Self-Discipline and Your Dead Relationship

I’m a big fan of self-discipline. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any good at it. Anyone who’s seen my behavior with a bottle of whiskey — or even a tin of Altoid mints — realizes I have control issues. Still, I’m a fan. Give me a goal — a half marathon or a deadline for a novel — and I can be pretty good about self-discipline, especially if there’s a reward at the end.

One other time in life when I seem to have developed pretty decent self-discipline is when standing in the smoking crater of a destroyed relationship. And if I may be allowed to say so, more people should be like me. The world would be a better place.

Case in point. Some time ago, a friend of mine dumped her boyfriend after years of dating. As one would expect, he didn’t react well. None of us ever do when we’re rejected on a personal level after a years-long relationship. (And I think guys are often caught off guard in these situations, because if the woman isn’t nagging or screaming at us, well, the relationship must be perfect, right?) He was angry. And he made this anger known. Initial outbursts are okay, sure. But then you have to bottle up your rage and go home. You’re not going to win her back.

Easier said than done.

Recently my friend told me she’d gone camping. Oh, and that the ex had texted her a couple of times. They were camping-related texts that weren’t so nice. “I hope you get raped by an angry bear.” That sort of thing. (Okay, he didn’t text that. But my example is funnier than his.)

As a friend, my initial reaction was what you’d expect. “This will not stand! We shall march to his house and unleash rabid ferrets into his boxer-briefs!”

But then something occurred to me. See, I know how women can be when crafting stories about relationships. They tend to leave out pertinent information if it doesn’t suit the narrative. I wanted to know what the yadda yadda yadda was.

“Friend,” I said. “Did he just text you out of the blue? And how did he know you were camping?”

“Well,” she started.

Indeed. Well.

“I might have texted him,” she said.

Oh. No. She. Didn’t.

Of course she did. Why? Any number of reasons, undoubtedly, but it all boiled down to this overwhelming urge not to feel guilty.

Look. I get it. I understand. None of us want to be the bad guy. And it’s still really no excuse for the ex to make ugly remarks about self-inflicted bodily harm with a hatchet. (I’ve written about this before, it turns out)

Still, in the event of a break-up, both parties could always do with a little more self-discipline. I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge in some self-destructive behavior: too much drinking, sleeping with a hobo, showing up for work naked. Whatever floats your boat. But you owe it to yourselves and each other to exhibit some damn restraint.

Because nothing good will come from more contact in the immediate aftermath. People need time. Lots of it. Sometimes an eternity. But trying to be friends or see about one another right after a break up is stupid and unnecessary and, I’d argue, more childishly selfish than the alternative.

And, you, the one who was about to say, “But it was different with me and my ex.” Shut up. You’re lying. It’s within the realm of possibility it was different for YOU, but if wasn’t different for your ex, who was likely miserable for the duration.

But I digress.

Me? I come from the “You’re dead to me” school. As those of you who read my blog on a daily basis and are therefore my REAL friends know, I’m no longer married. This went down in February. People ask, “Have you talked to her lately?” And my general response is, “Why the fuck would I do that?” And they’re always like, “Well, I thought.” And then I’m all like R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket”: “What the hell did you think, you greasy little maggot? That’s she and I would be texting cute and calling each other to set up patty-cake dates? WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION!?!”

Oh. Sorry. Anger issues. But seriously. Why would I? Look, it doesn’t have to be done from some deep-seated hatred burning inside. In my case, it’s not even about that. It’s self-protection, plain and simple. The last long-term girfriend I had before this went down, I haven’t spoken to since the break-up. When she dumped me and said, “We can still be friends,” I said, “Look, I’m over 30 years old. I have enough lady friends in my life who don’t put out. Later.”

But the truth of the matter was, that time and this time, I could see the “Let’s stay friends” road pretty clearly. It involved me sick with obsession and false hope and the sleepless nights and the teary undignified phone calls saying, “What can I do?” all of which would lead to nothing. (As it was, early on in this process, there may have been a drunken indignant email or two, an equal mix of pathetic whining and the equivalent of saying “I hope you’re eaten by a bear.”)

