Thursday, January 26, 2012

What I Learned From My Latest Break-Up (aka the How-To Guide on Trying Too Hard and Actively Not Listen While You Do It)

It's amazing how a life-altering event will prompt one to be reflective and creative. This is my 100th post on this blog that I started a few years ago to meld the world of pop culture with my love of sports, psychology and knowledge. For my golden post, I find myself reflecting on yet another failed relationship.

Please bare with me as I recount the events leading up to the split and then tell you about the epiphanies I had about the situation once I awoke this morning from a wine-induced coma.

Like most of my recent relationships, things started off promising. We met on a train platform while we were both on the way to work. I pursued for a few weeks until she finally agreed to go out with me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Like most of my recent relationships, we hit it off hot and heavy. There wasn't a summer festival we didn't attend, a new beer we didn't try, and a restaurant with an outdoor patio that we didn't frequent. As the Summer days faded into Autumn, my serial tendency to be too smothering, to demand too much, and to be irrationally jealous began to creep in. I would "mean mug" people in public, making a snide comment if they looked in my direction the wrong way. In social situations, I would not engage in the conversation, choosing instead to be aloof and disinterested. For a person who values social interactions, this just wasn't feasible for her. Yet, we continued on. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, my anti-social behavior couple with my "nothing is good enough" attitude towards her finally prompted her to initiate a break. She needed some space because, in a matter of months, I had sucked the life right out of her - the LIFE that attracted me to her in the first place.

It's so funny how that happens.

After a week of "break time", we talked to discuss the situation. The next day, I sent flowers to her office to thank her for even having the conversation with me but, in an indirect kind of way, to continue the conversation from the night before. I think that she appreciated the gesture although I think it made her decision to split with me harder to swallow rather than change her position. I should've left it at this and respected the space that she asked for...

...but that's not how D.Jones operates. I'm the Terry Benedict (Ocean's Eleven character) of overkill.

I followed up the flowers with an email at 4:35 am (you don't sleep much when you're heart-broken) asking if she (and her friends) were interested in going to the debut of Frank Thomas' new beer (hope it's as good as he was on the baseball diamond). Yeah, I sent it because she loves beer but I also sent it to try to get us in the same room in a social situation again. You'd think that's enough, right?

...but that's not how D.Jones operates. I'm the Terry Benedict (Ocean's Eleven character) of overkill.

I had the fortune of talking to my dear friend as he vacations in his native Argentina. We have shared some very similar experiences with current and past relationships so he is a great source of support. He gave me the link to a great article on fear and encouraged me to pass it on to my ex. I did just that. I should've left it at that, right?

...but that's not how D.Jones operates. I'm the Terry Benedict (Ocean's Eleven character) of overkill.

I get her out of office message saying that she will be out until Monday. Is she ignoring me? I have to investigate. So, I get the "great" idea to call her office to see if she's really there. That's cool in of itself but not when you do it under an assumed name. That's called Desperation Induced Temporary Insanity or DITI (as in DITI Really Just Do That?). When she picks up the phone, I hang-up. I'd gotten all the confirmation that I need.

In the mean time, I took the opportunity to email her best friend via Facebook asking her for the inside scoop on where things are. She told me in no uncertain terms that she didn't think there was any chance of the relationship being reconciled. The bluntness of the words burned like a hot steak knife but her honesty and directness was refreshing. That's what good friends are for - they take out your garbage when you can't/won't do it yourself.

Anyhoo, I called my ex's office once again (this time under my real name) to acknowledge to my ex that I understand that we may possibly be done for good and that I would give her the space that she requested. She was none too happy with my antics. Turns out she was at a training all day. She just stopped in to get some of the work that is piling up on her desk as she takes on more and more responsibility. After lambasting me for exactly 7 minutes and 56 seconds, I admitted that I was trying too hard and that I wouldn't make any direct contact with her again.

The ball is in her court but, then again, as a woman it always was. Guys are like handbags these days I guess - you need one for every outfit (but a good one will go with whatever you wear but I digress).

