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Ask B, Relationship Expert: A Correspondence
by Brian Josepher

Over the last few weeks, while my attention has swung from the election to the interregnum – and those preposterous comparisons to Lincoln and his cabinet, more on that in the future but aside from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s sticky sweet biography (her usual fare, perhaps a review of the Doris Kearns Goodwin collection is in order), the first Lincoln cabinet was an abject failure, except for Seward and arguably Chase for a short period (three Treasury secretaries in Lincoln’s four years); except for Seward and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles (the best name in Cabinet history, Condoleezza is pretty good too), every member of Lincoln’s Cabinet was replaced; War Minister Simon Cameron (arguably the most crooked of Cabinet appointments, and Lincoln knew this before making the appointment) was replaced within one year (he ran a war worse than Rumsfeld and Bob McNamara, combined) – to this pastor down in Texas preaching his flock to undertake “Seven Days of Sex,” his “Sexperiment” to strengthen marriages, and ease the anxiety of today’s economic climate, such simple-minded thinking it fills my mouth with the saliva of loathing – aside from all of that, I’ve been corresponding with a woman with a broken heart.

Dalia – not her real name, which she wants protected, and I’ve recently become a fan of Dalia Sofer, the Iranian writer whose novel of the Khomeini Revolution, "The Septembers of Shiraz," is a gem, so the pseudonym of honor is for Dalia Sofer – had her 25th birthday this month. A significant birthday in and of itself, the quarter century mark. At the same time, she found a new job as a securities analyst. Not the easiest job to land in this economic climate. At the same time, she bought a condominium with her serious boyfriend of one year.

Ed Young – not his real name, but Ed Young is the pastor in Dallas preaching “Seven Days of Sex,” of his “Sexperiment,” and since I think that idea plays to the lowest intelligence quotient and obfuscates the real emotional fear of the day, which we should deal with rather than pretend to orgasm away, so the pseudonym of disgust is for Ed Young – decided to break it off with Dalia. On her birthday. After the closing of the condominium sale. “Happy Birthday, now I don’t want to live with you.”

Dalia’s first letter to Ask B referred to Ed Young’s move as “cock-sucking.” (Please note the connection between Dalia’s word choice and what Pastor Ed Young is asking his flock to do down in Texas, except in Ed Young’s master plan there’s only one kind of sex, vaginal penetration, and only the married can partake. If you’re single, Pastor Ed Young advises you to “try eating chocolate cake.”)

Dalia’s first letter to Ask B continued, “I was pretty torn up by it [the break up]. But, I have moved on.”

I didn’t think she’d moved on. I wrote back:

Dear Dalia,
I don’t usually do this but I’ll share a little bit of my personal life here. Exactly one decade ago, I was flying back to Colorado for my father's 60th birthday. I was living in San Francisco at the time and my girlfriend and I were set to tell my family that we were getting married. This would have been a huge surprise to my family. I’m not the marrying kind. On the morning of the flight my girlfriend broke up with me. I was totally blindsided. We were already planning our wedding. And then, just like that, for reasons I couldn’t fathom, the relationship was over. Life, for my ex-girlfriend, moved in lightning strikes.

Even ten years later, I still find the whole episode totally shocking, though fortunately I attach no emotional weight to it. But I flew to Colorado and I celebrated my dad's birthday. It was a terrible weekend.

When I returned to California, I took my dog Isaac for a walk in the park. My suddenly ex-girlfriend owned an apartment overlooking the park. As Isaac and I were playing ball, she appeared. Like out of nowhere. Again, lightning strikes.

I didn't know what to say. She told me that she'd made a mistake. She told me that she wanted me back. I just remember listening. I didn't know what to say.

I think I finally told her that I'd think about it. I didn't have much to think about. You can't pull a stunt like that and expect a reunion, and a honeymoon. It just doesn't work that way. The reasons for the break up better be thought out and cogent and articulated accurately and permanent. If not, why make the break in the first place?

A few days later Dalia responded:

Dear B,

It appears I got your story a bit late. I was at a conference all day yesterday and just opened my email. . . after running into Ed Young at the conference, going out to drinks and then going home with him. I wish I would have gotten your advice yesterday, as I may have made a better decision. Now, besides feeling like I was hit by a train from the copious amounts of alcohol consumed last night, I also feel like I let him walk all over me, one of the worst feelings imaginable...

