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Breakups - How Men Deal


Ever wonder how your ex-boyfriend is handling those first painful days, weeks, and months without you by his side? Here’s an inside glimpse.

By Steve Friedman

et’s say you didn’t find him in bed with your best friend. Let’s say he didn’t discover that you had “borrowed” his credit card and run up a $1,000 bill at your favorite spa. Those are special cases. No, let’s assume this breakup was, like most breakups, difficult and heartbreaking—but in your better moments, you have to admit this guy had some good points. You miss him. And if you’re like most women, you may also be wondering: Does he miss me too? How is he handling this delicate post-relationship period that many women fill with crying jags, supportive girlfriends, and more than a few Cosmopolitans? And how should you deal with him during this tough time? Allow me to fill you in.

I admit it: My last breakup found me downing pints of peanut-butter-cup ice cream late at night, trying to cling to memories of the bad times so I could stop obsessing about her
My last breakup found me downing pints of peanut-butter-cup ice cream trying to cling to memories of the bad times so I could stop obsessing about her.
long, smooth legs and the way she cried at Harry Potter movies. Even though the breakup was “mutual,” I couldn’t stop thinking about her. As hard as it was, I forced myself not to call. And then, in the predawn darkness, I found myself on the receiving end of a 3 a.m. phone call from her. Worse, I found myself seriously entertaining her drunken entreaties. She took a taxi over wearing God knows what under a trench coat, and it wasn’t until my hand was about to open my front door lock that I suddenly remembered—seeing the vodka flush on her neck—why we broke up in the first place.

From that close call, I made up Rule #1: Both men and women are better off having no contact with the ex right after the breakup. Especially after dark, especially when she’s wearing God knows what under a trench coat. If you’ve both agreed, “We’ll just be friends,” it’s even dicier.

“It’s impossible to be friends with an ex!” exclaim many. My friend Al takes exception to this rule. Al’s motto is, “We’re all adults. And adults do stupid things. So let’s not blame each other.”

Al is the kind of guy who didn’t show up when his girlfriend’s parents were in town, the one you finally wrote off as a calloused, shallow player. Suddenly, he calls to tell you, breathily, that he’s thinking of you. Can you trust him? No matter how sincere he sounds, force yourself to remember the night your co-worker busted him at a club with young Bambi—the same the night he begged off on dinner with you because he had the “flu.” Among his guy friends, Al is known as “The Hound,” and he receives from we men a certain appalled and loathing awe. From you, he should receive bupkis, especially if he comes knocking after a breakup. Tempting as it may be to be wooed by someone you recently separated from, please consider what I’ve deemed Rule #2: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So unless you’re longing for a steady diet of heartbreak soup, tell your ex when he comes calling that you’ve got company, and that you’ll call him back in a minute. Then don’t.

The truth, however, is that most of us are not hounds. No, we’re as confused as you are. That explains why, when we’re longing for you, we watch hours of football on TV. Or bury ourselves in our work at the office. Or pull out the ice cream. Most of us miss you.
Should you believe him if he tries to reconcile? Probably not. And the more dramatic his gesture to “make things work,” the less likely he’ll be able to follow through.
Most of us wish we could give it another chance, and that this time, it would work. So the question you must be wondering is, should you believe him if he calls trying to reconcile?

In short: probably not. In fact, in my experience, the more dramatic his gesture to “make things work this time,” the less likely he’ll be able to follow through. Case in point: Fifteen years ago, a week before my ex’s wedding, I called to propose marriage myself. But that offer was worth less than the quarters I desperately pumped into the bar payphone. Here’s another hint: When it feels like a desperate move on his part, it is. Desperate moves are not good moves.

Of course, everyone knows an exception—stories of love lost then found again that give us hope. For two years, this guy named Tom was the perfect boyfriend to my friend Christina. When Christina pushed for a bigger commitment, Tom bailed, but six months later, he was calling, writing, e-mailing, sending flowers. Christina was the best thing that ever happened to him. Having been in therapy three times a week, he’d finally conquered his commitment-phobia. He wanted to be with her more than he wanted anything in his life.

Christina took a chance. They just celebrated their five-year anniversary. Was your former relationship like theirs—damaged, but not irreparable? It’s certainly tempting to think so. But in my experience, it’s highly unlikely. Highly, highly, highly unlikely.

Which leads me to Rule #3, which is really less a rule than a speech. To me, this is what a guy wants to hear after a breakup: “Honey, I hope someday we can be friends because in addition to all the love and resentment and hard times we went through, I think you’re a great guy. But right now, I need to get over you. Maybe in six months or so, we can get together for lunch and laugh about all this, but right now, I’m too busy crying.” Sad, but dignified. Hurt, but decent. Firm, but gentle. Because the truth is, I’ve heard stories of couples who broke up but got back together and are still going strong. I’ve heard about couples who broke up then smoothly transitioned to become friends or even the occasional booty call. I’ve also heard about unicorns frolicking under the stars in Central Park. I’ve heard about this stuff, but—beyond Christina and Tom—I’ve rarely actually seen it. So delete his e-mails, his number from your cell phone, and any other reminders that might make you slip back into something that clearly wasn’t working the first time around. That opens the door to the better things that are yet to come.


Steve Friedman is the author of seven books, including Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir of Longing, Love, and Lousy Choices in New York City. More information at Stevefriedman.net.
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