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Today’s theme? Managing the painfulness of our (romantic) relationships. I’m talking here about the attempt to lessen the pain our partner feels while managing our own experience. I think this is something that we all think about mostly as happening at the end of a relationship, and guys as a group get the short end of the benefit-of-the-doubt stick in this area. In other words, guys get the lion’s share of the blame and zero percent credit. I got turned on to making this a topic when I read a pair of posts over at olivia quiver’s relationship bloggy site thing. The first one is here and this is the second. So. My summary of these is this:
One: very often we land a few weeks into a relationship and realize it’s not quite working, but it’s fun to keep seeing the person, which can lead to painful consequences eventually. [I would add to this by claiming that not only does attachment grow in unhealthy and uneven ways if left to it’s own devices, but misunderstandings compound in such a way as to paint ugly caricatures of their root causes over the real people, so that by the end you see the other person’s flaws and hurts magnified and can’t even remember their positive qualities. Relationship perverted and destroyed. So be aware and don’t drag shit out just to hold on to that original high] Two: guys need to stop being such dicks by dumping a relationship after sex, especially if that sex was preceded by several non-sex dates, because it hurts and makes ladies feel used and confused.
Got it. Check and check I totally agree. Except, I’m not sure I do, when I put these two fundamentally reasonable statements side by side. I’m not sure I can express my thoughts clearly on this, but to me there’s a contradiction that points to a painful (har har) conclusion. Ok, dragging out a relationship “that’s doomed to eventually fail” is super hurtful in the long run, and wastes time to boot. So you’d think it’s better to end it right away, right? Like as soon as you know you don’t want to continue? Like sometimes can happen after you have sex the first time? Do you see what I did there?
I submit that that is what guys who “lose interest” after that first sex event are doing, albeit unconsciously (and in my case very consciously). Healthy sex is fundamental these days to building mutual respect and intimacy, and I think it can be just the right amount of intense togetherness to tell you if on a higher plane you’ll get along well. So those guys are actually off the hook for being dicks, right? I mean, they ended the relationship after the minimal amount of time-wasting, so that’s what we all wanted to happen, no?
Well hell no, is what the ladies would say. They had sex and left which made us feel used. And to that I respond (hang on for some devil’s advocating!): you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but you can sure as hell make your bed and lie in it. You wanted sex, right ladies? If my experience is at all indicative, then yes you do want the sex, sometimes right away with minimal introductions.
But then again you don’t just want sex; you want the option for a caring mutually rewarding interaction that lasts longer than until the next morning. Sounds perfectly evolved and mature. Except maybe it doesn’t last longer than when you realize he’s got this annoying habit of always picking his teeth after dinner or completely missing your clit when it’s his turn at bat. Or his career goals don’t mesh with yours, or he doesn’t put family on as high a priority level as you, or when you’re alone together it gets boring real quick, and you guess that after all maybe he’s not the right guy, so you should probably stop having sex with him now. And then maybe after you two hit that museum exhibit you really wanted to see, you will give him a stronger hint that it’s not going to pan out for you two. You dump him, so it turns out he’s not an asshole after all! Yay he made it, everyone wins.
Right except for the guy who stuck it out past the bad sex because he was seeing if maybe it might work out this time. He’s hurting really bad. You’ve rejected him after getting to see the real him, and many guys would argue that that hurts worse than not getting a phone call after bad sex. Well, in fact someone’s always going to get hurt. You can’t avoid it and there’s no “proper” conduct that will prevent it.
It’s always our fault
If a guy decides to end a go-nowhere relationship, girls prefer it to be earlier, and wrapped in the perfect package of soul-baring self humiliation. I should know because I’m kind of obsessed with minimizing the pain in ending relationships these days, and no matter which rulebook I use, someone always always always has a tough period of getting over hurt feelings and feelings of loss and rejection. And someone usually wonders if maybe they shouldn’t have tried something different to make it work after all and did they just make a big mistake? If only for an instant. Maybe some day I’ll post a list of all the breakup lines I’ve had to compose and how they went over. I have several in email form, along with the responses. Everyone loves a good cring at someone’s expense so why not?!
