Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Break-Up

I remember my mother’s gasp of dismay when she heard the news, the cry that brought me running in from the next room to find out what was wrong: "Brooke and Andre broke up!" she hissed, then returned to her phone call to get all the details. We were sad about that, my mother and I, though in retrospect it was probably for the best: they seem happier now, with Chris and Steffi and their beautiful children. Celebrity break-ups are never exactly surprising, and yet there are certain couples whose demise seems unfortunate, preventable; I’m still not convinced, for instance, that Prince Andrew and Fergie should ever have divorced, and when Tom left Nicole, I deliberately chose not to see Vanilla Sky as punishment (a lesson I hope he took to heart, though I have grave, grave doubts).

Thus, when I learned last night that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe had gone their separate ways I was saddened, as I always am when young children are involved, and it reminded me of a conversation hubby and I once had in those early days of dating, when every conversation gets branded on one’s brain, to be replayed endlessly for post-analysis in the weeks to come. We were sitting at Williams Coffee Pub, sipping mochaccinos and categorizing all the break-ups we could think of. (It was the kind of conversation that convinced me he was Mr. Right – not only did he share my penchant for analyzing relationships, but he did so with a flair for categorization that has never failed to amuse and entertain me.) When a break-up occurs, the attendant explanations are usually designed to conceal more than they reveal: "We grew apart." "It was a mutual decision." "It’s not you, it’s me." These statements are, by and large, never true. The real reasons for a break-up generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • The False Start Break-Up: This one occurs when someone finally gets the nerve to write the death certificate for a relationship that never really got off the ground in the first place. A few awkward dates, a pretense of romance where there’s barely even a friendship, a long-distance phone call or two, and then it’s time to play the Last Post and call it a day.

  • Religious Conversion Break-Up: More common than you’d think, this one occurs when a guy gets saved, or a girl renews her commitment to her faith, and then they divest themselves of the unsaved heathen who’ve been masquerading as their significant others. If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to turn someone against Christianity, in my observation, it’s being dumped for not being Christian enough.

  • The Third-Party Break-Up: I once read that marriages only ever end for one reason: a new relationship. Yes, there are always flaws in the marriage that can be used to justify divorce, but pure inertia will usually keep people in a bad marriage unless there’s somebody waiting in the get-away car. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that all break-ups involve a third-party, but certainly the most immediately pressing reason to break up with someone is that other someone lurking on the horizon. It’s debatable, I suppose, how far things have to progress before the third-party factor kicks in: as far as Brad and Angie are concerned, apparently, it’s not home-wrecking if no bodily fluids are exchanged. Before he and Jen split up, they claim, Angelina was nothing more than a good friend to Brad. Maybe so – but I suspect there are few things more destructive to a marriage than a beautiful woman with a sympathetic listening ear (especially if this woman makes it clear that she’s willing to bear the man’s biological child). Setting aside the definition of adultery, however, the third-party categorization applies even if the prospective third party is no more than a twinkle in the breaker-upper’s eye: it’s motive that matters here, not history.

  • The At-Fault Break-Up: In this category, the precipitating event is usually a discovery: your husband has been sleeping with your best friend; your boyfriend has been "borrowing" your ATM card and using it to steal from your bank account, $20 here, $40 there (not that anyone does that, or did it to my sister). Whether or not the couple was happy before, a line has been crossed, the unforgivable has occurred, and the relationship ends – usually with no half-hearted reunions or secret assignations.

  • The Trial Separation: This is the category with which I have the least experience, and I’m not entirely sure how it works – why a trial separation begins, how it ends, or what it indicates about a relationship. I’m an all-or-nothing girl – one reason I like marriage better than dating is that I don’t have to work so hard to hold back, to retain some objectivity (a doomed effort for me, at best). One reason for a trial separation might be a discovery that falls just short of the at-fault break-up threshold: something serious enough to warrant a good step back, but not entirely a deal-breaker. Conversely, a trial separation also seems likely to occur when a couple has been dating for years, possibly since high school, and they need to be apart for awhile to figure out whether the relationship is more than just a comfortable habit. My gut instinct would say that if you feel the need for a trial separation even before marriage and children have sucked the passion and romance out of your life, the relationship may not be worth saving. But there’s plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that my gut instinct, in this case, is full of crap.

