Breaking up sucks. No way around that, as either the break-upper or the break-uppee. The method of breaking up, though, varies vastly on the spectrum of possible routes, from mysterious disappearance to unashamedly in-your-face honesty. What’s the best way to do it? Is there even a best way? Or do they all equally suck?

My experience has been mostly as the break-uppee. In my 33 years, I have experienced the gamut. Recently, though, I had two diametrically opposing situations happen to me, back to back. I had a disappearance worthy of the Twilight Zone, and I had a man break up with me and, strangely enough, be with me every painful step of the way out.

Dale, the Marine officer, and I dated for just a few weeks. I know, not long at all. But I thought we were doing fantastic. Until he went to Washington DC on business, and I never heard a peep from him again. Leaving him cheerful messages, then worried texts, made me feel like a stalker. Maybe his phone didn’t work where he was stationed, maybe he got deployed without notice, all my theories sound like foolishness now. Sometimes being a confident woman is a curse. “Oh he’ll call. Of course he’ll call,” I found myself telling myself.

The dawning came slowly for me. Hour by hour, day by drawn-out day, I began to understand. It’s like slowly peeling a band-aid off your hairy arm. It just hurt and hurt and hurt, but I never had one big punch in the stomach. The hope was hard to shake. I didn’t get it. You want to believe everything is ok, so you make up stories in your head about why he might not be calling. All nonsense. A call to a mutual friend gave me confirmation and closure. This officer – but not a gentleman – had provided me two weeks of the dating version of waterboarding. But the slow torture was finally over.

After that silly little episode, I wasn’t about to trust anyone. I considered becoming asexual for a while. The next man I started to hang out with, Chad, seemed perfect. We would go running together, and he would fix things around my house. But I would not let him into my mind or my heart for weeks. I didn’t set aside time for him, and I didn’t return all his texts. I was just too scared. But with his persistence and unfailing respect for me, I started falling hard and fast. This one was different.

Chad was attentive, pursued me everyday, and extended himself for me. The things he did for me surprised me everyday: planted plants, went to Home Depot for me, re-attached the gutter falling off my roof, fixed my fence, got my A/C to run again. He even re-caulked my bathtub. This is how I knew he cared. And after several weeks of this behavior, I was falling hard for this man who actually gave a darn about me. Author and comedian Steve Harvey described it well in his book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man":

“Real men do what they have to do to make sure their people are taken care of, clothed, housed, and reasonably satisfied, and if they’re doing anything less than that, he’s not your man…. Providing for the ones he loves and cares about, whether it’s monetarily or with sweat equity, is a part of a man’s DNA, and if he loves and cares for you, this man will provide for you all these things with no limits.”

And this is exactly what Chad did – he cared for me deeply and considered me in all his actions. I was immensely touched by his desire to provide for me and make sure my house was safe and kept up. There was nothing in this for him, only his drive to accomplish things for me. I was on cloud 9 – was this guy for real?

Life was all rainbows and butterflies with him. I made him feel good about himself, and he made me feel good about myself. I found myself saying to my friends and my mother, “He’s a good, honest man.” We had several serious discussions about our life goals: marriage, children, and what we consider to be the most important things in our lives – family and friends.

Until that day. The day we had a little hiccup in paradise. We had a tiff about going out on a Saturday night. I got a chip on my shoulder. I got a little bratty. Not my proudest moment. The next day, when I was still stewing and acting childish, he told me he had been looking at other women on the beach the day before. This comment, probably off-handed to him, cut me deeply. Although I’m cute and athletic enough, I know I don’t look like a Brazilian thong model with bronzed skin and sex oozing out of my pores. He caught me off-guard and I wasn’t prepared. Things started breaking apart, our connection became an iceberg in warm water.

We spent over an hour on the phone, with another hour and a half the next day in person. To his credit, he looked me in the eye and told me things the previous guy had been too scared to say. The difference was, he gave me time. He was patient and answered my questions. I heard it all, “I just don’t want to screw up anyone’s life.” “I’m scared.” “I don’t think I’m relationship material.” “You deserve better than me.”

Though hard - and infuriating - to hear, I needed to know these things. Whether he is just scared, or he truly thinks we are not a good long-term match, I admire him for doing it in person. He is a bigger man than that other guy. He helped rip the band-aid off fast. It stings just as much as slowly tugging it off, but for a shorter time.

Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts plenty, like surgery without anesthetic. I have had to leave the office early recently because I just have to break down sobbing. Breaking things off is a dying of sorts – the death of your hopes, the death of the future you secretly saw deep in your mind’s eye. I much prefer to be the break-upper. I’d rather deal with feeling bad about letting someone down, than feeling like vomiting into my purse because I can’t have the person that I’m emotionally invested in and admire.

But when a man can really be a man like Chad was, and sit down and look you in the eye, it helps. Your mind can comprehend it better when you hear it from his mouth. You can ask questions. With Chad, there was no rush, no exasperation. A two-way dialogue leading up to the question, “What should we do?” makes both people feel like the final decision is mutual. Even if one of you is the break-upper and is asking leading questions, it’s still better than not knowing anything. It’s hard to be mad when it’s 50% your decision. Or at least feels like it. And although sweet and loving feelings are still there and it is sad to see something that was beautiful go away, at least you can understand when the other party takes the time to talk. And it speaks volumes about their integrity.


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