To have had a relationship end in a mysterious and annoying way--with no good-bye, no answers, just the vague feeling that you have no idea who that man was.
Men are good at a lot of things. Breaking up is not one of them. When a woman wants to break up with a man, she invites him over for dinner, cooks his favorite dish, and tells him she's seeing his best friend. It's all very straightforward and diplomatic. But men have this weird aversion to endings. They prefer to take the passive mode, allowing the relationship to end itself. Men can't be bothered with dramatic farewells, the questioning of motives, discussions. They are bored. They want out. Good-bye.
I remember the first time a boy broke up with me. We were in the seventh grade. He invited me over after school, said he just wanted to be friends, then had his mother drive me home. It was all downhill from there. In more recent years, a doorman informed me that my date was not coming down. Ever. A friend called her boyfriend and found out he had moved to a new city. A coworker happened upon a personal ad placed by the man she was dating.
Every woman, with the possible exception of Cindy Crawford, has a story like this. She may have dated the man a few weeks or a few years. They may have shared a cab or an apartment. It doesn't matter. For some reason, the man thinks that the decision to break up is none of her business. (Of course, some women do the same thing. But then again, some women mud wrestle.)
Often a woman senses a breakup brewing and tries to get the man to sit down and fess up. This is futile. The average male gets this beam-me-up-Scotty look on his face as soon as you mention the word ``discussion.'' He avoids subsequent contact as if you were trying to serve him a subpoena. Then, when you finally work up the nerve to ask him what the heck is going on, he pretends you're imagining the whole thing. It's all part of the game, and evidently the winner is the one who can quit the game without ever talking about it.
Some men admit they avoid confrontation because they're afraid we'll cry. Of course we'll cry; we cry at Hallmark commercials. What they don't understand is that we're not crying because of them, we're crying because now we have to get naked in front of someone else. It's enough already.
It's a rare and brave man who breaks up in person. Most likely he has sisters and does volunteer work. He'll say things you've heard before: ``I'm unable to make a commitment. I don't have time to be the kind of boyfriend you deserve.'' Then he'll add, ``I hope we can eventually be friends. I'd really miss your company.'' It doesn't matter if he's lying, telling the truth, or quoting something he read in a woman's magazine. At least he's trying.
Most men, however, think that even making a phone call to end a relationship is excessive. ``What's the point?'' they want to know. The humane thing, they've decided, is not to call, but instead to disappear like the Lone Ranger. These men believe in ``Close your eyes and make it go away.'' They believe in the Fifth Amendment. They believe in absentee ballots. They may ski black diamonds, walk barefoot on hot asphalt, skydive for fun, but measured on their fear of confrontation, these guys are wimps.
They'll say they're going to the rest room and never return. Then they'll meet friends for drinks and say, ``She just doesn't get it,'' or ``What do I have to do, spell it out for her?'' It's not that we don't get it. After about three weeks of shampooing with the water offjust in case he callswe get the picture. But we'd like to feel like more than simply a notch in somebody's bedpost. Stranded without an explanation, we sound like the neighbors of a murderer. ``He seemed nice. Kind of kept to himself. This came as a complete surprise.'' Underneath, of course, we know.
You can spot a woman whose relationship is disintegrating because her answering machine gives hourly updates of her whereabouts. ``I'm at work now, but I'll be home by seven.'' ``I'm at aerobics.'' ``I'm in the shower.'' Meanwhile, his machine has the same message as always: ``I'm not home. Later.''
So what happens is this: you refuse to bow out gracefully, and he refuses to confront. His only option is to make you so miserable that you break up with him. We're talking emotional terrorism. It's fun, easy, and gets results.
During this period he won't laugh at your jokes. He'll ask you out, then act like you're imposing. He'll shred what's left of your confidence by saying, ``You're wearing that?'' He may even tell you he'd like to end the relationship, but continue sleeping with you. Then he'll act surprised when you bash in his headlights, stuff his favorite tie down the disposal, and ignite his baseball card collection.
So what's the right way for a man to break up? I suggest the following steps:
Step One: Choose a reason. Inevitably your girlfriend will ask why you're leaving, and you should be prepared to explain. If you know that your reason is petty and immature (I know a woman who broke up with a man because his nose looked like a penis), make up a nicer reason.
Step Two: Select a date that doesn't conflict with birthdays or major holidays. ``I didn't plan to break up with her on Valentine's Day,'' a male friend once explained. ``It just happened to coincide.''
Step Three: Talk to her. You're both adults. It might go surprisingly smoothly.
Step Four: Hide your baseball cards.
Copyright 2003 by Cindy Chupack
Cindy Chupack is an award-winning writer who was most recently a writer/executive producer of HBO's Sex and the City. Chupack has written for a number of television shows, including Everybody Loves Raymond, and for several magazines, including Glamour, where she had her own column. She lives in New York City and Los Angeles.