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February 19, 2006

Break Up Bullshit

I have a good friend navigating the rocky waters of break up hell.  She isn't getting dumped, rather she has to dump and the dumpee is not making this easy.  I have assembled a cadre of my best relationship advisors to help her get up the courage to finally end this relationship.  He makes her miserable.  She is at the point where she is doubting her ability to ever have a normal, healthy relationship,  because he has convinced her that she has "commitment issues" or can't appreciate a "nice guy."  The fact is, this guy isn't that nice. 

Most of the time when I am advising people on break ups, I trot out my Kantian theory of the break up.  I tell people that the only respectful way to end a relationship is to tell your boyfriend/girlfriend directly, face-to-face.  You don't have to be nasty about it.  Just clear.  At this point, I get the usual protests: "but it will hurt their feelings" or "I can't stand to see X cry" or "I don't want them to be mad at me."  I follow up with my point, which is that not telling them is paternalistic. You are assuming that others don't have the wherewithal to deal with the break up.  Treat your boyfriend/girlfriend as an autonomous person for goodness sake.  There is no way to break up with someone without making him/her mad or sad, but eventually he/she will stop being angry or hurt and move on.

I realized today how ridiculous my Kantian advice is. Anyway, that advice is really about what I would want someone to do who was done with me.  I hate it when people stay in a relationship when they are clearly done. I can read ambivalence. I would rather it end than stay with someone who isn't really sure if I am 'the one.'
In the past, I have taken off with my shit as soon as I got a whiff that my boyfriend's affection was waning. I had learned from the past that if he lingers, its because he thinks you just can't handle the break up.  That pisses me off.  I can take it.  I don't like it, but I can take it. I'm a big girl.

Also, when someone wants to break up with you, but can't quite get up the courage to do so, he/she starts doing a lot of insensitive, disrespectful, and hurtful things, hoping you will dump them so he/she doesn't have to do it.  You know, the stuff like "wow, you're starting to really gain weight" or "why can't you just give me a minute to be alone" or the full on sexual rejection because you smell or something. This passive aggressive stuff is uncalled for.  There is no need to make rejection worse by putting your boyfriend/girlfriend down. The break up is going to hurt either way, try to spare him/her the other mean stuff that makes him/her think there is something so intractably wrong that no one will ever love them.

My friend is in one of those relationships where her significant other fully knows that she is done.  He knows that she is miserable.  He knows that she would rather be away from him.  They fight about stupid shit.  He calls her three or four times a day to "check up" on her when she's not around.  He tries to figure out what she is doing all day: is she talking to another guy another girl (she does watch the L word alot)?  The writing is on the wall. 

So, what bugs me is that he is making her really work her ass off to get out. He guilts her into staying, knowing that she is miserable but letting her believe that it is her own screwed up nature at fault rather than his controlling bullshit.  He treats her more like a possession, a beautiful object to have around and complete his idea of what his life should look like to others.  He hits below the belt, which really hurts her (no surprise there, that is what it is supposed to do!) and then she feels too fragile to take anymore of his snide, snarky comments.  In fact, what we have here is a guy willing to stay in a relationship with someone who doesn't love him, nor reallly like him, but he will guilt her into staying as long as he gets what he wants.  Ick.

So, my Kantian break up theory is right out the window. You can't treat someone who is that narcissistic as an autonomous agent.  My new thought is that she should just get her shit,  and leave a note.  I see no good from a face-to-face in this particular situation.  She is afraid that leaving a note makes her a coward, whereas I think leaving a note is the only compassionate thing left to do; it takes away any temptation on his part to say anything really horrible that he might regret. 

This is not easy stuff to do when you are already feeling stuck and beating yourself up, rather than the asshole who is making you feel like crap.  What sort of person is willing to stay in a relationship with a woman or man who only stays because you have successfully manipulated them to think they are fucked up if they don't see how great you are?

I have seen way too many people--women and men--stay in relationships that were totally trashing their self-respect.  The sad thing is that they don't realize that a relationship shouldn't make you feel like crap.  Someone who truly loves you wouldn't guilt you into staying in a relationship that makes you miserable. 


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I was dumped by a girl I "loved" (ie really wanted to possess) in my 20s. She packed it up and headed out- which really did hurt my feelings, for awhile- but I got over it. Life is fluid and exciting enough in the global village, these days, that, unless you're talking about middle-aged people, there's a big world out there.
The main complication to this solution may be job/career commitments. If they're flexible, so much the better.
(I have remained friendly with the girl who ditched me, even though we haven't seen each other in quite awhile... we have things in common- music & other facets of culture- and friends.) If the guy turns out to be some kind of obsessive stalker, well, it's a big country- and it's not in a recession- and it's gonna be Spring, real soon... ^..^

I like your Kantian break up theory a lot. In a perfect world, it would be all you need. (Although, would breakups be necessary in a perfect world? Hmmm...)

