Friday, January 25, 2013

Dumping Etiquette. Or, How to Avoid Relationship Roadkill.

Relationships: when they are good, they are great; when they are bad, they are horrid.  To this we can all attest, but huzzah, yahoo, chocs away, cut the cord, thank God we live in a day, an age and a society, when we can choose who we want to be with, and, if it is not working out as we would like, we can say "Adieu."  

What is tough, is when the cord is wrenched, ripped untimely and we are left, bleeding, bruising from beneath, battered by implosions of hope; when we have been driven to the edge—sometimes thinking that we are going on a nice little road trip--only to be pushed from the speeding vehicle and thrust off the Scenic Look Out Point.  So long cosy town called Relationship. Welcome to Rejection, Population 1.

It’s an ugly state, none of your friends understand why you visit; you are perennially beaten when you go there, after all; you hate yourself for not reading the map, seeing the signs; you always proclaim that NO ONE will ever take you to that rotten fucking place again... and yet, here you are!  Ta dah!

 Whether expected or not, being dumped and left for dead in the town called Rejection, is one of the brutal aspects of dating.  It’s inevitable.  Or is it?  I think when one or other parts ways and drives away, there is a way to do it without relationship roadkill.  

I was reminded of this recently as I watched, in glorious technicolour and bioluminescence, Yann Martel's The Life of Pi brought to life by the superb Ang Lee.  The screenplay is slightly different phrasing from the novel--the novel verbose, the script succinct--I think both are valid here.  
"What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell...It is important in life to conclude things properly.  Only then can you let go.  Otherwise, you are left with words you should have said, but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse."
From the movie--typed furiously undercover in the black out of the movie theatre: "Life is made up of acts of letting go.  What hurts is not taking a moment to say goodbye."

The Face to Face Goodbye
This is the bravest form of relationship termination, because the reaction is always unpredictable.  It takes a steady, even, well-brought up Dumpee to keep his or her cool.  It takes a thoughtful, kind Dumper to tactfully put forth all the many and varied reasons why their journey is over.  The Dumper knows that he or she may be on the receiving end of a melt down, perhaps a few “But Why(s)?”  But then it is done.  Hollywood, Jerry Springer, or Taylor Swift autobio-songs may spice it up a bit with an ice-pick, some suit alterations with a pair of sharp pinking shears, or boiling poor innocent bunnies, but REALLY, REALLY, don't most intelligent people just take it on the chin and walk away?

The F-to-F break-up can be honourable.  It can be kind.  In this disappointment in person, face to face, voice to voice, there can be a finality between former fond friends, flames, lovers or partners.  A final look, an acknowledgement of what was, perhaps a kiss, a last embrace, one last glance of what could have been.  And perhaps then both can take heart that once they shared a closeness: memories, comedy lines, pet names, songs and jokes that will never mean the same when explained to anyone else.  

The Telephone Goodbye
Alexander Graham Bell, has a lot to answer for: namely, inventing the conduit that facilitated my own 17 year-old heart to be pulverized, pummeled and pulped; when Tom Long told me that “he just wasn’t into relationships.”
I clenched the receiver in my right hand, my knuckles so taut they went white; I curled the twirly cord around the fingers of my left until they pulsed purple.
“Oh.  That’s okay.  That’s fine.  Fine!  You know, I’m not really a relationship type person either.” Came the voice from the pole-axed teen, desperate to save face while her heart was imploding.  I could hardly believe it was my own, so calm, so at odds with the voice inside screaming NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
 I don’t know what he said after that.  Maybe that he’d see me at army cadets on Friday, or that he hoped I’d make it to the rugby match on Saturday.  I only know Mum had to wrestle the receiver from my grip, the handset blaring audibly from the hall to the kitchen, that it was off the hook.  He was off the hook.  My poor pulmonary was not.

