Cold Comfort

I don’t want to be petty. I just want my ex to be sitting alone in his room, turning a lamp on and off and wondering how he’s going to live without me.

It’s been two months now, and we’ve had no contact. Word has it he’s dating a lingerie model, a fact that should inspire bulimia and silent rage. It doesn’t. In my mind, there’s still the chance that dating a lingerie model is some male coping mechanism, a sign of his need for distraction, a futile attempt to bury the pain of losing me. Or, she could just be really hot.

Over some tepid diner coffee, I ask a male friend to explain how his gender deals with heartbreak. I tell him what women do – stay in bed for a weekend, write in a journal, go out drinking with girlfriends, throw ourselves at losers, get a radical haircut that makes us look like something you’d see on a “My mother dresses like a slut” Jenny Jones makeover show.

“So, what do guys do?” I ask, looking for just those kinds of sweeping generalizations that really help at times like this.

“Brooding, stalking and porn,” he answers, succinctly.

Brooding, he explains, entails not shaving. Stalking involves driving by her house on the way home from work, just to see if she’s home. Porn just completes the trifecta of the male grief process.

“Elizabeth Kubler-Ross never mentioned that one,” I say, but I think I understand his point.

A week ago at my dance class, a woman came rushing in, eyes red. I overheard snippets of conversation: “he went back to his wife,” “four margaritas last night,” “I was just learning how to be alone,” “cried for three days.” The woman was swarmed with hugs. I wanted to worm into the huddle of comfort, put my arm around her and tell her she’d find someone better; it wasn’t meant to be. I wanted to promise her that guy was sitting alone in the dark, turning a lamp on and off and wondering how he’d live without her. I wanted to lie to her like I wanted my friends to lie to me.

I can’t picture a guy walking into his weekly poker game going, “She left me. I’ve been sitting in bed with my cat, a bottle of wine and a bag of microwave popcorn. Can we just skip the game, so I can talk about my feelings and get some hugs?”

Instead, according to my male friend, comfort from buddies will come in the form of ax-grinding and bad-mouthing. The most sensitive of males will wallow, but most will simply distract themselves.

In a pattern I’ve noticed, using the very unscientific method of observing the guys I know, they seem to have one big, bad heartbreak. The One left them early on, maybe high school, maybe college, and they were broken. They cried themselves to sleep, perhaps tried pathetically to win her back; they hit the gym obsessively; they couldn’t stand to hear a sad song.

After one slam to the heart, they vowed to never experience the hell of heartbreak again. Most guys I know go through it just once before closing the extreme-vulnerability door and latching at least six of the seven locks. The women I know, myself included, will go back to the well again and again.

I envy people who can bury that sadness under the rug. I really do.

“Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh, either,” Golda Meir said.

I’ve always thought that was a beautiful sentiment. Still, sometimes a life of whole-hearted emotions can be a roller coaster. Sometimes, I just want off.

My diner friend assures me everyone feels the same pain. Shove it under the rug, and a lump shows up sooner or later. Or a lingerie model. There isn’t enough porn in the world to unhinge the basic human pain and loss mechanism.

“The question is, why do you care? If you don’t want him back, what does it matter whether he feels as badly as you do?” my friend asks.

I clutch my empty mug and let his very good question sink in. I think of the girl in dance class. I think of my ex, a guy who would snap at me one minute and write me love poems the next. I want him to miss me because like anyone, I want to have mattered.

I’m on my millionth heartbreak, and I want to make sure I’m not the only one.

As the waiter refills my coffee cup, I imagine hundreds of waiters at hundreds of diners, pouring coffee for hundreds of people having this same conversation, maybe at this very moment. We’re all wondering, does he miss me? Will we ever be friends? We’re all exhausting the patience of everyone in our lives with this endless, desperate pondering.

And I know, as sure as my coffee will get cold and my heartbreak will get old, I know we’ll all get over it.

Teresa Strasser is a 20-something now on the Web at

Breaking Up Is Moderately Hard to Do

It wasn’t the right time. It was totally mutual. He wasn’t “the one.” It just wasn’t working out. Blah, blah, blah.

You know the drill. The why-we-broke-up speech. Sadly, one is usually asked to sum up a relationship’s demise before really understanding it. That’s why the above clichés prove so useful.

Nine months ago, I met a guy. He laughed at my jokes and didn’t mind my smoking. I made a much better impression on his friends than the blond Ralphs checkout girl he dated before me. Things had potential. We gave it a try. Sometimes, two people of goodwill just don’t get along, or aren’t meant to be romantic soulmates. Sometimes, things just don’t work out.

Still, I am determined to orchestrate the perfect breakup.

There will be no burning of photos, no vindictive giving back of stuffed animals, no late night hang up calls. This will be the best breakup I’ve ever had. “Let’s just be friends” will ascend from cliché to reality.

In the perfect breakup, you don’t torture yourself with the myth of the “clean break,” cutting off all contact immediately. You wean yourself off each other, making sure to make other social plans but still seeing each other for the occasional movie, or bagel and coffee. This softens the blow during the critical post-breakup weeks when you could end up listening to all your Stevie Wonder albums and throwing yourself at losers. This counteracts the doomsday feeling that you’ve wasted your time and that a person you love is gone for good.

E-mail is critical to the perfect breakup. It is a way to be close and express how much you miss each other without having those dreary, weepy three-hour phone calls that go nowhere.

In my mind, the perfect breakup entails a realistic vision of what it is to cleave yourself from another person. There will be backslides as long as there are cold nights and loneliness and nostalgia and alcohol. You accept this without guilt or the confusion that a pleasing backslide means you should get back together. You are always one step ahead of your neuroses. That’s the trick.

Of course, none of this is possible without that rare breed known as the North American Truly Mutual Breakup. If it’s one-sided, don’t even try this. If someone dumped you, you’ve got to cultivate what my dad calls “the grudge garden.” You will water it with your tears and nurture it until you no longer miss the person you have convinced yourself is not worthy of you.

For the first time, I’m neither dumpee nor dumper. I take this as my opportunity for growth, for my first mature breakup.

I’m not saying I haven’t had my moments. For example, I don’t recommend plucking your own eyebrows in the wake of goodbye. I did so, overplucking one side and overcompensating on the other, all the while distractedly wondering what had gone wrong. Next thing I knew, I looked like one of those trailer park ladies who have to pencil in that creepy brown Maybelline line. I’ve had my low moments, but I’ve tried to factor them in and forgive myself. Eyebrows grow back.

I admit there are times I feel like a failure, that I’ve somehow exceeded the acceptable number of relationships one should have before they’re 30. Maybe I have. At least this time, the end will be as bloodless as possible. I refuse to waste time envisioning him running off into the sunset with some goddess while I get a condo in spinster city. What’s the point?

Last weekend, I was going to a baby shower in a faraway land called Sierra Madre. The directions, I was convinced, were so poor as to be intentionally so. The hostess must have been attempting some Darwinian weeding out of the weak. It was arrival of the fittest.

I made it only because I was traveling with my ex, who agreed to come with me and has a good sense of direction. I was glad he was there, even if friends were shocked to see me with him.

I guess neither of us has a map to where we’re going. Standard advice about cutting ties and moving on aside, each and every relationship is its own destination, a place that only the two people involved can find.

Teresa Strasser is a 20-something who writes for The Jewish Journal. She recently received an Emmy nomination for her writing on “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”