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Leave Conquers All

Two months ago, I moved out of the apartment I shared with my boyfriend of four years. He’s 24; I’m 22. We were inseparable, so close…until his high school buddies moved to town. He became cold and distant, and told me he wanted to be on his own for a while, but didn’t know if he wanted to break up. I left town to give him space to figure things out. We barely spoke, and when I returned, I bumped into him and his new girlfriend! He said, “It just sorta happened.” I’m sure -- right after I left. I need to know why he lied instead of just admitting there was somebody else. I miss him desperately, and feel lost without him, but I harbor so much bitterness and resentment, I don’t know if I can ever forgive him.

--Seeking Closure

It’s a stage-of-life thing. Guys in their late 40s quit their big job “to spend more time with the family.” Guys in their early 20s quit their big relationship to spend more time with women named Mocha and Destiny who swing around a greased pole.

No, this guy didn’t inform you of his intentions with the emotional maturity and verbal finesse of a thrice-divorced couples therapy junkie: “I’m hearing that you’re not hearing that I’m more into ‘Girls Gone Wild’ than Girls Gone Wifelike.” Men -- particularly men in their early 20s -- tend not to deal well with emotional conflict, especially any that seems guaranteed to lead to uncontrollable weeping. Maybe that’s why, instead of telling you it was over, he only sort of told you -- becoming cold and distant, and suggesting that he merely wanted a little vacation from the relationship, not a permanent escape from Alcatraz. And maybe you didn’t want to know any more than he wanted to tell you, so you ignored the fact that he wasn’t exactly jumping on the couch Tom Cruise-style and shouting, “Four more years! Four more years!”

All that matters now is that it’s over. You don’t need to know why he lied to you. You don’t even know if he lied to you. Chances are, he simply took a look at his friends and realized what he’d become: A 24-year-old guy living the life of a paunchy suburban house-husband -- minus only the mortgage, the bleeding ulcer, and the hearse in the form of a big red minivan. Now, it’s your turn to look at where you’re at: no, not feeling lost without him, but feeling lost without you. Be honest, isn’t fear of having to go it alone where much of this rage is coming from? Maybe now you’ll be forced to do what you should have been doing these past four years -- becoming somebody instead of becoming somebody’s girlfriend.

Your 20s, especially your early 20s, are the time to make a mess of your life -- date the wrong guys, take the wrong jobs, and join and quit the Peace Corps: “Turns out I’m more attached to indoor plumbing than I thought!” Mistakes are cheaper now -- provided they don’t require bail. And sometimes going the wrong way is the only way to find the right way. Besides, if you don’t do dumb things in your 20s, when will you do them? As your kids are going into college? “’Bye, kids, I’m off to hitchhike across Africa to find myself.” “But, Mom…who’s gonna drive me up to move me into my dorm?” “I don’t know, dear, but are you using that backpack?”

Posted by aalkon at December 24, 2006 5:53 PM

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I gree with Amy, except for the bit about knowing why he lied. It's an important thing betwee men & women, so here's my tuppence worth.

Men (generalising from a sample of one) lie to avoid being sucked into a painful scene that would lead to his loss of control of his situation, wher he might even end up agreeing to something he didn't actually want. Suppose that there was someone else when you split up. It's not certain, but let's suppose he had met someone he preferred to you. Now suppose he told you this. What would your reaction be? Would it be, "Oh well, nothing lasts for ever, see you around?" I don't think so. I think it would have been tears, demands for an explanation of exactly what he found more exciting, how long it had been going on for, what exactly he said and felt every millisecond for the last six months. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but that's what it feels like. Men (I'm still generalising) don't like digging into their feelings in this way. We also feel it is hurtful and pointless to tell a woman exactly how she compares emotionally, anatomically, whatever, to some other woman. It's very judgemental. We avoid this hurt by lying. Perhaps the lying causes a bigger hurt, I don't know. Perhaps a woman would like to comment? Would you prefer to be lied to - and it's a white lie, intended to avoid hurt, not for personal gain - or told precisely what parts of you are substandard? Or would you prefer a better quality of lie?

Posted by: Norman at December 26, 2006 5:41 AM

Are those the only two alternatives - an anatomical report card or outright lying? How about just telling the truth, and refusing to get sucked into detailed comparisons?

Posted by: Jeanne at December 26, 2006 12:39 PM

It's the woman who doesn't know how to stop digging. The writer here reports her ex said "it just sorta happened" but she's not satisfied with that. Perhaps that's all there is to say, but no, she has to have more details.

Posted by: Norman at December 26, 2006 2:54 PM

In my early 20's, I was dumped by a guy I'd been dating who came right out and told me that he'd just met a girl who knocked his socks off and wanted to pursue a serious relationship with her. It took me about 5 minutes to realize that he'd done an amazing thing...he'd respected me enough to be honest. We ended up being good friends, and I respect him for that to this day.

