“The truth is, I am bored with him, I can’t even get into the sex anymore, and I think the time has come to end the relationship. I just don’t know how to say it. Any advice?” part of the email read. My childhood friend was asking me for advice on how to leave a lover – let it be said this was no great sweeping love affair, but more a meeting of two people who needed each other for a while, and always knew things wouldn’t take them very far off on the relationship path. Still. How do you gently, and truthfully, tell a partner things are over, especially if no big watershed event has occurred?
My friend should have known I am the wrong person to dispense this kind of advice. The first boy I was ever in love with, I dumped by confessing to cheating, totally unprompted. I broke off a relationship in London by moving to Italy, and one in Italy by moving to Los Angeles. Not hard to spot the cowardice gene at work here. In retrospect, I took the road of no explanation, I hid behind external circumstances forcing events, something I am not proud of, especially if I think of all the times I have been dumped, and how I had wished for some clarity to mitigate the pain, or just the rage.
“Without mentioning the boredom, you might want to try to be truthful, something about the relationship has run its course” I replied, lamely. To my disclaimer, I reminded I didn’t exactly have the golden touch in the breaking up department.
But what is a good, decent way to leave someone you loved? Are there manuals in the self-help sections of brick and mortar or virtual bookstores on how to do it kindly, but also truthfully? And is truth really necessary?
It’s hard to hear what we don’t want to hear. Maybe we know, in the remote folds of our intuition but we are not ready to admit it, or even to change our life yet, and we pretend things can go on. Until they can’t anymore, and one half of the relationship comes clean with the dreaded: “I think we should stop seeing each other/I don’t think I am in love with you anymore/It’s not you” variation of the speech.
If I think back, the brutal and honest approach would have always worked best, although it’s not the one I would have preferred in the moment. Who wants to hear about boredom, a more interesting woman to contend with, how dismal sex has become or just the exhaustion of a feeling that seemed inexhaustible? How is it possible to hear such words and not turn them into personal failings that will doggedly follow us from relationship to relationship? But brutal honesty removes all vestiges of a doomed relationship quickly and doesn’t leave us hanging, deluding ourselves that he/she will be back if only….We hide behind kindness, unable or unwilling to hurt someone we loved, we maybe love still, with the harsh reality of the dissipation of love. So we sugarcoat the pill with “it’s all my fault, my life is too busy for a relationship now” or some other well-intentioned crap. While the motives are noble, the end results can be messy.
Casual relationships end. Love ends, especially when it’s not willing to transform itself. Why can’t we be grown up about it, and approach its demise as if it were a job we are abandoning for better shores? Because feelings are not that easy to manage, especially those who rule the heart; because it’s hard to admit defeat; because, in the back of our minds, that forevermore lurking at the bottom of all relationships is hard to let go.
In her latest op-ed column for the NY Times, Maureen Dowd quotes the poet Robert Hess, describing the sensation of making love to a woman: “I felt a violent wonder at her presence like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat, muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her. Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances.”
What we fail to accept, when it comes to relationships, is that they always start with overwhelming desire but desire cannot be sustained and, unless we pave the road for its transformation, desire, and everything built around it, always hurdles towards distances that cannot be filled. And it should be ok. And it should be enough to say: we have come to the end of this particular road. It’s over.
- for more suggestions, there is always Paul Simon
Image from popstrip.com – where you can view the entire strip