Hell, it’s one of the reasons New York’s divorce laws really, really piss me off. A year of legal separation? Really? You know, because letting these sorts of things hang around is always good for the mental well-being of both parties.

In a way, I’ve been lucky in the last two cases — well, as lucky as one can get. The other parties honored my wish to cut off all ties. I haven’t dumped many people in my life, but I understand the urge to be absolved — to be told that you haven’t made this person you once love a drunken bundle of self-pity. The dumper does have feelings, after all. They’re not always as cold and heartless as the dumpee makes them out to be.

But neither party should pick up the phone or send a text or email. The dumpee will have plenty of excuses: I need to pick something up from the old place (like your dignity!); What if she was hit by a bus?; What if she’s locked up in an insane asylum? What if? What if? What if?

What if you call and instead of hitting ignore like she meant to, she accidentally answers and you get to hear your ex getting busy with someone else? You think about that genius? That’s some Mel Gibson crazy-making shit right there. So put down the damn phone and let it go. (Note to those thinking everything you read is biographical: That never happened to me or anyone I know, but damn that would be a good story.)

And the dumper? Too bad if you’re feeling guilty. You should. You’ve hurt someone. And it’s your ex’s right to be angry with you and think mean things. If you really want to do your ex a solid, live with your guilt and don’t give the ex any cause for false hope.

That’s just cruel and people who do that should be raped by an angry bear — or have rabid ferrets unleashed in your boxer briefs.

17 thoughts on “Self-Discipline and Your Dead Relationship

  1. True words, my friend. And 100% the right thing to do.

    I am immediately sending this to all my single friends who insist on being “friends” with their exes. Guh…

  2. I’m surprised New York has that one on the books. Heck, I’m surprised North Carolina does. Reminds me of a line from a movie I’m sure you’ve never heard of and even more certain you’ve never seen: “It may surprise you to know that the laws of kinship operate in New York AND in North Carolina.”

    Seriously …. you’re right that the urge to not feel guilty and therefore contact is overwhelming. It ain’t just the girls … I’ve seen it from both sides. Ugh.

  3. Well said! And I have to say I agree with you whole-(broken)-heartedly. And it’s evident every time I go down the road of being “friendly” with my ex. Even though I was on the receiving end, I somehow always wind up feeling guilty for not being more “mature” (as opposed to bitter and angry) and just letting the past go for the sake of the friendship I am pretending exists (which never actually existed to begin with by the way). Cheers to showing some restraint and letting the past be the past!

  4. Good post. Good advice to the dumper, also. Fact is, most people you dump are just going to want to hate you, at least for a while. There is really no point in trying to let someone down easy, or giving them “closure”. Rip off the band-aid and move on. Kinder to all concerned.

  5. I agree with this. I don’t do “friends with the ex” at all. However, I do think the “break up by just not calling anymore” thing is weak. You don’t have to say anything more hurtful than “I just don’t think this is going to work for me.” But you owe it to the person you’re dumping, to dump them properly and not just leave them twisting in the wind. Call, do your dirty business, and then leave it alone. And don’t wimp out by calling and texting, and then not calling or texting anymore.

  6. Excellent post. “Cruel to be kind” is my motto post-break up.

    I’ve managed to stay friends/friendly with a few exes but only after an extended period of non-contact. My rule is: if the thought of them getting naked with one of my friends hurts my feelings, I can’t be friends with an ex because occasional hair-pulling aside, I’m not much of a masochist.


  7. This is the best blog post I’ve read in a long long time. Thank Dawn for pointing me in your direction. Such good advice on both sides.

  8. “See, I know how women can be when crafting stories about relationships. They tend to leave out pertinent information if it doesn’t suit the narrative.”

    Substitute “people” for “women” and this is a useful observation. Everybody creates self-serving narratives, all the time, for themselves and other people. Don’t think dudes do it in the context of relationships? Listen to a wife-beater explain why she deserved it.

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