But, I guess it's a good thing that I realize this now, so I can be honest with myself and try to protect my dignity from here forward…

In response, I wrote two emails to Dalia. My initial email: “Dalia, you should be reading my emails the second they hit your inbox.” My second reaction was a treatise on dignity:

Dear Dalia,

Listen, we all make decisions. There's really nothing wrong with hooking up with someone after the break up. There's also nothing wrong with jumping back into the relationship… if there’s change. There has to be a realization of what led to the break in the first place. There has to be a total respect of one's emotional and psychological makeup and mentality. There has to be equality. It sounds like you lost your equality: I "feel like I let him walk all over me," you wrote.

So okay, what now? Is he in a psychological place where he can understand and meet your needs, and vice versa? Do your psychologies fit? That's the big question.

And, yes, you do need to protect yourself and your dignity. Mostly you need to protect your vulnerabilities. Dignity comes from understanding our vulnerabilities and knowing when it's right to be insecure and when it's right to self-protect.

But nothing is irrevocable. So I wouldn't be too hard on yourself. Nor would I get into this sort of dynamic of break up sex. It becomes a cycle that's hard to break, leaves you empty, and stops you from moving forward. And that's all we can really do: consider our past, move forward.

Oh, and that consuming “copious” amounts of alcohol with our ex’s: terrible idea.

Dalia wrote back immediately. A few lines to let me know she’d received my email and opened it immediately. She wrote these lines from Ed Young’s house. On the morning after. She promised to write more. She did a few days later:

Dear B,

After writing you, Ed Young drove me to work. After just having a great conversation for the first 30 minutes of the ride, I finally came out and told him that we have to stop talking to each other, that I need closure and that it's not fair for him to treat me like we never broke up, if we are not going to get back together. It was hard. We sat in his car in the parking lot at my office and just held each other for nearly 30 minutes…

On Saturday, he came by my new condo to gather his things. Again, we both teared up and told each other how much we loved each other… It's all just very weird. I still can't get a grasp on what he is thinking or why he thinks we need to break up. But, I guess I just have to accept it and move on.

Despite all that is going well in my life, I'm just really sad. I hope that this will get easier once I start my new job and as time goes on. I just hadn't really been into a relationship this much before and that's making it really hard for me to move forward. But, I think your advice is valid. I have to protect my dignity. For that, I need to just call it all off and move on and stop hoping things will go back to what they were.

Thanks. Any other advice you have is always appreciated.

Oh, Dalia, the advice keeps coming. I wrote back:

It all sounds very painful. It sounds like his actions say one thing, his words another. How confusing. It sounds like he's holding back something in his explanation. His fear is palpable. I can feel it from 500 miles away. In his past relationship life, is there a pattern like this?

As for you, Dalia, that closure concept is pop psychology. Nobody ever really gets closure. It's not like you have that eye-opening moment and then can walk away without emotional involvement. You have to take steps. You have to cut the lines of communication. You have to throw away the things that remind you of him. You have to delete his email from your computer, and his number from your phone, and when you get that strong urge to contact him, you have to find something else to do. Anything. I recommend a pedicure and/or kickboxing. Though if you do both, switch the order. They’re yet to develop a nail polish that can survive a series of boots to the big bag.

Dalia, you have to put your faith in time and distance. Nothing else will ease the suffering. It also helps to talk it out, with friends and family, with a therapist, with a relationship columnist. But never with the ex. Don’t make that phone call.

Listen, once the emotional weight fades, once you can look back, you'll realize why he's chosen this path. You'll realize his faults and his deficiencies and you'll be thankful that the relationship didn't move forward.

I realize that’s a long way off. But at least there’s a light out there for you to work toward. In the meantime, definitely protect your dignity. That also means not seeking retribution. You don't need to win an argument with your ex, you don’t need to have the last word, you don’t need to show him up in any way. You can have the fantasy of that. But recognize it for what it is, a diversion. You just have to feel the sorrow until the feeling mellows. And it will. Hang in there.

Dalia emailed me from the nail salon. “I took your advice,” she wrote. “I threw away some photos [of Ed Young]. I deleted his contact information. I’m getting my nails done. Just one question. How did you know I like to kickbox?”

It’s a relationship columnist’s job, Dalia. It’s a relationship columnist’s job.

Published: Nov 27,2008 08:07
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