I wrote about one regret that I have here:
Aside from that, if I could change something about my past it would be how poorly I dealt with getting dumped over the years. I didn’t learn how to be even remotely mature or philosophical about breakups until a few years ago. I never went Fatal Attraction on anyone, but I completely understand how boiling a pet rabbit seemed like a good way for Glenn Close to get Michael Douglas’s attention. Some of us are just one heartbreak away from lunacy.
My first time dealing badly with rejection was when my high school sweetheart broke up with me at the age of 19. While I was too dumb to see it, he knew that our paths had diverged to the point that we weren’t even on the same map. I should have thanked him. Instead, I paged him incessantly with the urgent 9-1-1 code. When he would call back from his place of work I’d start out with pathetic (“I miss you”) but quickly escalate to angry when he didn’t confess to making a horrible mistake and beg me to take him back. I’d yell things like, “You took everything from me!”, which is ridiculous because he never “took” anything from me and what, was I a character on Degrassi High? I shudder to think what I would have posted on Facebook had it been around then.
That breakup happened when I was home from college for the summer, so my parents had to listen to my sobbing every time I heard a motorcycle on the expressway at night and wondered if it was his and where he was going, and with whom. At the dinner table I made dramatic pronouncements about preferring death over the suffering I was going through. My situation was unique, nobody else could understand, nothing could have prepared me for this thing that went down exactly the way it does for nearly everyone.
The next time I got dumped was in my early 20s after about six months of hot-and-cold dating. Things went a little differently because by then I understood that breakups are survivable. Whereas the first time I was swept up in an emotional typhoon, this time my inner cynic reared its ugly head. I wasn’t entirely surprised by the midnight breakup phone call. I got up at 5 am and wrote a love poem to him (not that we’d ever said the L word), which I later dropped off at his house with a note saying that I’d written it for him days ago and had been planning to give it to him for Valentine’s Day. Priority number one, invoke guilt.
I’d like to say I got better at this as I got older, and I did, but not before another misstep. When a long-term boyfriend broke things off in my late 20s I took it fairly well in person. In keeping with the theme of all breakups ever, it wasn’t entirely out of the blue. After a few days of dwelling on our nearly four years together and the fact that it was over, my inner Mrs. Hyde took over and mailed him a spiteful, rant-filled letter. I wish I hadn’t done that and could take back the hateful and exaggerated things I said. He’s a nice person (we’re still friends) who didn’t deserve to be attacked for falling out of love.
By contrast, the few times that I’ve broken up with people, they’ve been gracious to a degree I didn’t deserve. I wish I could go back and be more like them, stoic and kind. I wish I had been able to rein in some of my knee-jerk reactions that are so embarrassing to look back at.
I finally got the hang of keeping heartbreak mostly to myself when I was 30. That’s not to say it hurt any less, but at least I had learned a few things about the art of getting over someone. Or had I? Now that I think about it, I recall a bit of “I wish I’d never met you, I never want to see you again” happening. Oh, dear.
I wonder if Glenn Close’s character would look back with regret. Would she wish that instead of stalking and threatening Michael Douglas she’d simply said, “It was great while it lasted”? We’ll never know because her crazy antics got her killed (let that be a lesson to us all). In another movie that I watched recently, The Theory of Everything, Stephen Hawking’s wife responded with great magnanimity when he left her for his caregiver. She said, “I have loved you. I did my best”. It’s something to aspire to.
Breakups are gut-wrenching, and there’s no way around it. Happily married and almost two decades later, I can still empathize with that 19-year-old girl grappling with feelings of withdrawal, inadequacy and anger. But you can’t make someone want to be with you, and you certainly won’t make them change their mind if you force them to participate in your grieving process. Even if it’s hardcore 9-1-1 level heartbreak.