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.

"Mom, Singer and I broke up."

Silence. "Oh . . . Well, you didn't think you'd date him forever, did you?" I could hear my father in the background wrestling with pots and pans. He was cooking dinner. His muted voice came from beyond, "What happened?" My mom repeated my drama.

She said, "Your father says this has to hap-pen. And this will happen many more times. And it will make you stronger." I could hear her turn away from him. She whispered, "And honestly? Your father always thought the guy was gay anyway."

photo: Amy Pierce

"Mom. He's not gay, he's a metrosexual!"

"Actually, we all kind of thought he was gay."

I got off the phone immediately.

The next day I went to the gym, in a good-faith effort to keep my blood circulating, and a bird marked its territory on my shoulder. I was devastated. I suddenly didn't know how to do anything. I walked over to the gym receptionist and weakly pointed at my shoulder. She responded with a maternal smile and handed me a tissue. She told me the white chunks on my shoulder were signs of very good fortune.

The next day I walked into a Soho salon and sat in the swivel chair. The stylist held her comb and stared at me blankly. "What do you want done?" she finally asked. "Anything but this," I responded with a slight nod toward my reflection.

Five hundred dollars later I walked out a blonde. (I had walked in a dark brunette.) After sitting for hours as a foil medusa under a heat lamp (while having play-by-play flashbacks of the big breakup and gagging occasionally), I wondered if I was cured yet.

I wasn't.

I refurnished my wardrobe and refused to clean the shopping bags that piled high in my room. I came home every night, kicked them out of my way, and crawled into bed in my dark, papery womb.

I baked heart-shaped angel food cakes for dinner and had Dean and DeLuca gummy raspberries for lunch. And that's all I ate.

I watched Under the Tuscan Sun and Someone Like You . . . over and over and over. I truly admired the way the heartbroken heroines lost their minds. We shared a tragic joke.

I read and loved Le Divorce. I followed my roommate around the apartment reading her sad, romantic quotes from it. "Isn't that so true?" I would say.

At some point, though I couldn't say exactly when, I started eating real food. I guess I had to eventually. But I also traded a pity party here and there for a happy hour with my friends. My progress was staggered. Soon I dyed my hair back to black. Then I cleaned my room. I read a new book. I started a new job. I applied to graduate school.

I emerged.

I've begun to see relationships as if they are broken down into increments. Every little step, like a checkpoint, serves as an opportunity to make a conscious decision. Does a specific good really outweigh a specific bad? Am I willing to fight for that? Can I overcome the circumstance and go forward? Am I lying to myself? Can I live with giving up?

I am still learning how to consider each and every one of these questions at each and every milestone. It's maddening and it's depressing. But I'm convinced it's going to help keep me far away from the five-month misery.

In the meantime, I am dating a man who holds the door, who sends me love notes, who brings me chocolate. I'm taking this one crazy step at a time.

When he handed me a no-reason gift I whispered, "Thank you."

We have been together for nine months.

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