Foundations

"She and I are trying a little experiment," he says to me over the phone. I don't think I can describe the effort, the monumental struggle, I had to keep from replying,
"That is effing retarded."
The experiment he is referring to is restarting a relationship that he admitted to me no less, probably more than, a dozen times had failed. Crashed and burned failed.
I know such experiments are retarded through observation and painful, excruciating experience. You, my friend, are shaking your head for several reasons right now:
1) You're a family member, or friend, of mine who knows exactly who "He" is and you want me to just get over it already, there's nothing I can do. I know that.
2) You've been through the same ordeal, made the same retarded mistake of getting back together with an ex and are re-living the misery of it even as I type.
3) You are back together with an ex right now and are either in the first false flush of success and romance and thus think I'm wrong, or you are forcing yourself to look away and are telling yourself I'm wrong because the tectonic chasms are already resurfacing in your retarded experiment and you're in denial about it.
I have only seen Getting Back Together With an Ex (GBWEX) work twice. Once in the movie/book High Fidelity. It's one of my favourite books, one of my favourite movies. It's the movie where I looked at the screen and said, "Woah, John Cusack can act." And it was my go-to book when my relationship with my first love was falling around my ears. For the second time. For those who haven't read or seen the movie, I'm going to spoil the ending right here, right now: they get back together. But she admits that it's only because she's too tired and it's right after her father's funeral, so in reflection, how genuine do we think this is, really?
I will confess, I clung to that story when my first-love and I broke up, the second time around. I cried myself sick for a whole summer, hacked away at my arms like a side of pork with my knife set, refused to eat and begged the poor man just about every five minutes to please come back to me. If John Cusack and that awesome Scandinavian woman can do it, I rationalised, so can we.
We didn't because, thankfully, my first love was cognizant of the fact that it was a bad idea. Now I have a second reading of the message in High Fidelity: Rob Gordon and Laura re-shacking up may not have been the point: The point may have been Rob Gordon growing up a little bit, getting over himself a little bit, reaching a few epiphanies. Besides, even if the point of the movie is "true love conquers all," so what? It's a movie, and if I've learned anything about movies it's that THEY LIE. Especially when it comes to love.
The second example is, actually real life. Family friends of ours divorced YEARS ago when the female partner had something of an emotional breakdown and was being told by a friend that her husband was probably not the best person for her. They separated. They got back together and have been together since I was born. Yet, I do not admire or desire to emulate their marriage. I have only ever seen her henpeck him and generally announce to the world at large that her husband is an idiot. I can only assume that they are together because of sheer spite and determination, not necessarily love.
Even if it is love, there is a difference between marriage and, well, dating. Marriage generally involves children, mutual bank accounts, a home one may have bought with the partner. If nothing else; the gobs of money you spent on the one day you told everyone you knew that you love this person, and you were willing to be committed to them for the rest of your life. These things make soldiering on worth it, maybe. These things give couples counseling a point.
With a girl/boyfriend there is no declaration, no real promise. You might promise to be faithful to them for the duration of your relationship; that's a fair promise to make and a fair one to expect to be upheld. Permanence is not a fair, or wise, oath to make unless someone is on their knees saying the have cleared the month of June and checked out Indonesia and Costa Rica as potential honeymoon destinations.
Against these two feeble examples I can count, off the top of my head, four cases where GBWEX was among the top ten stupidest decisions intelligent, reasonable, rational beings have ever made.
My own example will have to be out forth on the sacrificial altar. I was dating a good friend for four years, we'll call him Ben. Four years of bliss, having eyes for no one but him, talking about marriage, moving in together and all the more impressive because it was a long distance relationship. I was in school in Savannah, he was in school upstate NY. But when I graduated I think I had something of a breakdown. All of a sudden I felt suffocated, especially whenever Ben called. And although I really really cared for him, I was insincere when, over the phone, I'd repeat "love you, too babe." Ben knew it, too. We could both read the writing on the wall, we just chose to misunderstand it. So I broke up with Ben. I'm not proud of how I did it, but really, there is no good way to break up with someone and I was so distraught by the change I had wrought on both our lives that I ran to the bathroom, dry heaving. Ben took it pretty well, all things considered.
When I moved back home, I called him. We hung out, I kissed him, we talked about getting back together. He said he would think about it. A week later he called me and said, "yeah, let's give it as shot."
Perhaps we both thought that I was having a oh-my-god-this-is-real-life-facing-me crisis and that now I was back to normal.
Because, for the rest of the summer it was better than normal, it was amazing! We were back! Like never before! We smiled so much people must have hated being around us, not that we cared.
It began to unravel around the time he was getting ready to go back to school. There was a night where I couldn't get him on the phone and I spun into an incredible anxiety attack, re-dialing his number every five minutes. Then I sent him an e-mail airing my suspicions that he didn't really love me, that he wasn't really a part of this relationship anymore. He replied that maybe that was true. He needed to think about it.
Don't think this is where it ends with Ben and I. We soldiered on for another six months, a slow, but steady decline into almost hating each other's wretched guts. He put up with a lot from me, I suffered for him. We'd spend evenings watching tv where I'd have to shove the dead weight of his arm around my shoulder, just to force some physical contact between us. Ben was trying, I could recognize that. He was trying to get the old magic back, but it was almost like a paraplegic trying to walk.
