Breaking up may be your breakthrough

The Baltimore Sun

Jennifer Feeney admits it wasn't the best way to break up.

She was at an Orioles-Yankees game with a guy she'd been dating for two months. He was from New York, a Yankees buff, and she was a hometown Orioles girl. They often engaged in ribbing, but at the game, her new beau got on a Baltimore-trashing roll.

"The entire game, I'm sitting there with my new guy listening to him bash the O's with all the other Yankee fans sitting around us," the 24-year-old Canton resident writes. "He then started going off on how crappy our city is."

Feeney decided that she'd had enough. She told him she was going to go get more beer, took the $20 he gave her, walked out of the stadium and never took his calls again.

"I figured I could throw a $6 beer in his face and make a scene," she says, "or make a graceful exit and walk away with $20."

But is a breakup ever graceful? Laurie Helgoe, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Breaking Up, says no.

"I don't think it can be graceful," says Helgoe, a psychiatrist based in Charleston, W.Va. "Breaking up is not a graceful thing."

Jonte Rolle, 19, of Essex, agrees. Rarely can people see eye to eye, he says, especially when emotions are involved.

What can you do to make sure that you both emerge from the breakup with as little damage as possible?

First, accept that it's not going to be easy, Helgoe says.

"I think the biggest trap people run into, if you're the dumper, is wanting the other person to feel OK," she says. "The other person has a right to feel bad, feel sad about it. ... To try to force that, that can end up being more cruel."

Dumpers shouldn't try to take care of the dumpee, she says. And dumpees can't keep pushing for ways to fix the relationship. Accept that the other person doesn't want to be with you and that you're better served without them.

That's not to say that vague breakup lines -- like the classic "It's not you, it's me" -- are the way to go either.

Rolle's friend, Dwimoh Palmer of Northeast Baltimore, says that when you receive a vague post-relationship analysis, or none at all, which is what happened when he got divorced, you can end up grasping at straws.

"I didn't know what it was," Palmer, 28, says. "I thought it was the sex, so I went out and had sex with a lot of people."

He half-jokes that he figured out that that was not his problem, but seriously says that vague breakups, while often meant to soften the blow, often end up doing more harm than good. Better to be straightforward, he says.

In the end, Helgoe says, nothing heals better than time. Mel Johnson of Charlottesville, Va., has first-hand experience.

She was with one woman for five years. For part of that time, Johnson lived in Virginia and her girlfriend in Maryland. On one of Johnson's visits to Maryland, the woman told Johnson that she had a girlfriend. And she wasn't talking about Johnson.

"I blamed myself for her infidelity because I wasn't here," Johnson says. "But then I realized that that was [nonsense]." She eventually gained strength and clarity -- and she found someone new.

That is really what breaking up is about. That which doesn't break us, makes us stronger.

"Breaking up is the hardest thing we do. It's the most important thing we do, in a way," Helgoe says. "You've got to embrace rejection, or you'll maintain a very limited life. It'll be very nice and neat -- and very, very small."

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