I’m surrounded by question marks, in the shape of expensive gifts from you. I’ve discarded the funny, the cheesy, the lighthearted lines like you’ve done our laughs. But what about the Parisian box of songs? La vie en rose may as well be a life of thorns. I don’t like looking at the gold memento anymore. It makes me wonder if all you were out for, was another gold rush of emotions.
I’m sitting in a gigantic suitcase full of question marks that you’ve left behind. What shall I pack? Can I just put them all in there or should I send them back? My house isn’t big enough for all the feelings I have about these things.
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You take a look around and mentally divide everything you see in half. You color code, (all in your head of course) what’s indisputably yours and what’s their’s. And finally, you get to what’s yours collectively and groan mentally at the difficult conversation you’re going to endure. They’re very likely doing the same thing too. Or one of you may just throw up your hands in despair and say,
“Whatever, you take it all.”
…which makes the other one seethe at how indifferent that is so they throw out something equally noble sounding like,
“No, I don’t really care about it.”
…leaving the ‘either’ unsaid.
More deadends. It does all get divided up somehow, even if it’s just a matter of who manages to pack what and to hell with the packers who found a few bonus gifts with what neither side had the nerve to discuss.
Yes, I went through that. I sucked in my breath, pulled back my tears and dove in in the manner of pulling off a band-aid. And when it was done, I told myself, I’d let myself feel the pain of it all. I completely forgot (again) how life resists systematic inventorying.
Do you know what’s the most difficult thing to divide? It’s also the most precious thing and subsequently the cause for the most unresolved ugliness. The worst thing to have to fight over after a relationship breaks, is other people’s affections. Divorce gets all its scare-power from the ugliness of child custody battles. But what about other relationships and well, everyone else? Our relationships exist within a larger network of friendships, other couples and social circles. The disintegration of a single relationship tears the larger social fabric. It’s painful on everyone concerned and there’s no easy, clean way around it.
There’s enough of pop wisdom floating around, that’s liberally mouthed by every person caught in this situation, the warring exes, their families, friends, colleagues. But the truth of the matter is, they’re inadequate, which is why the problems happen in the first place. I think it’s completely impractical to try and stay friends with two people who’ve parted ways. One or both of them is going to feel slighted. You will become just one more thing they fight over. If you really care about each of them, pick a side and stick to it.
I know this will seem unfair, but consider this, it’s not. Human relationships are not factory-produced goods. Each one is unique and relevant to you in a different way. This is a situation where two such relationships (friendship with each estranged partner) cannot co-exist. Forcing them to do so will bring poison into both relationships. So figure out which one is more important or relevant or easier for you and go with it.
I’ve been on both sides of this obviously, the estranged partner as well as the friend. As a friend, I admit it’s been a difficult experience. I once set up two people together – one was a close friend, the other as good as a brother to me. When they broke up, I could see both of them were in pain and I knew if I tried to juggle both friendships, I’d only be causing both of them even more pain. So I picked one, the girl, on the premise that she and I had known each other longer. I don’t know whether the guy saw that as betrayal on my part or not but at least I took a stand. I spared him the agony of wondering, of questioning whether what he shared in confidence might not be betrayed to someone who was now a bitter foe, of thinking I might not always firmly be on his side because my loyalty was divided between him and someone who was on the opposite side now. That is the poison I’m talking about. I believe that whatever friendship we had was pure as long as we were friends and ended before suspicion, accusation and bitterness could seep in. I believe that was being a good friend.
The past three months have been rife with such situations for me, post-breakup. The saving grace is that most people were easily sorted into ‘his friends’ and ‘my friends’. As a conscious act, I put a barrier between his friends and me. I deleted them from my social networks. One of them called me to tell me how sorry she was to hear about the break-up and that she’d be willing to provide a listening ear if I needed it. I (very) regretfully declined and told her that would make it just too messy. That was hard, it really was because I liked her so much. It was hard for me letting go of his best friend too; we got along so well. But fair is fair and a best friend is a best friend – a relationship not to be touched.
I wish things could be done as cleanly by everyone else but I’m not the only one in this whole situation. Xion and I didn’t speak for weeks because of this. We’ve sorted out our differences now. But still, I spent the first, most painful and vulnerable times post-breakup without my closest friend during the relationship.
I had a painful conversation with another friend last week. My conversations with her in the last few months have been about her telling me not to be so bitter, not to say such things and how it made me appear to other people. She said,
“It makes me wonder whether, if tomorrow you and I have a fight, you’re going to go out and say bad things about me.”
That hurts, it really does. I’m fond of her. My solution is this – I’ve promised her that I will never talk to her about my relationship again. I will say what I want about whoever I want to, when I like but to her, it will never broach the subject of my lost relationship. She sounded offended when I told her this but what she thinks offends me. Perhaps I’m being irrational, maybe I’m adding too much drama. But I’d expect a friend to accept all that as what makes me, me. I’d do that for her. But she is a different person from me and if the way she is a friend is not the same, then I will have to revise how I am a friend to her as well. Which means, no sharing what’s upsetting me the most at the moment because she doesn’t want to see that side of me. Tough but true.
A break-up does change the social fabric of your life. No one said love would be easy and that includes everyone else you’ve loved beyond your lover too.