I’ve been working on a self-helpy book about breaking up off and on for years, but writing is hard, and that feels like a HUGE project, so, to encourage myself to write it in less overwhelming chunks, I’m just writing little bits here and there, as they come to me.
(I’m posting this from the iPad app, and I’m sure there’s a way to do a page break from here but I don’t know what that is so whatever. Sorry.)
To hold myself accountable, I’m going to post these chunks on here as I write them, which is maybe a bad idea, but is maybe a VERY GOOD idea. Who can know? Please don’t steal my book and try to publish it as your own because that will be embarrassing for me (that you wrote it before me) and also be pretty obvious, since my style is pretty distinctive, and my hundreds of fans/Grumpy Cat jokebot followers will all know you for the rat fink you are. Also, these are all rough draft chunks, so who even knows? Just be cool and let me do this, okay? Jesus.
Okay, without further ado, the first chunk…
HOW TO BREAK UP
Do Not Be An Asshole
I’m 36. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life since I was 15 in long-term relationships. I’m only okay at managing my money, I’m terrible at keeping my house tidy, but I’m really fucking good at being in relationships, and I am really, really fucking good at breaking up without being a huge jerk. I’ve found that not being a huge jerk during the break up seems to make them easier, and it also means I can stay friends with my exes long-term if I want, though I certainly don’t always want.
It’s totally fine to not want to be friends with your ex. It’s fine to never want to talk to them, or see them, or be reminded of their existence, ever, ever, ever again. Some exes don’t really warrant further contact, for reals. But there’s something about hating people that’s wildly disempowering to you, and that I’m here to talk about. Hating people is a form of not letting them go. As stated in the apocryphal-but-apt Buddha quote, holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person die. It’s diverting much needed emotional and energetic resources away from your own happiness in order to wish ill on someone else. My goal is always to break up in a manner that frees me and the other person. Maybe I have negative or positive emotions towards that person still. Fine! But my goal is to not hold myself or them hostage in a yucky poisonous prison of loathing or yearning. And I’d like to talk to you about how I do it, because so far, so good.
Regardless of what end of a break up you’re on, it fucking sucks. This isn’t a generalization. This is a cold hard fact, acknowledged by science and religion and popular culture, and no one will argue with it. “But what about when you break up with an asshole???” some contrarian, exception-lover will say. NOPE, I say to that person. That shit will suck for the person doing the dumping, because whether you want to or not, eventually you’re going to miss the fuck out of that asshole, and THAT will suck, and you’ll also feel like an idiot loser for missing someone you logically know doesn’t deserve it, so you’ll add self-judgment to the mix, which always makes everything worse.
Breaking up fucking suuuuuuuucks so hard and nothing will make it not suck. You know why? Because break ups are a type of death and death always sucks. We can (AND MIGHT) get into why fearing and resisting death and endings in general isn’t a super useful way to spend our time and energy, but for now we can all just concede our main thesis: Breaking up is the worst because it’s a death and death is the worstest worst of all the worsts. PERIOD. THE END.
Anyone who has dealt with death in its many forms will know that it can bring out some weird shit in people. Some people become much, much better versions of themselves - more kind, more soft, more loving, more forgiving, more generous. Death opens them up and pulls their insides out to glow in the sun. Conversely, some otherwise lovely, loving, kind people become terribly hard, selfish, shitty versions of themselves in the face of devastating loss. It hardens them and dries up their empathy for others. The fact that this is the time when we need each other to be extra excellent doesn’t change it, because death can be really isolating, with everyone experiencing it differently, crying for help on their own unreachable islands of loss. This is further proof that breaking up is a form of death - it isolates us from each other, creating sudden, seemingly-impassible crevasses of pain between people who probably loved each other a lot immediately preceding the break up.
My essential rule for breaking up is Do Not Be An Asshole. This is kind of the guiding principle of most of my life (humblebrag alert) but I mostly don’t need to think about it a ton (humblebrag party!) because I’m not usually an asshole (whoa, what do you want, and fucking medal, Kira?) Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge gaping asshole sometimes! I’m not past this. But I don’t have to exert a ton of constant attention to not being an asshole most of the time, and I can devote that time to loftier pursuits, like wondering what Idris Elba smells like (amazing, no fucking duh), or delving ever-deeper into how the universes of all my favorite fantasy series could possibly be one giant universe. COOL STUFF.
