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.

We were soaked through our clothes; our shoes spit water with every step. We dashed from scaffolding to awning, corner to corner. We passed the dramatic Cartier window display, and Fifth Avenue sparkled with a vintage tint. Madison Avenue wore the remnants of the India Day parade—red flecks of foil and paper stuck to the street and soggy crepe paper dressed lampposts. Singer was about to make another dash when I pulled him back by his arm.

"Wait," I said. The sounds of relentless rain and wind echoed down the deserted street. "Isn't this so beautiful right now?"

He looked around and scoffed. "Beautiful?" he said. "Not really." And he took off, yanking me behind him.

photo: Amy Pierce

The disappointment over little things like not enjoying the rain disappeared quietly into one of my many mental folders. Unknown to me, signs like this were adding up. And then there we were, five months into some strange, uncomfortable relationship.

The fifth month marked the beginning of the denouement.

My climactic disaster struck in a loud and crowded club. I recall a girl in boots and a miniskirt walking up high on the bar; metal beads hanging from the ceiling, clamoring in the chaos, and groups of people crammed together, everyone dancing differently to the same pounding song.

I recall a look of avoidance in Singer's eyes. His hello kiss was tepid. He put a weak hand on the small of my back and guided me through the crowd. He was going through some boyfriendly motions but without reassuring substance. At one point I realized he had let his hand drop, no longer touching me.

I asked him what was wrong. He said nothing. The fact that he wasn't annoyed by the question worried me.

"Are you happy?" I persisted, loudly over the music. He shrugged his shoulders. Reality spread over me. I got his message—he didn't even need to say a word.

I fumbled, searching for my coat. I found it at the bottom of the pile. I fled into the night—past the bouncer, past the line of New Yorkers begging to get in, shivering, huddled on the sidewalk, waiting just beyond the red velvet rope.

Singer did not follow me. I hesitated to hail a cab. I thought for a moment that maybe he would come bounding out to save everything, save us. I gave him a chance, but he didn't follow me—he just wasn't that guy, the guy.

In what felt like a spontaneous decision, I jumped in the backseat of a cab, told the driver where to go, and I wept. Out loud.

All I could think of was when Singer had put a white rose on my grandfather's sinking casket. I remembered because I had kept my eyes on that rose as the casket went down into the ground. I remembered because I silently called after it: "Do you like him? Is he good enough for your granddaughter?"

Everything after that night was a balancing act I struggled through.

I knew things were bad, but then I recalled the time my younger sister had come to visit. She was feeling sick and Singer got in the cab with her and walked her back to my apartment, holding her up, with one arm around her shoulder, telling her everything was going to be OK.

I would argue, he didn't chase me out of the club that last night—not even to see if I was safe. And then I would counter-argue: But everyone says relationships take work.

I would argue that I'd be some kind of failure if I gave up. How could I give up on my own, earnest intentions, however buried in the past they might have been? I just couldn't.

The day after the bar catastrophe, we somehow patched things up.

And then the hard part began. Suddenly I learned I had to stay within certain boundaries, so as not to make any waves. I asked for less of Singer's time. We sat silently over our weekend breakfast bagels, and when we were done he didn't have to walk me to the subway. He no longer told me I looked nice when we went out. One night, he even got into his cab and took off before I got in mine. I pretended even to myself that I was OK with it.

I spent a lot of time doing things by myself, and my friends and family would ask for him and I'd make justifications. And they would give me that "I could never do that" look and comment on how "independent" I was. All of this went on for four more months.

When was I going to learn that sometimes it is OK to give up?

No, seriously, when was I going to learn? It had all happened before—in past relationships there were different catalysts at the five-month mark, but they all spawned the same painful, grinding phase. And the breakups had all happened before as well. Yet afterward I consistently behaved as though I never saw it coming.

After Singer left our breakup crime scene, after the silence had settled in my room, I called my mom. I was curled up in bed, with my forehead propped against the windowpane, looking out at the boats bobbing in the Hudson River. I could barely get the words out:

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