The old excuses

If a guy ever really does say, "It's not you, it's me," it might be worth a stay in jail for a shot at his balls.

By Cary Tennis
Published July 2, 2002 7:15PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Recently I suffered my first breakup, with the first person I ever felt comfortable enough to date (for six months -- I've known him for about a year) and to have sexual relations with at my old geezer age of 22. He was innocent and sweet, and he appreciated my sense of humor and goofy mannerisms. It might have remained a simple and clean break if I had not found out that he told everyone else that it was over a month before he told me. I found this out later, after he told me it was over. When he finally did tell me, he said that since he knew he had a particular life plan -- moving far away -- he didn't want to hurt me later.

He went on and on about how I deserve better, if I want a commitment I deserve that, and blah blah blah. Finally I got it out of him that he was scared, that he didn't want to be attached, that it was really all about him in the end. I'm having a rough time. I knew the relationship would never work, because we have different plans for our lives. He wants to settle out West; I want to return to school and then see where life takes me after that.

He's also determined to live his own life his own way without the responsibilities of marriage or kids, while I'm almost agreeable to the point (kids? no kids? to me it's all God's will) where no one even bothers asking me what I want to do because I'll just go with it. I'm opinionated, I'm strong, but I'm also very mindful of others, almost to a fault, I guess. I derive my happiness from making others laugh at and with me. Anyway, this whole moving-on thing is so new to me. Any suggestions about how to keep myself from kicking his balls in the event I see him again?

Passive on the Brink of Aggression

Dear Passive on the Brink,

One way to keep yourself from kicking him in the balls would be to carefully review your state's penal code. Lame breakup is probably not a defense against battery. But you're not alone in wanting to kick him in the balls. There's nothing wrong with wanting to kick him in the balls. His breakup speech was way lame. It's hard to believe he actually used a variation of the "It's not you, it's me" speech.

You have experienced your first heartbreak and it wasn't even handled that well, so you've got a right to be angry and sad. The desire for ball-breaking seems to follow failed romance like coffee and cheesecake follow lomo saltado. It's something everybody goes through. It's dreadful and unforeseen and nothing anybody can say can make it much better. It's what all the songs and the movies are about. So welcome to the world of us who have been hurt. Life is dangerous and full of pain, so keep your eyes open. And if a guy ever really does say, "It's not you, it's me," it might be worth a stay in jail for a shot at his balls. Just don't tell him I said so.

Dear Cary,

Recently I started dating a man I think is fantastic. He's funny, smart, sincere, shy, good-looking, and even wears the sorts of shirts I like. He gets what is cool about me in a truly unique way. He knows why it's cool that I drink beer instead of wine, he digs my penchant for bad '50s sci-fi, and he even laughs at the obviously fake personal ads that I sometimes place in our local paper. We have loads in common and make each other laugh.

My concern has to do with our chemistry. It's not absent but it's not extremely strong from my side. He doesn't seem to feel the same way at all. When we smooch (and a bit more) he gets extremely turned on. I like smooching him too, but it's not close to some of the knee-buckling smooches I've experienced with various men from my past.

Now, I think that part of this has to do with his experience level. We're both religious, but I converted recently and he's always been religious, so I'm far more experienced than he is. I'm sure that if given the chance, he'd be an ideal pupil -- he's both logical and emotional, and definitely has a passion for mastering whatever he likes to do.

Will improved technique solve the problem? And if not, can chemistry come in a bit later, or is it just something that some people have and some people don't?

Unable to Come Up With a Good Name to End This

Dear Unable,

All I am is a pretty good guesser. You climb three flights to my office in the Tenderloin and I'm sitting at my desk in the travertine-colored early morning light, head in hands, cursing the Rubik's cube, which I cannot solve. On my wall is just one diploma from the Institute of Pretty Good Guessing in Vienna, W.V. And I can't even buy you a cup of coffee to talk over your problems because a stripper took all my money when I failed to guess her weight and she never did perform the therapeutic Australian bone-tickle she had promised. That's about what you're getting here. Of course, you're getting it for free and I try to make it painless.

By the powers vested in me, I'm guessing that you'll experience some knee-buckling if it's just a matter of harder, softer, up an inch, use your tongue, no not there. The trick, of course, is to make learning fun. If it gets too pedagogical, he'll quit your piano lessons and go back to throwing his baseball against the wall of the garage, if you catch my drift.

Dear Cary,

I am 40, female and never been married. That is going to change in September, as I am engaged to the nicest, most wonderful man. Well, almost. Here is the thing: He wants a wedding, not too big but a full ceremony, reception, everything. I am not an "event person" and the buildup to this is making me an emotional wreck. The flowers, photographers, caterers, the whole shebang of preparing for something I do not want is overwhelming. I want, and have always wanted, just a little Justice o' the Peace type deal, but since this is his first time as well, he insists on the Big One. When I say, "No way, just a judge," he literally breaks down. Am I being selfish, given that his mom and sister want what he wants? (My parents are totally on my side.) As an only child, I certainly am not used to having someone drag me into this. I know marriage is a matter of a series of compromises, but this is just too big. And I don't want to lose him.

