My house is a mess from two trips that I haven't unpacked from (or cleaned up from the original packing frenzy), the cats have fleas, and I have 3 presentations to write in less than 3 months. So naturally I'm blogging.
I was listening to a new poly podcast called Pedestrian Polyamory. I'm not entirely sure what I think of it yet, but I do like the fact that they say right in their opening that they will be talking about polymory - not tantra or paganism or woo bullshit, just polyamory. I've listened to all their episodes so far and I haven't unsubscribed yet, unlike some other poly podcasts, so I guess I don't dislike it!
The latest episode is on breaking up, and one of the hosts, Shira, came up with some breakup categories. I like categories. I like things that organize and categorize and put things in places. So I decided to write up these breakup categories. She listed 3 types, but I'm going to start with 6 and maybe add to it if I think of more. I kept a couple of her titles, but not all of them, and the descriptions are my own. Because I just like how I put things :-)
- Failure To Launch - This is a relationship that never really went anywhere. This is when you had a date or two or three, and the both of you just kind of fizzled out and stopped following through. Maybe there was no chemistry, maybe ya'll got busy doing other things, whatever, it just never really happened.
IMO, these are the least problematic, but the hosts of the podcast seem to think that this kind of "breakup" (if we can call it that) makes for really awkward social events when you run into them later. Shira recommends having that final confrontation where it is established that this relationship really isn't going anywhere, to avoid the post-fade-party-meetup awkwardness. I've never really found it to be that much of a problem. If we're both fading away, then I don't see much reason to feel awkward about running into each other later, but maybe that's just me. Not that I disagree with the advice to communicate, just saying that I never noticed any particular awkwardness when my Failure To Launches failed to launch. But I could just be that socially oblivious.
- The War - Unfortunately, I have had a few of these. This is, as Shira called it, a knock-down, drag-out battle. This is a fucking mess. This is a giant train-wreck of a scene with tears and shouting, and it might even last for a few days, or weeks. In my experience, this kind of breakup often spills over into the rest of the community.
One of my War breakups involved literally shouting at each other on the sidewalk, with him calling me a slut and me calling him a fucking asshole and demanding my stuff back. He was also my co-worker. I'm actually pretty good about maintaining a professional relationship with my exes, but he made it impossible. He picked on me and argued and got snotty every time I came around. It got so uncomfortable that other coworkers started complaining and I had to request to be scheduled on days that he was not scheduled. Then there was the infamous Freaks List Incident, where he couldn't figure out how to unsubscribe from the mailing list that our social circle uses to keep in touch about events or write an email filter for it, so he decided to insult everyone in an effort to get himself banned from the list instead.
This is where the phrase "poly people come with references" comes in. While not a guarantee, we can estimate someone's future breakup behaviour based on their past patterns. If he has a habit of big flaming breakups, if he doesn't stay friends with his exes, if all his exes talk shit about him, take that as a warning sign. As they say, if all your exes are crazy, the thing they have in common is you.
With this ex, his last relationship was particularly turbulent. But hey, that could have been a fluke, right? Especially since I personally witnessed a lot of their fights and it really did seem like she was the instigator and the drama queen. But that was only a single data point. I should have had more, and then I could have known that he was a fucking lunatic too.
My other big War breakup wasn't quite so dramatic. But lack of fireworks doesn't mean that it wasn't still a War - after all, the US spent years in a Cold War that was every bit as tense, if not as bloody, as a regular war. We bickered a lot, and our breakup finally came to a head with some rather unpleasant email exchanges. OK, that's bad enough, but it was what happened afterwards that was the real problem.
After the breakup, even though we were both prominent figures in our local community, he started avoiding me. And I don't mean that he stayed home from a couple of parties. I mean that he attended those parties, said "hello" to everyone, and pointedly ignored me. Seriously. When he got a new girlfriend, he walked up to a group of about 6 or 7 of us standing in a circle, all of whom happened to also be friends of his. He introduced his new girlfriend to everyone in the group, by name, and skipped over me.
"Hi, I want to introduce my new girlfriend, Rebecca. Rebecca, this is Calvin and Tom and Sarah and Jessica ... and Melanie and Bob." No lie, no exaggeration, no hyperbole, just some name changes. People still talk of that incident, and not because I bring it up.
At all subsequent parties, he would leave the room if I walked in. I actually went from room to room once, just to see if it was a coincidence, but nope, he did it every single time I went in, even if he was in the middle of conversation with someone. This is also still talked about by people. In fact, a couple of people jokingly now have a pool every time we're at the same party, for how many minutes it'll take him to leave a room after I've entered it.
