When my boyfriend told me, just shy of our one-year anniversary, that he didn’t want a girlfriend anymore, I was still digesting my savory pork belly dish and $12 cocktail.
This candlelit dinner had seemed to be to signal things were on the upswing. I was wrong. This wasn’t a let’s-try-again reunion dinner; It was our last supper.
I went numb. I nearly tackled the waitress (“We need our check! Now!”). I was out the door in a shot with him on my heels. When we got to the subway station, I told him to give me back my keys. He resisted: “Can’t we wait till I come by and get my–”
“No. Now,” I said, fighting back tears and failing. I stood there, rigid, as he wiggled each key off the chain, dropping them into my hand with cold finality.
I cried the whole way home. What else was there to do? I got off a stop early so I could call my sister who answered sleepily, from her cozy bed in a suburb of Massachusetts. I was stunned—and furious. How could he? Why?
I Called In Supports
In the wake of an emotional rupture like that, I sought the unwavering support of my girlfriends, who rallied around me, even coddled me. My friend Renee texted me, “I’m so sorry you two broke up. Should I hate him now? Tell me and I will.”
That’s why I love girlfriends; they’re angels in a crisis, loyal as pit bulls. They told me all the things I felt like I needed to hear: “I’m so sorry, honey. But he didn’t appreciate you.” “You know you can and will do better.” This is the role of girlfriends: to turn in the wagons, nurse you back to health, point out the flaws and, in many ways, hang lights in your darkest corners.
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Then I Made a Deal with the Devil
I had a business lunch the next day. I almost cancelled. I looked and felt horrible. I had been crying all night.
And a man I’d known, a former colleague, says from across the table, “You want him back?” I was mute. Of course I did. I wasn’t the one who wanted to end it.
This guy, who prefers to go by his pseudonym here, P.T. Carlito, started to say the most outrageous things to me:
- He told me he could show me how to get my ex back in a matter of weeks.
- He said that if I wanted to get different results, I had to change my behavior, trust him implicitly, and do exactly as he said.
He was aggressive, obnoxious, cocky. I didn’t believe a word he said. Plus, this guy has no business offering ME advice. He’s just some middle aged dude, married for 20 years. Just a guy, just some dingbat. He hadn’t dated in years. Who was he to tell me who I am and how to date? The feminist in me threw up a little in her mouth.
My problem, he said, was that I didn’t choose actions based on what I wanted; I let my emotions gain the upper hand and dictate my responses instead of the other way around. “No wonder you’re a disaster,” he said.
“I’ll have him crawling back before the end of the year,” he said, mouthful of arugula with a dribble of dressing on his lip. “Before the New Year. You can count on it. I’ll bet my $1,000 to your $10. I’m that sure. And by the way—begging for you to come back to him. Begging. You better just be careful what you wish for.”
P.T. leaned in and aimed his fork at my forehead. “I’ll need three things from you. First, I need you to do exactly as I tell you to. Second, I need you to write a column about what a genius I am. You got that?” I nodded. “And when you do get him back, I need you to sing the song for me.” What song? “I got the beeessst daddy in the world…I got the beeeest daddy in the world,” he crooned to the tune of that American spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” He then broke into hysterical idiot laughter.
I cringed. We shook on it.
Rule 1: Cut Off All Contact
Later that same evening, I was sipping a potent mezcal cocktail at the Soho Grand with P.T. and a few other colleagues, my finger hovering over the “unfriend” button on my phone. I felt like I was about to step off a cliff.
“Do it,” P.T. said firmly. “Trust me. It’s the best thing for you.” I did it. In a single gesture, my ex was instantly evicted from my digital circle of trust. I cried a little. Moving on to Twitter didn’t feel quite as painful, since ceasing to follow someone doesn’t feel as final as Facebook exile.
This was the first lesson: Doing the opposite of what you really want to do: Cut off all digital contact. “This process is not going to be easy,” said P.T. “It feels like the wrong thing. But it’s not. It’s about strategy.”
And this is something women are rarely taught to do. It’s assumed we’ll be victims of our feelings, and have to endure them. Fact is, if you let them rule your actions and your reactions, you lose.
What happened: My ex not only watched my feeds more closely, he started tweeting and retweeting me in ways he never did when we were dating.
Once I’d taken him off my radar, I had his full attention. (And turns out my FB posts were public, so he saw them anyway. Whoops.) But rest assured there was no poor-me public ranting about it. None.
Rule 2: Enter radio silence.
I not only resisted and didn’t initiate contact; I didn’t respond to any, either. This was hard. Because he wasn’t “gone”—he was sending a text here, a funny youtube link there, a video of his roommate’s puppy.
I feared what anyone would: That I’d come off cold, or give the idea that I didn’t want him when I did. Wrong. Far too many women think that if they “keep the door open,” that the ex will beat a path to their door.
Now was not the time to be friends. “Needy is not attractive,” he said.