In spite of this early telephonic rejection, I generally think telephone dumping is good for all involved, because, as Dumpee, you can retain your pride if you want, (and hopefully not cut off your circulation); and if you are the Dumper, you can save yourself the risk of being stabbed in the eye with a fork.  However, it is kind in its way because it means you care enough to listen to the Dumpee’s response.  That’s important folks.  Everyone wants to feel special.  Everyone wants to have their opinion count, to mean something.  If you have any common decency, as a Dumper, you have to give the Dumpee a chance to say their piece too.  It is considerate.  It doesn’t mean you are going to like what they say, but suck it up, Buttercup!

The Voicemail Goodbye
      On what planet is this acceptable?  It is the cheat.  The easy way out.  It is the medium that allows a one-sided conversation.  Not even a conversation, it's a con.  The rug pulled out from under your feet, landing you flat on your back, winded and breathless, with nothing but the ghost of your relationship ruffling the curtains and rippling the shutters on it's way out.
       The Dear John Goodbye Letter, Post it or Email
       A letter is hardly the popular method of communication these days, but I love to receive a handwritten epistle.  The last letter I received was from an ex-boyfriend thanking me for being such a lady during our sad break-up scene.  You know, that showed real class.  He acknowledge I had broken it off with reason and honour, but that when we had been together, he had "always felt like the luckiest man in the room."  I treasure his kind words and his acceptance and release.  He marked himself as a gentleman.  However, a letter written to break-up with someone?  A “Dear John, it’s not you, it’s me…” and then all the many reasons why it was not meant to be…?  Oh please!  And telling me that the Dumper has taken extra time and effort to unite pen with paper, is bullshit.  That’s like trying to convince me that all-natural, reduced-fat peanut butter tastes good.  It doesn’t, however you package it, whether it is healthier and took months to organically churn it, it still sucks.

      Email is, I expect, more popular a form of dismissal, but is no more thoughtful.  Less so, because it is more convenient.  At least the Writing Dumper has bought a stamp.

And a Post It?  A written one-sided goodbye, but without the effort of full sentences or monogrammed paper?  It’s all so effortless.  It's so disposal.  It’s the McDonalds break up choice: cheap, full of bloated lips and arseholes, that are swallowed fast, the wrapping balled up and thrown away.  Done.  Forgotten.

A text is almost as bad, but at least Dumpee can decide whether or not to reply.

"The Mother Fucker's concise."  Yes, Samantha, but sometimes, you deserve an explanation.

Slow Fade
Are we children?  Terminating relations simply by not responding leaves so much unresolved.  It is rather gutless not to tell someone it is over, isn't it?  I mean, the Dumper is just trying to avoid dealing with the shituation.  Man up!  I know it's not fun, but at least acknowledge the end.  There doesn't have to be tears and fanfares.  But disappearing without a bye or leave is just not cricket!

I have been the Dumper.  I have been the Dumpee.  Neither is easy.  Hurting someone, unless you are, in fact, Dr Crippin, is never, never nice.  I have cried more tears over hurting someone’s feeling than I have mourning my own.  Watching or hearing someone cry and look into your eyes and ask “why?” is probably the most awful, gut-wrenching, puppy-killing kind of experience. 

So Dumpers, People, be kind!  Don't fling your former flame from the moving vehicle, or push them out like the rubbish, to plummet from a great height.  Release them gently back into the Dating Sea, maybe a little breathless, and gaffed from the insides, but they will recover.  Allow your castaways to swim off like Esther Williams sans plastic swimming cap.  Do them the courtesy of watching them clamber out of the water in their polka dot bikini, bronzed legs slightly wobbly as they get to their feet; have the heart to appreciate them as they suck in their stomach, stick out their chest and sally forth, teeth-clenched into a smile as they wave to you from the other side. 

Don’t slink off like a spineless mutant.  Communicate.  End it with respect.  Do it in person, or pick up the phone.  Read the reply.  Return the call.  Whatever, but SAY GOODBYE!  She/he will think much better of you.   We are sentient beings--most of us--we cry, but we survive.  We are vertebrates—most of us--we are supposed to have a backbone, so show it.   Stand up straight and look people in the eye.  We are mammals, one of two species in the animal kingdom who mate face to face.  So, here’s my thought: if you fuck face to face, the least you can do is say a friendly “fuck off” face to face. OR, as Carrie says:

Now, where's my champagne?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Silver Linings. Or, it's okay, EVERYONE'S a little bit mental!

