Let’s be clear on our terminology. Relationships may come and go without a moment of true dumping ever occurring. Sometimes, people just drift apart. Or they may agree quite amicably that things have run their course, shake hands, and go their separate ways. As I see it, there are two levels to dumping. The primary level is the one where the first party wishes to continue the relationship while the second party does not, so the second party terminates the relationship. The second level of dumping is an actual formal declaration by one party that the relationship is at an end. Given that framework, I have been the dumper twice in my life. The first time is the more lively example, because I was really young and really stupid, so that’s the one I’ll focus on. Later, we’ll put the shoe on the other foot and talk about being the Dumpee.
It was my first serious boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and looking back, I did just about everything wrong. Small wonder things crashed and burned so abruptly. Still, this is how we learn, so I wouldn’t quite attach the word regret to it. I’ve always preferred to put it this way: I say that the second-stupidest thing I ever did was having a torrid affair with my stage manager. I phrase it in this way so as to elicit the question, “OK, what’s the stupidest thing you ever did?” My reply is that the stupidest thing I ever did was telling her that it was absolutely, totally over two weeks before the show closed. Understand, she was in love with me – head over heels deliriously happy in love with me. My reason for breaking up with her? I thought I knew why at the time, but as I’ve gotten to know myself a little better, some additional perspectives have emerged. At the time, I thought it was because of the enormous difference between her feelings for me and my feelings for her, on top of which, I felt that I was not headed in that direction. It seemed pointless and perhaps even cruel to let her keep believing that we were headed towards a life-long commitment when I felt no inclination whatsoever in that direction. Oh, I liked her; there was no overt problem in that regard. But maybe I convinced myself that there was.
Now, looking back, I find that some new ideas are added to that picture. First of all, I’ve learned that I do not in fact know the future. I don’t know what the future might have held for us and I could have exercised a good deal more patience in seeing what might have developed. It’s not as if I dumped her for another woman; not at all. The key to making that approach work, I think, would have been honesty. I would have needed to be very open and sensitive about letting her know what I was feeling – and what I wasn’t feeling, and I would have needed to really listen to her reaction and understand her perspective. The fact is, as crazy about me as she was, she wasn’t pressuring me for some sort of commitment. The only pressure I was feeling was the pressure I was putting on myself over having an actual girlfriend.
As for the Moment of Dumping, I handled it with all the dexterity of an epileptic baboon clutching at a Faberge egg. I took her to dinner right before a performance of the show we were both working on and delivered the news. She said at the time that she felt like dumping her plate of pasta over my head. Though she did nothing of the kind, I could hardly have blamed her if she had.
I won’t go into any detail here and now about the second time I was the Dumper. Suffice it to say that it was some years later and I handled it with a hell of a lot more sensitivity and kindness than the episode I’ve just described.
So have I ever been the Dumpee? Yes, twice. As with my earlier account, I’ll go into detail about only one of them in the interest of keeping this post under novella length. This one was only a dumping in the primary manner described above, not in the secondary manner. That is to say, she ended the relationship but never said so. The relationship had problems; we both knew that well enough, but we seemed to be dealing with it, seeing what we might make of it. Yet the day came when I was suddenly cut off. It was only later that I was able to look back and realize how suddenly the cutoff had occurred. It seemed that some line had been crossed, some decision had been made, and now we were through.
This was all the more surprising given her articulate, outspoken nature. She thought of herself as someone who dealt with problems head-on, who spoke up when there was something wrong. Yet in this matter, she had not a word to say. There was almost a sense that she had dreamt some dreadful conversation between us and had awakened believing it to be real; as if there were a scene missing in the movie of our relationship.
The one choice I had to make in the matter, once her goal of ending the relationship became clear, was whether to confront her and demand an explanation. The temptation was strong to do so, but something nagged at me about the concept – it felt as if I’d be enabling something very unhealthy if I played that part in what seemed to be a script she was trying to play out. So I remained silent, feeling that I had at the very least maintained a sense of self-respect.
While there is no handy denouement to this tale of my being dumped, I took from it some things of value. The main thing was that it reinforced a sort of Golden Rule of Dumping – Dump others as you’d have them dump you. So in the case I related earlier of my clumsy dumping, I can at least nod, knowing that I did the right thing in saying it out loud, even if my style and timing were abominable. The end of a relationship is a fragile time for our emotions, and it’s no time to let such considerations take a back seat to either cowardice or passive-aggressiveness on my part.
After all this talk of Dumpers and Dumpees, I feel obliged to say that this isn’t the area I normally live in when it comes to thinking about relationships. More often, they are a source of joy, love, fun, and a basketful of other wonderful feelings. I don’t ever trouble myself with thoughts of finding “The One” – or whether such a person even exists (or should exist). The Loves of My Life are a collection of delightful people, each occupying a unique niche in my heart. If on rare occasion, an imbalance arises that leads to my being a Dumper or a Dumpee, it’s a painful but overall small price to pay for taking the risk of a relationship. I have to admit, though, that I typed the preceding sentence for my own benefit – so I can read it the next time I’m hurt and feel like closing the shutters.