Tell me: “I don’t like you anymore” — that’s what I want. And it’s what you should want too.
Whether it came on quickly or it built over time, once the feelings of “I need to break up with this person” entered her (or their) mind, they were not going anywhere until they were addressed. More likely, they became a gremlin that was found peering back at her throughout the day, staring at her from the bedside table as she tried to fall asleep with her back to you —her unsuspecting partner— until they grew inexorably into an ogre that she couldn’t ignore. Then one day:
“Babe?” comes innocently from the other room.
“Yeah, hon?” you reply.
“Can you come here?”
“Sure! One sec…” You finish picking out your button-up shirt for the day and then you round the corner with your arms in the sleeves, still clasping the buttons, to the scene of your partner sitting on the edge of the couch, butt-cheeks barely on the cushion. The couch which, by the way, looks like it should be in a magazine. You’re not even certain it’s the same one you picked up together from the curb last year. It’s too clean. The pillows too organized; the blankets are folded. And her. Her posture is nun-like. Back tall, shoulders flat, and hands eerily folded in her lap. Is she wearing a long skirt? Does she even own one of those?
“Sit down,” she says delicately. Quick, light, with a smile. As though if she said it any other way, it would’ve hurt you.
“What’s up?” you ask, attempting to dispel the weirdness you subconsciously feel but consciously downplay.
Then came a speech that you can now only remember half of. A selected half that still pisses you off when you think about it — the same half which left you confused when you heard it. You came over to my house after saying, “I think we’re just taking some time…” Or some such dribble which was certainly the product of the emotional concussion you received when she battered you over the head repeatedly with non-reasons, excuses, misdirections, assurances, politeness, and kindness. Eughh. My throat tightens at the thought. Partly from sympathy for you, partly from the bitterness it conjures, and also, in no small way, from my own memories and fears of it happening again.
I’ll quote one of my favourite characters from one of my favourite movies (Terrence Fletcher — Whiplash) and say: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’” He spoke of praise for the talented, and whether or not he was right, an edited version couldn’t ring more true for break-ups: “There are no five words in the English language more harmful than ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’” Timid break-ups are hurting the recently-singled of the world and I’ve seen it first-hand.
A weak break-up is selfish. You’re saving yourself from having to put the barrel to their thumping chest and pull the trigger. What you do instead is push the unknowing man (or person) out to sea in the fog with no paddles and no map. You don’t see them flounder, pace, panic, and drown, so your conscious is clean. Their torment for your innocence. What a trade. But in your defence, it’s not so deliberate, is it? You just want to be gentle. After all, you loved this person until not so long ago, and maybe you still do. You don’t want to crush them. And that thinking is natural — it feels considerate. But that is exactly why the problem is so prevalent, because we believe it is considerate. The consideration needs to come in the mending of the heartbreak, not in the perpetration of it. Be kind to your ex after he’s hit rockbottom and has started seeing the light again. Don’t be kind while you shatter his world— it’s a bit of a mixed message, don’t you think?
Further, unruly behaviour by the victim becomes an option in the wake of soft break-ups. A lack of clarity leaves room for misinterpretation — and you’ve just fractured the guy’s (or person’s) brain so his imagination fills in the gaps with an unsurprising craziness. I’m not saying it’s excusable; it’s not. Crazy behaviour by the person you break up with happens in different forms, at different levels, but it’s a craziness nonetheless and it can be avoided. I quiver intensely from shame at the private workings of my mind and the deplorable actions I’ve taken after an unclear parting-of-ways. No one should have to live with that shame, not when it’s so easily preventable. Leave no room for misunderstanding that first time you sit him down, not just about what is happening, but why as well. By doing this, the benefits will come back to you in silence and the state you actually hoped for all along: being left alone.*
Stop breaking up with people timidly. You do no favours with that wish-washy bullshit. It suits yourself in the short term, and them never. No more light-handed sentiments — “I don’t like you anymore” needs to become the new normal. Rip off the bandaid. Save all the best friends those weeks of coaching, so they can be coolly replaced with hours of comforting. Save your ex the resentment, those years of grudges held, so they can be replaced with eventual understanding, and a simple, pure, heart-puncturing sadness.
It’s going to be a slow transition, but come to my side and watch the grief fall away. It’s quiet here.
Help each other,
B.F. Greeno, aka
* That’s another problem isn’t it? You don’t actually want to be left alone after a break-up. Because you’re losing them too, and you’re not 100% certain about it. It’d be nice if you could still love me and care for me even though I moved on… Listen — you don’t get to be the one that kicks the dog and still hopes that he comes back around to give you attention. Put the poor thing down and live with your decision. It’s the least you can do.