  • The Can’t-Handle-It Break-Up: Everything is going great, and then suddenly life dishes up something really awful: cancer, rape, injury. You would think that under those circumstances even a troubled couple would pull together and weather the crisis, because who wants to be the guy who dumped his girlfriend because she had cancer? A surprising number of losers, apparently, is the answer to that question.

    …and finally,

  • The Marriage Avoidance Break-Up: In the most common version of this break-up, she wants to get married and he doesn’t. (I’m sure there are cases where the man wants to get married and the woman shies away; I just don’t know of any such scenario among my personal acquaintance.) "I’m not ready to get married," he typically explains: "There’s nothing wrong with you; it’s just that I’m happy with things the way they are." The Marriage Avoidance break-up usually pans out one of two ways: (1) The marriage-seeker dumps the guy, then she takes him back, and then he finally coughs up the ring and they live happily ever after; or (2) The marriage-avoider dumps the girl, toys with her emotions for awhile with various secret and not-so-secret reunions, then finds somebody else and marries her within six months.

Okay, you guys, it’s your turn. What break-ups have I missed?


TrudyJ said...

Well, first up, you get credit for being the first person to tell me about Reese and Ryan, and I am sad. Some celebrity couples, like BradnJen, were just ASKING for God to strike them divorced, in my opinion, but then there are others who seem like kind of normal people who just happen to be actors, and you kind of hope for the best for them. Reese & Ryan were in that category for me.

I agree with you about Andrew and Fergie. I've always thought they were still in love. I think she divorced the monarchy, not him. Not that I blame her.

Re: Tom and Nicole -- from what I've heard, it would have been more of a punishment if you HAD seen Vanilla Sky. A punishment for YOU, that is.

As for other types of break-ups -- what about the "Let's be sensible" break-up? When at least one person (but preferably both) recognizes that this was never meant to be a long-term relationship. Best applied to summer romances that were never meant to last longer than the summer, or relationships between two people who are so oddly mismatched in life that they never had anything but the sexual attraction going for them. I can think of summer romances of mine that I wished had ended with a "let's be sensible" break-up. I wish there were more of these -- people just recognizing that this was a thing, and now it's run it's course, so it's time to move on.

If my husband and I had broken up before marriage (which I considered a few times) it would have been a marriage avoidance break-up on my part. He was ready to book the church and buy the ring on the first date; it took me 4 years to warm up to the idea. Just to mess with the gender stereotypes a little.

wordgirl said...

I think you've pretty well covered them. Good job.

Robbin said...

Oh, the "Been There, Done That" break up. This is where you wake up after a long period of time and realize that you simply have nothing to say to each other. Can't recapture the past, and have no desire to take the next logical steps and go anywhere with them in the future. It's a divorce of pure ennui. Maybe it's just a long-term variation of the "False Start" breakup.

That was my first marriage, after ten years.

bubandpie said...

Trudyj - Why are there so few "Let's be sensible" break-ups? Well, I think you have to factor in the propensity to over-invest: I know many people who simply will not end any relationship, ever. They are missing the chip that tells them how to stand back and ask if a relationship is worth it: no matter how bad things get, they just keep bending all their energies to figuring out how to fix it. (Actually, I am one of these people.) And then you add to that the propensity for sensible, detached people to be attracted to these chronic over-investors, and you end up with one in almost every relationship. Even the most sensibly detached person can be hesitant to dump someone who is still so obviously (if inexplicably) attached to the relationship, so things just linger on and on until something precipitates a break-up (a third party, let's say, or a marriage ultimatum, or an unforgivable sin committed out of desperation to escape).

Robbin - I should really have done two separate lists, one for marriages and the other for dating relationships (dating relationships, that is, with no shared children or property). The dynamics can be very different. I'd call what you described as the Slow-Death Break-Up, and I suspect you have to be married to go through it - otherwise you take some other excuse to bail out before the last gasp.

Rhea said...

I am really shocked about Ryan and Reese. Always thought they seemed happy.

Mary-LUE said...

Under the category of Greener Pastures break ups which would include Third Party:

1) the Let's Go to Counseling and Work on our Marriage Break Up in which the party, often a man, suggests or agrees to go to counseling as a precursor to the break up. He/she looks heroic and is able to say "I tried everything, even counseling" when all along they knew they wanted out.

