Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Anatomy of a breakup, part 1: "Dear John"

[I think at the end of the day that this is a writing resource. For those of you who have never had a bad breakup, enjoy -- because this is what you'll never have to go through, and you will never need to. I am recording it all for you right now.]
This is just some of how I do chivalry in my novels

When CS Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, lost his wife, he went out and wrote a book about it.  It was simply called On Grief.

Last week, as you may have noticed, a very dear friend, in fact, someone I was in love with, sent me a Dear John letter.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, a breakup letter. At least, it usually is.

In this case, it was kind of confusing on multiple levels, and not that simple. I was in love with her; her, not so much. I didn't make it a secret, nor did I force the issue. But "breakup" is the way to summarize what happened.

Anyway, why am I writing this? Well, I thought last week that I would simply go into hibernation and leave the blog alone. My mood is not healthy. I was usually an inch away from biting someone's head off. Several "friends" of mine whose disrespectful views I usually tolerate got on my last nerve, and it was either cut off all contact, or eviscerate them in a public forum online.  And I even partially failed at that, too.

However, this is Valentine's day. And, ironically, the Dear John letter arrived almost a year to the day after one of my last blogs on the subject of romance in writing. So, this is sort of perfect timing.

So, in the tradition of CS Lewis, more or less, I am going to give you the anatomy of a breakup.

[As a disclaimer, I know what you're thinking -- is he using his blog to take subtle shots at this ex-friend of his? No. That would presume she reads the blog. As I noted last time, it was a 50/50 chance she read that blog, and it's a sure thing that the odds are even less this time, don't you think?  Also: I am not reading the letter, I am not quoting it, I am reconstructing it as best as I can from memory.]

[More below the break.]

First, let's look at the letter, which in itself is a strange, strange affair.  It was a 10-page handwritten letter, with lovely calligraphy, in pen.  It came in a box of three items.  One was a stuffed animal plushie ... let's just say that we used the animal name instead of the word love. We had some very strange code words.  The second item was a book, with her inscription, with a sketch of said animal next to it.  All very encouraging, yes?

Then the letter itself. The first five pages are all of the things she loves about me -- my patience, my sense of humor, my patience (I had her fooled, she thought I was patient) -- followed by five pages of all the reasons she never wanted to speak to me again.

Wait, what? Huh?

Now, I have been a master at splitting hairs. I have loved people without liking them (basically, "I wish you all the best, I'll give you all the help I can, but I never want to see you in person ever again").  But this was just such a sudden, jarring one-eighty I almost got whiplash.  Not only were the first five pages filled with all my best qualities -- some of which I didn't even think I had -- we talked on the phone once a week, almost every week, for a year and a half. Few of our conversations were less than an hour, most were over two, and easily half of them were three hours long.  Where did this come from?

Her reasons.

She found my political views too vitriolic ... understandable, but we only really talked about one topic, and that was the Occupy movement.  She had Occupy LA, while I had Occupy Wall Street. She got what the papers called a street fair, while I got the savages and a horde of vandals. Heck yes, I was gonna be cranky.... And that was October. This is February. So, was that it?  No idea.

She actually found my political opinions (again, to my best guess, on one subject) and attitudes akin to that of her father -- who is, to all accounts, a vile caricature of a 1950s SitCom parent.  His attitudes were such that she could never get a man without dressing up like, well, a slut.  I don't think I have ever in my life wanted to take a tire iron to somebody. He was it...

Oh, yes, and she has also insisted that I'm way too eager to appeal to her vengeful side. Can't imagine why that would be ... Okay, that's a lie.  However, most of my lines consist of a gallows humor.  I've mentioned before that I am quite the cynic.  And while I have never committed assault and battery, or murder, my thoughts go there often -- you knew there was a reason I wrote thrillers and not children's novels.

The most I thought  my over-the-top replies would do was to make her feel better.  In fact, one time, when someone had hurt her, wasted her time by dragging her out into the middle of the city, and using her for entertainment before flying off to New York, I left her a voice mail that asked what time did the flight land, at JFK or La Guardia airport, and should I meet her with a tire iron? My friend sent me an email and thanked me, it made her feel better.  Mission accomplished.