I was supposed to attend the rock climbing class (that we both signed up for ironically) last night but instead I went home and drained a bottle of wine (the regular-sized one) as i contemplated the days events. After watching the Bulls lose a heart breaker to the Indiana Pacers (the Bulls first home loss of the year), I finally passed out into the safety of unconsciousness.

When I awoke this morning, the pain, disappointment, annoyance, and frustration were all still there. However, I had a sense of clarity about the situation that, honestly, I lacked before. Also, the anger and fear that I felt were transformed into a courage and earnest desire to use this experience as a teachable moment and to use this new found energy for something constructive.

Here is what I've learned from the past two weeks. It more than likely can't help me now but it can help you now and I will certainly not make the same mistakes in the future.

  1. EMOTIONALLY DRAINED: I finally understand what my ex meant by being "emotionally drained". I thought I got it from her words but, sometimes, you really don't get what the other person is going through until you walk in their shoes. She expended so much energy in our relationship trying to live-up to standards that she could never attain. Nothing was ever good enough for me. Now, here I am sending flowers, cards, emails, texts, and phone calls trying to get her back and she isn't budging. Now, nothing is good enough for her. I'm physically, mentally, and emotionally tapped out. What comes around...
  2. NEED A BREAK: When a person in a relationship says they need a break...they need a break. They feel suffocated by your presence and have a negative reaction (anger, anxiety, etc.) when you're around. They need to recharge their battery before they can even consider how to move forward. While sending flowers, cards, and emails/texts to try to fix the situation may seem like the right course of action to you, you're actually exacerbating the behavior that produced the predicament. As the old phrases go, silence is golden and distance makes the heart grow fonder.
  3. COURAGE: In an article published on Psychology Today, Dr. Steven A. Diamond explores what it means to be courageous. I encourage (no pun intended) you to read his article in its entirety but, in summary, Dr. Diamond characterizes courage as "an existential choice. Courage is the empowering experience of a decision to stand up and withstand the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." And, when wounded or knocked down, to pick oneself up, dust oneself off, and "keep on keepin' on." In this sense, I am courageous for my efforts to try to win my ex back. in the same vein, she is courageous for sticking to her standards and not wavering in the face of adversity. Dr. Diamond also characterizes courage as not giving up even when your head and your heart say that you should.
  4. FEAR: In the book "The Awakening of Intelligence" and his blog posts, Jiddu Krishnamurti discusses the nature of fear and how to overcome it. He deduces that fear is produced when we have the irrational thought that a past event will reprise itself in the future, when we obsess over things that we have no direct control over, and when we don't live in the present moment. As Ayn Rand states in her classic book "Atlas Shrugged" and as Jiddu iterates in his blog, man is a product of his premises. Our thoughts, emotions, and actions are not separate from each other, but are inextricably linked. Basically, when your mind doesn't have anything to do it creates uncertainty and uncertainty breeds fear. What you think will be manifested in your words and actions. How do you crush fear? By living in the present as often as possible.
  5. IT GETS BETTER!: Yesterday in our All Staff Meeting, United Pride (United Way's affinity group for LGBTQ employees) showed a video called "It Gets Better". The videos were produced for the It Gets Better Project, which was initiated to stop and prevent the scourge that is the bullying of LGBTQ youth, high rates of suicide amongst this cohort, and to provide support to LGBTQ youth who have been affected by the coming out process. While I do not identify as LGBTQ, the video struck a cord with me because of the harrowing stories that each interviewee gave of their experiences. Brian Williams, a former UWMC employee who is now a Vice-President with United Way of Greater Kansas City said something that struck a cord with me. He said that we shouldn't forget the past because that would be naive but we also have to realize that whatever we were going through 5-years ago happened in the present at that time. When you go through hard times, there always seems to be no hope but, once you get through it and look back on the experience, not only was it necessary and beneficial for you to go through that moment, it seems like no big deal when you look back on it. No matter what you're going through right now, it gets better!
The most important things that I learned from my latest break-up is that you have to be who you are regardless of the consequences. It's tempting to try to mold yourself to what you think the other person wants but you're probably hiding the thing that they're attracted to the most. A lot of people hate Kanye West and his award-crashing speeches but you have to respect the authenticity with which he delivers his persona. 

