Gracefully Performing the Splits

Relationships (both lower case and capital-R) end for a lot of reasons.  There are times when there’s a clear-cut breaking point: a betrayal, or a move, or someone new comes along, etc.  But sometimes they just… end.  One or both (or more) parties no longer feel a thing that they once felt.  It’s generally one-sided, but it feels like hell on both sides to have to admit what’s going on.

It’s in many ways worse than a sudden end to something, because the person who wants–needs–to move on (let us say the “splitter) still likes the other party (the “splittee”).  They don’t want that connection gone, but they can’t be in the relationship as it is.  It’s a tough row to hoe, because the splitter is going to have to hurt the splittee, but wants the splittee to remain part of their life.  It’s doable, but it’s going to be rocky.

Having been on both sides of this scenario, and made it work, I want to share some of what I’ve learned.  Some of my very best friends (Stoella included) are either splitters or splittees from past relationships.

Anyway, in ever popular list format:

Splitter:

  • Rip the fucking bandaid off.  This is the most important thing. You are doing no one any favors by endeavoring not to be the bad guy. Splitting with someone is hard, believe me, I know only too well. I think it’s harder than being split with, in my experience. You probably still like this person, maybe a great deal, but those positive feelings have changed and yet you have to, for the both of you, hurt them. But do it. Do it now. The longer you wait the worse the pain will get, for both of you. Let them get a head start on the hard work of letting you go.
  • Give space.  Back off.  Let them heal. If you are going to be friends again, or still, or anything else, you are going to have to let that person come to you.  They might not; that’s their choice.  But trying to keep them in their life when what they need is to scar over first is only going to ruin whatever you might have going forward. (Corollary: don’t live with your ex, at least not right after. I have made this mistake.)
  • Try not to date someone new first. This one is subject to the vagaries of hearts, but if you can hold off until the other party has found someone new, all involved will be better off.  There’s nothing that heals like new <insert preferred form of physical affection>. (For, ah, interested parties reading this, don’t sweat this one for my sake, and anyway you already know that I’ve been dating since)
  • Back off of the occasional social engagement. Don’t make it hard on the splittee; bow out of things you’re both invited to first. They need the social balm, and they also need not to seem petty.
  • Call it what it is.  Don’t be mealymouthed, don’t mince, it’s a breakup. A thing is ending, and that’s sad, but it isn’t a “break” and you’re not “taking some time”, unless you are, and then you’re not reading this.  Don’t tell them you need to take some time for yourself, or blame general circumstances; that’s going to backfire down the road when they see you with someone else and it is ten times worse than if you said what you meant.
  • Take care of yourself. Most resources like this talk about the feelings of the other party, but this is probably going to be a trauma for you, too. You are making a major change and you’re going to, for at least a little while, lose access to one of the most important people in your life.  If it’s really bad, other friends might stop spending time with you in deference to your erstwhile lover’s feelings.  This can all be really hard; know that it’s okay for you to hurt, too.

Splittee:

  • Let it fucking go. Do not cling. Do not try to hold on to someone who needs to move on. You don’t want to date someone who doesn’t want to date you. You don’t want to emotionally coerce continued affection out of someone who has to fake it. Let it be, move on, and you will be better sooner.
  • Take Space.  Walk away, do other things.  Do not see the object of your erstwhile affections. Avoid social engagements that you know they’re attending, even if it makes you seem like an ass.  You deserve it, and you need it.
  • Remove them from your social media.  Don’t unfriend them unless an outlet makes you, but remove them from chat lists, hide their Facebook updates, unfollow their Twitter, etc.  It is astonishing how hard it can be to see your splitter pop up several times a day in various places that you forgot you followed them.
  • Try to date. It might not feel right, and it might be hard, especially if you’re coming off as desperate.  It will be awkward, but there’s nothing that heals like new <insert preferred form of physical affection>.
  • Weep. Rage. Fucking feel it. Don’t hide it.  Walk away from things if you need to, lock yourself in the bathroom, but just let it out.  This isn’t just about catharsis; tears literally pull the stress hormone cortisol out of your system and pump it down your face. You are not above this, you are vulnerable, you are human, let it out.
  • Lean on your network. Don’t hold things in. Friends exist to help you through things like this. And to be helped through, so remember how they helped you when your time to reciprocate comes.
  • Throw yourself into hobbies. Distractions are good. You need to do some wallowing to heal but you also just need to take a certain amount of time.
  • Trust that it will be better. Every time you see the person who dropped you is like a new wound, but only for a while. Eventually, it’s like a bruise, and then it’s like a pinch, and eventually it’s just the same touch you feel with anyone who interacts with you. It will be fine. I promise.

