Breakups are icky, sticky and damp — like smegma.
My first was at 16. I sat gently on the brown couch in my parents’ living room and calmly smashed a boy’s heart. (Hi, Mark — I hope Stanford is treating you well.)
He said that he loved me, that he wanted to work on it and that we could grow together — shockingly mature for 16. I stroked his hair as he put his head in my lap, and I apologized profusely. I couldn’t really explain why it wasn’t working (we were young, and I was queer, which neither of us knew how to articulate). The whole debacle took two and a half hours.
We made a half-hearted promise to be friends and saw each other every day in class for the next year and a half. We occasionally said “hi” when I passed his locker in the hallway. I wish it had ended differently. I wish I’d been kinder, and I wish we could’ve remained friends. He was my up-the-street neighbor and childhood friend. Breaking up has a learning curve, and I’ve made some mistakes.
Breaking up is about growing up, which is hard, and I don’t know how to make it easy.
When I fell in love with my teenage heartthrob, I fell in love with the whole idea of dating. I was swept up in the romantic notion of high school sweethearts, a bubblegum idea perpetuated by Disney Channel and “High School Musical 3.” It was high school, and I was more equipped to study for standardized tests than to navigate the intricacies of a relationship.
Relationships require honesty with your partner and, particularly, with yourself.
In college, I dated a different boy for a little while. It was freshman year and very fleeting. I liked the idea of the future we had together. I thought we fit like puzzle pieces, but we ended up growing apart. When I ended the relationship, I broke up with the potential it held, which was hard.
Relationships require realism and staying in the moment.
But breakups also require closure and cauterization of loose ends. Breakups left me in the uncomfortable company of unanswered questions. Sometimes there’s closure, but usually there isn’t.
My freshman breakup was awkward. This was supposed to be an adult relationship, but really, we were both kids. We lived in the residence halls and ate food that other people prepared for us. College dating was uncomfortable because our years made us old but our inexperience made us young. I was left trying to quantify exactly what I had lost and came up with vague terms such as “partner” and “friendship” — but never love.
Our breakup lacked goodbyes and apologies. We lived in the same residence hall but abandoned our relationship in silence.
When what you have is silence, what you’re left with is confusion. I wanted a clearly laid out plan with behavioral expectations and an emergency contact. What I got was was a question mark.
Silence isn’t closure.
The fact is, we are young and still figuring ourselves out. This other person is a whole individual, complete with thoughts and a different version of the story. I think it is very important to respect his or her personhood and honor the time you had together.
Respect is uncomfortable because it entails responsibility. Relationships involve effort on both sides, whether that effort leads to a Facebook status or a demise. Just as I had a contributing role in the relationship, I own an equal amount of the downfall.
At 16, I analyzed my breakup with a gaggle of friends over Frappuccinos at Starbucks. I ripped bubble-letter doodles of “Jas & Mark, Mark & Jas” out of my notebooks and wrote (terrible) poetry about my feelings.
At 18, I distracted myself with homework and research papers. I read three books and wrote 12 double-spaced pages on the intricacies of “Hamlet.” I scrawled in my journal and drank very strong coffee. I talked to my friends and my sister, made poor Snapchat decisions and downloaded Tinder.
I wanted to feel better immediately. I didn’t give myself time to grieve because in grief, I felt vulnerable. Also, I wasn’t sure if that relationship had lasted long enough for me to be sad about it.
At 20, I finally understand that a relationship is a partnership built upon a mutual foundation of trust. I’ve come to realize that respecting my relationship means accepting responsibility for my feelings. The person I’m dating should make me feel like a brighter and better version of myself — which she does. It’s about support, respect, laughter and life talks. It’s about growing up. As her dad once said, we are two good eggs who mutually coexist. It’s a good thing we have going.
Breakups, like smegma, are gross. But on the other side of smegma, there’s a lot of potential and a fresh beginning.
So here’s to cleanliness, clean breaks and better times.
Jasmine Leiser writes the Thursday column on lessons learned from first-time experiences. You can contact her at [email protected].