Posted by: deja pseu at December 26, 2006 3:37 PM

Deja- that's interesting. This is such a sore point in the battle of the sexes, I'd love to hear more opinions and examples. What were you thinking during the 5 minutes, BTW?

Posted by: Norman at December 27, 2006 12:37 AM

I'm with you, Deja. A couple of years ago I got dumped by a guy because his ex-girlfriend had just moved here from out of state and he wanted to give things another try with her. I felt the same way - yes, it sucked to be dumped, but the huge saving grace was that he respected me enough to tell me the truth. He didn't lie or squirm around about it and never tried to play us both. Just laid it on the line, and he's still a good friend to this day.

Norman, quite frankly your comment reeks of cowardice and a low opinion of women in general. Right, it's okay to act like a lying creep, because women are clingy, teary, insecure ninnies who beg for details and make pains in the asses of themselves when you try to break up with them. Where do you get this idea, anyway? Are you dating sixteen-year-olds? Either way, quit being such a chickenshit. You take that risk when you start dating someone in the first place - it's no excuse for treating them with disrespect when you decide you want to call it quits. Even if a woman doesn't handle being dumped the "right" way, you can at least do the right thing, give her the benefit of the doubt, and dump her in a straightforward and honest manner.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at December 27, 2006 7:34 AM

So what does Seeking Closure want? She has already decided that she was dumped for another woman, and that her ex lied to her. Both of these are her conclusions, not certain facts, but she seems to be willing to accept them as true, so let's take them as given. What more information does she _need_ to get on with her life? None as far as Amy or I can see. But she sure _wants_ more. She wants to know _why_ her ex lied. That calls for an examination in some detail of how her ex saw her as compared to the other woman, his motives, and so on. Given that they have broken up, what's the benefit to him in going through a third degree? None that I can see.

I see what you're saying, but I'm also trying to answer the question: why do men lie in these situations? So lay off, I'm not lying here, I'm opening up. Do I get the respect you're talking about? No, I'm cowardly chickenshit. See?

Posted by: Norman at December 27, 2006 9:47 AM

What were you thinking during the 5 minutes, BTW?

I was disappointed, of course, and my ego took a hit, but I think the appreciation of his honesty kicked in pretty quickly. Granted we had not been living together or even dating for more than a few months, so maybe I would have been angrier if I'd made a substantial investement of time and emotion. But it was such an eye-opener and a lesson I've taken to heart, that being honest about your feelings is probably one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, in that it gives the other person the information necessary to make their own choices, and to move on if need be. It's so much more respectful than stringing someone along, and letting them hold out hope for a chance of a future relationship.

Posted by: deja pseu at December 27, 2006 10:56 AM

Okay, sorry Norman - thanks for the clarification. From the way I read your first post, it seemed like you were making excuses for the boyfriend or justifying his behavior in some way.

I agree with Amy's advice to 'Seeking,' and I think those two were way too young to be in a 4-year relationship involving cohabitation anyway. But she's wondering why he lied to her, and the reason is that her ex was a cowardly chickenshit.

He was probably afraid she might cry and be upset, and he wanted to avoid any "scenes." They spend four years together and he can't even show her enough respect to break the news to her honestly? It doesn't have to be anything cruel, like 'I found someone thinner,' or 'I found someone who doesn't snore so loud.' Deja's ex managed to explain it in a straightforward, honest manner that didn't insult Deja. Saying 'I've met someone who knocked my socks off,' or 'I've met someone I'd rather be with' is sufficient. Just get the point across and stop wasting that person's time!

Trying to sneak out in "stages" was just a way for the lily-livered ex to avoid anything that might disrupt his day and showed no consideration for her whatsoever. Even if he had reason to believe 'Seeking' would handle the news in an immature or hysterical fashion, he should at least have given her the chance to demonstrate otherwise.

It does make me curious, though. Her ex demonstrated nothing but a single-minded concern for his own convenience. I doubt he got that way overnight. It makes me wonder whether there were other instances of jerkish, self-centered behavior that showed up during their four years.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at December 27, 2006 3:36 PM


I am making excuses to some extent.

When I was in my 20s I realised that my relationships were following a pattern. I would be dead keen on a girl but after a few weeks I would go off her. Instead of telling her this, I'd behave so badly that she'd end the relationship. I drove the girl away. In fact it's just like Amy's 2nd paragraph says. I'm not proud of that behaviour. Also I regret the wasted time - these were great girls that I could have spent a lifetime with.

I still don't really understand what was going on in my head, but I think that two elements were (1) I did not really know what I felt, and (2) whatever it was, I felt guilty about it and about sex in general. Between them these were enough to make me incapable of explaining myself to myself or to anyone else, and to make me not want to try. Perhaps all I wanted was sex, not a relationship, but was too guilty to admit that even to myself.