On New Year’s Day, before the Oscar nominations, before the Golden Globes, before I had realized I had only 7 weeks before hardcore rehearsals for my Oscarpalooza Party Parody, I watched the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook.  Odd title, methought.  Not exactly punchy, and what the cat’s dumplings is a ‘playbook’?  (Rest easy, I know now, sports fans.)  I clicked the icon over ‘play.’

I was stuck to the screen like Martha to her hot glue gun; drawn to it like mercury up a thermometer, iron filings to a magnet, wine to my face.  It was the Lumineers soundtrack, the dialogue, the intensity, and I realized, as the trailer finished and I gulped for air, I had forgotten to breathe.  I made an agreement with Self that, with or without a date, I would see this film.  So, as the snow fell late on Tuesday night, while all the sensible people were tucked up at home, battening down the hatches, polishing their shovels and weighing their pounds of Miracle Melt, I thought, fuck it! I’m going to the movies!

I’m not going to review it, for movie-going is subjective, and I don’t want to be responsible for awkward date nights booked on my advice; neither am I going to blow it for you and reveal the intricacies of the plot, but I am going to share how it made me feel: hopeful. 

You’ll remember, I was not thrilled with the 2011 hit Crazy Stupid Love (if you don’t—tsk!—here it is:  I just hated the fact Steve Carrell’s character did not fight for his beautiful wife.  (Well, not until the end.)  In SLPB, Pat Solitano, Bradley Cooper, is released from Baltimore Nuthouse and will not stop fighting.

He’s the underdog who refuses to take his meds; who endures Farewell to Arms, Lord of the Flies etc., to improve himself and impress his English teacher wife; who works out fanatically in a rubbish bin bag to get in shape and be a better version of himself.  Okay, it’s Hollywood, this version is already pretty good—I certainly wouldn’t nudge him out of bed for a cup of tea and a buttered crumpet—Cooper portrays a character so hurt, so vulnerable, so unstable, so riddled with shortcomings, but he tries, and THAT, THAT is utterly endearing.  (And the fact he eats cereal.  Bless ‘im!)

He is an unusually flawed hero with heart.  And I think that is why this odd, confrontationally charming rom com written and directed by David O. Russell actually got a nod for Best Picture.  It doesn’t have CGI, or 3-D effects, or malnourished actors shaving their heads, or almighty flesh-ripping shoot outs; it has emotion, a visible beating heart.  Best Picture Nominees, if the titles were honest!

De Niro—who I am used to seeing as some mean badass mofo—weeps, actually weeps!  In the scene where he wakes his sleeping son and stokes his hair, telling him how he should have been a better father…  his chin gets wobbly and his lips tremble and—Holy Carumba—droplets quiver in his saggy eye skin (Bob, I have tube of eye renewal with your name on it).  It was a really touching quiet moment.  But the movie is made up of them, each scene someone’s heart is served up on a platter to be held, squished or stamped on.  Each scene is driven by dimensional characters, nuance, by deft acting, not effects.
You can read every emotion, every jolt of surprise, bright gleam of delight, moony haze of remembrance, flicker of rage, every sad halo of disappointment as it passes through Cooper’s eyes.  He is the exuberant puppy who gets kicked, and goes a little psycho, but really I get that.

