Sunday, February 19, 2006

Melancholy Monday: What Break Ups Should Be Like

First, let me preface this "Melancholy Monday" entry by saying that it is a revision of an entry I published elsewhere. I wanted to present it here for my usual melancholy monday musings. So without further ado:

Most of the time when I am advising people on break ups, I trot out my Kantian theory of the break up. I tell people that the only respectful way to end a relationship is face-to-face. You don't have to be nasty about it. Just clear. At this point, I get the usual protests: "but it will hurt their feelings" or "I can't stand to see X cry" or "I don't want them to be mad at me." I follow up with my moral point: not telling them is paternalistic. You are assuming that others don't have the wherewithal to deal with the break up. Treat your boyfriend/girlfriend as an autonomous person for goodness sake. There is no way to break up without making someone mad or sad, but eventually the anger and hurt will dissipate and they will move on.

Let's face it, my Kantian advice is totally ridiculous. It commits the same sin that I upbraid libertarians for: it assumes that we are actually these self-possessed, totally transparent individuals totally immune to the coercive behaviors of others. Anyway, that advice is really about what I would want someone to do who was done with me. I hate it when people stay in a relationship when they are clearly done. I can read ambivalence. I would rather it end than stay with someone who isn't really sure if I am 'the one.' In the past, I have taken off with my shit as soon as I got a whiff that my boyfriend's affection was waning. I had learned from the past that if he lingers, its because he thinks you just can't handle the break up. That pisses me off. I can take it. I don't like it, but I can take it. I'm a big girl.

Usually when others want to break up, but can't quite get up the courage to do so, they start doing a lot of insensitive, disrespectful, and hurtful things, in hopes that you will dump them. You know, the stuff like "wow, you're starting to really gain weight" or "why can't you just give me a minute to be alone" or the full on sexual rejection because you smell or something. This passive aggressive stuff is just plain uncalled for. There is no need to make rejection worse by putting your boyfriend/girlfriend down. The break up is going to hurt either way, try to spare them the other mean stuff that makes any of think there is something intractably so wrong that no one will ever love us.

What really made me want to throw my Kantian theory right out the window was the realization that I have stayed in way too many relationships with people that made me miserable simply because I didn't want to deal with their manipulative crap if I tried to leave. My favorite line is: "well, you just don't like nice guys, do you." Or, "you clearly cannot let someone love you." Yet, if I think back on how these guys treated me, I realize that they didn't actually care about what mattered to me. They only cared about what I was giving them. Moreover, these men were willing to play on my deepest insecurities and abuse my compassionate nature to get what they wanted. Why did they do it? To feed their own ego.

This started out being a melancholy monday post and an extension of things I have already written. But, I want to end it on a sanguine note. The fact is, I am finally able to realize how shitty the so-called nice guys were that I dreaded dumping, because I finally landed myself a partner (covivant, man toy, work out bench what have you) that actually cares about me as an autonomous person. He doesn't want me to change. He doesn't demand that I give him things that I don't want to give him. He doesn't criticize my all-too-human traits. And, above all, he NEVER uses guilt as a weapon.

Using guilt as a weapon is a sure sign that you are dealing with someone who cannot be considered "autonomous." Well, let me correct that. It is really not about being "autonomous" in the sense of my ideal Kantian theory. What I now see more clearly is that you cannot count on others to be as mindful and respectful of you as you are of them. The biggest and most emotionally draining experiences that I have had are the ones where I presume the person I was dealing with thought, felt, and assessed the world roughly the way I did. I wrongly judged that they would not willingly hurt me, manipulate me, twist facts, or guilt me to do what I didn't want to do. (Boy, I am making myself sound pretty much above reproach, eh?)

My generous assessment of others, my willingness to believe that other people would not, nor could not be so cruel has always been my undoing. My Kantian theory of break ups doesn't really match up with what people are really like. The fact is that if someone else was considerate of your real needs, and cared about you not as a neat possession, but as a independent person with desires and wants that might oppose your own, well, you wouldn't need to break up with them now would you?

Too many people--women and men--stay in relationships that were totally beating the crap out of their self-respect. The sad thing is that they don't realize that a relationship shouldn't make you feel like crap. Someone who truly loves you wouldn't guilt you into staying in a relationship that makes you miserable.