Fights were picked, mostly by me, about the most insignificant details ever. One example: a female friend had noted him on his wall as her "special" friend.
"Aren't I special?" I yelled at him over the phone. Soon after that he said we should probably take a break. Soon after that he told me, as gently as possible, that he would not be coming back.
That fifth year with Ben was so horrible that we don't even really ever acknowledge it. It was a mistake and it nearly cost us our friendship.
My friend Julia had basically the same experience: Great for the first week and then all the reasons why she broke up with him in the first place seemed that much glaring. Guilt gathered, knowing that she was not holding up her end of the bargain, that she was leading him on, that he deserved better etc; etc;. When they broke up the second time, he hated her with a fiery passion. That is, after he stopped moping, sighing and feeling totally bereft without her. She called him, having changed her mind, and he said nuh-uh. A decision she is really happy he had the wisdom to make.
Two other friends of mine don't speak to each other anymore, she went to visit him, more out of duty because they lived in the same neighborhood and received clear and distinct signals that she was unwelcome.
Another friend was jerked around so much, like a yo-yo, that it was nothing more than emotional abuse that finally needed an intervention.
Do you see my point here? GBWEX is such a bad idea.
Why do we do it then? Why is he (remember him? at the beginning? Trying an experiment?) making this mistake? We're all intelligent beings. None of us, to my knowledge have any complexes, or were abused in life. We are not people with issues of co-dependency. Some of us have had a brief period of popping anti-depressants, but that seems to be par the course for American girls these days. We would NEVER let anyone take advantage of us or mess around with us (so we'd like to think). What happened?
Fear of change? Hormones? Guilt? A desire to not only kick the dead horse but set it alight in a ditch and let mad dogs pick over the charred corpse? To make sure that it was really over?
Whatever it is, most of us are guilty of making this bad decision.
We've all thought to ourselves, "we'll be the ones to prove the exception, our love can last the test of time. Everyone else screws this up, but we're different."
Then, a week, six months or three years down the line, you find you are actually just like everyone else: shuffling around, shrouded with abject despair. Mutual friends might urge you along the ill-fated road. They mean well, they are relaxing into the comfort of nothing really changing. They can still invite both of you two parties without it being awkward. Or they might get that unmistakable look of worry, that same twitch I have in my eye right now, that you really want to not be there. It is the twitch that says, "I don't know about this, but I'm trying to be a good friend and not say anything."
Rob Gordon, in one of his eureka moments of High Fidelity, confesses to the audience, "I've been thinking with my gut since I was 14, and quite frankly, I've come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains."
It's true on more than one level.
When your ex leaves, closes the door for what looks to be the last time there is a knee-jerk reaction of "Crap, I didn't really mean it." Don't lie, your guts literally clench and you obey, chasing after the person crying out "wait!" I don't blame you for finding it irresistible. But would you have said those words, allowed them to bubble up through your mouth if you didn't mean them? Weren't you sitting on them for days until, like snake eggs, they just had to slither up and gasp for air?
"She asked me what were doing and I said, 'we' are over,"
Yes, that was the right answer. If you could bring yourself to say it with no jolt through your stomach, no catch in your throat, then that was where the speech should have stopped. That was the right answer. No shining feminine tears should have swayed you from that course, no bribes of "I'll do better, I'm different, I'll try harder," should have been allowed. But, again, they're all so very hard to resist.
And you don't want to be a jerk. You don't want to be accused of giving up, you don't want to be heartless and there is something so repulsive about the terms over finished finites. There were some things about the person that attracted you in the first place and now, here they are, pleading with you, sniffling into handkerchiefs and assuring you that those same qualities will be back and better than ever.
So you sigh, or you smile. Against your better judgment (hey, stranger things have happened), or brainwashing yourself into thinking this is a good idea; you fold.
Someday, however, that same bribe, or that same proclamation of "we belong together," or those same tears are going to dusted off and used upon you one more time, or twice more (dear God I hope not thrice). Someday, however, you will realise that they are too little, too late, that you never should have fell for it before. You'll look at the pathetic, weeping, wide-eyed object before you and not recognise it at all. You'll feel dry, emotionally bereft, not drained, just made of stone, incapable of uttering a single compassionate word.
You'll realise that the promise in the first place, no matter how sincere it was at the time, was a bold-faced lie that no one could help. How could those same qualities be there? You both know they're not the same person. You've helped them grow throughout your time together. The two of you have diminished some of each other's childish, immature qualities, implanted a few others and, over all, given the both of you a wealth of experience. So then, how could they be the same person?
Having made the decision and knowing what a bad one it was, it is so frustrating to watch this friend behave so foolishly. I have told him he is making a mistake and I added that I know he will make it anyway. There is nothing I can do but be his friend, whatever that may entail (disclaimer: my frustration is not merely because I am that awesome a friend. I also have feelings for the guy). But I still want to pull a Cher from Moonstruck and slap him across the face while barking "Snap out of it!"

This musical moment brought to you by Kate Nash, Foundations on the album "Made of Bricks."

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