For all his violent kray-kray, wacko mood swings he has really good intentions.  I mean, I feel pissed off when I read Hemingway!  I do get a bit WOO WEE *colourful explosion of expletives* when I have lost something I cannot find.  For instance, when searching for my AWOL passport at 4am, hours before my flight, that sort of thing.  I certainly think—you know, just a hypothetical, I’m not giving the plot away AT ALL—but if I came home to find my husband chowing down on lady bits in our shower, yup, I might throw a few things.  Probably stilettos.  At Miss Lunchables head.  It’s a natural reaction.  It’s human.  Pat’s human, he just lacks a fuse.  He has an instant ignition, and no filter, like a small child without artifice, or pretense, just genuinely reacting, albeit in a socially unacceptable way.
Pat, his passionate father and enabling mother, try to cope with his bipolar behaviour, assisted by the pleasant staccato of Dr. Patel.  I hope this is not too un-P.C.—you know how that would bother me deeply—but it was really lovely to hear a clipped Indian accent—are my British roots showing?  Really, it’s true.  It’s a big, old country is India, I know because I’ve been there, and I listened in Geography, yet I don’t hear the unique strains of the Indian melodious chirp in many Hollywood films.  I digress.  Pat’s therapist recommends he find a strategy.  Pat focuses like an Olympian on being positive and is able to overlook the bathroom buffet, except when Stevie Wonder’s Cherie Amour is playing.  He puts all his energy on the one thing that means everything to him, his wife; or the memory of her.  The problem with looking ahead and seeing the goal posts in the distance, means you are not watching the man about to tackle you, or perhaps the wing woman team player that is there by your side all along.

When he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, he is challenged in the crazy stakes.  She is an equally imperfect heroine.  Though not bipolar, she is a recovering sex addict and depressed widow, so it’s not her brain lacking a fuse or filter, she just doesn’t give a shit about convention, so does what she wants (or who she wants) and says what she means.  I have to admire that kind of ballsy woman.  She is not afraid of asking for the things she wants.

They are friends, with a capital ‘F’, because, he is—don’t forget—completely obsessed with getting back with his wife, but she challenges the crazy in his eye, and together, they make sense.  He helps her, she helps him; tit for tat; quid pro quo.  But platonic relationships are never really that even, are they Steven?  Nope.  And in Lawrence’s iced gaze, which most times could freeze kittens, you see a reflection of affection forming and warming her cold front.

He reluctantly agrees to learn a dance routine with Tiffany, in exchange for her contacting his wife—the restraining order preventing him from doing so.  To push them closer into “hold” his book making father wagers to win all his money in a parlay based on the success of the Eagles and… Pat and Tiffany’s dance scores.

Yes dancing.  The activity that brings men and women together like no other.   (Well, not including sex.)  It is where flesh and sweat and touch meet, sizzling like fine filet on a hot hibachi stone.  It is Pat, in the end, for whom the dance becomes more important.  And they are lovely together, not like Johnny and Baby, it’s more natural than that: no professional polish, no stiffness, fake tan or plastic smile—and he still hasn’t found a razor—it’s just unadulterated fun they have together, and, crazy or not, shouldn’t that be what relationships are all about?  Two people who are better versions of themselves together than apart?  Who are a team?  Who laugh and can be naked and ridiculous and FUN together?

So, I said that this film made me hopeful.  I don’t mean to wrap mental illness, addictions or afflictions in a cutesy chocolate box.  Approximately 5.7 million American adults are currently affected by bipolar disorder.  Approximately 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorder which can include one or many of the following: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, etc.

Approximately 17.6 million American adults are alcoholics.  Apparently, though I am not overly sure how they projected this figure, but, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, nearly 12 million American’s are sex addicts.

Clearly, everyone is fucking nuts, so maybe we should be fucking Nuts.  But let’s get back to the hope bit.  It is this: that with all these disorders, phobias, addictions, the human spirit is mighty and it can fight, and when you fight and you try, and you don’t stop trying, that’s when you find those who are important, cheering you along.

Never give up, dear Reader.  Never.  Give.  Up.

Friday, January 4, 2013

'E' is for Effort. The Cautionary Tale of Smidgen and her Yo-yo Man.

Oh, we got trouble.
Right here in Datin’ City.
It starts ‘T’ and it ends in ‘E’ and that stands for … TERRIFICALLY-EN-noying YO-YO MEN!

Yes, Dear Reader, my hackles have been raised like rabid wolf mother, caught in the midday sun, kicked in the ribs and stung by a wasp.  Not on account of my own misadventures—well, not that I can disclose here—but on behalf of my great friend, Smidgen. 