Losing It

Dear Losing It,

My wife and I had dinner with a violinist and his wife two nights ago at a Peruvian place in the Mission District in San Francisco. They got married twice in quick succession. First they got married quietly in Boston in their apartment. Then they moved back to San Francisco and got married loudly in his mother's big old house in St. Francis Wood, with the judge from across the street presiding. So maybe you could do something like that. Maybe you could have two ceremonies: one a tasteful and demure gathering that satisfies your desire for simplicity, control and intimacy, and one densely populated spectacle on the scale of Woodstock. And after that, in subsequent thorny public/private entanglements you could use that two-performance setup as a model that meets both your needs. And then you could also take turns compromising, and those two strategies alone might form the basis for a long and happy marriage.

I have noticed that when people say they want a big wedding, or they want just a little wedding, or that they got married by an Elvis impersonator in Vegas, they seem to be telling you something about themselves. But we are not supposed to ask for a translation. You're not supposed to say, "Why did you get married in a big Catholic church in Parkside?" "Why did you buy brand-new shoes so when you knelt at the altar we could see the bottoms of your shoes and they hadn't hardly even been walked in?!" Only children are supposed to ask such things.

But I would really like to ask those things because I don't speak wedding language. I want it spelled out. Is it money? Is it a dislike of crowds? Are you a person of taste afraid that a wedding singer with teeth that are too large and inexpensively whitened will try to coax your mother into dancing with the groom to the tune of Billy Idol's "White Wedding," played at half-speed with major ninth chords? These and other frightening David Lynch-like scenarios are a possibility at weddings; during the planning of a wedding they loom much like the possibility of jumping looms when you are at the Grand Canyon. It could happen. It wouldn't take much. One false move. I would think that, whatever you decide, it would help to give some thought to what your desire for a small wedding symbolizes, how it fits into your life.

I had a wedding. It was pretty good. Everybody had a good time, but we ran out of food and everybody drank too much and later two of my brothers had a not-just-playful wrestling match in my house that left footprints 6 feet up the wall. We were gone by then though, up 101, headed for Tomales.

We're still married.

But I'm rambling. I sense you're narrowing your eyes -- you look great in that gown! -- and you'd like me to get to the point. The point is, it's all good. Big wedding, small wedding, you're getting married to a wonderful guy. It's your day. Be the bride. Feel the power. Veto something. Veto the weenies. Insist on crab cakes. Stash a bottle of Cristall in the vestry. Nix the corsages. Insist on satin. Uninvite his fraternity brothers. Use the whole stage. This is a test that you can only pass.

Dear Cary,

My partner and I are serious about building a life together. However, she sees a therapist almost weekly to whom she relates the stresses and frustrations of her life, so that she doesn't have to burden her own friends and colleagues. She won't share these conversations with me and refuses to introduce me to this person, who appears to represent her first line of emotional support.

I also see a counselor, though less frequently. My partner gets upset to the point of anger when I relate the conversations I have with my counselor to her. I insist on doing this, to sanitize the fact that I'm going outside our relationship for emotional direction.

I feel that the fundamental role of any adult partnership is mutual emotional support, comfort and rejoicing. It's therefore wrong, and damaging to the relationship, to outsource this to a paid third party, let alone to keep the content of this secret from a partner. I can accept that if there are serious mental health issues, then as her partner I'm not qualified to deal with them, but as a normal emotional sounding board ...?

This issue is becoming a major wedge between us. What do you think we should do?


Dear P,

I think you should let go of your insistence about what the fundamental role of any adult partnership is. You appear to have made a decree by fiat -- "I feel that the fundamental role ..." -- and then followed that with a "therefore" -- "It's therefore wrong ..." such that you've now got your partner all wrapped up like a defendant in "Perry Mason": Is it not true you go to a therapist and tell this therapist things you have not told this court? Is it not true this court has decreed that to do that is wrong? Are you not therefore in violation? Are you not? Are you not?!!!

I do not think this approach is sufficiently flexible to allow for the compassionate exercise of what I feel is one's fundamental role in an adult partnership: Not to be an asshole.

Do some thinking. Is it possible you feel left out? Would you like your partner to share more of her emotional life with you? If so, create some ways that she can do that. Try giving her some support, comfort and rejoicing and see if that doesn't make things better. And stop thinking about yourself and your own ideas. They're just your ideas. They don't matter that much to anyone else.

Try this: Integrate into your structure of axioms the assumption that since your partner is your partner, everything she is doing is for the good of the partnership, even if you don't understand it. Assume that you do not know everything and that you do not make the rules. Assume that making rules for your partner is the old patriarchal paradigm. Assume that she has only the best of intentions. And if you find you cannot assume that, because you believe she does not have the best of intentions, then dissolve the partnership. It is in bad faith.

Cary Tennis

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