Saturday, February 14, 2009

Schroedinger's Valentine

Since it's Valentine's Day, I thought I might talk about my love life. As many of you, my imaginary readers, are no doubt aware, my girlfriend of four months broke up with me about three weeks ago. I would have talked about it before, but the breakup kind of messed me up. This week we sat down and talked things through, though, and I feel a lot better now.

For those of you who have not heard this story, I'll give you the Reader's Digest version. To protect her identity, I will refer to her as "Jem." And to protect my own identity, I will refer to myself as "Snake Eyes."

We started going out in September, and very quickly were seeing each other almost every day. I was hesitant at first, but then gave in and let myself be happy. We made plans to visit each other's families over break, which I had never done before, but things were going very well, so it felt like the right call. My visit to Jem's family went very well, I thought, but when she came to meet my parents she seemed very distant. On the first day we talked a little bit about some of her concerns, but that was our last real conversation. She broke up with me a week and a half after the trip, but I knew it was over the day I drove her to the airport.

What killed our relationship? This was very hard for me to understand. Personally, I was very happy-- until January, when it became apparent to me that something was wrong. But things had been wrong for a while. That became clear in this week's little post-mortem discussion. There were lots of little things that were making Jem feel unhappy, unloved, unimportant. I don't want to blame these little things, though, because none of them would have been hard to fix. In virtually every case, they would have required nothing more than a few words and maybe a slight change in (my) behavior. These were not big problems. The big problem, the one that killed the relationship, is that I didn't know about any of the little problems. That's what did us in. The longer we were dating, the more little problems were stacking up without getting fixed. One day she reached a tipping point and had to get out.

Now what? My friend Rachel Van Kirk told me years ago that it's important after a breakup to think about what you have learned from the experience, and what you still need to learn. So here are three things that I think I have learned in the past five months.

1. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I thought our relationship was super-awesome because I saw no evidence of problems. But I was wrong. There were problems-- I just wasn't seeing them. And in truth, I don't know that I was looking very hard.

2. Always look for ways to help, instead of waiting to be asked. I had heard that it sometimes takes hard work to keep a relationship healthy and happy. I thought I was willing to put in the hard work, but I always thought that meant making difficult sacrifices and compromises after problems had been identified. It had never occurred to me that I might be required to work hard to find problems to be solved. I thought I was ready to do whatever Jem wanted, but what she really wanted (I think) was to have me actively spend time and attention making our relationship better instead of passively waiting around to be told there was a problem.

3. If something is wrong, holler until you're heard. In January, I knew something was wrong between us. I tried to raise the subject delicately, but I knew it wasn't working. I guess I was afraid that if I pressed the issue too hard, Jem would get upset with me and it would damage the relationship. Boy, that was stupid. Problems usually don't solve themselves spontaneously, and relationships don't stay in stasis like Schroedinger's cat until we can find the perfect moment to really open up and see what's happening. I was right in thinking that something was wrong between us. And it was getting worse every day, every hour. So, next time, I'll be direct. If I'm not happy, I'll raise a ruckus and I won't stop until I know that I am heard.

These three lessons are all I'm sure of right now, but I suspect that there are lots of other lessons I have yet to learn. In fact, I wouldn't have reached 33 as a bachelor if I didn't have lots to learn about women and relationships.

And if any of you, my imaginary readers, have lessons you want to teach me, you're in luck. I'm in a teachable mood. So please feel free to drop me a comment.

Put me some knowledge here, man.



Kam said...

Hi John
Not sure I have any good advice for you today. Just happened to pop in and have a read. Sorry to hear about your break-up. Hard stuff, relationships. It took me 3 rounds with the same fantastic guy (Brian, of course), before I felt like I was "comfortable" with all the kinks and quirks of our relationship. I feel very lucky for getting a second -- and especially a THIRD -- chance. Not many can say that. But you seem to have a healthy attitude, with your desire to learn from mistakes and move on. Good luck with your next round, whether it's with "Jem" or some other lucky girl! Hang in there, and happy Valentines day.

the House of Payne said...

Thanks, Kam. :)

Alice Wills Gold said...

K first of all...have to tell you...loved hearing you call yourself stupid....that was something I never thought I would hear you say.

You may really be on the right track to having a great next relationship.

It's only taken me 11 years to get LG to admit he's stupid sometimes.

Second, I think the real reason she broke up with you is so she did not have to buy you a Valentine's Day gift.:) And you should be relieved because you didn't have to figure out what to get her either :)

The only other thing I have to say is "Yo Joe!" (that's from LG).

Randi said...

Dearest Juanito,
I'm so sorry to hear your news. I had my fingers crossed for you on this one. Wish I could be there to give you a hug.
Sometimes after I'm done feeling sorry for women for having to put up with men, I stop for a moment and feel sorry for you men who have to put up with us women. We have very basic needs, but we express those needs in such ridiculously complex ways sometimes. Here's a typical scenario:

Basic female need: Feel noticed and appreciated.

How need gets expressed: Your boyfriend's favorite color is blue, so you wear blue socks one day just for him, and he doesn't notice at all, and oh my gosh that means that he doesn't care about you, or know that you even exist. How could he be so insensitive? All he thinks about is himself. How can you build a lasting relationship if he doesn't appreciate all of the sacrifices you make for him? Because you had really wanted to wear your new RED shirt that day, which of course you can't wear with blue socks, but you put him first, LIKE YOU ALWAYS DO, and for what? So he could keep on ignoring you LIKE HE ALWAYS DOES?

Sheesh. What a headache. Now I don't know this Jem woman, so it's probably not fair of me to accuse her of such behavior, but I think the example I gave will have a very familiar ring to all the ladies out there, whether they choose to admit it or not.

So my advice for next time would be to start off saying something like this: "Look, I'm a dude who needs a lot of help tuning in to that totally wack frequency you women transmit. Please let me know when something is wrong before it becomes a real crisis."

We women are insecure creatures. (I hope Gloria Steinem doesn't read your blog...) But I guess we all are, right? We need to be continuously built up. Noticed. Listened to. Appreciated. Valued. Complimented. Man, I could live for a month off one good compliment.

Ok, that's pretty much all I got. I'll give you a call soon, kid.

Much love,

the House of Payne said...

Thanks, Alice. And tell LeGrand that I think he would make an awesome Duke. (Being blonde helps.)

the House of Payne said...


I accept your wish of a hug, and let me send one back your way. And here's a compliment for you, since as Homer Simpson said, "When it comes to compliments, women are ravenous, bloodsucking monsters."

When I got dumped, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. But I remembered you after our breakup. You didn't walk around under a black cloud, spreading the gloom. You stayed the same strong, sassy, fun-loving Randi. If anything, you were more fun. Your resilience (and your forgiveness) made it possible for us to really be friends after the breakup, and in fact for our friendship to deepen. I totally didn't deserve that, but I don't think you did it for me. I think you did it because that's who you are. You're awesome, Randi. Thanks for being my friend.

Grettle said...

I think you're a pretty awesome guy. I've always thought that. Any girl would be lucky to have you.


the House of Payne said...

Thanks, Mom. I love you, too!