We have this prevailing cultural idea that it’s totally fine to be shitty during a break up. In fact, that’s expected. We don’t see a ton of movies or TV shows with people fighting without saying terrible things, or throwing stuff. Many of us grew up in households where it was totally fine and accepted to say whatever the fuck you want when you’re mad. My crazy suggestion is just this: What if when you were mad you didn’t become an asshole? I know. Let that shit sink in for a sec.
I probably don’t need to tell you because you’ve experienced this firsthand approximately one squabillion times in your life, but when you say something shitty when you’re mad, it lasts after you stop being mad. You’re maybe not mad anymore, and that awful thing you said was just a thing you said in the heat of the moment, to “win”, but now the other person gets to live with the memory of you having said that forever. You can’t unsay it. You can’t erase the memory with extra love, or oral sex, or all of the apologies. You said that. Your anger is gone, doing whatever dumb shit anger does when it’s not stomping around, busting windows and flipping over tables in your life, but you, normal everyday you, have to take responsibility for the dumb, hurtful, immature shit you did and said. Forever. You never get to not be the person who did and said that shit. It’s heavy as fuck.
So, what if our goal in ALL areas of our life, but especially in the context of our fights with people we love, was to not give ourselves a pass to turn into venom-spitting swamp beasts when we’re mad? Let’s devote some of our attention to forgiving ourselves for doing that in the past, before I ascended from heaven on a gilded cloud made of wisdom to Show You The Way, because your parents probably did that shit to each other, and to you. Your friends did it. Strangers on the street have done it in front of you. It’s so common that it’s boring. Except it’s not boring, because it’s heartbreaking and terrible and we can and should all aspire to do and be better.
Back to breaking up, though. If you’ve been trained from birth to flip a switch when you’re mad and treat the people you love the most like mortal enemies, it makes 100% sense that you’d say and do some vile shit to your significant other when you’re mad or hurt. That’s the default setting for being mad for a lot of people. But I’d like to invite you to explore the idea of unlearning that. Please open yourself up to the idea of being accountable for everything you do and say, and doing everything in your power to not behave in a manner that causes you shame later on. (At some point we’ll explore another central tenet of my break up philosophy, which is Take Care Of Yourself, and includes avoiding behavior that makes you feel small and dumb and ashamed [think reading your ex’s social media obsessively, driving past their house to see if their home, middle of the night texting, post-break up sex, etc.] but for now we’re gonna stick to the ways that being an asshole makes you ashamed.)
Both the dumper or the dumpee can feel justified in acting like an asshole. If you’re looking for reasons to excuse assholish behavior, you will almost always find them, because it can feel extremely cathartic in the moment, like the most logical response to a painful situation. For now, unfortunately, there’s no awards committee giving out ribbons or trophies for Amazing Feats Of Self-Control In The Context Of Very Hurt Feelings, which is bullshit, but this is our dumb world, so the rewards for not being an asshole can be hard to remember in the moment. This person hurt you! They are dumping you! They are making you dump them because they suck! They are making you feel guilty for dumping them, when you just want to move on! All feel like good reasons to just go for it. But don’t. Instead of being shitty to them, whether you think you’re justified or not, just don’t. Don’t say mean things. Don’t do vindictive stuff. Don’t make a hard situation worse. Be better than that. Even if this person has ripped your delicate heart out of your rib cage and fucking PULVERIZED it. Don’t let them have this. Don’t let them spur you to forget yourself, forget your dignity, forget your worth, and make yourself small.
Our long-term goal is to fall in love with ourselves with all the energy freed up by our break up, and that’s hard to do when we’re behaving reprehensibly, even if it could be argued that our behavior is acceptable-ish. Being an asshole makes you feel shitty about yourself long-term, and it also gives you very shaky footing when you’re telling stories to your friends about what a piece of crap your ex is being because you’re being a piece of crap, too. Plus, feeling smug about what a Really Good Person you are in the face of overwhelming provocation to be an asshole feels GREAT, because no one can hold any shit in your face or tear you down. You’re unimpeachable. You are being a gracious, kind, genius angel being! You’re really keeping it together and so few people do that, so everyone will think you’re amazing. That will help soothe any lingering urges to shit on the hood of your ex’s car. At least a bit.
Next time we’ll talk about the different ways to not be an asshole, because that’s obviously a big goal and it will help to talk through some specifics. For now, please remember that this rule, and this entire philosophy, is about behaving in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, and proud of your behavior. It’s about treating yourself and the other person like exactly what you are - fragile, flawed beings who deserve love and respect. It’s okay to not get along, it’s okay to not like each other, it’s okay to want desperately to protect yourself from this person. Let’s just think about ways we can do this without attacking them, and without causing any more harm than is absolutely necessary.