Hell is Other People Who Are Not You
"I think that wanting to be in committed relationships, that that was like a phase I went through, and now I'm through it, and I need to move on and do other things, new things."
This is what my boyfriend of one year said to me at three in the morning on a Monday, a work day. This is how and when he chose to inform me that "my boyfriend" was probably no longer an ideal descriptor for me to use in reference to him. Six hours earlier he had been telling me about the cross-country road trip he was planning and asking if I wanted to join him for part of it, or maybe all. I had responded enthusiastically in the positive and gone to sleep grinning. This was apparently not the reaction he had anticipated.
"I mean, our relationship hasn't been perfect, right? And that's mostly because I've been somewhere else, because my mind isn't in this place with you."
In five hours I had to get up and leave for my nine-hour workday. At three in the morning, there weren't any buses running between his apartment and mine. The odds of finding a cab roaming the streets of our quiet city suburb were so slim as to be nearly two-dimensional. I couldn't even leave. I was trapped, hostage to his cartoonishly earnest attempts to explain that it was him, not me, and to ensure that I did not somehow confuse the two.
"It's just, you know, you're you, and I'm me, and sooner or later we'd have had to accept that those were different people. So it may as well happen now."
_Different_ people. Not the same person. And as everyone knows, different people can not hope to take part in successful interpersonal relationships. Romantic love is the exclusive domain of clones and conjoined twins who happen to share both a brain hemisphere and a ventricle.
"You're an amazing girlfriend, and an incredible person, and I feel so lucky to have you in my life. This is really all about me."
(Actually, it was all about Lisa, his good buddy and roommate, who had been singularly dedicated to splitting us up more or less since we had met. But this would not come to light for some time.)
"You've been really great and supportive about giving me my space when I needed it, and now I need more. I need all of it, I need all of my space for me. And it isn't fair to ask you to wait for me to get over it, so I want to let you go."
Oh my god, I thought. He's thirty-six; this isn't a thought process that he will outgrow. He is really like this. (In truth, I had suspected that he was really like this, based on his many requests for "space," the number and intensity of which were rivalled only by those of similar pleas made by E.T. My presence seemed, at random moments, to make his ambient atmosphere unbreathable. A month or two after this event I would discover that, throughout the entire year of our involvement, he had been telling most of his friends [some of whom we shared] that he and I were "off and on." I had not suspected this. When it was revealed, I had to wonder what the dominant truth was: Had we been off and on, and I simply hadn't grasped it? All of those weekends when I had called to ask him to see a movie with me and he had declined so he could do laundry or clean his bedroom, had we been off? Why hadn't he simply said so? And if that were the case, why had he felt the need to wake me at three in the morning to tell me that he was, like, so over committed relationships, since apparently the two of us had never been in one?)
"I do love you very much; it's important to me that you know that."
This is a statement that rolls like a greased ball bearing down an ice luge off the tongue of a man who does not mean it, but which can not be uttered smoothly by any man who is even partially sincere in the sentiment. Your own adoring father could not get the whole thing out while looking you in the eye, unless he were drunk or fatally wounded. My ersatz-philosopher bedmate was neither, but his increasingly clearly rehearsed speech was inching him ever closer to the latter. He had once made a similar declaration that was entirely believable; he said it very quickly while looking down and then retreated to the opposite side of the room to straighten a pile of rocks on an end table. No one would say a thing that made him so uncomfortable unless he meant it, and no one could say such a thing and mean it without being uncomfortable in a moment like the one we were in. Take heed, gentlemen: There are many, many ways to make a break-up less difficult for the dumpee, but waking her up in the middle of the night and unabashedly telling her a glaring, balls-out lie is not one of them. Even groggy, most of us can tell when you are being a dishonest, self-interested bastard.
Of course, we can also tell when you are not worth getting that worked up over. By four o'clock it was finished. Nobody yelled. Nobody cried. Somebody slept, but it was not me. I was too busy taking mental inventory of the room, so I could be sure to leave in the morning with everything that was or had ever been mine. I was all too familiar with his tendency to turn ex-girlfriend memorabilia into holy relics, and I had zero interest in being represented in the shrine. If he was letting me go, he would also have to release my barrettes.
One month before he left on his road trip, ex asked me to help him pick out a new collar for his dog. Then he tried to convince me to take his dog while he was away. After he left, I found out that between the night he dumped me and the time he hit the road he had flings with (1) the aforementioned Lisa, (2) the girl he had been dating before me, (3) my roommate, (4) one of his co-workers, and (5) a nineteen-year-old girl who lived down the street from him whom he had met in a convenience store. These, I assume, were the "new things" he had mentioned needing to do. Well, except for (2), who was technically an old thing, but who was living in a new apartment, thus making the experience original. He hadn't lied about them, exactly. However, in my eyes this did not make him less of a douchebag for attempting to wheedle six months of free pet-sitting out of me.
Nor did it make me more willing to accept his phone calls, which started coming with no warning about a year after his departure and continued to come with surprising regularity for several months. Many of the calls came after midnight, maybe because he was in a different time zone and could not be bothered to do the basic arithematic that would allow him to ring me at a considerate hour, or maybe because he had come to the mistaken conclusion that I was more reasonable in the very early a.m. I never answered when he called, and so could not ask him to elaborate regarding his motivation. Eventually he began leaving long, mopey messages informing me of such essential bits of data as what he had eaten for lunch and which jobs he had interviewed for and not gotten. Once he told me that he was wearing a pair of socks I had given him for Christmas. Once he told me that he really liked a CD I had made for him a year and a half ago but that he had not listened to until recently. (See? _Everything_. You have to take _everything_.) Once he told me that it was immature and small of me to refuse to speak to him.
Aww, he's right, I thought; I ought to say _something_, especially when he has gone to such lengths to say so many words to me. Really, it was an awful lot of words. So I recorded a new voice mail greeting, just for him:
"Hi, this is me. You are you. I'm not going to answer the phone, because my mind is somewhere else doing other things that are all about me. You should feel free to leave a message, but please remember that, because I am me and you are you, we are different people, and I may not be able to understand or care about a word that you say. This doesn't mean you aren't incredible. It's important to me that you know that."
Immature? Sure. Small? It's possible. But oh, how I did sleep so well.