Exit Strategies

Never get into waror romancewithout noting the exits

Remember how incensed Republicans were when President Bill Clinton committed U.S. troops to the Balkans without a clear-cut exit strategy? Now, with some of our soldiers still there, Republicans have been drop-kicking troops into deadly conflicts all over the place, from Afghanistan to the Philippines to Colombia to the quarter-million or so we're amassing on Iraq's borders, all without a scintilla of an exit strategy.

Don't make this mistake at home! Here we are verging on Valentine's Day, and there you are, probably drunk with the first blush of obsession, rushing hips-first into a new romance. Spring is in the air; birds are chirping; you're reading Rilke; and you're poised at your intended's border, eager to penetrate his or her most deeply entrenched feelings with your atomic bunker-buster of love.

Just remember: spring forward; fall back. Sure, it's all sweet endearments and edible underpants today, but what about the chill nights a month or year from now when it's all nit-picking and Kentucky Fried Chicken farts under the covers, and you're just about willing to gnaw your leg off to get away? Shouldn't you have seen this coming?

No, of course you shouldn't. When love calls, you follow, and if you're trying to cover your ass and hedge your bets heading in, you'd be doing everyone a favor to not even bother. What sort of soulless prig would you be to only accept life's banquet if you have a signed pre-prandial agreement? As the besotted but scarily alive Judy Garland was wont to say, "Fie!"

So do rush in, fool, and do it with every good intention and hope. But take it from the voice of gnarled experience that some time down the line, you will be dumped or will feel compelled to dump. Should this be your fate, it is best to not be so blindsided by the event that you make things any worse than they have to be.

Having many a time been both dumpster and dumpee, let me please share a few things I have learned.

1. Don't be Pathetic!If you are under 25 or so and someone breaks up with you, even someone you can't stand, your first impulse will be to kill yourself. Don't! There are many reasons not to kill yourself, not the least of them being that you'll probably screw it up. When I was growing up in Buena Park, some buddies and I were walking to Johnny's Speed and Chrome to check out the Ed "Big Daddy" Roth Weird-O T-shirts, only to see a teenaged guy gun his Ford across the parking lot and right into a concrete-and-steel pole by the Tastee-Freez. We ran up to the crumpled car to look, and the guy was a bloody mess. Through broken lips, he kept bleating, "She doesn't love me! She doesn't love me!" Maybe dying for love felt romantic in the days of knights and heraldry, but I'm betting that's not how it felt at a Buena Park Tastee-Freez, nowhere near dead, with eight-year-olds gawking through the cracked windshield like you're some real-life Weird-O character.

At eight, you can't see what all the fuss is over an icky girl. At my advanced age now, it also seems rather a lot of bother. But in my late teens, I was going to electrocute myself over a breakup. I'd rigged a Kustom amp footswitch up to 117 volts, held a wire in each hand, and was prepared to step on the switch when my GE Trimline Stereo had cycled to the last of my favorite albums stacked on it, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. It was nearly there when a friend called, wanting to go get some hot chocolate.

I've never been sorry that I opted for the chocolate. Once you have lived a little more, you find love always has its travails, but time levels out the ups and downs. Someone breaks up with you, and where once you might have despaired, "Why even draw another breath on this desolate orb?" you now drive away thinking, "I wonder if I can make it home in time for Nightline?"

2. The Rules.I know some couples who were each other's first true loves and stayed that way through life. But it has not been so for me nor probably you. Things fall apart. Some are duct-taped mismatches to begin with. Some are like an emotional comb-over, where there aren't enough strands to breach the bald divide that keeps our souls separate. Sometimes love is close but no cigar, and no amount of goodwill can make it burn. People change. People can find they want vitally different levels of engagement in life or in each other. Sometimes love transmutes into some other abiding thing, but not one fulfilling enough to be together. Sometimes love has nothing to do with how you thought it was supposed to work out, and you find you can love the person best by letting him or her go. So how do you get rid of the son of a bitch? Get them to break up with you. As tough as having someone break up with you is, it is infinitely harder breaking up with someone. If you're at all a caring person, you feel like a piece of shit for months—or forever—wondering if you'd given it your all, wondering if you'd led the other person on while not knowing your own heart, wondering if you left any good CDs at her place. So get your significant other to break up with you. It may take a year or two longer, but it's worth it. You can usually hasten the process. Try moping all day, nose stuck in the current Negative Living magazine. The next time he or she asks you, "Do you want to make love?" reply, "I'd like to, but I've lost all desire for you," and roll over, away from him/her. This rolling over is a crucial bit of body language, and you must do it, even if you are driving at the time. If none of this works, and you absolutely have to be the one to do the breaking up, do it crisply and cleanly, as you would snap the head off a crawfish.
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