I have a friend who for a very long time contended that dumping someone was awful, truly awful, perhaps even worse than being dumped. She argued that she, having been forced to dump several lovers, had never gotten the amount of sympathy she deserved for the pain she had to endure putting her hapless exes out of their misery.
At the time I had never been dumped (neither had she) and was entirely persuaded by her reasoning. I, too, had never gotten sufficient sympathy. Ending a relationship hurts. True, it was a relationship you were tired of, that was driving you nuts, that you were relieved was over, but you still had fond memories. Worse still, you had to return all the cool stuff you’d borrowed (most of which was a present from you in the first place), mutual friends weren’t speaking to you, you’d had to find a new hairdresser, a new favourite café, and worst of all: not one person felt remotely sympathetic about your suffering just because you weren’t walking around swollen eyed, beating your chest and moaning. Dreadfully unfair.
Then I was dumped.
What a load of cobblers the above is. There is no comparison between being dumped and dumping someone. It’s the difference between stabbing someone and being stabbed. Even if your fingers were cramped from gripping the knife too tight, or worse case scenario, you were dumb enough to let your fingers slip on to the blade, you’re still not the one with the sucking chest wound, vital organs falling out willy-nilly. At worst you have a couple of sliced fingers. Boo-bloody-hoo.
Nothing makes it better. You were just about to dump them. Nope, you feel even worse. You never loved them anyway. Nope, not feeling less pain. You’re better off without them. Nope, bastard didn’t give you the chance to figure that out for yourself. They are now going out with the biggest whore/bastard in the known universe. Nope, cause what does that make you? Did they upgrade or downgrade?
I blame romance.
I lay the blame for the ridiculous amount of pain on the idea—reinforced by insane amounts of propaganda every single day of our lives—that without a life-partner (let’s all take turns to shudder at that neologism) you are nothing. If you’re not in a couple you’re nobody.
Life, we are taught, is about growing up. A grown up does not live with their parents, or flat with friends. A grown up has a means of support (most often a job) and a partner. But for some reason it’s the partner that’s the main bit: a person with a job who lives alone is somehow pathetic, not quite grown up—even if they’re getting laid when they want to, have thousands of friends, are world leaders in their field—they’re not complete and won’t be until they find The One.
Being a grown up is all about romantic love, but a very narrowly defined version. Romantic love is exclusive, sexual, between two (and only two) individuals. To be a true grown up you have to find your soul mate, move in together, and then reproduce. Find The One, have babies, die: that’s life.
So how come so few of the couples I know (married and unmarried) stay together longer than a year or two? How come so many of the ones that do are miserable? How come so many single people I know are happy, at least that is until they’re reminded that they’re single: "Oops, sorry, forgot, mate. Yup, you’re right. I’m miserable. Life alone is like a fish without a bicycle. A prison without walls. Sorry, miserable. Yep, that’s me, totally miserable."
How come the majority of the longest relationsionships in my circles are between good friends? That’s right "just" good friends. People who have known each other for years and years and years, have loaned each other money, helped rear each other’s children, read each other’s books, shared houses, shared jobs, but who aren’t in a sexual relationship with each other. How come the myths of our potential lives are centered around romantic love instead of friendship?
Who is this One that we’re all supposed to be waiting for? In the very few cases when The One comes along, doesn’t The One turn out to be your best friend who you just happen to find sexually attractive and enjoy living with? All the happy sexual relationships that I’ve seen last were built around close abiding friendships.
I see friends in relationships with people they don’t much like, because somehow that’s more grown up than being single. I see friendships destroyed when friends become lovers and it doesn’t work out and somehow the friendship dies in the process. I see single friends, otherwise perfectly happy, beating themselves up because they haven’t found the mythical One yet.
And "single"? What does that mean? How can someone with thousands of friends whose whole life is dominated by their relationships to their family, friends, colleagues. How can they be described as single?
I know people in couples for whom the term "single" is better suited. Totally focussed on each other, erradicating virtually every other connection they have in the world. They work together, eat together, finish each other sentences. Until finally one of them goes barking mad, the relationship ends, and then, suddenly, they each remember about friendships, communities, the existence of other people.
Why do we live in a world where one model of happiness is set up as the ideal for every one? What if one day it were decreed that we must all love chocolate? After all, the majority of people love chocolate, why shouldn’t everyone? And if you didn’t spend your whole life consuming vast amounts of the stuff your life would be viewed as a waste and a failure.
Absurd. But no more absurd than expecting everyone to want True Love with The One.
To return to my point of departure: Why is being dumped worse than dumping someone? Why do so many worlds crumble when the person you’ve talked yourself into believing is The One leaves?
Because so many of us have bought the romantic lie that all our happiness—that our very claim to a fulfilled adult life—is predicated on our success in romantic love. If it’s you ending it, you’re in control, you have hope of better things (or, if you’re crafty, you already have the next One lined up). You’re ready for what’s going to happen next.
The dumpee has made no contingency plans, is still wrapped in the warm glow of the delusions they’ve fed themselves about the relationship. Now they have to divest themselves of those delusions, find someone new who’ll be The One, not another Wrong One. A whole new bunch of delusions to weave. Or scariest of all—they must face the possibility that they may never find The One.
The truly delusional dumpee may not have any friends to turn to—not even a cat or dog—wrapped as they were in the ludicrous idea that you only need one person in your life.
That’s why being dumped is so much worse.
There is one compensation: the dumped always get sympathy. Another of the perks of a world dominated by the myth of romantic love is that people know you’re in mourning and will treat you nice.
Not so if a friendship ends. No matter how devastating, once you’re out of high school you’re supposed to be grown up enough to deal with that sort of thing on your own time. But as we all know the end of a friendship can be every bit as dreadful and destructive as the end of a romantic relationship.
Console yourself with the knowledge that it was only your lover of the last six months who dumped you, not your best friend of the last fifteen years.
Sydney, New York City & San Miguel de Allende, 10 Oct-31 Dec 2003