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If You’re Going to Dump Your Boyfriend, Take a Shower First

August 29, 2013

You can’t put your elbows on the table, you can’t drink your soup straight out of the bowl, and you can’t text-message break-up, according to 9 out of 10 etiquette specialists. Don’t worry about the 10th. She’s all alone, in a dawk cawneh, DYING. Or maybe I’m confusing etiquette specialists with Jewish mothers. Yeah, I’m totally going to make fun of my own culture, once again.

But it often feels like I should stick to shining a spotlight on those underappreciated matrons, since there is at least a consistency to their actions as well as their portrayal in the media. The rules of social behavior sure seem arbitrary, especially when you factor in cultural differences (that soup-slurping thing? I’ve heard it’s totally cool in a real sushi restaurant!) and overall importance to the Big Picture, which should be solidly focused on things like potential war in Syria…oh, who am I kidding. Of course I really mean that the focus of our collective attention needs to be Miley Cyrus, disgusting though the implications of her actions may be.

Iffy American priorities aside, some of our guidelines for social behavior look sensible enough on the surface. Considering the limited amount of space at some tables, thrusting your elbows out at your neighbors could be the height of assholier-than-thou-ness. And the text-message-breakup thing? EVERYONE KNOWS that if you’re going to crush another person’s entire being and send them spiraling down into a long decay of emotional imbalance and drug abuse, you better damn well (wo)man up and give ’em the news in person, by vocalized phone call in a worst-case scenario!

But man, were there times where I wish it hadn’t been so. After months of agonizing with what was, in retrospect, a foregone conclusion, I realized I would have to make the final cut succinctly and directly. Apparently ignoring the problem, even as literally as I was, wasn’t going to make him go away.

Doing the deed, however, was easier said than done. There’s an incredible amount of timing involved in breaking up with someone you’ve loved and lived with for a number of years. And all of it sucks; it’s just that some sucks worse than the rest.

I had, for instance, initially contemplated pulling the plug on my one-day break between marathon sessions of training to be a first-time ski instructor. And considering I had to use that one day to take care of a whole bunch of errands that required me to be in Denver, there just wasn’t a whole lot of time for a full-on discussion.

Which I, being a classic jerkass in many ways, flirted with more shamelessly than a sushi delivery driver hoping to score a green card. How efficient it would have been to grab my ski coat and hastily-packed duffel bag of semi-clean clothes (even after repeated washings, there’s just no way to get the pit stains out of repeatedly-used long undies) and rush out with a tossed-off, “Gotta go, be back Friday. Oh, by the way, I think we should break up,” then dash off to my waiting car under the pretense of needing to get up to the mountains before the sun set and the roads froze.

I ultimately discarded this one, of course. But not because it would have made me into a raging jerkaholic. More because this would have my newly-anointed ex alone in my apartment with many of my most valuable possessions, whose value would be considerably lessened by suddenly smelling like piss.

Instead, I decided to wait until after the marathon ski block was in the past. In fact, it was two days in the past, and I’d gone up to A-Basin to take some early December free turns with my cousins as a way of taking a load off. The conditions sucked, as early-season conditions are wont to do, but given how much else royally sucked in my life at that point, the skiing was a comparable font of sunshine and unicorn farts (which I guess means that it would blow rather than suck).

And really, I would rather have put it off a bit longer, see if eventually my literal and figurative cold as iciness would sink in and force him to head south, his home, for sunnier climes. I’ve got no problem with direct confrontation as long as A) it’s with someone I flat-out despise, which, in spite of everything, was not the case here, and B) there’s no chance of making a public scene.

I didn’t see B as a huge problem in this instance, but A…well, suffice to say there was awareness that whatever I thought of him on that day, I had once been infatuated. I’d convinced him to leave the East Coast city where we met for breathtaking adventures in Denver, a city he’d only visited previously, on the grounds that we were so in love or some shit like that. For me to make that statement, and him to believe it, we must have believed there was a truth to it buried in there somewhere.

But damn if I could find any scraps of that truth anywhere. So as soon as I got home from skiing, I knew that I couldn’t avoid the issue anymore. No more skulking around in my own apartment, dreading confrontations (translation: interactions to the effect of, “Hey, how was your day?”); no more dredging up meaningless errands that would force me out of the apartment on a deceptively sunny afternoon.

Boy howdy, when I set my mind to something, I do it. No sooner had I put down my duffel bag and ski boots, no sooner had my ex looked up and said, “Hey, how was…” than I interjected with, “We need to talk.”

He blinked, but nodded and put on his game face. “Okay,” he said. Whether the awkward and atypical silence afterward was deliberate, I will probably never know.

“I need my space,” I declared, sticking my chest out and trying to look as firm as I could for only wearing pit-stained long underwear and woolen socks that could, at this point, stand up and possibly walk out on their own.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was definitely not for the man whose picture occupies space next to Webster’s definition of “loquacious” to stay silent.

After five minutes of realizing he wasn’t going to say anything, I dropped my arms and sat down gingerly on the corner of the bed. I caught a whiff of myself as I slouched over and immediately winced. Bad enough that the exercise in skiing makes you sweat; the layers of waterproof clothing worn during said exercise really act like a lid on a simmering marinade for multiplying the aroma.

Another ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five minutes passed. I shifted positions on the bed, trying futilely to duck away from my own stench. I know I should have been contemplating the long-term implications of what I’d said like Suddenly Silent Sam clearly was. Was he pondering his future? Where he’d live? With whom he’d live? If he’d ever get married now?