2) Also the "I Need to Find Myself" break up which is self-explanatory.

3) Finally, the I Never Really Loved You. This is a sub-category often of the Let's Go to Counseling break up.

Off topic: How do you get those cute little flowers at the beginning of your sub-headinggs?

Lawyer Mama said...

So sad about R&R. And trust me, you didn't miss much when you passed on Vanilla Sky.

nomotherearth said...

uDon't forget the "School Transition Break-up" when you are dating an older guy/girl, and they go off to university while you're still stuck in high school. The calls get fewer, some don't get returned. All of a sudden, you are broken up but have no closure.

Ummm, not that this happened to ME! Ha. Ha.

Very sad about R&R, especially as they haven't been together all that long. This newsflash prompted a "You'd better not leave me/Don't worry, I can't afford it" conversation in our house.

kittenpie said...

How about the "I;m sick of this stupid shit, I've had enough" breakup? whether it's the stupid shit of too much fight-or-fuck drama, the same stupid arguments gone over too many times, or more srious stupid shit like alcoholism or abuse, at some point, one person may finally decide they've tried long enough.

I think it's a shame about Reese and Ryan too - they seemed like one of the saner celeb couples. Not that divorc doesn't happen to sane people, but it would be nice to see a couple like that that continued to work. Gives hope and all that.

bubandpie said...

Kittenpie - About R&R - exactly. They seemed to have a good degree of distance from the Hollywood circus and they seemed to really care about making their marriage work. (At the same time, I've always had the sense that it DID take work, which is not always just realism talking - sometimes it really is a bad sign.) And the Final-Straw Break-Up is a mysterious one, to me - what are the psychological dynamics that allow someone to walk away from a situation that hasn't changed, after putting up with it for years? Is there usually a triggering incident, I wonder, or is it burn-out, pure and simple?

Nomo - Hehe. The "I've Decided You're Too Young for Me" one was used by my dad against my mom when they were 17 and 14, respectively. Then, 12 years later, they got married.

Mary-LUE - I put the "I Need to Find Myself" in the category of false-reasons-offered (like "It's not you, it's me"). Translation: "I Need to Find a Nice Little Bit of Something on the Side." Aren't the little flowerets great? I don't do it, though - my template does (they match the pattern on the sides).

molly said...

I don't have any categories though my dating break-ups fall into most of the categories you've mentioned. Only married once and still am. Sometimes throwing in the towel seemed like the way to go, and I could have fit the break-up into any one of the categories, but I can't imagine life without my husband, my best friend and greatest supporter. 21 years and counting. That is until he does something really dumb and pisses me off again. Don't you find that a good and loving relationship has a way of traveling a long and wide circle?

Christina said...

Yeah, Andrew and Fergie should never have gotten divorced. From the stories I've read, they still behave as if they're married, and it is clear they still love each other.

Nicole and Tom - ugh. I'd also classify that in a category similar to the At-Fault Break-up:

The Perceived At-Fault Break-Up - One spouse is so convinced that the other has acted on some deal-breaker that they leave them. In this case, the supposed at-fault spouse did nothing wrong, but was unable to convince the clearly mentally disturbed break-up spouse. In some cases, the crazy spouse ends up being left by the one tired of the accusations.

You covered the main categories very well!

Kyla said...

Ryan and Reese?!? Really? They seemed so "normal" and down to earth. That one makes me sad...typically I am in the "could care less" category with celeb break-ups.

I think you covered the big ones pretty well!

Becky said...

I think the ones I have to add have been covered:

"We were better as friends" happened to me, which is a variation on "Let's be sensible" and the "False start". In this, the couple are good friends first, try dating, and then one or both partners realizes either suddenly or over a week or so that "wow... we suck as a couple, but we were good friends." Depending on the level of intimacy achieved, you can go back.

The other one I had to add was eloquently categorized by kittenpie "I'm sick of this shit..." Otherwise known as "I'm just now realizing how crazy you are and how disfunctional we are together and that I never want to marry you." Oddly, this coincided with a "third-party break-up", in which the possibility of another relationship (for me) which was just the incentive I needed to admit that my current relationship was TERRIBLE and get out.