You can, if you like, just say that men are shits who only want one thing. There's some truth in that, but not enough to get you anywhere except agreement from your girlfriends. Biologically, it makes sense for men to want sex and for women to want relationships. But biology lags way behind culture, and has left men in a position where they can end up with feelings that were built in millions of years ago but that ceased being socially acceptable about ten thousand years ago. What we know from an intellectual and cultural viewpoint doesn't match what we know in our genes. By contrast, I think there's much less mismatch between women's biological and cultural expectations.

Some men are better than others in coping with the new requirements. Presumably they'll inherit the earth, but you'll have to wait until the others are extinct. Meantime, it would be wise to expect cowardly chickenshit behaviour from men who have not matured enough - though there will be exceptions, both ways.

Posted by: Norman at December 28, 2006 5:51 AM

Girls do this too unfortunately, it is not only men who become cold and distant and expect others to "Intuit" the break up.

A good friend of mine was dumped from a 5 year relationship, and she very quickly rebounded, for about a year, with a guy who just got out of the seminary. (Nothing beats convos with your formerly sexualy active friend where she tells you about "dry humping." The horror.) Anyway, after about a year she decides he's getting too serious, and stops calling him all the time and tells him she "needs some time" "wants a break." And he, because he just got out of the seminary, interprets this as a very naive person would. The consequence was a break up that lasted three months where he kept calling and trying to find out how much time exactly she needed and she kept trying to break up with him without actually telling him that she was breaking up with him.

I think some people are just too afraid of conflict. And they want to be able to break up with someone without actually hurting them. But that's not how breakups work. They hurt.

Posted by: Shinobi at December 28, 2006 8:50 AM


In my experience, pretty much every 20-something guy I ever dated was only interested in sex and nothing else. So I don't think you were alone in that! Nowadays I sometimes meet guys who got married in their early 20's and wonder where they came from, since I never met men like that when I was that age myself. Presumably they were home with the wife and litter of kids while I was out hitting clubs with friends.

You might be right about the biology thing, but I think there is a huge double standard between the way little boys and little girls are raised to view relationships. It doesn't seem like very many people of either gender have a really balanced view about love and (or versus) sex. Couldn't we all agree that love is a nice thing that makes our lives nicer and makes sex better? But that self-reliance is still more important than love? These seem like good lessons for both men and women.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at December 28, 2006 9:16 AM

Hmmm... how did "this guy didn't have the balls to tell his gf it was over" translate into men want sex and women want relationships? For the record, I generally just want the sex and find myself trapped in relationships. I know many, many other women like this. The reality is that people handle break ups poorly. I have seen both men and women try to tell their significant other they needed space when what they really needed was to change the locks. I've done this myself. I'm not proud of it, but I agree that your early 20's are one long learning experience. Learning how to set boundaries and break things off without unnecessary cruelty is one important lesson I took from mine.

As for, why this girl wants something more... I think thats very natural. I agree completely with Amy's advice and yet, I also completely understand why someone getting out of a four year relationship would want to know a) that they had been lied to and b) for how long. I don't think she wants a list of her own failings, rather she wants to hear his reason. For instance, did he meet someone he really liked or did he just want to have a more casual relationship. Understanding where you misread your partner and at what point communication broke down is key for forgiving yourself for the break up and moving on.

That being said, any advice that tell girls in their early 20's to stop living and dying around the idea of a relationship is good advice. In my experience, by your late 20's the tables start to turn. Women realize they spent their entire adult life crying and discover that clubs and slumber parties are fun while men start realizing that there is something to emotion and communication. I don't think either of these phenomena applies to everyone or is based on bio-soc theories. I think that women are raised with a societal expectation that we will want relationships long before we are actually emotionally ready for them. The fact that so many women do have affairs or ultimately fail to live up to this absurdity is all the evidence I need that its not a biological imperative, but more a matter of sexual guilt.

Posted by: Jen at December 29, 2006 5:53 AM


I don't remember, as a child, being taught anything explicit about relationships at all. I do remember my father's after-dinner stories (about how he had avoided being ensnared by women) and of course my family was itself an example. One way or another I ended up viewing marriage and parenthood as terrible things to be avoided. They were things that simply did not figure on my radar: as likely as me becoming pope or discovering America. They had no personal meaning for me at all. It must have been very trying for my last girlfriend - now my wife of 26 years.

Babies are two-edged things. For the first part of your life, they spell ruin and are absolutely to be avoided. Then suddenly they are a gift from god. Not an easy switch to make. I remember a couple we were friends with telling us they were expecting a baby. I honestly didn't know whether to congratulate or commiserate, and had to ask them, delicately.