One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems to fall to the guy to manage the boundaries and commitment level of budding (and ending) relationships these days. He’s got to accept the bulk of the responsibility for any and all hurtin’ that may arise from miscommunication or whatever ends up happening. A guy must assess up front his level of desire to commit to a relationship with the girl and announce it as soon as he’s able. Which means breaking it off if he’s not seeing a long term future because chicks don’t want to “waste their time” with someone who isn’t fully into it. If he’s into it, or she’s game to accept a “maybe” he is expected to stick to whatever arrangement that then gets ironed out (sometimes monogamy, sometimes “let’s just see where it goes”). But if the girl starts to change her feelings, he needs to notice immediately and adjust the relationship parameters accordingly. And be ok with whatever the new reality is, all through ample use of his psychic powers.
And so a lot of girls seem to have their wagons circled and are waiting to see if the guy can do everything the exact right way. Even dumping them the right way. But do you really have a right to expect to get dumped the way you want it to happen? I’m asking seriously and from the perspective of someone who’s been dumped in the most subtle and drawn out ways. I’ve been tossed out after a night of sex. I’ve also been the oblivious jerk who let an “intimate uncommitted relationship” drag on until the girl fell in love. And fallen in love myself even as the girl was secretly distancing herself but continuing to fuck me with crazy abandon. So I’ve seen and felt both sides of this shit.
As a result you could say I’m basically paranoid by now that I’m going to either break some girl’s heart if I don’t return her text messages (much less stick it in and then don’t call her), or I’m going to suddenly realize I’m wasting our time and have to end it in a sensitive heartfelt way that saves everyone from heartache but ultimately fails. I made it my number one priority to keep my antennae tuned to minute shifts in her emotional state and relate it to an internal reading of my own. I am constantly assessing whether I think I’m going to eventually want out of a given relationship, and then agonizing over when and how to share the results with the lady. But in reality I never relax and have fun because of that shit always being on (like you wanted, right honey?).
Fucking lame. And NOT NOT NOT what you want, ladies. Believe me, that’s no way to have a good time. I think sometimes it’s ok to get wined and dined and then dumped. Like pulling off a bandaid only at least you got wine, food, and sex. Just don’t have sex unless you are ok with the fact that you like to have sex sometimes.
Getting dumped sucks, but so does being with someone who has a running tally of every emotion he’s feeling and noticing streaming out the back of his head. Don’t you want that guy paying more attention to your story about work and less attention to how your story about work is subtly shifting his stance toward your dynamic as a couple? Let go for a fucking minute and enjoy the ride (so that I can let go and enjoy mine).
And Before You know it She’s Over You
Another consequence of ladies’ wagon circling is that a guy will be hard-pressed to notice when a girl goes from being “super into it romantically” to “just there to have some fun.” Mostly I think this is because we’re so focused on being fair and open with our junk we forget to hold the girl to the same interrogation-esque standards, and just assume that she’ll let us know. This has happened to me, and in the post-mortem I usually find out there were areas where I didn’t even know I was supposed to be meeting expectations, and so was failing to manage the pain I was inadvertently causing her and was thus a failure. Of course, not understanding that the point of no return had already been passed months ago, my little heart had been busily stitching itself to the girl, oblivious. And then WHAM! Basically the story of every interoffice romance in these blog pages. And it’s always the guy’s (my) fault.
I recently had a byzantine argument with the bad communications girl in which, by expressing my own sources of pain and attempting to bring about a discussion of how we are/were affecting each other, I opened the door for her to seize the pain megaphone and basically shout me down. She brought up something which she never actually expressed as being a source of sorrow for her: meeting my friends. First of all, I think the etiquette on introducing your fuck buddies to your friends is pretty nonexistent. There aren’t any rules fleshed out, and so I thought there were no expectations. Second of all, I think I was doing her a favor by not subjecting her to them; they really did a number on the last girl I introduced. Third, huh? That’s important to you? Anyway, she also tossed in there how boring I was and that she could certainly understand how it could be painful to see how much amazing fun she was having without me when I’ve clearly got nothing interesting going on and very few people to hang out with in a meaningful way (yeah, I fleshed it out). All delivered in a “this is your fault” tone. I had failed to manage her pain along the way and thus I was to blame for both my own suffering and hers (at having to hear about mine, i guess).
So, ladies I feel ya, but give us guys a break. We are probably spending way more time worrying about hurting you than you think, and ironically it’s probably eviscerating the fun and spontaneity right out of the romance equation. You can’t have a relationship that isn’t going to end some day, some way. It’s just a fact that you are 99% likely to get hurt pretty bad just from the fact you’re out there trying to find love, and I think trying to prevent the pain can be a really bad idea. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying, and I’m sure you won’t either.