I broke a plate in the sink and got arrested

We were fighting and I was upset but I'm not an abuser of women

By Cary Tennis

Published March 8, 2012 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

My girlfriend of five years recently told me that she wanted to move out of our apartment and break up. She told me that because she was approaching her 30th birthday, and because she had doubts about marrying me, that she wanted to break up so that she could find someone to marry about whom there were no doubts.

She also told me that she loved me and that she would miss me when she left, but that she didn’t feel like she had a choice. I asked her if she was unhappy, and she told me that she was happy much more than she was unhappy, but that she wanted to be happy more often. I proposed to her to show her I was serious about marriage (I had been planning to do it on our fifth anniversary a month later, but I moved it up), but she declined my proposal. She was also upset because she found an email between me and a female friend in which I had lied about going on a vacation with my girlfriend. I didn’t have a good reason for this, but I also wasn’t doing anything inappropriate with this woman. Needless to say I feel horrible about that email, and I can’t stop wishing that I had simply told the truth.

A few weeks before she told me this, and after she and I discussed the email, she was showing me what type of gemstones she would want in an engagement ring during a visit to the Natural History Museum, and discussing what a wedding could look like with us. She also liked to talk about names for male and female children, and we had a few picked out.

When she was 12, her parents divorced because her father had cheated on her mother with numerous women. My girlfriend’s previous two boyfriends had cheated on her too, and she was highly suspicious of any female friends and acquaintances I had that didn’t date back to before I met her. My girlfriend is also very close to her mom and sisters, and they have a fairly closed relationship that seems like it creates an “us against the world” dynamic, which I think might have been cultivated in the years immediately following the divorce, and which is especially strong because it was created in a female-only household.

One of her major complaints is that I wasn’t closer to her mom and sisters. I tried to create lasting bonds with them, but it was often difficult because of how protective they were, and how this would often turn into unfair judgments that always came down against me.

There were some other issues that I acknowledge were my fault. She complained that I was too negative and too critical of her, and due to some issues with low self-confidence and insecurities about abandonment, I was often not OK with her spending too much time away from me with her friends and family.

But we also had an amazing connection with each other, and even after five years together we could spend an evening making a puzzle or sitting and talking for hours. We had both physical chemistry and an intellectual and emotional bond that had stayed strong throughout the relationship. On our first date we stayed up until 4 a.m. talking in a frozen car. We had a passionate relationship, and she broke up with me twice before, only to get back together with me after a month or two.

Two weeks after she told me she was leaving, and a few nights before she was scheduled to move out of our apartment, everything fell apart. I was so despondent that I was irrational, and I threatened suicide and made her so angry and frustrated that we ended up having a screaming incident in front of our apartment. She left, and I went back inside with the intention of hanging myself. Before I was able to do so, the police showed up to take me to the hospital, but when they heard about the screaming, and saw the broken plate in the sink, they decided to arrest me instead for domestic violence. My girlfriend heard this, and asked them not to pursue any charges, but in our state the authorities are the ones who can decide to press charges even if the woman doesn’t want them involved. The charge was criminal mischief because of the broken plate, which was “mutual property,” and because I broke it, I was charged with the crime, which falls under the category of domestic violence. I never threatened her or even raised my voice, because I was so despondent that I could only beg her to stay and think about suicide if she left. With domestic violence charges comes an automatic restraining order, and I haven’t been able to talk to her since that night.

I was hospitalized after I got out of jail, and I realize how wrong it was to think about and threaten to go through with suicide. However, the legal issues remain. It’s been almost six weeks, and I still am not able to speak to her. Before she left, she mentioned that she wanted to take a three-month break, and then reevaluate her decision to break up, but this was before the law was involved. I’m no longer suicidal, but I’m so depressed, and I miss her so badly, that I can barely function unless it is to think about her, and to wonder what she is thinking and to hope that she misses me. My friends and family tell me to move on, but what keeps me going is the hope that we can still be together again in the future, and that this is just another temporary breakup. This hope comes in part from our past, and in part because of the three-month break that she mentioned. That conversation happened before the law became involved, and I no longer know if that is even something she is considering anymore. I’m afraid that she thinks I am crazy and dangerous, and that she will never want to speak to me again, and that our last moment together will forever be that horrible, traumatic night. If that’s the case, I don’t know how I can ever move on.

I don’t even know what my question is. I guess I’m wondering if it’s foolish for me to hope for her to come back to me, and what I can do in the meantime, and also what I can do if she never comes back to me, or if I never speak to her again.


Stuck and Depressed

You and she sat in a frozen car and talked until 4 a.m. on your first date. She's been looking at gemstones. She's turning 30. She has doubts. You and she have had some conflict.

You got upset and acted irrationally. You threatened suicide. You broke a plate. You acted badly. Does that mean you are insane? Does she need to be protected from you? Have you threatened her? Or did you just freak out?

I don't know what you should do. I'm just upset.

You do not mention a history of mental instability or suicidal tendencies, and yet all of a sudden you're in the hospital? Is there more that I do not understand? Maybe you have been depressed for a long time?

I'm upset that a man can be arrested for breaking a plate in his own sink. I'm also upset that my purely human response may be seen as politically naive. What are we to do with our hard-won ambivalence? Can we not contain both a deeply informed concern about domestic violence and also a sense of the absurdities to which the law might descend in reflecting that concern?

It's not like women don't need legal protection from violence; it isn't like women aren't controlled and manipulated and abused by men in positions of power all the time. And it's not like relationships are completely private. But this did seem like a private dispute in which one party resorted to threats of suicide and the breaking of plates.

But maybe, just maybe, she saved your life. Were you really going to hang yourself?

It's sad. I wish you two could patch it up.

Reading your letter, I become weary of our world and its lack of grace and kindness and common sense. I become weary of the absurd ends to which well-meant political progress sometimes leads us. I become weary and sad to think of two people who have a pretty decent relationship but screw it up because of the nagging thought that there must be somebody better out there, that there must be a way to make this thing perfect.

Relationships don't get perfect ever. Perfect is not a good ideal for a relationship.

It just makes me sad. It makes me sad that you tried to kill yourself.

You are lucky to have these women in your life, and your girlfriend is lucky to have you. It's not like there are a million really great men out there; it's not like she can just go and pick one and be off to her perfect life.

Frankly, it strikes me as kind of a sin and a damned shame to throw something like this away.

Now maybe there are things I don't know. I'm just hearing your side. You're a guy. I'm a guy.

And maybe there's nothing you can do. Maybe she's walking. When a woman walks sometimes that's it, nothing you can do.

But it sounds like she really loves you and neither one of you has good relationship problem-solving skills, and there's no reason to believe she's going to find someone better.

So she has some doubts? So she thinks she's going to find someone about whom she'll have no doubts? She may find someone about whom she has no doubts for the first five minutes. But doubt arises when we see someone's faults, and everyone has faults, so every partner will occasionally have doubts.

I wish there was something I could do. This sounds like an unfortunate breakup.

This is a weird column, isn't it? Well, I'm in a weird mood. I'm kinda just generally fed up. You ever get that way? It's nothing in particular, maybe, just a general being-fed-up state. Or maybe it is something particular and just hasn't come to the surface yet.

I'd like to be more analytical but this just hits me on a gut level. It makes me sad and upset, and I wish there was something I could do. Maybe there is much more pain and anguish in the relationship than appears in your letter. Maybe your behavior was a complete deal-breaker.

If you lived nearby I'd come and talk to you. Seriously, I would.

But all I can say is, I wish there was something I could do. This sounds like an unfortunate breakup, and I hope you two can find a solution.

Cary Tennis

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