For me, 2013 was the Year of the Dump. It was a time when I got back into the dating game by treating it as just that: a game. Flings happened and were then flung aside; only a few lasted longer than it takes me to get through a season of "How I Met Your Mother" on Netflix.
There was Young Patrick, the 23-year-old Congressional staffer for whom "selfish in bed" doesn't even begin to do justice: one month.
Andy, the father of two who came in like a wrecking ball of neediness and misplaced ideas of what courtship post-divorce is supposed to look like. (Also, who actually used the word "courtship"): two months.
Then, "Bruce" (quotes to protect the somewhat innocent): Bro-tastic to the extreme, who thought it appropriate to tell me we didn't need to use condoms because we're white: three weeks.
What these men and others had in common was something I didn't immediately realize was a point of pride for me, which is that I dumped every one of their asses.
But last spring, three months into another casual hooking-up scenario, I was summarily flung by a guy my friends referred to not unaffectionately as "DJ."
Things were winding down anyway. I realized that despite both being cute, smart and liberal, we had absolutely no conversational chemistry. After politely explaining that he wanted to try a relationship with someone with whom he saw a future and that, while fun, I wasn't that person, I could only smile and say, "Don't worry about it! Thank you for being honest. Let's be friendly but not friends."
About 20 minutes and one hug later, I had my WTF? moment. I had just been dumped and I didn't like that one bit. Who does? Egos are powerful things that can make an otherwise confident person lash out, as evidenced by the bratty gchat rants and texts I proceeded to send my friends about the situation.
Some were sympathetic; most just reminded me that I knew it was coming. I'm thankful that only my friends saw that side of me. And after a day of reflection, I was pleased that, as far as he was concerned, I was the Queen of Chillness. The relief on his face that I wasn't throwing my (fourth) margarita at him is something I still feel good about.
At the risk of tooting our respective horns, DJ and I were following a pretty stellar list of breakup do's and don'ts without even realizing it. By actually respecting each other, we turned something that rom-com wisdom tells us is worthy of endless pints of ice cream and tissues into... just another thing that happened.
This prompted me to consider why, if conceivably every relationship we have is going to end (save for the one that lasts forever), are people (including me) so angry when it happens? Why are we so wrapped up in being everything to someone we likely don't want anything permanent from anyway? More to the point, how can we limit that anger when we inevitably have to dump or be dumped?
I thus proclaim, for your perusal, a list of dumping do's and don'ts. This is my humble attempt to limit some negativity in the word, and maybe even advance positivity, one hook up at a time:
For the dumper:
1. Be honest: There is an incredible temptation to lie and attempt to spare the dumpee's feelings. But "It's not you, it's me," is a cliché; "I'm scared about my feelings for you," is misleading; and "I'm just not ready for a real relationship," keeps them lying in wait until you are. If those aren't the actual reasons you're ending this, be honest. Because chances are, you're not that good a liar.
2. Don't be unnecessarily honest: Conversely, there are things you can tell a person that are more unkind than helpful. "I'm ending this because we don't have the same sense of humor," or, "I can't see you anymore because I want to raise my children Jewish," are reasons. Even, "I'm frustrated that you never go down on me and I don't think that's going to change," is helpful. "You're too short," is both unhelpful and mean.
3. Make the forum appropriate for what the relationship meant: Sleepovers that happened after dinner or a concert? Grab coffee. Random, drunk hookups you don't remember half the time and never involve someone staying over? Don't be awkward; send a text. Friends with benefits where the benefits have expired? Do it in private, in person. Be a friend.
4. Don't ask to be friends: This one assumes you weren't friends before you started sleeping together. In my experience, these situations end up in two frosty acquaintances on one end of the spectrum, and overly-cheery but secretly annoyed acquaintances at the other end. If you weren't friends to begin with, you're far less likely to become friends after you've seen the downstairs mix-up and told them, "No thanks, I'm done with that."
For the dumpee:
1. Don't make this all about you: "I can't see you anymore because I want to raise my children Jewish," clearly isn't about you. As for other reasons, maybe it is about you. Maybe you are crass or disrespectful or bad in bed. But chances are, you're not. And if you are, chances are you have enough good traits that the dumper thought it necessary to lie to you about your bad ones. If you need to know, ask. But if you're scared to ask, don't dwell. You'll inevitably turn it on the dumper, who didn't give you sh*t in the first place about your bad behavior. Don't punish them unnecessarily.
2. Respond with kindness, if only initially: Telling someone you no longer want to have sex with them is hard, and it took courage for them to do something other than just stop responding to your texts. If you have something nasty to say, say it tomorrow. It might feel less satisfying, but hey, at least you've lured the dumper into a false sense of "Hey, we really are cool." Tear their world apart after you've had some time to think about it.
3. Don't agree to be friends: It's going to be a lot harder than you think.
To be clear: I'm not talking about long-term, committed relationships where both parties have stated a desire to move things forward indefinitely. I'm not referring to high school sweethearts who break up when they go to separate colleges. And I'm not equating my two-month flings with members of an engaged couple who part ways because one cheated on the other. Anger, resentment and disappointment are understandable, normal feelings in situations like these. The giving and taking away of love can cripple a person.
But most of us don't throw "I love you" at our casual dating relationships. We don't always talk about the future. We just want to feast, f*ck and forget for a few minutes that the future -- this concept of real adulthood -- is rapidly approaching.
Somewhat miraculously, in a city of only 61 square miles, I have not run into DJ since the night of our pseudo-breakup. But I think about the conversation often. Roughly six months later, I'm still glad I gave him the same consideration he gave me -- that I didn't send out a Facebook blast about how he's a worse dancer than Lorde is a performing artist, or a tweet about how I'm pretty sure nobody taught him what sarcasm sounds like. (Sorry, DJ. I'm just making a point).
What I learned from DJ is that in a metropolitan area filled with more potential sexual partners than most twenty-somethings know what to do with, the reasons for breaking something off can be just as varied as the reasons for starting it in the first place. Washington, DC in particular is a veritable launchpad for young professionals, many of whom expect to move on to "real" cities in a few years and are just looking for something casual and fun to manage in the meantime. We're looking for something easy. Also, easy to end.
Chances are, six months from now, we dumpees won't feel hurt by this person anymore. If we do, then maybe we had some feelings for him/her that we didn't express, and that's on us. But more than likely, someone else will pop into the picture, and the concept of having "moved on" will be a reality.
Beyond the hippie-dippie aim of filling the world with more positive energy, this list serves a higher purpose. We've all been dumped, and most of us have dumped. The worst part of both is feeling at odds with another human being, particularly one you let see you at your most vulnerable.
For the dumpee, being cast aside carelessly with hurtful words, via the wrong format or with feeble and dishonest attempts at continuing a relationship, makes him feel marginalized. For the dumper, the prospect of rejecting someone and the potential backlash can be daunting. The scarier that prospect, the more likely she is to do it via the quickest and least considerate way possible; or, on the flip side, drag it out incessantly, ignoring your texts and calls until eventually you feel dumped not just as a lover, but as a person.
Our hearts are not broken by the people who never gain access to them. It is only our egos that bruise when we give that sacred sliver of ourselves called sex and are then denied access to the person who took it. Even sex tied to conversation, or dinner, or a warm bed, or the sharing of our fears and ambitions doesn't have to crush us. We have choice in the matter, whichever side of the equation we're on.
Simply put, breaking up does not have to break us.