Breaking up should be clean. When one person is in near-total control of the situation it falls to them to make it quick. There’s no benefit to dragging out the process or slowly ramping-down the relationship over the course of a last few dreadful dates. Primarily, though, it should be obvious. One person should say, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” leaving neither party with any doubts that yeah, you just broke up.
Stage 1: Flip-Flop
I had been dating a girl, we’ll call her Layla. She was brilliant and sweet and, thanks to growing up in Southern France in an Italian family, an impressive chef. I met her through a mutual friend and was immediately infatuated. I think, looking back on it, that it must have been her smile: A wide, knowing grin bursting with practiced charm and deliberate innocence.
Mostly though, I was taken in by her ambition which brought her to be a high-level project manager at Apple. She explained to me from the beginning that she hadn’t dated anyone in years, but I hadn’t fully understood the consequences. She was 25, but if you never graduate to adult relationships you’ll be stuck in high school; driven by passion and jealousy, and prone to manipulation. And back then she had always been queen bee.
A few weeks earlier, we had planned a date in San Francisco. Then a week before going, we got in a minor disagreement, but I promised to rectify what was bothering her. It would be way easier to call it a mea culpa and move on than to insist that I was right. But the Tuesday before the date, I still hadn’t finished placating her, so we arranged to get coffee after work. There, Layla expressed her supposition that I didn’t reciprocate her love for me, but before the end of the conversation she got up and left. She apologized to me later for walking out, but she had been upset and didn’t want to cry in public.
When Thursday came around, we had to decide whether or not to go. The tickets were bought to the museum (it was a 21-and-over event where bar-counters were set up in the exhibits,) so she decided we should. Then she changed her mind and said she needed to work late. Then she called back and said we should go. This happened 2 more times, until we were going to be late. Finally she announced that we were going and that I’d have to be ready to go in less than 4 minutes. Fifteen minutes later she was ready and we were off.
Stage 2: Night at the Museum
As we raced up to the city in her Jetta at what I recall being 120 miles an hour, I cleared my phone’s automatic notification: “It’s a Date! Academy of Science” my phone was informing me. Borrowing from being a manager of unruly tech employees, she had deemed it necessary to make a digital invitation to this date three weeks prior. I thought she was just the cutest.
The museum was more entertaining than I would have thought, and having a few beers was exactly as great an addition as I expected it to be. I’m sure that amplified my interest in the tropical birds, sea dragons, and neon squid. The simulated earthquake was a bit more difficult to enjoy, since the realism was undermined by the two dozen other people in the fake living room gripping the handrails bolted to the floor. I ceded that this blend of living-space and subway car would be normal if I lived in San Francisco, including the presence of mustachioed hipsters trying desperately not to lose hold of their cocktails.
I made an effort to win her over in spite of herself, thinking it was my unimpeachable sense of humor that would break the tension. Looking at a giant skull across the room, I pointed out and enormous mammoth head. She barely looked, but recognized that I appeared to be enjoying myself.
“And the tusks are enormous! You could make, like, half a piano from those things!”
She just looked around, face turning red, making sure no one else was listening to me.
“Come on, there’s no way that joke was ‘too soon.’ This thing’s like 14,000 years old.”
Stage 3: The Romantic View
Back in the car, Layla decided to take me to her favorite place in the city. As far as I could tell from her limited facial response, she was excited to be going, even if she lacked precise knowledge of its location. But a few wrong turns and a few more illegal maneuvers later, we arrived to a lookout called Twin Peaks. She pointed out the neighborhoods you could see, all visible from atop the peak. Despite the fog, the whole city was in view. The Castro was the most obvious, but with a little more effort you could make out where she used to live and a handful of other interesting city landmarks. I stood there, hands in my pockets, and took a deep breath. I could have stayed for ages but for being underdressed, and the wind was starting to cut to my bones. Luckily my masculinity held out just long enough and she asked, shivering, if we could leave.
Layla was in good spirits on the drive home, though we didn’t exercise our usual playful banter. I was quiet the whole way home, worrying about how bad things were getting between us but puzzled that she was so casual. It must have made her feel better to visit that spot, but since she wasn’t sharing her thoughts, I looked contemplative and depressed. I know this because she asked me seven times.
Stage 4: Click.
I woke up Friday morning, still mulling over the night and wondering why Layla wasn’t worried about the imminent end of our relationship. Then it all made sense. I texted her to verify, but it was suddenly so obvious. She had already dumped me on Tuesday!