Joe Dellosa

The Alligator Columns

Ending relationships has its positives

Notes & Context

One of my friends was going through a breakup, so I wrote this for her. I really mean it when I say that among the absolute best uses of a column in a newspaper with a readership of 50,000 is to try to cheer up a friend. (She's a pretty awesome friend.)

The text below is the version of the article I originally submitted for publication, with some slight editing for errors on my end. The print and online versions contained stylistic edits and some errors introduced during editing.

Breakups aren't fun. In fact, as far as things that happen in relationships go, they pretty much suck.

To be clear, I'm generally a proponent of ending relationships that aren't right. Being with a partner who is willfully manipulative, ungrateful, or selfish can have a toxic effect on your life and the lives of those around you. Being with a partner whom you constantly find yourself tolerating more than appreciating is unfair to both your partner and the people who'd be willing to offer them something more than mere tolerance. And staying in a relationship with someone you love but with whom you are fundamentally incompatible is a recipe for frustrated, tear-soaked confusion.

While every situation is different, I think it's generally a good idea to at least consider ending any relationship that falls under those broad categories. But just because it's a good idea doesn't mean it hurts any less when the breakup happens.

Breakups, after all, can be breathtakingly awful. Discovering that your love is no longer wanted, is no longer good enough, or never even existed altogether is the sort of thing that can make you feel both alone and lonely. If the breakup is with someone about whom you genuinely cared, it can be an unusual type of pain that feels like the only person who can help you is the one who hurt you — and it feels ridiculous even just thinking that, like getting stabbed and then asking your assailant if they've got any gauze you can borrow.

But it's not all bad.

Breakups give us a sort of emotional credibility. After all, it's a statement about how we feel about those we care about if we're willing to offer our love to them even after being hurt. It's one thing to be willing to take a chance and leave ourselves vulnerable if we haven't been stung doing so; it's an entirely different thing to know full well how much it could hurt and still be open to it.

And there's some comfort in knowing that, as unique and personal as a breakup feels, we are not alone. These are the same feelings that dot, in some fashion, millennia of human history. The feelings that come with getting a "We need to talk" text message know no temporal boundaries; heartache, apprehension, and loss are very old parts of who we are. To wit, even Abe Lincoln had his Ann Rutledge — though, admittedly, that was less a breakup and more a wave of typhoid fever. It still must've hurt, though.

If nothing else, breakups connect us in a very vibrant way. Relationships with people of all ages, races, religions, and sexual orientations all involve breakups — and there's a strong kinship that can be formed with the universal truism that breakups are a bitch. We all know that breakups are painful, and knowing that provides good motivation for us to be there for each other.

Not that remembering all this necessarily helps when you're freshly broken up. Knowledge isn't a vaccine against heartbreak, after all. Even people who know all this still wind up eating and drinking copious amounts of things that come in pints, and they still belt out poorly-considered, semi-intoxicated karaoke covers of Alanis Morissette songs. (Neither here nor there, but I may no longer be welcome at a certain Applebee's.)

But maybe it helps put breakups in context. A breakup, at its best, can be an act of selflessness, courage, or emotional liberation. And almost every breakup shapes our relationship with love — what it means to us, why it matters to us, and why we're willing to fight for it.

It's not the most fun way to go about doing that (it's probably among the suckier ways, in fact), but it's good for us, even if it doesn't feel like it.

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