Beats the hell out of me. All I was thinking, compassionate soul that I am, was, Has an appropriate amount of time passed that I can sneak out and take a shower? I REEK

But while my tablemates are lucky if I keep my elbows planted on the table and don’t slosh my soup on them as I raise the bowl to drain it, I don’t text-message breakup, and I don’t sneak out of my own party early, even if the party stinks due to my influence. Uncomfortable though I was, I waited.

It took him thirty minutes before he finally replied. It took another half an hour after that before we settled on packing his most prized possessions and taking them with him to visit his parents for the holidays (did I mention that an accurate description of my timing would include “two weeks before Christmas”? Even the most self-absorbed Jewish mother would cluck her tongue at that one) and not returning unless he had a moving truck for the rest of it in tow.

And how glad I was for the end of that conversation. Oh, sure, I’d apparently just upended the life of a man I once swore to myself was the only one I’d ever love, the man I’d have considered marrying if he’d been into that and I’d been in need of a tax break. Damned if I remember what, exactly, he did in the days that intervened between my pronouncement and his leaving, several days early, to take refuge in a family that was likely sniffing about how they never really liked me anyway and how he could do so much better.

All I know is, that was the most refreshing shower I have ever taken in my life. Even if it did come later than it should have.


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  1. You’re hilarious.
    I try to do the whole break-up thing once I realize what I am not getting out of the relationship, and once it’s clear he’s not “the right person”. Why waste time with the wrong guy? It’s very simple. I know people that do it via text or over the phone, but I definitely agree that it should be done in person. I think doing it any other way is cowardly, so honestly, I wouldn’t think twice about the fact that you said what you needed to say. What planet was he from?!

    • Thank you! I have no idea what planet he was from, but I’m putting it somewhere around Alpha Centauri!

      I definitely had my reasons for waffling, most of which were kind of dumb (although the dishes that have been sitting in the sink, blissfully overlooked, for the better part of a week attest to the fact that it really helps to have someone who’s good at housekeeping around, and that someone ain’t me). But mostly, the reason I didn’t dump him as soon as I realized that there was a gap between what I expected and what he was willing to provide was pure inertia. We lived together, had a cat, blah blah blah…I didn’t want to upend all that if I didn’t have to! But if there is a next time (that’s a giant, 300-point font with sparkling neon colors “if”), no more indecision.

      • Guys are so much slower at processing than women are. Once we’ve made a decision, that’s IT. Whereas I can ask a guy a question and three days later he MIGHT have a response, whereas I’ve already moved on. I always wonder how their ears work so incredibly slow.

        I’d LOVE to find a guy that had house-keeping skills. LOL. Especially when it pertains to all things I do not and cannot do (for legitimate health reasons), and dishes are high on the list.

        You totally made me laugh when you said “We had a cat together.” I have a cousin who lost her dog in her divorce and was later quoted saying “Yeah, he was a fucking asshole. I have no idea what I was thinking marrying him, but damn do I miss that dog!” 30+ years later, her only regret was the dog. That’s pretty telling. I know way too many people who have joint custody of their pets when they split up. Seriously, if it’s a dog he can keep it, I’m a cat person.

  2. Ugh! Was O’dark thirty when I read your ping on my page..I thought you were responding to the re-blog I’d posted earlier last night..Obviously I was still half-sleep & now see the same excerpt in your post here..Ooops, disregard my earlier response.

    I’ve been texting for years now..Long before it was really popular..There ARE clearly personal things that should never be texted & instead done in person. Voice to voice(as my sons call it..) is still the best form of communicating the ultra deep & oh so personal messages..IF anyone were to ever break up with me by text? I’d consider myself very lucky/blessed to part ways with them..Thankfully though I’ve never been involved with someone who didn’t have a heart..And it does take heart, in my opinion, to tell someone you’ve loved that it just isn’t working out.

    Good & cute post as usual!

    • Thank you! I really try not to read anything at O’Dark Thirty unless it’s absolutely necessary, so I totally get where you’re coming from. Especially since pingbacks are absolutely necessary to my self-esteem.

      I’d say 90% of the communications I make by phone are texts. I call my dad, my grandmother, and my best friend when one of us in a situation where we’d text ourselves straight into a wall (literally), but for the most part, I like the brevity of texts as well as the escape route of, “Oh, I must not have gotten your text! Sorry about that!” with people I don’t necessarily want to talk to…should they call AND leave a voicemail, it’s a little harder to blame my lack of follow-up on the network.

      Still, texting someone to say it’s over is a crappy way to do things, and receiving a text break-up is a clear indicator of someone who deserves a smirk and an audible, “Good riddance!” But since I didn’t particularly enjoy feeling obligated to sit around while my newly minted ex collected his thoughts, I totally understand why text message dumpers do it that way, even though I do deride the wussiness of their method.

      • Girllll you said a mouthful..And as always dig your style of communication..I can relate! Became a text queen before it was even popular..My eldest son taught me to text way back in the day & I love IT. For all the reasons you mentioned & more..

        I can maintain contact with my loved ones cross country! I can connect with double the amount of people per day; which I’d NOT be able to do timewise IF I were to call them all..Because? I get long winded and I loveeee to talk.

        As for vmails? Family /friends are always complaining about mine being too full ; so full it gets to a point I can’t take a vmail..Plus? I’ve gotten so lazy I rarely even listen to vmails anymore…Which, btw, I tell folks..honestly I don’t get why they even still leave me vmails. Easier for me to just call them back OR text them…Thank God for caller I.D.

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