Thursday 17 September 2015

Seraphic's Guide to the Breakup Speech

A tempting approach but no.
I enjoyed this article in Verily, the one fashion-and-lifestyle-magazine I would love to write for. (Email me!). Wouldn't it be cool if I were the Verily advice columnist? Yes, it would.

If you are Single and not happy about it, the article may make you feel a bit baleful. When, you will wonder, am I going to get that cocaine-like rush, eh? Where's my romantic once-a-week intentional hiking date? I like hiking. Hiking is good. Is that guy really her fiancé, or is that a model? 

However, there's an even worse train of thought and it is the glum, Been there, done that, rush gone, still got the guy, don't want to marry him. 

The horror. The embarrassment. The squeamy ghastliness of it all. What the heck are you supposed to do when for months you have been planning your future out loud with your boyfriend and now you realize you would rather stick pins in your eyeballs than go through with it?

Yeah, it's bad.  I know because I have been there. More than once. And I still feel bad about it.  See Psalm 24/25: Remember not the sins of my youth, O Lord. 

We never want to be the bad guy. We are often wrongly haunted by the thought that we are the bad guy. But sometimes we are the bad guy. And if possible and appropriate we have to apologize. (A guy once apologized for breaking up with me. "That was, what, nine years ago," I replied.) The time to apologize is during your break-up talk at the doughnut shop. And will it be hard? Yes. Is it okay to make it sound like this is all his fault? No--although you should be 100% clear to yourself why (A) you thought he was so fantastic at first and (B) what character revelations convinced you that marriage to him would be a big mistake. "You're so boring I could scream" is something for your diary, not for his ears.

I am sorry I behaved so imprudently is probably something that will need  to be said. When you asked me out, I was delighted because I had always wanted to go out with [a college student/ a nice Catholic boy/anyone at all]. I couldn't believe that after [X] years without a boyfriend, someone actually liked me that much. You made me feel wonderful. You did these great things: [list the great things], and I honestly thought that we would get married one day. So when we were making out [or whatever, maybe all you did was hold hands], I thought it was okay because you were such a great kisser [hand-holder] and also because I assumed we were getting married. 

However, all our time together taught me some things about myself that I didn't realize when we met, and it is that I won't be happy as a married woman unless to a man who is [whatever it is he  isn't]/shares my core values [list them]. All I can say is that I am really terribly sorry, and I was so blown away by your [good qualities] that I just didn't think. 

Naturally you would deliver this speech in person, or at very least on the phone, because you don't want him to post your email to the internet in an uncharacteristic fit of rage. And you don't want to write a letter because who knows who will see that? If he keeps it, his eventual wife will find it. (Me, I wouldn't read past, "I am sorry I behaved so imprudently," but apparently there are women who think it is okay to sneak their husband's letters. I don't. ) And perhaps the social conventions of your community condemn these easier options.

You are in this situation because you made a decision--he's perfect for me, we're getting married one day--before all the data was in. That was very imprudent of you, and probably fuelled by such things as relief, vanity, loneliness, sexual attraction, and who knows what. I'm not throwing stones. Glass houses, and all that. I feel pretty rotten about my youthful imprudence. But that's now. At the time I was even more angry at the men for not being the men I thought they were supposed to be than I was at myself. Meanwhile, I thought  helplessly that I was fickle; I wasn't fickle: I just had more information. 

So even if a man is crazy about you, and you feel crazy about him, it is better not to talk about marriage, the future, etc., unless you have known him for some time, and you are 100% okay with the fact that he is [X, Y, Z], and think it absolutely marvellous. When you catch him telling whoppers, you laugh merrily in a comradely way. When you perceive he has no ambition, you are charmed by his relaxed live-and-let-live philosophy and adopt it as your own.  When he... Who am I kidding? Listen, just don't go on about your happy future together until he has made the serious commitment of buying a ring and setting a date, and you have made the serious commitment of saying yes.

