There are Harder Things In Life Than Breaking Up. Telling the Other Person, For Instance.

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In all of mankind’s glorious inventions, whoever came up with the idea of taking turns deserves a special place in history for being particularly brilliant.  I imagine a conversation, somewhere around the beginning of time, between two Cro-Magnon men, that must’ve gone something like this:

“Okay, tonight I’ll sleep in the cave and you sleep outside.  Then tomorrow, I’ll sleep in the cave.  Then the next day, I’ll sleep in the cave again.”

“Hmm, when do I get to sleep in the cave?”

“Oh snap.  I didn’t think about that.”

“Hear me out.  How about tonight you sleep in the cave, and then tomorrow, I sleep in the cave.”

“What about the third night?”

“I have no idea.  Do you want to eat a fish?”

The genesis of taking turns must’ve gone something like that.  Now, eons later, taking turns is still all the rage, just like fire, the wheel, and sleeping in the cave (if you are a bear).  The modern dating ritual largely incorporates this older theory of turn taking.  If I buy you dinner, then you get the coffee afterwards.  If on Tuesday I go to your side of town, then on Thursday, you come to mine.  If you do something nice and clean my apartment, I’ll do something nice and sleep with your friend.  Things like that.

Likewise, sending text messages is all about turn taking.  I message you, you message me.  Say I message you four times before you respond, then I’m a weirdo and you’re frightened.  Or, if I message you and you don’t respond, I lay off sending another message, getting the idea that you aren’t interested in further communication and you are probably at a magic show (that’s an in-joke).

So, two or three weeks ago, I finally met a decent girl on the dating website.  We went out a few times and it occurred to me that I liked her and I wanted to see her more often.  At the same time, and in lieu of my disastrous last pseudo-relationship that ended with heartbreak and a pathetic attempt at a bar fight, I wanted to keep my options open.  The last thing I wanted was to get attached to someone and end up getting hurt again.  I continued to talk to women online and, even though I was texting and hanging out with the one girl, made plans to meet up with another.  This was supposed to be healthy for me.  Kind of like how you send out your resume to a bunch of jobs, despite the fact that there’s one you have your heart set on.  Because that job might not work out, and obviously it’s better to work the night shift at Target than have no girlfriend at all.

I ended up going out with Girl Two twice and, to be honest, she was pretty cool as well.  I still preferred Girl One, but Girl Two was definitely no Target.  Last weekend, I had plans to hang out with Girl One.  Pay close attention – this gets complicated.  Still following the ‘keep your options open’ philosophy, I tried to make plans with Girl Two also.  In fact, I did make plans with Girl Two.  Then Girl One changed our weekend plans a little bit, (unknowingly) creating a situation where I had two overlapping dates.  I found that rather thoughtless of her.  Understand, though, that I’m just not that kind of a guy.  This situation was no fun at all, and I felt stressed out by it.  I decided that I’d have to get rid of Girl Two, which shouldn’t have been that big of a deal since we only hung out twice and never even kissed.

Now came the hard part – ending things.  It’s hard enough breaking up with someone; ending things when there’s no real relationship there to begin with is even more uncomfortable.  As with most things, I started by trying to weasel my way out.  I sent a text saying I ‘might be’ busy the next day.  Her response?  She sent back kind of a snippy text that said, “Fine, if you have plans, just forget it.”  She didn’t sound pleased.  I waited until the next day and then sent another text that simply said, “Yeah, sorry, going to have to cancel for tonight.  Have a great Saturday. : )”

Yes, that’s right.  Have a great Saturday.  I mean, I don’t want to fuck up anybody’s weekend.

There was absolutely no reply to this, which clearly (I think) meant she was pissed.  That was five days ago.  We’ve had no contact since.  In the meantime, I saw Girl One a bunch of times, and we had a talk and decided to give a dating relationship a try.

Here’s the question I’m asking: I’m out with Girl Two, right?  I mean, it’s her turn to text, and since she hasn’t done so…that’s it, I think.  I don’t have to send a message saying that I met someone else or anything like that, do I?  I sent the last text…so, end of story, right?  I repeat – it’s HER turn.  Not my turn.  Deal done, correct?

Maybe not the classiest way to handle things, true, but what’s a guy to do?  Taking turns is important in a relationship, especially one where both people are treated equally.  So, by extension, the next date will be with Girl One, and, after that, it will be her turn again.  That’s only fair.

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Endings at a Park

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The list of unspeakables had gotten long.  Ashley and I sat in the park near Incheon’s Arts Center, eating sandwiches and watching the children play in the enormous fountain.  My chicken wrap dripped mustard sauce like sweat; it was a Sunday and the sun was bright and warm.  Summer was just stepping to the front of the line, the heat of the days making things like breeze and shade more valuable.  The children in the park ran through the fountain to cool themselves off.  Ashley and I sat right in the sun.

“Have you noticed that we’re the only non-family here?” she asked me.  It hadn’t dawned on me, but she was right.  Everyone in the park was either a parent or a child.  When a little girl fell down, there was always a mother there to pick her up.  Boys played catch with their fathers.  Sometimes the children would walk past us and, seeing the lightness of our skin broadcasting that we were from somewhere else, they would wave to us and say “hello.”

A relationship between two people – whether it be friendly, romantic, or some sort of mixture of the two – is only as good as the list of unspeakable things is short.  Ashley and I sat in the sun and talked about movies, feminism, and childhood.  We laughed when a small boy took off his clothes and urinated in the fountain.  Still, our list was there and I could feel it stuck between every pause in the conversation.  It was all the bad things that had happened between us – the people that couldn’t be mentioned, the nights that had gone bad.  Certain words, like “lawyer,” had grown fatter in meaning because of the things I’d said.  Simple questions like “what’d you do last night” changed into inquiries, switching from conversation to control.  Those questions weren’t simple any more.  Questions have memories, and my questions were filled with the memories of those nights when she’d left me alone to go off with other guys.

But there had to be something that brought us to the park on a hot Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t coincidence, or boredom, or the allure of eating a chicken wrap and getting mustard sauce all over our fingers.  It was the three months we spent together, talking for hours every day, making each other laugh and becoming great friends.  When there’s a list of unspeakables, something must be there to keep two people pushing past it, making conversation in the face of it feeling forced and awkward.  Or at least a person likes to think so anyways.  Like every sentence she said told me that no matter how much she might have hurt me, she was still there.

Every now and then, the water in the fountain would stop, and the children, their wet clothes soaking up the heat, would wait anxiously for it to start again.  Some of the little ones would wander around, confused.  Still, they seemed to know where they were, aware that they were inside the confines of something – the park, the fountain, their families – and if they would wander away from the collection of children at the fountain’s center, they would never have walked too far away.  Not so far, they seemed to know, that they couldn’t turn and come running back to the water when it started up again.  It would only take a few beats to rejoin everyone, in the heart of the fountain, where all the complexity of the world was washed away by giant geysers of white water shot five feet up in the air.  I wondered if, at the end of their day, headed back home to dry off and get ready for school the next morning, those children, thinking back to their Sunday in the park, would feel like smiling or like crying.

Monday morning I called Ashley.  I was exhausted.  I told her that I cared for her, and then I told her that I couldn’t handle having her in my life anymore.  Our list had gotten too long, the hurt too much.  Strange, isn’t it, how empty one can feel when they know they’re doing the right thing?  It must’ve felt, I imagined, the same way those children felt leaving the park.  I suppose the end to anything, no matter how good or bad the events that preceded it, is always at least a little bit sad.

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