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“What I Wish I’d Known When I Was Single…”


In our second installment of this new series, a writer who bungled lots of break-ups reflects on just how important it is to say good-bye gracefully.

By Austin Murphy

“Spineless.”

Those were my ex-girlfriend Diana’s very last words to me, and as much as I hate to admit it, she was right. Months earlier, I’d dumped Diana—not by telling her it was over in person, or even over the phone. No, she got the gist when I just plain disappeared on her. Weeks later, when a buddy of mine said he was driving to her college, I asked him to pick up the skis I’d left at her place. He returned with my skis, as well as that one word, summing me up. Guilty as charged.

Looking back on my years in The Game, I am chagrined to see a cad, an invertebrate, a gutless wonder. Lacking the stomach for the mess of raw emotions that
I’d often cut and
run without the benefit of any communication whatsoever. It was easier that way, at least it was for me.
I envisioned would ensue in a face-to-face breakup, I’d often cut and run without the benefit of any communication whatsoever. It was easier that way, at least it was for me. But just as there is such a thing as “parking karma,” so there exists the phenomenon of “dating karma.” In subtle ways, my behavior came back to haunt me.

Take, for example, Erin, the next woman I dated before bailing without a trace. Years passed before I bumped into her while on vacation. I remembered how much I liked her sense of humor, and thought about how nice it would be to hang out with her again. But it was clear from Erin’s guarded politeness that this would never happen. In short, I’d made an implacable enemy of someone who might have become — after a fusillade of strong words, then a cooling off period — a solid friend. Why?

Handling breakups with some class, however, isn’t purely something I wished I learned to do to avoid burning bridges. At some point, it just hit home that I couldn’t treat people that way. After Erin, I was set up with a woman who ended up spontaneously spending the night with me. Over the next few days, she left me several voicemail messages. In the last one, she was sobbing. That made me even more afraid to call. After marinating in regret and self-loathing for awhile — a woman’s tears can do that to you — I started to grow up a little bit.

That’s why, when my next relationship with a woman named Susan began going sour, I decided to buck up and bite the bullet. I met her at a coffee shop, spilled the news, then braced for an ass-chewing. But to my surprise,
I realized that breaking up with someone in person was, in fact, much easier than avoiding her phone calls.
it never came. “I agree with you, we’re better off as friends,” she said calmly. A novel sensation came over me: I felt like an adult. I realized that breaking up with someone in person was, in fact, much easier than avoiding her phone calls. Why hadn’t I tried this years ago?

A month after breaking things off with Susan, I ran into an old college acquaintance—the woman who would become my wife. During college, Laura had refused my advances due to my reputation as a jerk. Only at that moment, nearly five years later, did she accept my invitation out for a drink, opening the door a tiny crack. I took every opportunity to show her I’d changed: returning her phone calls, asking her “what’s wrong?” if I sensed she was unhappy about something, dealing with our relationship problems head-on rather than giving in to my knee-jerk impulse to cut and run.

Ironic, isn’t it, that it was around the time I mastered the skill of breaking up with someone that I found the woman with whom I hope to never split. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that one probably had something to do with the other.

Recovering cad Austin Murphy is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. His most recent book is How Tough Could it Be? The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad.

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