I also learned that you have to know who you are and what you stand for. When there is certainty in your character, that steadiness will display itself to others in subtle ways. Most importantly, your confidence will enrich your life and attract people to you with a similar confidence. Thinking that you know who you are isn't enough and begs of you to continue digging until you hit iron. Knowing who you are and not sharing (where I'm at) is equally if not more farcical. I'm guilty of letting the potential judgement of others prevent me from making enriching connections. As the placard says in the front of the fictional Jefferson Davis Middle School on the hit HBO series Eastbound and Down, "never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game".

Most importantly, I learned the importance of having a strong network of close friends and family to confide in during good times and bad. As an introvert, I get worn down by too much human interaction. I need privacy in order to recharge my batteries. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. In fact, more and more studies are being produced looking at the efficacy of hiring introverted executives or of having more cubicles in offices because people are more creative when they have space to think. However, as human beings we NEED human interaction. Not only does it enrich our knowledge of the world and extend our social connections, human beings LITERALLY have the ability to heal other human beings with their collective energy and thought. Thus, an essential part of being a healthy human being is human interaction. Human interactions also afford us the ability to bounce who we are off of other people and gauge their reactions. When you're all by your lonesome, you get the same self-confirming loop of your own beliefs. To paraphrase the old saying, when everyone agrees (including you with yourself), no one is thinking and growing.

I've let a lot of friends and ex-girlfriends down with my absence; with denying them who I really am. They have been so supportive of me even when I've been less than deserving of it. That is the mark of a good friend and a caring person - when they can shine a light on your faults and love you for them anyway. Thank you to all of my friends that have held me up lately. I owe you my unwavering commitment.

Most importantly, I've let myself down for denying myself the experience of human interaction out of fear, cynicism, arrogance, uncertainty, and a host of other elements. I denied myself the opportunity to grow and to learn from the greatest source of knowledge known to mankind - OTHER PEOPLE! I aspire to greatness and have no doubt in my mind regarding my ability to attain it but, whether I like it or not, we're all in this thing together and we're not going to make it out of this thing without each other. There's too much pain, despair, killing, war, disease and negativity already present in the world. I may not change the world, but who knows what influence I can have on the most microscopic level if I approach people with love and tolerance (until their actions prove otherwise).

I've all but given up hope that I'll get back with my ex. After the bone-headed moves of the past 3-days, I'd imagine any cognitive dissonance surrounding her decision to split in the first place has been replaced by concrete and cinder blocks. I still love her and always will and this makes the situation more difficult to bare. However, no one is immune from the greatest justice system in history - the Law of Reciprocity. I'm certainly getting back what I put out. This punitive medicine is a bitter pill to swallow but it has already begun to make me a better person - a person that anyone would be proud to call their significant other.

I'm not miraculously healed. It'll takes weeks, months, maybe even years to get to where I need to be. The foundation is there. It just needs to be fortified with patience, understanding, honesty, and love.

So, I move onward and upward towards that distant star. The past is history, tomorrow is a mystery and that's why today is called the present. Here's to getting and giving 1,440 presents a day.



  1. I'm really impressed by your ability (and, perhaps more so, your willingness) to self reflect. It's not something I see in a whole lot of people and you seem to have done a really thorough job in the midst of a really hurtful and emotionally charged situation. I'd say that sets you up pretty good for the future :)

    1. Thanks Alison! That's certainly the hope. I think that in order to make real progress when faced with any challenge, you have to have the courage to address the issue from the roots up and not just the canopy down (that's my tree reference for 2012). You may reveal some hurtful things in the process but you don't have a clean kitchen until you wash the dishes and take out the garbage. I have a lot of things to work on but they all seem to center around communication and self-awareness. I didn't write it in my blog but I also learned what true love is. True love is a selflessness - a willingness to do for others not because of any possible reciprocation but because you truly care. In relationships, true love is being able to see a flaw in your partner and yet look past it to the greater good in that person. That doesn't mean condoning potentially detrimental behavior (drug abuse, spousal abuse, etc.) but, when possible, weighing the situation and finding areas for mutual growth. It's evident to me that I wasn't in a loving relationship. Anyhoo, thanks for the comments. I hope that you are doing well. Much happiness in 2012 Alison!