Tuesday, 29 November 2011

back to basics: breaking up schoolgirl style

Like many city dwelling women of my age, I have behind me a trail of broken relationships. Some not so much broken as butchered, some driven to suicide and some dead from neglect. But now is not the time to get all Quincy over it, now is the time to share some observations and opinions on the art of the break up - the artfulness and the artifice. And the heartache too, boo hoo.

I wrote before in praise of breaking up by phone and I got some criticism for this being immature. I wasn’t bothered (immaturely enough). In the throes of a break up people are self absorbed and what they really want to do is pout and stamp and get what they want, just like children, whether they are the dumper or the dumped.

The only time I recall it not being like that is back in the schoolyard where we stuck largely to the practice of proxy. You sent your best mate over to tell the dumpee that you didn’t want to go out with them anymore. Generally, if you were lucky, they would get off with each other soon after that, and you would get to look like the victim. So young, such players.

Well, I'm gathering evidence to back up my drive for more childish behaviour in relationships, and it seems we're heading that way anyway. I met an old colleague this week and asked how her husband was. She has many affectionate and very funny tales of married life. Turns out this week he’d unfriended her on Facebook. Her own husband had stormed upstairs after an argument and unfriended her.

‘What did you DO when he unfriended you?’ I cried - somewhere between laughter and outrage that we've come to this. She said she texted her best friend and asked her to log in and check hubby's Facebook page. Best friend texted back that hubby was venting on his 'page'. At this point the poor unfriended young wife didn’t know what to do - this was ridiculous, and she couldn't even post on his 'wall' to say so. ‘So what DID you do?’ I cried again - trying to look sympathetic, stifling a widening smile. She had the grace to look down as she started to giggle herself and tell me that she texted her Dad and grassed her husband up for bullying her online. Her dad then texted her husband to say “get off that Facebook and go and talk to your wife”.

This is an example of why my generation should not be in charge. We have exploited all means of communication until we can barely speak, we are the Peter Pan generation, still needing grown ups to sort things out for us. However, in the everyday and political world we have to sort things out ourselves, because apparently we are the grown ups. I'd argue that the only sphere in which we can regress and indulge our immaturity is that of the close personal relationship - i.e. a relationship which is familial or romantic.

I don’t even want to get into the familial - it breeds contempt . . .we’ll stick with the ‘romantic’.

Through social media we get to go properly retro and indulge our inner teenager by honing our post break up stalking skills all over again. Remember phoning them and hanging up, just to see if they were in? Making your friends call and talk to their mum to see when they would be in? Asking your mum to say you’re out when you’re not if they call you? Finding out through a vast network of underage drinkers and dancers exactly which parks, youth club discos and parties they would be at and who they would be with? All done by word of mouth, your parents' land-line or, when out on manouvres, a phone box.

It’s all here for us again and twice as easy on Facebook and the like. But we haven’t really got the free time for it now and it’s such a solitary venture. Still too many of us spend too much time tethered to the past of daily contact by lurking online everyday. It’s different to how it was when we were kids, your computer won’t get bored and force you to move on like your friends did. It’s not as physically active as hiding in bus shelters or rushing in order to time your walk past a specific chip shop and you don’t get to get off with anyone else along the way, suddenly forgetting all about the original object of your obsession.

A grown man or woman sitting alone tracking their ex’s every move is not as cool or as much fun, or indeed as social as carrying on like you’re in your very own soap opera with an assorted cast of like minded, like misguided friends. I have to say, this kind of carrying on does still work well for most women of all ages. We learned it young. Looking back, my little friends and I were like a mini detective network when we hit the streets in the hours between homework and curfew. There were some rather good women led detective series on TV back then and we could count amongst our influences Cagney, Lacey, the Bionic Woman, Charlie and his angels and Juliet Bravo, no wonder we were good.

I’m not advocating an end to nosing around in the context of a relationship, far more people do it than would, or should, admit to it. People are curious and intuitive beings and long may we remain so. But we are also more secretive than we care to admit. We now seem to prize openness and privacy equally. There is conflict here and this is not helped we when resort to the digital representation of the relationship as was or as is. It feels real yet what you're doing is adding yet another layer to an already nuanced situation and the distance leaves room for delusion, making it harder to move on.

So, moving on. There is a lot to be said for offline, face to face-it, confrontation, bleeding heart in hand or bloodied knife in fist. Eastender style. Letting off steam in stream of consciousness screaming matches (streaming matches?) that in any other context would have you taken off and sedated or diagnosed with Tourettes. A huge argument can crystalise feelings, it can focus the mind and you can realise how much you do or don’t care about someone when you or they lose it. It can also stave off or expedite a dumping, but that’s a really dark level of game playing. That’s old fashioned emotional blackmail, new-fashioned passive-aggression and something that deserves its own post.

These arguments should never come to characterise a relationship, that is exhausting. I think the big ones should be infrequent, dramatic and lead to the right outcome. For example, I once pulled a radiator off a wall; we broke up.


with a little bit of Kat Slater
November 2011

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