There was one time he felt he had to speak to me, and this man whom I had been in love with and spent several years with and intended to spend several more with, addressed me by Ms. My-Last-Name. Now, that's rude enough, but 1) he broke up with me (twice) and 2) I have a particular pet peeve about being addressed by my last name, and he was well aware of it. In fact, not only had he and I talked about it on several occasions, but one time, someone he met online (who did not know that we were dating) actually gave him the URL to my LJ rant about formality and suggested that my then-bf lighten up and stop calling him "mr." if he expected to become friends.
And the final straw was when I was invited to a combination party (the party was actually 4 different parties that were all happening at the same time/location) by the host of 3 of the 4 parties (I want to say it was 2 different birthday parties, a housewarming party, & something else). Well, the fourth party happened to be my ex's birthday party, so, as the host of that party, he actually emailed me after I had received an invitation and told me I was uninvited and not to come, in spite of there being 3 other parties with different hosts who *did* invite me, along with my current partners and friends.
Once again, I didn't properly vette my prospective partner. He *claimed* to want to remain friends with his exes, but I hadn't met any of them. I did meet his other girlfriend, so I thought that gave me enough perspective, but it didn't. In fact, the primary motivation for him dumping me is also the primary reason why he ended up breaking up with that other girlfriend too, a few months later. Patterns ... patterns are very important.
So, this didn't involve any shouting matches on the sidewalk, but this was a particulary nasty, ugly breakup. I am not a fan of the Wars and I look down quite a bit on those who insist on breaking up in this manner. IMO, all of my War breakups were completely unnecessary and left a lot of battle damage on everyone around them as well.
- Resource Famine - This is when there just isn't enough time or attention or something to make the relationship work. Contrary to popular opinion, love does not conquer all and "all we need is love" is a falsehood. Relationships take effort to maintain. The good relationships don't feel like "effort" or "work" because we are receiving such joy and happiness from them. But it takes more than warm fuzzies to maintain a meaningful relationship with another person. What it does take depends on the people involved and the type of relationship. But it's possible to really and truly love another person and not make a good partner for them. If you don't have enough time, enough attention, hell, even enough money or interest in sex, loving the other person is not enough.
Sometimes lacking the resources can turn into a War, but a Resource Famine breakup is specifically when it does not turn into a War. One person or both just decides that it's not working and the relationship ends. This doesn't mean that everything is all roses and sunshine either - breakups usually suck no matter how painless they are. But painful or not, not all breakups have to end in a knock-down, drag-out Battle To The Death.
- Fade To Black - This was not listed by the Pedestrian Polyamory podcast. This is when two people just drift apart. Don't mistake this for the first category - Failure To Launch. This is when a relationship is actually underway. In fact, this can happen years into a relationship, even to people who have built a life together. Sometimes people just move in different directions, but there isn't any specific Bad Thing or hard times or even any dislike between the people. If the relationship never moves to the living-together stage, it could die out in the same way as the Failure To Launch, with times between phone calls growing longer and longer until eventually one or both of you realizes that you're just not dating anymore.
I have two different examples of this. The first is my NSSO partner. I met him and his live-in partner when I first moved to Florida, nearly 11 years ago now. When we met online we just clicked. I mean we CLICKED. Things were going great, and when I went home for the holidays, I met him and his partner in person. Things continued to just click. I thought of him as a partner and a major part of my life. But over the years, with my trips home becoming more and more infrequent and our lives going in different directions (I became a poly activist, they withdrew from the poly community, stuff like that) we just sort of faded out. I have very fond memories of them and I would love to reconnect sometime. But neither of us has put forth any effort in the last couple of years and somewhere along the line, I stopped thinking of him as a partner. As far as I can tell, this was a mutual fading, and if a breakup has to happen, this is probably the least painful way to go.
My other example is my current fuckbuddy. I like casual sex and I like having a regular fuckbuddy. But I also have a low sex drive. So when I have an ongoing romantic relationship that includes sex as well as love and friendship and companionship, I tend to have fewer resources for maintaining casual relationships. There is one guy who I still think of as a "current" partner. He is, in no way, suitable for a romantic relationship. We are just way too different. But I am not suitable for him either. So, just by coincidence, he and I happen to both want exactly the kind of casual sexual relationship that we started out with.
But I also have 3 romantic partners right now, as well as running the orlandopoly group, which I have increased from just a monthly discussion meeting to a full-blown social club with no fewer than 3 social activities a month in addition to the discussion meeting. Add work on top of that, and my usual mountain of hobbies, and I just don't have the time or interest in a sexual relationship that isn't also providing me with something else. Especially not when my sex drive has plummeted again. When sex is the only purpose in your relationship, and you have no sex drive, that kind of defeats the purpose of the relationship.
He's the same way - when he gets a "real girlfriend" (he's not poly), he stops calling me. When work for him picks up, he stops calling me. This is what I mean by coincidentally both wanting the same kind of relationship with each other. This doesn't bother me because it's how I think of him, and vice versa. We didn't put each other into a particular role, this is just how things worked out between us.