To all my splitte*s out there reading this, whichever side you were on, know that you are damn fine people.  I wouldn’t have gotten together with you in the first place if I didn’t want you in my life.  I have nothing but devout, deep, true, and of course platonic love for you.

Order of Operations

I think, before this recent bout of dating (which is to say, the last four years or so), I had a sort of platonic sequence in my head which I’d think one would follow when dating online.  Something like:

  1. Contact someone on a dating site
  2. Exchange a few messages
  3. Learn their real name
  4. Move to another venue, e.g., off-site email or Facebook
  5. Learn their last name
  6. Agree to meet
  7. Exchange phone numbers
  8. Meet in person
  9. Date
  10. Repeat steps 6,8, and 9 until hanky panky occurs
  11. You are now “dating”
  12. Repeat steps 9 and 10 until
  13. You stop seeing each other

I’m realizing lately that this is not at all, in fact, what happens.  E..g., with Stoella, things went more like 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3, 5, 10, 11, and are currently on 12.  We were halfway through what ended up being probably a “date” when I said “Oh, by the way, what’s your name?”.  (NB: Stoella insists that she is actually chaotic neutral, so I’ll be updating the first post where I mentioned her)

With Kevros Glimmergaunt (new character, chaotic neutral elven rogue), it went 1, 3, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12.  We’ve actually skipped a few steps, and this reminds me to ask Kevros’s (real) last name the next time we get together, and I believe the word “dating” would probably cause an allergic reaction.  I know “boyfriend” has.

Zinnaella Homeforger (neutral good gnomish sorceror who I hope isn’t mad at me for deciding she’s a gnome because she’s definitely a gnome) ran through the steps mostly in order, although steps 4 and 5 came toward the end, just before 13*.  Although 13 is a wobbly 13, I think, and there remains the potential for a booty call down the line assuming she’s not upset about the gnome thing.

What I think this means is:

First, I need to let go of (and am letting go of) all a priori opinions about dating. Things just happen as they happen, and the process is individual to the people involved and not nearly as generalizable as I’d thought.  This is good and fine, but does throw something of a wrench into my plans to tell people who don’t know how to start dating.

Second, for some reason I don’t seem to care about surnames in real life.

*Yes, True Believers, I’m now at the stage where I sometimes start seeing someone new, run through the whole fling, and then stop seeing them before I mention it to you.  Which is something of another milestone for me, I guess; I no longer need to obsessively report every small change in my dating life.

Edited to add: I don’t remember the order with Carrie, but it was odd given the distance.  I think we spent a long time on 4ish, and then ran through steps 6 through 12 in about 24 hours.

Processing

So I got into an argument with a bunch of poly folks who were using the word “processing” over and over without explaining what they meant, which turns out to be something like “sitting down and talking through your feelings with your significant other(s)”.  Setting aside that I think that’s a weird word to use for that, my complain was (of course) of a piece with my endless irritation with poly jargon.

The response that I got was that it’s a standard usage of the word (it’s not), and that monogamous folks use it all the time when they’re going through therapy.

*headdesk*

If you’re telling me that poly folks all talk about their relationships as if they were in therapy all the time, you’re rather proving my point.

Then and now

A few years ago, at parties with people I didn’t know well:

I, uh, so you know, I’m in an open relationship, right? Um.  Okay, so… well, my, uh, girlfriend, I guess? Was over, and…

Now, at parties with people I don’t know well:

Yeah, I found out that Providence’s overnight parking list isn’t for people who live in town when I was dating a Brown student.

A few years ago, when asked if I was poly:

Well, I don’t really like the word, per se, but I’m in an open relationship or two. “Polyamory” just has so much baggage associated with it. I don’t really care that it’s heteroradical, though, which seems to be most complaints about it.

Now, when asked if I’m poly:

Yeah, basically.

A few years ago, pondering dating:

I wonder if this will work out. I know people can manage open relationship, I just don’t know if I can manage it.

Today, pondering dating:

I wonder how I’m going to find the time for all these people.

A few years ago, writing to people on OkCupid:

ARGH this is like DYING

Today, writing to people on OkCupid:

And… send.

A few years ago, how I flirted with someone I was interested in in person:

Today: