Exit Strategies

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.

If you're dating a guy named Mr. Mxyzptlk, you merely have to get him to say his name backward. Otherwise, it is typically incumbent upon you to offer some word of explanation. “Bye” does not count. You should also try to avoid using a pie chart.

Do not sleep with the person right before breaking up. That can give the impression that you only did it to get one last fuck in under the gate or, worse, that you were doling out some kind of misguided mercy fuck. No one likes getting a mercy fuck, though I suppose some people like to watch them. Is there a website yet? Do not sleep with the person after you break up. This is a hard one because you still have feelings for each other, and it is so darned convenient and all. But here is what happens: just because you're sleeping together all the time, and hence seeing each other all the time, and probably doing most everything together, the ex will start getting this nutty idea that you are a couple again. I've been on both ends of that, along with times when the old college try really was attempted, and it doesn't end well. If you're lucky, it won't be the same person initiating the breakup the second time. Then you can both feel like pieces of shit. Do not break up on a trip. Sometimes you can't help but break up when you do. But if it's in the middle of a trip somewhere, particularly a backpacking trip, everyone is going to have a real bad time. Particularly if you've taken acid. Wait until you're on home territory. Go quietly into the night. If you care for the person you broke up with, you'll feel an urge to help salve his or her hurt, you know, the hurt you just caused, you insensitive prick. The shoulder that bashed his/her heart in isn't the right shoulder to cry on. Be an adult about it, and just fuck off into the sunset. And, for either of you, if things ended acrimoniously, don't seek revenge. Consider radio personality Bill Balance, who posted naked photos of former lover/professional hypocrite Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the Internet. There's a double moral there: don't do that, and don't do Dr. Laura.

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