I haven’t had especially intense romances. Most have been lighthearted, which is a silver lining way to say that they lacked the emotional substrate for longevity.
But breezy relationships are still difficult to break up—particularly because there is no obvious impetus for their termination. Instead there is some hard-to-articulate, underlying discontent that is temporarily tolerable, but ultimately unsustainable. The discontent will gnaw on you and drain you, until you break it off.
Breakups of insignificant relationships become this burdensome to-do like getting your passport renewed or having that uncomfortable, invasive medical test. You postpone and procrastinate, rationalizing that you’re waiting for the right time. Not on a Sunday. That will ruin the workweek. Not on a Thursday. That will ruin the weekend. Not before his big promotion meeting. Not just after. Today? No, it might rain. That would be too dismal and cliché.
But you know there is no good time. You just have to clamp down and do it. Everyone will be better off, eventually.
A few times, during this type of breakup, I was oddly distracted by food. Rather than processing the words said to me and constructing diplomatic responses, my attention was transfixed by an apple, some jelly beans, and an Asian Cobb salad, during breakups with Matt, Kent, and Robb, respectively. Obviously these are pseudonyms because I’ve never dated someone named Kent.
1) Matt and the Red Delicious Apple– The breakup began over email (actually Bltizmail, if you know what that is), but we maturely and civilly decided to finish it in person. I was working a 5-hour shift at the front desk of the indoor tennis courts. I was also hungry. So to settle our breakup Matt would have to come to the courts, and since he was coming to the courts, couldn’t he pick me up a snack on the way? No sense in me being sad and hungry. It was a mature and civil breakup that he initiated. As the dumpee, I deserved a snack.
Him: “Um okay… What do you want?”
Me: “Just an apple and a cookie.”
15 minutes later he arrived and handed me a brown paper bag from our campus dining hall (the Hop, if you know what that is).
Matt began: “So I’ve had a really great time, it’s just that I’m studying for the MCAT this term…”
I opened the bag. He brought me a Red Delicious apple.
“…and I’m going to be really busy…”
A Red Delicious apple.
“…so I shouldn’t really be in a relationship…”
What kind of person picks a Red Delicious apple? Was this stupidity or spite? Passive aggression during active consolation?
“…I hope you understand bla bla bla…”
I knew there were other apples there—a bounty of local varieties. Crisp, flavorful apples of autumnal New England.
“…bla bla bla…”
Red Delicious tastes like cardboard.
“…bla bla bla..”
What was he thinking?
This relationship would have never worked. Thank god we’re breaking up.
2) Kent and the Jelly Beans– We met for coffee in a campus cafeteria. The air was heavy from the expectation that we were about to break up. I feebly tried to chatter away the tension as we fixed and filled our coffee. It was like when your supervisor attempts perfunctory small talk before a negative performance evaluation: “So John, how are you adjusting to Boston? Where are you living?…Good, good. Ahem, so the reason I called you in here today…”
Except in this case it was:
Me: “So I have a genetics midterm on Friday night from 7-9 pm and everyone is so pissed about it, but I think that’s kind of fun because I can immediately drink after and I never really do anything on Fridays from 7-9 pm anyway…”
He filled a cup with pay-by-weight candy—jellybeans.
We went outside and sat at a table away from eavesdroppers. This time I was the dumper. There was nothing blatantly wrong with the relationship. I worried that he would insist on a nicely packaged reason for the breakup. The best I could deliver was that recycled spiel about being too busy.
He was chomping on jellybeans.
Me: “So the next month is going to be really crazy for me and then I go away for the summer…”
“…I don’t really think it’s a good time for me to dating anyone…”
Now nodding and chomping. He said, “Yeah, yeah. I hear you. I’m in the same place.”
“Okay, well great.”
What 21-year-old eats jellybeans? Since when do they even sell jellybeans in the dining hall?
He continued chomping and chatting.
Him: “So I decided to run the Burlington half marathon, but maybe I should just do the full one…”
He realizes we just broke up right? Isn’t he done with those jellybeans yet?
“…and Brad wants to be my training partner, but I don’t think he’s really fit enough…”
Should I just walk away? Should I wait until he finishes his jellybeans? Will that be the natural end of this conversation?
“…don’t get me wrong, he’s great on speed workouts. But he really drags on the long runs…”
The last time I ate a jellybean it was a Harry Potter dirt-flavored one.
“…so if I run the full I’ll have the excuse of being on different training regiments…”
I kind of liked the dirt flavored one. At least more than normal flavored jellybeans, which are disgusting. Is this breakup over yet?
3) Robb and the Asian Cobb Salad– I have had one dramatic breakup, or rather instance of drama related to a breakup. On my first Saturday night single I slept with a mutual friend after a fraternity dance party. That Sunday afternoon I was at a study group for a pre-med Physics class. This story is so-college already.
The study group leader could have been typecast as a skittish physics nerd, but his tussled hair and periodic lapses in attention suggested he might also be druggy cool. Maybe he was pondering anti-neutrino fusion mechanics or maybe he was just stoned. Probably, hopefully, both.
The help session ended at 5 pm and we both headed toward the dining hall. I love geriatric dining times in dining halls; it’s before the salad bar has been picked over and sneezed on and had its cottage cheese all mixed in with the lima beans.
Our shared destination was apparent so he suggested that we eat together. Why not?! He was (possibly) nerdy druggy cool and I was (for 48 hours now) single!
I detest cooking, but consider myself a talent when it comes to salad bars. The secret is to maintain a discriminating theme, rather than just whimsically scooping anything that appeals to your pallet. The components must be unified, complementary, and purposeful.
That night my theme was Asian Cobb. It sounds risky, but as a salad bar master, I could pull it off.
I sprinkled some finishing-touch crispy noodles and admired my creation. “This is a fucking great salad,” I thought as a shadow cast over me and my salad.
It was Robb.
Him: “I know you slept with someone this weekend and I know who it was.”
I was silent. I glanced at Physics guy, occupied a few meters away at the checkout line.
Robb: “Just confirm that you did and I will leave you alone.”
I muttered, “Okay, yes.”
He slapped my salad out of my hands and stormed away. The lettuce and vegetables spewed into the air like confetti, before succumbing to gravity and raining down. The hard boiled egg hit first, bounced in slow motion, and then rolled swiftly to the periphery. Salad detritus covered the tile floor. Crispy romaine, grilled chicken, mandarin oranges. An Asian Cobb massacre.
I was stunned. I looked up at the dinning hall staff who had been witness. I looked down at the salad splatter. I looked up at the physics TA who had been witness. I looked down at the salad splatter. Tears welled up—a hot mixture of guilt towards my exboyfriend, embarrassment towards the dining hall crowd, and sorrow towards the salad.
I remained frozen. Should I chase after Robb? Should I eat with the Physics TA? Should I make a new salad? A dining hall employee started to clean the mess.
I made a salad to-go and ate it alone in my room.