But we don't live in that perfect world. I think you are right to observe that every relationship is different, and because of that, a single strategy for ending a relationship simply won't work in every case.

I hope your friend is able to get out so she can start to better appreciate the good things about herself.


"In a perfect world, it would be all you need. (Although, would breakups be necessary in a perfect world? Hmmm...)"

You know, after I wrote that I was thinking that my Kantian theory would be totally unnecessary in a "perfect world." The people we end up breaking up with in life, are generally people that have real problems that would be bad for us in the long run. I am guessing that if you found someone who didn't make you feel like crap, who cared about your needs and interests, and cared about what would make you happy, you wouldn't break up with them, right?

Maybe we would break up with these people anyway. If so, then the Kantian theory comes in handy. ;)

You believe your friend's lover "guilts" her into staying? Where is your respect for your friend as an autonomous person?

The guy's an abusive asshole, she needs to get outta there muy pronto. This is very similar to the situation my god-daughter finally ended recently, but not without restraining orders (even though there was no physical abuse) and bribery (she gave him her car to leave). Really. In breakup situations I'm a devout Kantian too, but sometimes you've got go beyond reason to the proverbial 2 x 4 between the eyes attention getting devices to bring the point home. And, in this case, give the guy a Cadillac to get out of Dodge. She says it was well worth it.
That, and always remember what's at play (note #3) ...


1- The first basic law of human stupidity asserts without ambiguity that ... always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid
individuals in circulation.

2 - The second law: The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

This idea was hard to accept and digest but too many experimental results proved its fundamental veracity. The Second Basic Law is an iron clad law, and it does not admit exceptions. Certain segments of the Women's
Movement will support the second law as it shows that stupid individuals are proportionally as numerous among men as among women. The
underdeveloped of the Third World will probably take solace in the second law as they can find in it the proof that after all the developed are not so developed Whether the second law is liked or not, however, its implications are frightening: the law implies that whether you move in distinguished circles or you take refuge among the head-hunters of Polynesia, whether you lock yourself into a monastery or decide to spend
the rest of your life in the company of beautiful and lascivious women, you always have to face the same percentage of stupid people-which
percentage (in accordance with the first law) will always surpass your expectations.

3 - The third law: A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

4 - The fourth law: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people infallibly turns out to be a costly mistake.

I have seen those stupidity rules before and I will never understand why people are so crazy in love with them. In fact, I'll never understand why so many people are so crazy in love with whining about how many supposedly stupid people there are out there.

Maybe if we just sold "I am smart!" stickers at most corner stores, people could self-congratulate with insulting everyone else.

typo: should be "without." I must be one of those ubiquitous stupid people everyone so fears.

Amen, Eli... If all I can do is identify the stupidity "out there, I'm probably not getting much done "in here". Some pretty savvy people have copped to being less than perfect- and have learned something by that. Regret is a fine way to train for grief- esp if one holds to the transitory nature of emotional states. (Even certain adepts will set samadhi aside when it's time to eat...) ^..^

If the description is accurate, your friend should ditch this clown post haste. Life is way to short for that shit. A note is more than he deserves. No explanation necessary. Reason and understanding are lost on a narcissist anyhow.

Here's some excellent advice, stay out of other people's personal lives, we've all gotta find our own path when it comes to these things.

As anyone who's ever been involved in a relationship can tell you, only the people who are in the relationship have a genuine understanding of what's really going on.

When you interfere or impose your ideas on the situation, all you do is give the people in the relationship an opportunity to make you the focus of their difficulties.

Direct the friend to It's quite funny and has many pages devoted to how guys like that play head games. Their Nice guys page seems on point, too. Perhaps the familiarity of reading other people describing behavior like his will provide enough distancing for her to make the break.

I think we should all live in caves. Far away from each other. Alone.

I do that already, and it's not all its cracked up to be.

Praise cheeses. Lighten up, Eli. Go to and get entertained, if not enlightened. Oh, hey, are you a Mormon? That might explain a thing or three.


How the hell is not telling them paternalistic?

They would just be scared and nervous. They want to avoid inflicting pain because it's a hard, horrible thing, not because they feel it's best for the other person or they need to protect them.

I don't see how its Kantian either, but that may just be ignorance on behalf.

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