Make-believe is so much fun, isn't it? But then Real Life presents you with a bill, and that is not so much fun.  Real Life hands you a bill and slaps you in the face to boot. And very unfortunately, other people may have been colluding with you in your make-believe because they too have made their own make-believe plans, e.g. your prospective father-in-law thinks that your dad will be able to give your boyfriend a leg up in business, or your prospective mother-in-law thinks your babies will be beautiful. Either way, their loyalties are not to you but to their son, and as much as you like them and want them to think well of you, if you have been talking marriage to their love-struck son and then you break it off, say good-bye. Literally you may have to say good-bye. If you do that, though, you are certainly braver than I ever was.

With all your speeches and apologies and people feeling sorry for your ex and him crying and whatever it is men do now--nothing would surprise me--it may be hard to remember the justice of your cause. You are to blame for imprudence--although depending on your circumstances, e.g. you were only seventeen, there are mitigating factors--but not for bravely breaking up. If you don't want to marry a man, but he thinks you do, you owe it to him to tell him that you don't. And your reasons for that are your own and whatever they are, if they are true, they are good enough. If it's because he is poor, and you can't live with that, others may scream at you, but I certainly won't. Better the poor boy marry a woman who enjoys his poverty (or thinks he is rich compared to her, or thinks he is worth it) than to marry a woman who resents him whenever he turns on the TV.

I come from a privileged background where adults are expected to know our cultural heritage, and I need to marry a man who does too.

I come from a humble home where we feel rich because of our Roman Catholic faith in our Risen Lord, and I need to marry a man who does too. 

I come from a traditional background in which men are expected to be the breadwinners, and women are expected to put homemaking and the care of their children first, and although everyone on TV and at college tells me this is wrong, this is the future I want for myself.

This last reminds me of something that is not quite a get-out-of-jail-free card, but might assuage some of your guilt. Society keeps telling us that we are nothing if someone doesn't find us attractive, and so it is no wonder that we are so relieved when a cute guy finds us cute, and start thinking marriage thoughts before we have eaten dinner with his family (or in the absence of family, friends).

Society also keeps shoving stories about girls overcoming their own "prejudices" to date/sleep with/marry boys whose values are polar opposite to our own. Bizarrely these are called "Romeo and Juliet" stories when Shakespeare's whole point is that Romeo and Juliet had everything in common and their fathers' rivalry was based on passion.

Certain kinds of families are depicted as cruel or stupid, and and others, especially those of "the other" are shown to be jolly and fun.  (I know of a WASP couple who walked out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding; their WASP son had been ditched by his wife for the sin of not being sufficiently of her ethnic group. Too bad she didn't admit her core value to herself and him BEFORE they married.) No doubt this is something for communities to think about, but it doesn't point to guaranteed happiness in marriage. (I know of a woman who secretly learned her husband's family's language, and they only found out about it when they were enjoying their usual past time of insulting her in front of her face, and finally she told them off in words they thought only they could understand.)

Therefore you may be more-or-less brainwashed to think that sexual attraction = love and romantic love should conquer all, including what you really, really want in a husband. And, behold, you may have been told what you want (a man with a career he enjoys, a man who shares your faith in God, a man who speaks your parents' language, a man who knows Orff from an ostrich, a man who encourages you in YOUR career)  is shallow, bad, wrong, liberal, reactionary, whatever.  Well, I am sorry, but a husband is for life, and the solution to the Annulment Crisis is to stop people from marrying the wrong person, or from marrying when we are the wrong people ourselves.

So although you may owe your soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend an apology for your initial imprudence, you are perfectly justified in telling him you don't want to marry him. Just make it about you, and what you want from marriage, not about him and how inadequate he may be. Apologize for imprudence, stand firm for your core values. Be more careful of the next man's feelings.

She slides shut the door on the grille. 

She opens it again briefly.

And go to confession.


1 comment:

  1. Great post- write for Verily! Just submit a proposal for a topic! (They pay a little, btw)


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