I don't think that the average woman can be so completely socially inept as I was. But what are modern men like? There's a series of TV adverts here in the UK where a young man marries a woman who already has two young children. He ends up having to cope with kids calling him "daddy" very suddenly. The climax of each advert is something like this: an estate agent is howing them round a house, and says "this room would make a good nursery." The man looks a little suprised and uncomfortable, while the woman gives a knowing smile. She is obviously the wise one who is in touch with the mysteries of life and the universe, while he is just a big puppy who can be used to pay the mortgage. The existence of these adverts suggests that things may not have changed a lot. (They make me furious, BTW, because of the attitudes they embody.)

So you can see that this sample of one did not have a very clear, consistent, accurate or even useful sex-and-relationships education. Now, as a 57-year old man, I've had a lifetime to learn, and I think I have learned some. I agree absolutely with you about love being nice and making our lives and our sex much much better. I wish I had not had to reach my 30s to begin to learn this. That's more than half my life! At least my own children have been let in on the secret at an earlier age.

Posted by: Norman at December 29, 2006 7:13 AM

Hey Norman, thanks for sharing your story - that's cool! (And I completely agree with your opinion about those patronizing adverts.)

As for what guys are like now, well, I have quite a few guy friends between the ages of 25-50, and from a dating point of view (as a 36-year-old single woman) here's now they seem to me. Many of them have already been married, had kids, and gotten divorced. The recently divorced ones are still carrying open wounds and are bitter (occasionally whiny) about women. I sympathize with them at least to the extent that divorce and custody laws can SCREW men when it comes to seeing their kids. And every last one of the dads I know is crazy, simply CRAZY, about his kids. I have never seen an exception to this.

They are the least dateable, however, because they usually deal with the whole situation by rebounding desperately, and are worse than the single guys as far as trying to sleep with every woman they can. Guys who have been divorced a long time are more relaxed and can be wonderful to date - usually they've learned a thing or two during the whole process.

Among the single ones, marriage and children are the farthest things from their minds. They don't view these things as goals to be attained with a plan or purpose. Even as they get into their early 30's, those ideas tend to fall into the "someday" category and are not viewed as being worthy of present consideration, not when there is so much beer to drink right now. Once in a while one of them will fall in love, and if that happens they seem content to leave the timing of the marriage/children decisions to their girlfriends. That's how it all seems to me, anyway. Among my friends, there is a lot of friendship between the men and the women, which I think is great. You can't very well say, 'All members of Gender X are scheming liars, well, with the following thirty-five exceptions ...'

But anyway Norman, after all those experiences you had in your early 20's, what happened that made you decide to get married? After being in a pattern of losing interest in women after a few months, what changed?

Posted by: Pirate Jo at December 29, 2006 10:57 AM

I think that the girl who was surreptitiously dumped has reason to wonder why and what changed and when it did. If she can get some answers along those lines then she can look back at the timeline of that relationship and see signs that she missed before.

I myself was once in a relationship where a person played me for a long time without my realizing it. At least I assume it was a long time. My ex was never open/honest/brave enough to tell me the truth.

For a long time I was upset about it. I had been horribly wrong about him and the relationship, and wanted so badly to understand. Understanding would have helped me to accept my loss, and would have helped me to feel that at least I learned something from the painful experience.

One of the lessons that I did learn though was that sometimes you can't and won't get answers, and that you have to move on with your life anyway. Sometimes you have to accept not knowing and figure out a way to not let that stop you from going forward.

That may be the best option for this unfortunate twenty-something girl. A good bet is to avoid dating the exact same type of guy in the future. She's still in the process of finding what her right type of man is, and she's just eliminated one specimen. Another thing, trust your instincts. I bet if she thinks back, there were times she felt something and rationalized her way out of it.

Posted by: Jaylyn at December 29, 2006 12:39 PM

The more I read this page, the more I see that Amy has pretty well covered it in her reply. Memo to self: read & think before posting.

Happy new year, everyone!

Posted by: Norman at December 31, 2006 6:09 AM

I myself was once in a relationship where a person played me for a long time without my realizing it.

There's a really good book to help people open their eyes: The Art Of Living Consciously, by Nathaniel Branden.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 31, 2006 7:21 AM

I think it all comes down to the band-aid theory. Pulling it off fast and all at once my hurt more accutely, but its also over faster and you can move on more quickly. Going slow means a lower grade of pain, but over a significantly longer period of time.

Posted by: Joce at January 11, 2007 3:04 PM

I think everyone needs to stop putting gender qualifiers on everything. Women lie for the same reasons.

Posted by: Sarah at January 15, 2007 12:01 PM

Alec Baldwin asks for his voice to be removed from an "unfair" documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger...

Posted by: Keaton Collett at April 16, 2007 8:44 AM

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