End Games

It's hard not to be bitter when love dies. But payback time makes losers out of everyone.

Published July 15, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

how do you get along with your ex? No, really. Is there any relationship that
is more subject to the ego's whims than that with the ex?

William and I lived together for two months in London, once upon a time. I was
hopelessly and utterly in love with him. He was two years younger than me,
dramatic, passionate, reckless. Though my friends derisively called him The Tortured Poet behind his back, I didn't care. Pheromones were blasting. I was willing to
throw aside everything for him, and I did. When the summer came to a close and I
was due back in the U.S., we wept bitterly. Life was so unfair. The world was
against us. But no, we would persevere: I would come back to London when I
could; he would save up and perhaps come at Christmas.

Six weeks later, I got the fateful letter telling me he was back with his
hometown sweetheart from his native Belfast. They'd been together since they
were 16, and he'd felt terrible all summer about the way he had dumped her
for me. What's more, he was moving to Dublin to finish his studies with her. A
year later, I would find out that they'd had a son, and another baby was on
the way. Never again, I vowed. I will never never speak to him for the rest of
my born days. For the next five years or so, once a year, I'd receive drunken
phone calls from him in the middle of the night. When I picked up the phone
and heard that familiar transatlantic echo down the crackling phone line,
bang. I'd hang up. How dare he? He'd dumped me unceremoniously, like a piece
of lost baggage. Now he would pay.

Andy lived with his girlfriend for six years. Towards the end of their
relationship, his job as a screenwriter began to take off. He was sent all over
Europe to monitor film shoots, to provide moral support to crazy directors.
Danielle -- who had always been a beguiling and secure woman, if prone to
depression -- began to call him incessantly: when are you coming home, who're
you with, what are you doing. She'd telephone crying, saying you're sick of me,
you're bored of me. Andy reassured her again and again that this was not the
case. Finally, back home, they agreed to break up. He was devastated: Danielle
was his best friend. At one time, they had been inseparable.

Not long after the mutually-decided-upon breakup, Danielle broke into his
apartment. She tore the place apart. She read his diary. She confronted him at
work, and when he confessed that yes, he was sleeping with someone, she kicked
him with a roundhouse swing of her leg. Hard. This was three years ago; they
haven't been able to bridge the gap. For a while, Andy valiantly made the
effort to be "just friends." He called, he wrote. Finally, Danielle told him
to go away. Her current boyfriend didn't appreciate the specter of Andy,
friendly or no.

Who are the losers in these situations?

I wish I could say that it's the bad eggs, or rather, the ones that behaved
like assholes at the time of the breakup. But we're all losers. I don't get
anything out of carrying a vengeful grudge against William. William clearly
feels remorseful, and remembers the bond we once had, however short. Andy
feels he's lost the person who understood him best, and wonders if he'll
ever meet someone with whom there is that unspoken bond. Danielle, by all
accounts, feels guilty about her roundhouse kick and knows that her jealousy
was out of control.

Do we ever get anything -- besides fodder for bitter poetry -- by alienating
our exes? At one time, this person was the most important thing in your life.
Now they're... nothing. Oh sure, we can tell ourselves they were assholes all
along, and it just took us a while to see the light. In some cases, that's
true. But in most cases, it's not. And the fate of your future
relationship hinges significantly on the behavior you each exhibit in the
crucial months following the decision to break up.

In the end, it doesn't really matter who's the dumper, who the
dumpee. I mean, really, think about it. What difference does it make? If the
breakup is in sight, try to do everyone a favor by acting gently and
respectfully. You'll thank yourself later, believe me. Even if you don't
remain friends, the memory of better times doesn't have to be forever tainted
by an isolated month or two of bad behavior.

By Courtney Weaver

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