When Bad Things Happen to Good Girlfriends

At the five-month mark in a relationship, she always forgets to do one important thing: dump her boyfriend. Sadly, he never forgets to dump her.

I once dated a 31-year-old who was also (simultaneously) dating a 19-year-old I used to babysit when she played with my little sister. I once dated a guy who decided he didn't like me after I had traveled four hours by bus to see him and expressed this by ignoring me for the weekend that I was visiting. I dated another guy who tried to convince me to have an open relationship— because, as he put it, "dating other people is fun!" I dated a guy who loved to take me to the best restaurants in Manhattan but tended to forget his wallet; later I learned of his running mental log of money he had spent on me. And how could I overlook the guy who confided in me that he had been diagnosed as a nonviolent antisocial sociopath. He's the same guy who became enraged when he learned I investigated nonviolent antisocial sociopathic behavior, only to discover it didn't exist.

Somehow, not only did each of these boys dump me, but I also carried on for some time afterward, believing I was tragically ill-fated, walking around in a woe-is-me fog.

I've been dumped again . . .The truth is, though, that about five months into each of these relationships I knew it was over and I began silently willing it to end. But I did nothing about my secret desires. I refused to act on them; instead I faithfully waited for the boys to dump me. What is it about the five-month mark that renders me helpless against my better judgment? No matter how harrowing any relationship gets, I soldier through it and see it to the end. Unfortunately, it's not that I'm cavalier—I'm just too wary to act on my wiser instincts. And for this reason I am willing to accept some of the blame. If you think about it, I could easily improve my situation if I just listened to myself.

photo: Amy Pierce

I am Rosie the Riveter of comatose love.

My friend once told me, "You have had a lot of these, haven't you?" He meant breakups.

My prime example happened only a couple years ago. There I was, in my apartment, experiencing the breakup blitzkrieg of the century. By this time I was, by all logical accounts, a different version of myself—older, more sophisticated, on my own in the big city—yet not much had changed since my high school days of perpetually getting the boot. That night I opened the front door. My boyfriend stepped into my apartment, gave me a kiss, and said, "Baby, I'm sad." He sat me down on the edge of my bed, where we were illuminated only by the dim glow of the spotlights at ground zero. And that's where it ended, or started, depending on how you look at it.

I'll call this ex-boyfriend Singer (in homage to Woody Allen's character in Annie Hall to further emphasize our ultimately and permanently separate destinies).

"How do you tell the most perfect girl in the world that she isn't perfect for you . . . ?"

Part of me was softened by his flattery, and part of me wondered how long it took him to come up with that. Singer had somehow come up with the perfect breakup line.

He had the full waterworks display that left teardrop stains all over his pinstripe suit. He rubbed his eyes and gasped for air. He suddenly appeared juvenile, almost infantile—he swam in his second-year-banker attire; his Brooks Brothers collar and tie hung limply around his neck, his shirt partially untucked.

He blubbered and stuttered. "I've been thinking about this for a long time. Well, not a looong time, but a long time."

The guy was a one-man breakup show. He was so busy spinning his lament, I wondered if he noticed me at all—I, who was horrified and making mental journal entries of his words ("things never to tell anybody ever"). I, who kept zoning out, into a state of confusion while he cried.

Wait a minute. Was I supposed to be sobbing too? Did it matter? He wasn't even looking at me. Could I just get up and walk away in the middle of his soliloquy? What would he do? I almost giggled at the thought.

And how much could I get away with? Doesn't the victim get the insanity credit card to use at her will? Couldn't I start screaming and throwing stuff that would shatter and make a lot of noise when it hit the wall? Couldn't I yell at him and tell him that he wasn't cute enough for me and all my friends thought so? Couldn't I expose my even dirtier little secret: "I don't care what your frat brothers say, you're not a good dancer!" Or what gnawed most at my gut: "I'm the one who's been thinking about this for a loooong time."

But soon his speech was done, and my imaginings lost their opportunity. Singer collected his toothbrush from the bathroom and his spare shirt from the closet—so methodically, as if he had rehearsed it. And when he was done, he left. Forever.

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