A coworker recently inquired about what my worst breakup was. For some people this question is easy to answer: that one where someone cheated, that one where someone just left and never came back, that one that was a fight that lasted hours. For me, as it seems to be with most things in my life, the answer is a little more complicated. I have shared stories of breakups and past relationships with friends recently that I hadn’t realized were as ridiculous as they are until they stared at me with what can only be described as wide-eyed horror and disbelief.
I never considered any of my breakups particularly harrowing. There has never been a case of abuse and while some of the relationships ended due to not-so-great circumstances, we generally managed to stay friendly for a bit of time afterwards. I figured that they all went fairly smoothly in the way that any heartbreaking experience can go. But then I realized I have a tendency to downplay situations or glide on past them like a seasoned figure skater getting up from her failed triple axle and really started to think about it.
My first indication that my breakup life would be just as insane as my dating life should have been when thirteen year old, naive Caitlin was dumped on the phone by her grade seven boyfriend. Ah, the seriousness of the relationship is hard to describe in concrete terms but I can tell you right now: it was intense. We even held hands a couple times and he bought me a carnation at the preteen dance. Basically married. So you can only imagine my shock and horror when he decided we should no longer date because there were other girls he liked and he wanted to start his own gang of “bitches”. I’m not kidding. At this point in my life my feminist hat was nowhere in sight so I did not have the wherewithal or even a singular thought about how sexist and terrible that reasoning is. All I knew was that he wanted bitches but he didn’t want me to be one of them. I was heartbroken. So I did what any reasonable, self-sufficient young woman would do when she is holding up her end of a devastating phone conversation: put “Gone” by Nsync on in the background. Loudly. And sit next to the stereo so he knows. Funnily enough this tactic did not work, no pity was aroused and no sudden flood of happy memories were induced in him, causing him to run back to me and proclaim that I was the only bitch he wanted in his gang of bitches.
And thus my illustrious dating/breakup career began.
In high school I broke up with the same guy about 2846072458946 times. In all fairness it was closer to five or six but it felt like millions. We were the fatal attraction I had always thought meant perfection. He was the bad boy from a broken home and I was the high honour student with a happy family. He did drugs and I had no idea Sean Paul was singing about drugs until I was about seventeen. He kissed another girl at least twice and I felt like a bad boy from a broken home who does drugs is probably going to do these things once in awhile and I had to cut him some slack because who really taught him about respect, anyway? We shared too many breakups to recount them all here but there is one that sticks out in my mind as my favourite. We had decided to start seeing each other again when we were nearing nineteen (much too old for this high school shit now and so much more mature, we thought) but then my parents discovered his hash pipe that he had for some reason stashed in my car without my knowledge and I decided that was the last straw. I believe the break up went something like this: “I’m not going to keep covering for you and getting in trouble because of you. I forgave you for stealing my laptop but I’m not going to forgive you for this.”
Oh, right. He also at one point stole my laptop.
As I entered my twenties a new dating world approached me. I had broken up with someone just before I turned twenty, a long-term relationship that ended in a fiery crash not long after I had forgotten to wish him a happy birthday. We broke up over the phone but by now I had learned my lesson and had decided to keep the background music to a minimum. “Globes and Maps” by Something Corporate may or may not have been playing but very, very quietly and there’s very little chance he could have heard it so don’t you even start judging me now. Up until I turned twenty I thought dating meant being in a relationship. That’s what you did in your teen years – you liked someone so they became your boyfriend and that was the end of it.
All of a sudden I found myself in a world where people did not just want to be my boyfriend. Some of them even wanted to see other people while they were waiting to decide who they wanted their girlfriend to be. I was baffled. This bafflement led to my blurting out while I was on a date (I know now, with my great experience, that this is what we were on), “Are you, like, dating me or are we just, like, friends or like… what?” I said this forcefully, despite the timidity of the sentence structure, and he just kind of stared at me clearly preparing himself to tread lightly. In his defense, not five minutes before I had laughed so hard I spat food out so I think at this point he realized he was dealing with a special case. He informed me we were dating but he never thought of us as exclusive.
From that point forward I hated the word exclusive and its existence because no one wanted to attach it to me.
Except for the guy who had seized the opportunity of having a blank pin holding a note I wrote him to a cork board and strung a singular hair of mine over it. He also was the one who made us “Facebook official” the same day I told him I didn’t want to be “Facebook official”. He wanted to attach exclusivity to me a little too much.
Over the years I’ve had breakups occur for a myriad of reasons: infidelity, incompatibility, immaturity, incontinence. Just kidding on that last one (or am I?). Sometimes they have come crawling back, trying to regain my trust and attention with witty openers like, “Do you like comedy?” or “Hey u”. Usually these things haven’t worked unless they catch me at a moment of extreme weakness in which case I’m all, “Yes” and “Hey u 2”. What I’ve learned, though, is that no breakup is the “worst breakup” – they’re all bad in their own ways. Later on they may seem funny but in the moment they really, truly suck. And you may be mortified at the things you did before, during, or after they occur.
It’s okay in the end, though, because I’m proof that you can thoroughly smear your self-respect all over the damn place and someone will still eventually want to be exclusive with you in a good way. And that even the most socially awkward and insane girls can come out of their breakups a little bolder, a little wiser, and with a hell of a great playlist.