In your Aug. 4 column about the girl who knows that she was right to break up with her ex-boyfriend, but she had dinner with him and misses him, but he's moving on so how can she, blah blah, you told her to refuse to luxuriate in memories of him, not be curious about the new woman in his life, etc. Excellent, sound advice.
But what do you do when the ex-boyfriend won't go away? And keeps showing up with his new girlfriend? And everyone likes them better than they like you?
My ex and I dated for a year, a year in which he did all sorts of over-the-top nice things for me, things which, if I had done them for someone, would mean that I was very, very serious about that person -- flying 800 miles for a family wedding, throwing me a going-away party and inviting all of my friends, interviewing for a new position in the new city to which I had moved.
Well, he met a new girl, I was out, and they were out in public with our mutual friends within two days of his breaking up with me (over the phone, a week after I had visited him in my old city).
Fast-forward: The new city sucked, I moved back to the old city, definitely the right decision, but now ... He and I are in the same club; we both contribute substantively to this club; and he's at every function we organize. When I meet with the officers of this club, they sometimes reference him (and/or her), and they'll throw a glance my way to see if I'm going to implode. They all like her, they all like him, and while I wasn't really good friends with many of my club mates, it does hurt me that they obviously prefer his company to mine (when he's the interloping lying coward and I was the one shabbily treated).
But that's not even the biggest issue. The biggest issue is that he won't go away. I'm not implying that he seeks me out, or tries to buddy up with me. The problem is that when we are in each other's immediate vicinity, he will insist on speaking to me. In another universe, I would understand that he is being polite and gracious and probably doing a mature thing. But I don't want to talk to him. I don't want to acknowledge him. I feel like if I were to talk to him, I would be demonstrating in some way that I'm OK, that it's OK that he betrayed me in such a public fashion. I feel that to speak to him would be saying that my suffering wasn't that bad. But it was that bad. He humiliated me publicly as well as wounding me very, very deeply.
I want nothing more than to kick him when he speaks politely to me. I want to say to him, "You know what, I don't stalk you. I don't speak ill of your girlfriend. I don't demand that people make a choice between us. I don't even speak that badly about you. Therefore, you will do me the favor of never, ever addressing me and forcing me, through your polite small talk, to acknowledge your existence."
Part of me knows this is ridiculous. And prior to this, I have believed and practiced the idea that if you make yourself weak, that's when you become strong -- and in this case, making myself weak would be choosing to genuinely respond when he is polite to me. But I don't want to. I don't want it to be OK between us because I'm not OK with him. He was deceitful and selfish even though I gave him opportunities to break up with me (e.g., "I'm moving 1,400 miles away. Do you want to break up with me?"). It hurt more than I ever thought anything could hurt. I am not OK.
What should I do? Tell him that from now on, he is not to address me? Or face him and, when he asks how I'm doing, answer and then ask the same thing of him?
I Am Not OK
Dear Not OK,
So the next time this guy glides across the room in his shiny suit and magic shoes and close-shaven cheeks and lustrous hair, holding his new whatever-she-is on his arm, and catches your eye and moves in closer than you'd prefer him to be and greets you by name and asks you how you are, you should take a big step back, square your shoulders, breathe in and with a sweep of your arm that takes in the whole room including the balcony and the waiters and whoever is on his way downstairs to the bathroom or the telephone, repeat the question aloud so all assembled can hear -- How am I? he asks! How am I and what am I doing and what's up? he wants to know! -- and as your raised voice captures the air and makes everyone turn to find its rich and simmering source, you pause then to consider the question yourself, deeply, carefully, like a woman who's been sitting in the desert contemplating it under swirling galaxies in the dry, chilly air among the lizards and the cactus for a thousand years. You consider the question and as you do you fix him icily with your gaze, a gaze not hateful or mean or even threatening but just steady and clear and icy, nearly hypnotic, like the gaze of a certain animal of prey said to render its victims immobile.
How am I? you ask. How am I? How am I, really?
Then you move closer to his face so you can feel his discomfort growing, and you get ahold of his shirt somehow because this is going to take a minute or two and you don't want to lose his attention, you want to fix him like an insect pinned to a board until you've said what you had to say.
Have we met? you ask. Because you look like somebody I knew once except he was taller and better looking and there was something intangible I liked about him but there's nothing intangible I like about you.
It is obvious by now to anyone walking by that a performance is occurring that is well-rehearsed and worth the price. The crowd is large and still, looking down from the balcony. You pause and look at him again, more closely still.
Like I say, I'm not sure we've met, but the guy I'm thinking of would not be asking how I am and how I'm doing and what's up as if we'd met once late at night in a bar in Brooklyn. I'm just a little tender to the touch is all, after this guy who looked so much like you had the nerve, shocking for a man of his caliber, to go out with me for a year and then break up over the telephone. It made everything that came before seem hollow and fake and out of place ... and frankly it doesn't help matters at all that you look so much like him. Is this is your daughter? How old is she? She's very cute. Has she started talking?
Because, actually, the thing that was painful -- I'm not boring you, am I? -- is I thought this guy was not like all the other guys crawling down drainpipes, slithering on and off of barstools and in and out of Pleather booths stinking of amaretto and cream as if they themselves had, all by themselves, sitting in their Cornell dorm room, invented the concept of going out at night and getting drunk ... because I thought maybe this guy wouldn't be so crass as to give all signs of wanting marriage, kids and a summer home in the Hamptons only to wake up one morning permanently affixed by the lips to this bimbo and decide it's time to call his favorite girlfriend on the phone and break up with her.
But that's in the past.
I think you daughter needs to pee. Run along, sweetie.
So how am I, anyway? You know how, with this guy I knew, some things we did together you just can't put into words? Well, the way I feel now, it's like that too, the kind of feeling that you can't express with words.
You raise your drink over his head and slowly dribble its bright, icy liquid over his head. As it runs down his face and ears he looks into your eyes and just for an instant that cold distant look wavers and there's something else there, a fleeting look of hurt and fear and maybe even sorrow that tells you what you've wanted to know for a while now, that maybe, just maybe, even though he'll never say it out loud, and even if he didn't even realize it before, now he knows he acted like a real asshole.
Maybe that will give you what you need to walk out of that room with your head held high and go join some better party in a better neighborhood with colder drinks and a hotter DJ.
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What? You want more?