So, basically, whenever we are both "between partners", we tend to call up each other. Well, I haven't been "between partners" in quite some time now, so our infrequent trysts have now gone for a few years between hookups. My casual partner and I never have any "breakup talk" - he never calls me up to tell me he has another girlfriend, I don't email him to explain that I won't be seeing him for a while. We just kind of don't call each other. We'll explain when the other one does call and we're not available, but since we don't call each other much to begin with, we don't go out of our way to notify each other.
Because it doesn't look like I'll be "between boyfriends" anytime soon, this is probably another Fade To Black breakup for me. I don't even know if I can still legitimately call him my fuckbuddy since it's been so long since we hooked up. Really, the only reason I still think of him in that capacity is because I still intend to call him if I ever find myself in the realm of needing a casual fuck and I have no reason to think he wouldn't be amenable to the suggestion if I ever do. So, in my mind, it's not "over", exactly, it's just not "ongoing" either. But if I never see him again, this would be a pretty classic example of Fade To Black.
- Culture Clash - This is where two people just fundamentally want different things out of their relationship. It's not exactly the same as the Resource Famine, because they might be putting as much time, energy, attention, whatever into the relationship as it needs, or as is reasonable. But I would say that the Culture Clash is related. This is your standard mono-poly relationship, where the poly person wants a poly relationship with poly people, and the mono person wants a mono relationship with the poly person and wants him to be mono too, and there is no getting around that - they want different things from their relationship.
This is also the Conservative Traditionalist marries what turns out to be the Progressive Mate, stereotypically seen when a "family values" man expects his wife to quit her job and become the happy homemaker, and either she isn't happy with that role, or she was happy with it until the kids turned 18 and moved out, and she was left with no life and no identity, so she goes back to school and the husband flips out over her new short haircut, wearing jeans, swearing, and her sexy liberal Philosophy professor or aggressive Women's Studies instructor.
Again, like the Resource Famine, sometimes it's possible to really and truly love someone and still not make a good partner for them. If two people want different, and incompatible things from their relationship together, love cannot always conquer all and sometimes all we need is more than love. In fact, two people who don't love each other can get along quite amicably for an entire lifetime if their goals for their relationship with each other are similar and their needs are being met. It's maybe not the life that I would choose, but it does serve to illustrate that love is not what makes the world go 'round.
Also, like the Resource Famine, the Culture Clash can lead to a War breakup, but it can also be a breakup all on its own, with one or both people coming to the realization that they just want different things and choosing to bow out. My ex-fiance and I broke up this way. He wanted a wife and homemaker just like his mother and I wanted someone who wasn't a pathological liar and a coercive rapist. Apparently, these things were incompatible with each other, so I left, and it didn't turn into a War.
- The Disappearing Act - I think I hate this one the most, even more than the War. This is where things appear to be going well and someone just disappears. It doesn't fade or fizzle out, things are actually moving and there's no indication from the magician that the end is nigh.
I wrote about my last Disappearing Act too. The last words he spoke to me were "I love you and can't wait to see you again". And then, no call, no returned call, no text, no email, nothing. I thought he might have gotten into a car accident, except he kept logging onto his MySpace page (before Facebook).
I finally drove all the way into Bumfuck Egypt where he lived and camped out in front of house house and waited for him to get home to confront him. It was a fairly civil conversation, where he listed all kinds of excuses why he couldn't call, couldn't borrow someone's phone, and had no interent but could still access MySpace. Then he promised to call me the next day. Of course, it was all bullshit, and he disappeared again. In the age of the internet, it's hard to disappear completely, so I know where he is. But he effectively pulled a Disappearing Act as a breakup technique.
And it fucking sucks. This is one of the most painful ways to breakup, for me at least. It usually comes as a complete surprise, it gives me no explanation for what went wrong, nothing to fix or correct, and not even any chance to get my own say in. It's a cowardly way to breakup and I hate it and I hate the people who do it. And yes, I'm still angry over this, several years later. I don't give a fuck about the guy anymore, he's clearly an asshole and I'm better off without him. I'm angry at the idea of the Disappearing Act and how it demeans the person you disappear on.
So there you have it, several different types of breakup, some of them better than others. Some people say there is no good way to breakup with someone, and while it may be true that there is no good way, much like there is no One Right Way to be polyamorous, but here are plenty of wrong, and more wrong than other, ways. The "right" way is a way that treats the other person with dignity and respect and gives them the opportunity to learn what went wrong, so that they can put the episode behind them and move on too. Maybe not all of our exes are as deserving of respect as others, but that is still the method that makes YOU a decent person, and someone worth taking a chance on dating. Remember my advice to become a friendly ex, if you have to breakup, and avoid the War or the Disappearing Act if it's at all within your power to avoid.