Look at Life: Break-Ups

17th January 2014

The Confused Parents’ Guide To… Break Ups

Clare Finney

If my life even remotely resembled the ten year plan I set it in 2002, then this column – following on the heels of the ‘confused person’s guide to love’ I wrote a year ago – would, ideallly, concern weddings. Inevitably, however, this was not meant to be…

Reader, he dumped me: two months ago, without warning and with very little explanation beyond ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, a line you’ll forgive me for having some misgivings about – and out of all the people who have helped me, hugged me and handed me another tissue, it is my family who have got me through. Here, then, is the parent’s guide to breaking up.

1/ Before you do or say anything…
Check that it really is over. Far worse than speaking ill of the dead is to speak ill of the boomerang-partner, and if there’s one thing you can guarantee when the boomerang returns, it is that you will be the one knocked out. Much as you are longing to tell us exactly what you thought of the [insert appropriate adjective and noun], we are blind, deaf and dumb to it until he or she takes the trouble of proving you right once and for all. Sit tight, nod sympathetically, and when that time comes…

2/ … you cannot tell us enough.
Seriously. The words are music to our ears. Of course, we knew it all along (we even told it to ourselves in dark, dark moments) but there’s something about hearing it from the mouths of mothers that gives it the authority we crave. ‘You thought she didn’t care enough?’ we’ll gasp, wide-eyed. ‘You thought he was uncommunicative? Thoughtless? But why didn’t you say?’ Of course, we know why not – we’d have cursed you – but don’t let that stop you now. Once it’s over, we just want to know for sure that it was wrong.

3 /If we ask if we should perhaps text the accused…
The answer is no. Always. Use force if necessary (it will probably be necessary) and we will thank you – not at the time, of course, but a tea-and-a-good-night’s-sleep later. Our pride is in your hands here – and while our over-connected society may bemuse or bewilder you, just remember that there’s no difference between us texting, emailing, tweeting, Facebooking, skyping, WhatsApping or Snapchatting and you knocking on the door of your ex 20 years ago. It’s the principle. Speaking of which…

4/ You know that story you’ve never shared about the ‘Dear John’ Christmas card you got from your first love?
This is its moment. Bring it out, dust off the cobwebs and tell us in grim and gory detail just how awful it was. ‘You think this is bad? He dumped me at Chirstmas. And got with my sister on Boxing Day. He said that my neck was too short’ et cetera. It will be cathartic, not only for our fractured hearts but for yours too: finally, all that suffering it went through at 16 will be put to good use. Dig up the hatchet, consider it anew, and then stand back as your heartbroken offspring bludgeons the memory of your abuser with it, outraged by their treatment of you and subsequently forced to get some perspective on their own life.

5/ So be impatient with us
Quite frankly, we’ll be bored of hearing ourselves talk about it come day ten, let alone the rest of you. My phone cut out while I was moaning to my cousin one day and when I redialed, he told me it had probably died at the mention of EvilEx’s name for the upteenth time that week: “Even your mobile’s sick of it,” he said wearily.

Point taken.

I talked about something else for the rest of the call, and felt infinitely better for it. After all, picking at any sort of gaping wound rarely helps, and usually makes things worse. We need your shoulder to lean on, naturally, but don’t be afraid to tell us when your shoulder’s getting soggy and we need to get a grip on things. The best thing my family did for me when all this happened was to point out that it was my mind, and I could choose either to dwell on it, or move on.

Needless to say, they made it clear which option they’d rather I chose.

Yet I do know that if I had opted to sit in my pants weeping in front of back to back episodes of Gossip Girl, they’d have been there to hold me. That, after all, is what family is for. Keeping them close was in my ten year plan; I’m glad at least one part of that is working out…

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