The strange thing is, I've always been like this. Since day one, when we sent each other flair buttons on Myspace that read "Good morning, I see the assassins have failed" -- and we sent them at the same time. It wasn't a problem then, but it's a problem now?  I'm not entirely certain if that's because of me, or because of her. I seriously just don't know.

She also gave me a reason that said I eschewed other relationships because I was holding out on the vague chance that she might take our relationship beyond what friendship we had.  However, I was dating because I wanted to get in the practice ... and because she asked me to, which is noted here (I told you she wouldn't read it). However, my attempts at dating have been, for the most part, the stuff of farce.  I have dated about half a dozen women in my life to one way or another, and it turned out that most of them are some kinda of clinically insane, or just wanted to be friends. But, somehow, this is her fault?  Or I was doing that because of her? Didn't understand that at all, really.

She also cited my Catholic faith as a problem. There was an issue. It was a medical condition, and it involved birth control.  She gave me a problem, and I tried to think my away around it. And, I thought I did. In fact, I figured I had completely and utterly found a solution -- in short, she was right, I just had to dig around in Catholic theology a bit.  Simple, yes?

Now, granted, when I thought I told her she was right, I looked at exactly what I said. I wasn't anywhere near as clear as I thought I was. Not to mention that the "problem" was my problem, not hers. I never even intended to make it hers, and I went about trying to find a solution. It's obvious I didn't make that clear either.... but that was nine months ago.

Which leads to a question of why didn't she say anything?  Apparently, I had "created an atmosphere where she felt like she couldn't talk with me" ...

Really?  We were talking on average for twelve hours every month. I have a collection of patients / friends who suffer from the after effects of child abuse, rape, multiple personalities, Aspergers, anxiety disorders, and manic-depression, and I have learned about more little details about people and their own personal horrors than I ever wanted to deal with, put up with more freak-outs and temper tantrums, disagreements and screaming fits than I ever wanted, and yet she thought ... what? I would be angry with her? Annoyed? Because she disagreed with me?  I have friends who are liberals who thought Occupy Wall Street was the best thing since sliced bread, and I'm still friends with them.  So, what the hell?

Not to mention that we had been planning a little get together on her coast for quite some time now. About a year.  She told me to get the dates, she would clear her calender, I would get the ticket.  I bought the ticket in December ... she told me that she had been drafting this letter since at least September. Which means she said nothing to me as I went ahead and bought a $559 ticket to a place I would never go to unless I had a really, really good reason.

Do you know how hard it is to get a ticket redeemed nowadays?  "My reason for going never wants to talk to me again" is a satisfactory answer to fill out on the redemption form. And, again, if she knew that this was planned months ago, and she had been drafting the letter months ago, then why not just beg off? A simple "Oops, something important has come up, relatives in X place need me for Y reason, so sorry," would have saved a lot of money and grief on my end.

So, you take all of this together, and I have no idea what it means. Two and a half out of three items convey a message of affection -- the plushie, the book, and half of the Dear John letter. Friends have suggested something personal came up -- some sort of external stressor that pushed her away in a fit of uncharacteristic neuroses.

In short, there's a large bundle of confusion lying about. And I have no clue about how to make sense of it.

However, I do know one thing: she and I once talked about writing characters, and how to have relationships fall apart. I insisted that it comes from not sharing everything, and not being honest and open, and expressing everything to one another. She said that it can fall apart even if two people do tell each other everything.  I think she just proved me right

Now, how do we universalize this? Make the situation generic enough for writers to incorporate into their stories with their characters?

When you're creating your breakup:  How does the relationship end? Is it as inevitable as a train wreck, or something that comes out of a clear blue sky?  There has to be a precipitating incident for at least one of the two to decide to cut off all contact. Is one of them psycho (him/her)? Are they talking? What factors are affecting the both of them outside of their interactions with each other (family and friends, for example)?  And how much will it seem like out-of-character behavior to one side of the relationship or another? How confusing will it appear?  Or will it be "well, in retrospect, I should have seen this coming"?

In the next blog (at noon, we're running a special today), there will be a look at emotional fall-out, with Starman, Bruce Banner, and how to have characters deal with the conflicting thoughts after everything is over.

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