Cleaning house is never an easy thing for us and our loved ones to go through. We've all had to deal with this within our families, friendships, work relationships, and romantic relationships. My most recent experience with this was my break-up with Steve, a boy I had been with for nearly two years (my longest and deepest relationship). When I saw the comedian Hal Sparks Friday night, he pointed out something brilliant that I think completely captures the essence of what went wrong in my and Steve’s relationship. He started out saying that he was never going to get married. There was a collective sad “aww” from the audience, but then he went on to explain. To paraphrase, Hal believes that when you’re living with someone, you have to come up with a new reason to love each other every single day; otherwise you could just pack a bag and leave. On the other hand, when you’re married, even if you’re dissatisfied you won’t leave simply because of all the effort it would take: you’d have to move, hire a lawyer, go through court, figure out how to divide your possessions (what is half a house?), etc. While this is a pessimistic view of relationships, it applies to my situation with Steve. This past summer things just became a little too off between us; we were bored together, we didn’t really get excited over seeing each other, and in fact, we didn’t even see each other much. Our relationship became more of a habit than a passionate exchange, almost as if we were married and stuck together. I tried to fix things, but Steve didn’t reciprocate. I found out later he had been dwelling on something that had happened a year ago and he didn’t want to tell me about it, but with all of his thoughts and energy on that occurrence, how could he possibly help make the present better? I realized that, “what we got on our hands is a dead shark” (Annie Hall). The thing is, Steve thought that he had all the time in the world and could just neglect me while he worked things out in his own mind; he even told me after we broke up that he took me and our relationship for granted. However, as I am the kind of person who doesn’t let anything negative or oppressive stay in my life for long, I realized it was time to clean house.
Of course, plenty of thought went into my realization, and it took time. I went through the intrapsychic phase: “The individual begins to consider the costs and rewards of the relationship…during this phase, the leaver spends considerable time contemplating whether the relationship is worth saving” (Campbell Eichhorn 247). I gradually became aware that I was not getting much of a return on my investment, trust or comfort in this relationship. There was a disparity in my and Steve’s level of commitment. When I started feeling this way, I tried to work through the conflicts and communicate with Steve to show him what I needed and what was missing in our relationship. Rather than having a big fight or argument over it, we spoke about each little point separately and on multiple different occasions over the course of the summer months. I’m not sure whether or not this was the “best” way to go about it, but it didn’t work: Steve did nothing to change and took no responsibility to keep the bond alive, even though I kept trying. Our goals and similarities had always been alike in some ways and completely opposite in other ways, so that did not have much of an effect on my decision. On the other hand, as for our attraction, I began to see that I was still with him not so much because I felt in love with him anymore, but more out of habit and a fear of what loneliness might feel like. Although I have wonderful friends, I couldn’t even fathom what it would be like to not have Steve there for me; so it’s not so much that I was afraid of being alone per say, but rather that I didn’t know what to expect—I feared the unknown.
Finally, I decided to break up with him. I did this a week after I moved back in to school, when our proximity changed and it became more of a hassle to see each other (even though we happily arranged our lives around each other freshman year, this time around my attitude changed—I felt like it would’ve been an aggravation to fit him into my schedule). Then came the dyadic phase: “This often emotionally exhaustive phase is characterized by long talks and rationalizations of how the partnership ‘got to this place.’ During this phase, the other partner may make attempts to reconcile the relationship and to illustrate the costs of withdrawing. This phase typically continues until someone admits, ‘I have had enough’” (Campbell Eichhorn 247). It’s eerie how right-on the text is here. After I told him I was leaving him, Steve and I had a terribly taxing two-hour-long conversation that day, and then three weeks later (after he calmed down enough) we had an incredibly emotional five-hour-long conversation. Those were the only two times we saw each other, but we continued to have an email correspondence for nearly two months.
As we discussed in class, sometimes a relationship might be terminated more because of a conflict of dialectics than a conflict of interests. In my case, this is true: Steve’s needs were not cohesive with mine anymore, and we struggled and failed to find a way to compromise. For example, I was always the one that arranged things to do together, and I was always the leader. Steve never wanted to be the one to take me out, or plan a fun event for the two of us, even something as simple as a picnic in a park; instead, he was content to be a homebody all throughout the summer, the one season of the year I am eager and able to do lots of things. Essentially, as someone in class said, “If I feel like I’m always the doer, it becomes really hard to maintain that relationship.”
I attempted to demonstrate through my favorite band’s music and poetry the phases our relationship went through. To represent the beginning, I chose Animal Collective’s “The Purple Bottle.”
I couldn’t find a music video of the song in its original form, but this video shows one of the lead singers playing acoustic guitar along with his wife playing the keyboard. This song is about the first stages of falling in love. If you’d like to hear the song in the original version - the singing is not as crazy - here it is.
To represent the middle, after we self-disclosed, bonded, and started feeling like any day spent away from each other was a wasted day, I chose “Grass.”
To represent the end of our relationship, when we were still together but things weren’t going well, I chose “Banshee Beat.” I found a video that shows the lyrics for better comprehension.
If you’d like to see various interpretations of Animal Collective’s complex lyrics, here’s a website that's great for helping you gain a better understanding of them.
I also am including a scene from “Across the Universe” to represent the difficulties Steve and I went through after I decided to break up with him.
This clip shows the disintegration of Sadie’s and JoJo’s relationship, and while it’s a lot more glorious and dramatic, I can relate to it in terms of my break-up with Steve. We went through so much during the two months following the day I actually left him: the dyadic phase, the social phase, and ultimately the grave dressing phase all occurred (Campbell Eichhorn 247). Although we only saw each other twice afterwards, we emailed each other often, which only caused a lot of heartache and anger. I finally cleaned my house, though: I haven’t spoken to him or really felt like I miss him in over two weeks now.
I want to end this blog on a hopeful note, though. Here’s a poem I think captures the essence of a truly healthy loving relationship, one that I hope to find myself in someday. The narrator speaks of his lover in adoring terms, even perceiving her faults to be endearing traits.
“Love Poem” by John Frederick Nims
My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing
Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.
Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers' terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before apoplectic streetcars—
Misfit in any space. And never on time.
A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease;
In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.
Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gaily in love's unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.
Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses—
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.