Re: R&R are you SURE? I've heard this rumor before.

Mother Bumper said...

I think you covered them all - except for maybe the mercy break-up where you dump a person because they are so darn needy but nice and are always trying to make you happy which is really irritating. Those are always really hard.

Oh yes, and the Seinfeldian one - you remember - MAN HANDS - where you dump a person for really superficial reasons.

bubandpie said...

Becky - R&R's publicists confirm a "formal separation" and are asking us to respect the couple's privacy (which, as you can see, I've done! - oh, wait). You know a relationship is really over when the "respect our privacy" card is played.

Pieces said...

This post is interesting to me because we are currently considering breaking up with our church. How's that for a weird application? I think we may be heading into a trial separation stage. Something has happened that isn't exactly a deal-breaker but warrants some re-evaluation. Our church is a small one and leaving it will be like breaking up with a hundred people.

bubandpie said...

Pieces - Ooh, SUCH a good analogy. It has often struck me that there is - for understandable reasons - very little teaching on the subject of when and why it's advisable/permissible to leave a church. Some people I know are perfectly willing to leave a gaping hole in a very small church for purely demographic reasons (kids would like a bigger youth group, let's say), while others (my mom) will stay in a sinking ship that was really never a good fit to begin with, right up until the very last gasp. But like the relationship kind of break-up, church break-ups (whether they involve parishioners leaving or pastors being fired) seem to occasion all manner of excuses and explanations that are designed to reveal nothing: "We've felt God leading us elsewhere," "It's God's will for us to go in a different direction" - all much more palatable on Sunday morning than the more truthful "We're a bit bored with the sermons here" or "There's only a certain amount of heresy I'm willing to put up with before I decide to jump ship" or "We want to save money on the youth pastor's salary so we're ditching the one we've got and hoping volunteers will fill in the gap for free.") Ahem. Good luck with your decision!

Pieces said...

It is refreshing to hear from someone who has actually thought about the issue. I find people I talk to are usually in one of two camps.
1.Why not just go to another church? It's no big deal.
2.If you leave it will cause a rift, the flood gates will open and Satan will have used you to kill this church.

The sad thing is that sometimes it IS hard to articulate a really good reason. I feel that it is a tiny little things piling up on each other that shove me closer to the exit. And then one biggish thing happens which is nearly shoving the Loved out the door.

I have agonized for years that there is no actual instruction on how to choose or leave a church. It has always killed me that at any point our pastor could say "God is leading us to another church" and yet the members of our church are not given that same freedom.

Becky said...

pieces - EXCELLENT point. While I have never been in a position to feel I must leave a church for any reasons other than "I'm moving far away", I believe that there can be completely legitimate reasons to leave.

this is in stark contrast to the book I'm reading right now (for a Wed. night book study at much church) called "Death by Suburb". While the title may sound intriguing (who wants to be done in by a row of cookie cutter homes?), I'm not entirely sure that I like the book. The problems that the author points out are real issues (I want my neighbour's life; I am what I do and what I own; my life should be easier than it is) but his answers seem a little trite, and sometimes completely off the mark.

I digress. Right. The chapter I read last week, "My church is the problem", is all about why you should stick by your church. Why? Because you made a commitment to it. I don't agree. Things happen. People change. Needs change. You shouldn't take these things lightly, but you should still consider them.

... uh... sorry about the tangent.

life in the 'shwa said...

I think you got most of the breakups.

When I told my husband last night that they broke up his reaction was "yay now she's free for me" and I told him "hah but now I can have Ryan all to myself." We're understanding of each other that way.

Pieces said...

I love your tangents! Thank you for taking time to digress with me. You are a woman after my own heart.

Your comments have given me courage in a bewildering and actually fearful time for me. That makes it sound so dramatic but it feels that way. Thank you.

bubandpie said...

Becky, Pieces - (I love when a good tangent takes over the comments!) I probably come down more on the "stand-by-your-church" side of things, possibly because I have spent so much of my life in very small churches where the departure of a single family is a blow - everybody's world gets a little smaller.

On two occasions, now, I've been through the rapid shrinkage that happens when a riveting preacher leaves and a mass exodus follows. And I'm not convinced that boring sermons, by themselves, are a good enough reason to leave a community where your absence will be deeply felt.