It is worse than Samantha’s “Friday Night Soup-making-Date-with Mother.” Not So Souper!  Far worse.  In fact, think of an awful date.  Let’s say… being stood up.  Imagine, if you will, the painful scenario: there you are, sitting all gussied-up, your uncomfortable knickers jammed up your crack, your boobs launched skyward, and he still hasn’t arrived.  The restaurant is bustling and the couples beside you giggle, and paw, and order.  You ask for water and play solitaire on your 'I' phone.   Appetizers grace other tables, but you try not to notice; you try to pretend you are not bothered that he hasn’t arrived because you are sure, absolutely positive, that he must be caught in traffic, or off saving the world, or something.  The entrees are served beside you and you regret that all you have had to eat today was a Luna bar.  You’ve been sitting alone for an hour now.  You realize, with an ache, you have told all your friends, nay, the entire Facebook World that you are going on said date.  Shit!  You even told the mouthy hairdresser who spent three hours getting the new shade, cut, blow and curl just right for this evening!  And then, as the table beside you clears and is reset, in walks your Ex, as smiles, as is his way, parading some little bit of Non-English Muffin, who wears the same dress you do, only better.  He waves at you on your own and immediately starts laughing, ordering with largesse, including a drink for you—oh how noble--and they start kissing, nauseatingly, sharing their appetizers as well as their saliva. 

That didn’t happen.  I’m just painting a picture.  But you have to admit, that would be a pretty darn shitty date.  My heart goes out to anyone who has gone to dinner with expectations, has been left dangling, neglected, forgotten, emotionally and mentally crushed.  But that kind of mean neglect is short-lived.  It ends at that non-date.  What happened, no, what  IS HAPPENING to poor Smidgen is worse. 
*Intake of breath*

What in this vast Universe could be a worse slap-in-the-face-with-a-smelly-week-dead-fish than that?  (If you had a worse dating disaster, I’m sorry.  *Head tilt* *Pout* Do share it below so Smidge can feel better.)
Well, Dear Reader, I’ll explain.  You see, Smidgen is being emotionally stood up EVERYDAY.  She is dating a… Yo-yo Man.  He is not a rapper, or a chap who is addicted to mint chocolate biscuits from the UK, or even a fellow talented in the arts of string and spool dexterity, but he is a classic yo yo…wind her in, let her drop, wind her in, let her drop.

Hard hats ON!  Hard hearts? Woof,
Smidge will never have that.
She adores him, she won’t say a bad word about him, but Yo-yo Man is starting to really piss me off on her behalf.  Smidgen is a darling.  It’s an apt name because she is just a sweetie!  She is cute and little, and you just want to give her a hug.  There’s no side to Smidge, everyone loves her.  (She is also: clever, funny, she smells great, she blows at time management and is a sucker for small animals—namely cats.)  She makes her own way, independent is Smidge, and any man would be lucky to have her.

Yo-yo Man seems … okay.  He is not drop-my-knickers-have-my-lovechild funny or handsome, but he is rather nice.  I can see why she might date him to start with, but now?  Now, I am rather at a loss.

You see, he makes no effort.  She is on a string, dangling, waiting for him to roll on in, dazzle her with the charisma she says he possesses, wrap her up in his mighty grip and then, just as things are getting friendly, propel away again, leaving her reeling, feeling inadequate that she can’t keep him for longer; discouraged that he doesn’t want to stay; heart-heavy that he would rather sleep alone than nestled into the soft, clean sheets beside her and her new Victoria’s Secrets purchases. 

We met at our favourite Sunday brunch spot, State St: Smidge, The Empress, The Goddess, The Nymph and me.  It had been a wee while since the five of us had met and news came flurrying from all angles, excited rapid fire of tales of love, of work, of cats, of life.  All angles except for Smidge’s. She was unusually reticent.  It wasn’t until I had finished my eggs benedict, and she had pushed away most of her house salad, that she spilled her sorry state of relations and admitted things were not going as well as she had hoped.  Largely, that her chap had indeed, become a Yo-yo.  A day would go by without even a “hello” text; whole weeks would pass without seeing his face; things that would not seem so bad if he had been aloof from the start, but he hadn’t.

