the rational human beings we purport to be, we still want to discuss why. Why did you break up with me? "Why do women do this?" my friend Mike said, when he called to ask me for advice. He had just broken up with his girlfriend of six months, and a week later she wanted to talk to him.
"She wants to know what went wrong in the relationship," Mike said.
I know this girl. I have been this girl. I have been this girl so often that I blush just recalling the many tearful times I have begged a man to tell me why it was over; that it was over. Once a guy was so subtle with ending it with me I didn't realize we were done for two weeks. Another time I was at a party looking for what I thought was my boyfriend, who, when I finally found him, said, quite meanly, "Quit stalking me!"
Although I've never had a man take out a restraining order against me (I know men who have done this), let's just say I've gone quite far in pursuit of the truth.
We scorned women are like investigative journalists with our five basic questions: Why did you end this out of the blue? When did you know you wanted to end it? Who else are you seeing? What did I do wrong? And how can I fix this?
See, we women think that if we know what's wrong, the moment it's wrong, we can fix it. We think if our man will talk to us, we can make it better. We are seduced by the dangerous if/then clause: "If he would just ________, then _______."
I wanted to help my friend Mike, but I wanted to understand what had happened. How long had he known things weren't going so well? I asked him.
"About two months," he said.
When did you he tell her he was having problems?
"The night we broke up," he said.
No wonder she wanted to talk.
"Why did you wait till the very end to tell her it was over? Why didn't you want to discuss it when you first starting having problems?" I asked.
"I was trying to figure it out for myself," he said. "I wanted to be sure how I felt before I brought it up."
Why, oh why do men do this? Why do they conduct the most important part of the relationship by themselves, in their own head, like they were solving a math problem?
"What's to discuss?" he said so simply it took me off guard.
Maybe he was right. Is the question of whether you love someone a matter of discussion? Is it a matter of debate? Is it something you can be talked into? Talked out of?
We just want to be part of the process, I suppose, or at least let us know that there is a process underway, and not just a conclusion.
In any case, when the verdict is in, we want to know why. She wants to know why. Or she thinks she wants to know why.
But there are no good answers to the question. There are many forms to the answer ("I met someone else/I'm not ready/I can't stand the way you laugh/talk/kiss/breathe"), and there may be many reasons behind the answer (my mother left me when I was 2; I was married for 10 years; I live on Pluto, even though it's not a planet) -- but what it all comes down to is one thing: Rejection. They're saying, I don't want you.
And that's the one thing guys don't want to say. And, after many years of investigating, I've learned it's the one thing I really don't want to hear.
What I really wanted to hear from my exes -- and what I tell my friend to tell his ex -- is that they are sorry it is over.
It may not be the truth, but it's the only thing we can handle. Both of us.