We put so much effort into the beginning of relationships: using cloth napkins, wearing a bra, being nice to the dog. But I feel like the same care and attention is never given to the end. Sometimes I only looked back to make sure the house was still on fire.
Two performance artists, both intensely dedicated to their craft, created a spiritual journey to end their long-term relationship. Each of them walked The Great Wall of China, starting from opposite ends: Marina from the Yellow Sea in the East, Ulay from the Gobi Desert in the West.
After three months of walking towards each other, they met in the middle and said good-bye.
After reading that, I thought to myself, ‘No late-night drunk dialing or keying his car? No burning his photos at a public rally?’ Ninety days of solitude and reflection before breaking up might have been nice. Sanity isn’t something I deployed during any of my break-ups.
While unconventional, they made the ending as meaningful as the beginning. They honored each step of the relationship, in their own strange way, and completed the process of being together. We look at the end of relationships as a failure — with the success of relationships judged by length — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Everything is a relationship that ends, which usually gives way to something better: a bend in what was previously a very straight road.
Even if it isn’t forever, a relationship can still mean something.
The mister and I made the decision to divorce on my birthday. He and my friends had thrown a surprise party for me the night before with a ‘Sexual Chocolate’ theme. Everyone brought a chocolate dessert that was naughty in name or appearance. I was most disturbed — more like impressed — by the platter of poop my friend brought me that was sculpted from soft, nutty chocolate.
After the divorce talk, I went out and splurged on an overpriced hat my husband had vetoed a week earlier. I didn’t even want it, but I spent a defiant sum of money on it anyway. Inappropriate bursts of laughter kept bubbling out of my chest, followed by throat-crushing sobs that finally gave me a blinding headache.
I felt free! I felt doomed.
I listened to The Misadventures of Lauryn Hill for hours on repeat that day. Every note told me to save myself, and the truth hit my gut like a rocket: I wanted a different kind of relationship with a different kind of life. I had never really known the kind of love that she was singing and rapping and doo-wopping about.
My anger towards Lauryn Hill was hot and brief. Why should she be given talent and fame while I got the poor decision-making and dairy sensitivities? I needed to move forward.
When I broke the news to my son’s dad later on that night, I was still a little bit angry with her.
He was in Eastern Washington; I was in Seattle. He’d met someone and thought we should maybe take a break. I said something like it was fine for us to see other people, but why break up completely? We could have our cake and eat it, too — I didn’t mind! I was cool with it.
He reluctantly agreed.
We’d been together since high school, but I didn’t cry when we broke up for good a month later. I’d already met my rebound, who would keep me from being alone.
He called from his condo filled with framed Nagel prints; the entire fucking place was teal.
“Let’s get a bottle of wine and then screw each others brains out,” he growled into the phone. I rolled my eyes, pressing the mute button.
“Gavin,” I said, motioning at my girlfriends and the phone. They lit up rainbow-colored Nat Sherman cigarettes and rolled their eyes back at me.
He coughed, saying in a regular voice, “Hey kid — you there?” I rolled my eyes again.
“Look,” I started, “I… can’t.” I sat there, pondering what to say next. There was a long, awkward pause on his end.
“Sorry,” I said defensively, hanging up before he could respond. I lit a celebratory cigarette, even though I’d quit the day before.
On Valentines Day, he passed me a pink candy heart — still warm and germy from his nine-year old hand — that said “Be Mine” with chalky red lettering. I wasn’t ready for commitment, but I liked him well enough.
In a loud, bossy voice he said this made me his girlfriend, and then announced the news to our class. I felt confused, and then elated; my parents were like permanent boyfriend-girlfriend, and that seemed okay. I worried about holding hands at recess but figured we would cross that bridge later. Getting a boyfriend was easier than the older girls had led us to believe! He just walked right up and claimed me.
I turned around to claim him back, but he was already on to the next girl.
“Shannon is my new girlfriend,” he announced to everyone with pride; they were linked, arm in arm.
She was holding a white candy heart in her hand, and beaming from ear to ear.