By Jo Piazza for HowAboutWe
I have historically been a bad breaker-upper. In my twenties, I subscribed to the wisdom of Bryan Brown's Doug Coughlin, the wizened old bartender in Cocktail, that "all things end badly, or else they wouldn't end."
Not everyone is as fatalistic as I am. In fact, a new breakup trend has recently emerged: couples are deciding to be not only civilized about their impending splits, but punctual. They're planning ahead and setting a date for their breakup (sometimes going so far as to put an actual date in the calendar), and then enjoying their final days together before ushering in a clean break.
Sound too good to be true? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. In the right circumstances, a planned breakup can be the result of a meaningful and honest conversation in which both parties are fully honest with themselves and each other. Realistic goals are made, expectations are set, and then both parties can stop focusing on the elephant in the room (whether this relationship is "going anywhere") and enjoy the relief of the answer (no, it isn't). And then they can simply have a good time together -- presumably the reason they got together in the first place -- until the chosen date arrives.
Take Scott and Jennifer. They dated for a year before having "the talk." You know which talk I'm talking about. Since they're both in their early thirties, they thought it was prudent to address whether they wanted a serious future together. They didn't. Scott wanted to live on the West Coast when he was a fully-formed grownup, and Jennifer wanted to live abroad. Scott wanted to have kids. Jennifer did not. They still had great chemistry, awesome sex, and a whole lot of fun together, but they realized they shouldn't waste any more of one another's time in a relationship that wouldn't end in "I do," since the one thing they COULD agree on was that both of them wanted to get married (just not necessarily to each other).
So, Scott and Jennifer looked at their calendars. They had three weddings scheduled for the next two months. They would attend those together. It would be impolite not to, they thought. Then they would break up on Nov. 1, giving themselves enough time to settle all matters before the craziness of the holidays.
"Did it work?" I asked Scott in amazement.
"It did," he replied. "We had a really great couple of months. We never fought. We cried a little at the end. We're still friends. She's now engaged to a foreign service officer who will indeed be living abroad for the rest of his life."
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It was so clean and easy. Since talking to Scott, I have met three other couples who set a date and broke up like clockwork, no muss, no fuss.
Granted, the planned breakup doesn't always work out quite so smoothly.
Max and Jessica had been dating for three years when they decided to call things off, since they had severely different ideas about what they wanted in the future. Jessica wanted to get married. As in, right now, this instant. Max was not ready. And so, like Scott and Jennifer, they set a date in the near future, and tried to make the most of their remaining time together.
"The problem was that she didn't really mean it," Max told me over drinks. Max thought that they were really setting the date for their breakup. "Jessica thought that the whole process would lead me to change my mind about the fact that I didn't want to get married. It was a cloaked ultimatum. She was wrong and it led to a lot of pain for both of us."
As such, on the assigned date for their split, Jessica was drowning in disbelief that things were coming to an end. Max was equally drowning in disbelief at Jessica's disbelief.
"I was blindsided. She had played along like everything was great. We had a plan," Max said. But on that set date, Jessica went ballistic, threw Max out of her apartment, cursed his name, cursed his mother's name and told him never to speak to her again.
They haven't spoken since.
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If the above sounds like a nightmare, fear not. There is a third ending for this narrative -- the one that Jessica so desperately wanted.
Kirk and Michael were dating for two years when New York State passed a law permitting gay couples to get married.
"I wasn't one of those gays fighting to get married, so when it became an option, I didn't think anything of it," Michael told me.
Kirk felt differently. "I wanted to make things official. That meant something to me," he said. It became a wedge issue, and the pair ultimately did set a date to divide their possessions (they lived together on the Upper West side of Manhattan) and go their separate ways.
"It ended up being the best three months of our relationship and I realized I couldn't live without him," Michael said.
They blew off their breakup date and four months later sent out save the dates... for a wedding.
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