“Think of your relationship as a pie chart.”  I said, trying to present the emotional shituation logically.  “Divide the pie into the slices of time he makes you deliciously, soaringly, climatically happy, and the slices of time he makes you look as sad and forlorn as you do now.  Because I have to say, you look about as pale and puffy-lidded as a Halibut.”   (We are close.  I can say things like that.)

“It’s not that easy.”  Smidge wailed, stabbing her fork futilely at an escapee leaf of argula.  “Because this is a new thing.  He didn’t do this at first.  He made an effort and I felt special, but now… it’s not a happy pie chart.  It’s a shitty poo chart!”

The Empress, the Goddess, the Nymph and I collectively sighed.  Our friend had regressed to high school and he was the cause.  You see, we know what she is worth, we know what she deserves, but Smidge is so distracted by the rose-tinted memories of their romance initially, she cannot make a logical, dispassionate decision.  She will not give up, she will not let go of this man who clearly only wants her at his own convenience, because she’s a na├»ve trier.  And good for her.  I’d rather be a trier than a wimp, a fighter than a flee-er, an optimist rather than a pessimist; but, if she is making all the effort, if this is all one-way traffic, if he has lost interest after just a month, it doesn’t exactly bode well for a future happy harmonious relationship, does it?

She should be with someone who actively wants to be with her; who wants to do things with her and for her, EVEN if he doesn’t particularly like those things.  He should be so friggin’ blinded by Almighty Cupid that he would do them anyway, and would human torpedo himself to her side at the slightest suggestion of ripping her clothes off and getting her naked. 

To make Yo-yo Man’s distance even more alarming, was the stark contrast to the Empress’s new beau, a sterling chap who is the very opposite of Yo-yo Man; he’s a No-Don’t-Go Man.  Their nascent relationship is already years old in couple comfort; they look and act as if they have been together for decades.  They know each others’ flaws and love them anyway.  They shop together—looking rather like a prima donna and her Body Guard; when she dances, he will, without eye-rolling, hold her purse; he will—on occasion—dance with her; he will cook meatless meals for her, although he is a committed carnivore; he makes an effort.

And I think that is what shocked everyone around the brunch table, especially Smidgen.  As we listened to these contrasting tales of togetherness and separation, I saw Smidge’s eyes well with tears (or dust and allergies), and I knew that she got it too.  It’s about trying, about effort, and Yo-yo Man just didn’t care enough for her to make an effort. 

Maybe she’ll give up soon, cry a little more, hold her head up and get on with things.  We did converse just yesterday, as cities away we both lay on our respective couches watching Jerry Maguire, text-commentating on when Tom Cruise got weird and about Renee Zellwegger’s character’s lack of fashion sense, and she texted with many exclamation marks that she had completed assembling a flat-pack desk thingy from Target.  “I did it all myself!!!!!!!! I did it without *****.  I don’t need him to complete me.  I complete me.”  That’s the spirit, thought I.  But my Romantic Self spasmed with sadness, I don’t want Me to be the greatest love of my life, and I know Smidge doesn't either.

I know she’ll be fine, but it is an interesting concept, don’t you think?  Being constantly left dangling, without plan or agenda, is far more hurtful than being stood up as one’s Ex and his Muffin exchange bodily fluids an arm’s reach away; it’s mentally more demoralizing than a couple’s Christmas squabble; it’s there, chipping away at her confidence with every hour of every day he doesn’t bother.

So remember Datin’ City Folk, if you truly like this one, make the effort.  Go out of your way to bring her/him a coffee; text her to ask how her day is going/text him to ask if he has eaten; make plans; do things that you wouldn’t normally do; meet her/his friends.  It shouldn’t be hard, it’s easy, because you will want to.  That drive, the desire, that pounding in the depth of your stomach that scares and delights and fires you to make someone happy, makes even difficult tasks a pleasure.

Post Script: In researching whether to spell yo-yo with or without a hyphen, I stumbled upon the Urban Dictionary's version of Yo-yo: abbreviation of "You're Own Your Own."  How apt.  Poor Smidgen.