By shutting him out completely, I gave myself a chance to heal, but more importantly, said P.T., “You’re giving him a chance to feel what life is like without you.” After all, that’s what he had asked for.
What happened: He started emailing and texting me more. It’s human nature; he felt he wasn’t getting my attention, so he tried harder.
Rule 3: Pack it up and ship it out.
One other problem: His stuff still darkened the corners of my apartment. I told P.T. that I loathed the inevitable weepy, sad exchange of goods.
No, no, no. “Messenger all his stuff and send it to him immediately,” he said.
Rather than play Radiohead and fondle his old razor, though, I put on Beyonce (I strongly recommend “Irreplaceable”) and packed his shit in a bag, taped it up and shipped it via messenger to my ex’s office downtown. And you know what? It felt good; empowering even. Because I wasn’t sitting there “waiting” for him to come and strip away what was left. I was deciding. I was in charge now.
This is key, because when you’ve been dumped, you feel your power has been taken away from you. You must make decisions and take action to get back in the driver’s seat. You may never be in control of all that happens to you, but you are always in control of your response.
Rule 4: No bitterness. None.
When my ex received his goods at his office via messenger, you better believe I got a round of riled-up texts. “Why would you do this?” he wrote. “I could have come pick it up. Do you really need to get rid of me that quickly? Are you trying to embarrass me?? That’s cold.”
My emotions tugged at me to retaliate, defend, argue, point to the irony of his response (really, dude?). But P.T. was not having it. “Wish him well,” he said. “Fact is, he’s doing whatever he can to get a response from you.”
When I resisted, he said something I’ll never forget:
“You will never teach someone by explaining. You show through actions, not words.” I hated this guy. Because I knew he was right.
So instead of emotionally engaging, I replied, “Stop being dramatic. Now you have your stuff back and you can move on with your life, as will I. I wish you only the best. Goodbye.”
Return to: Radio silence. I figured that was the last nail in the coffin.
Rule 5: Go on a few dates.
I wasn’t counting on my ex coming back. And I knew that in order to move on I could only cry so many nights in a row; I had to get out into the world and fill my time with other people.
Now, I should mention, sad as I was, I am a quick rebound and return to dating far more quickly than most. If you’re deep in mourning, you may want to wait a couple weeks.
Me? Two days. I was dumped on a Wednesday, and out drinking wine with a worldly air force general on Friday. Of course it was early, some would say too early. But I didn’t go out with the intention of finding a new boyfriend. I went to remind myself that I could enjoy the company of new men as soon or as often as I liked. I gave myself that option, and you should, too, if you can compartmentalize your grief (i.e., not spend the date discussing your ex).
(Added bonus: I also blogged about what it was like to be dating again, in a spirited, curious way…knowing full well there’s a chance my ex would be reading them.)
Rule 6: Expect the unexpected. Or, in P.T.’s world, the inevitable result.
My ex’s texts grew in intensity, frequency, and anguish, until he finally said, “If you want me to stop writing you say something. I’m starting to feel like a crazy person.”
After a few weeks of silence on my end, right before Christmas, he broke: He wrote me a gushing letter confessing that he had made a mistake, he had taken me for granted, and that he wanted me back. He didn’t want anyone else. He wanted me.
I swelled inside with relief and, quite frankly, disbelief. And a little bit of annoyance: Curse P.T. He was right. That bastard!
When we met up at a very nice restaurant in Tribeca, he was wearing a tie, and had an armful of flowers waiting for me at the table. He only asked that I consider dating him again.
I said I’d consider it. And we have been.
My ex came back to the relationship having learned a powerful lesson, as did I: That you have to be careful what you wish for. And know what you want. In this case, I wanted to give it, and us, another chance.
Do what will get you what you want, not what will encourage more of what you fear.
Fact is, even if my ex did not come back, which was a real possibility, I still would have been better off—and well on my way to a perfectly fine life without him.
Next time I saw P.T., at a swanky lounge in Tribeca, he folded his arms behind his head, gloating like a king who had brought yet another hamlet under his rule.
“Well?” he said, cackling like a fool. “Let’s hear it,” he said, his eyes twinkling.
I’ve got the beeeest daddy in the world…..
I’ve gotten LOTS of emails over the years asking me whether I’m still with that boyfriend. No, I am not. But not because of what happened here; we were together nearly a year after that. But one day I just woke up and knew—this is not it. And life went on, as yours will, too.
What I learned from this is the power of unfriending; the decision to let go of the things that weigh on you with self-doubt, anxiety, and regret. And this is not just about boyfriends. It’s about all the OTHER things you’re still attached to—namely, ideas about what your life should be and what your options are.
I just published a book called Unfollow Your Passion and in it, you’ll hear about other relationships gone very wrong, yes, but most importantly, how to unhook yourself from the tyranny of dopey ideas we’re fed on a daily basis, not just about relationships, but about what exactly we should be doing with our lives.
So when you’re done unfriending your ex (now please), come unfollow your passion with me.