So what are good reasons to leave? Significant theological differences can certainly warrant a change. A sense of stagnation may require it. Feelings of anger and betrayal can eventually become strong enough to interfere with worship.

I think what I really have a problem with is the blithe indifference with which some people seem to undertake this decision (which clearly is NOT the case for you, Pieces): some of the most conscientious and dedicated people I know consider it a given that they're entitled to pull up stakes from a church whenever they want.

And to return to the original topic - relationship break-ups - something of the same ethos prevails: before marriage (and from some perspectives, even after) it's taken for granted that we are entitled to make an exit whenever we want, simply because we want to. But what are the limitations of that? Is it ethical to remain in a romantic relationship with someone for four years if you know you'll never be willing to marry that person? How much has to be invested before it becomes problematic to just cash in your chips and go home? (There's a nice mixed metaphor to end this monster comment.)

Mouse said...

My wife and I tried the "sensible" breakup once. I was headed halfway across the country for my first go at graduate school. We'd been together for 2 1/2 years and decided that long distance would be too difficult, so we might as well be sensible about it. After a month of talking on the phone and computer every single day and the planning of a visit, we finally admitted it was still a relationship. So, I failed at my attempt for the "Let's be sensible" type of breakout. (The others were an "it's not you, it's me" and a trial separation.)

Pieces said...

b&p, I'm glad that you don't mind that we've run off waving our skirts over our heads in your comments. Er, or something like that.

The pain that is left behind when a family leaves a small church is just why this will be such a hard decision. Your comment about things interfering with worship is at the crux of the issue for us.

I agree with you both that there can be legitimate reasons to leave a church. The problem comes when my legitimate reasons don't qualify as good reasons according to other people.

I will follow you back to the original topic--I agree that there are moral implications to staying in a long-term dating relationship. A friend of my husband's recently ended a TEN YEAR relationship because he finally admitted he never intended to marry her. Now, she is not blameless in staying in the relationship but he knew she ultimately wanted children and strung her along for years. Shameful.

Oh, The Joys said...

Yup. K was a third party for me. I was "otherwise engaged." Ooops.

Momish said...

Seems to me you covered them all, and quite accurately, I might add. I've been through a few of them, sad to say

metro mama said...

I think you've covered this really well! I do think 80% of break-ups fall under the third-party category (but the third-party is usually just a symptom of a deeper issue).

Em said...

The "oh dear, I've realised I'm gay" break-up. I know a few women who've suffered through this one (including moi!)

Lady M said...

I was sad to read the news. Reese seems so smart and together.

The "School Transition Breakup" is also known as "The big talk at Thanksgiving."

Beck said...

Yeah, the "Whoops! I'm gay!" break-up happened to a lot of my friends in university.
Or how about the "Now that we've slept together, it appears that my interest is waning" breakup?

Ryan Phillipe always gave off "I'm a big spoiled sulky twerp" vibes to me, but it's still sad - I hate to think of little kids having their parents divorce.

penelopeto said...

i was sad to hear about reese and ryan too. they just seemed like they could do it.

so, i have perpetrated a 'whoa, i've never been an adult without you and i need to learn how' break up, but karma's a bitch, so that was followed closely by someone telling me,
'well, this was nice but it's run it's course.'

classify that as an 'i've been using you for sex' breakup.

Jennifer said...

How about the "I Think We Should Slow Things Down" break-up. Used pre-marriage, of course, when one party wants to break up without really having to say as much. "Slow Things Down" really means "I want to sleep with other people", but sounds so much nicer...

I was sad to hear about Reece and Ryan as well, though I did feel a bit silly for feeling sad. I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one who thought, "Aw, really?!"

something blue said...

It is so sad about Reese and Ryan.
For them it could have been the My Star Doesn't Shine As Bright Jealousy Break-Up.

I've seen many relationships crumble over The Offspring Factor Break-Up: Where one person doesn't want children but the other one does.

mom-nos said...

There's also the Paul McCartney/ Heather Mills break-up, which appeared at the outset to be a Can't-Handle-It, but has turned out to be an Oh-My-Lord-She's-Nuttier-Than-A-Fruitcake Break-Up.