An Exit Interview for a Relationship

I chose the wrong time to tell my boyfriend that I loved him. It was a mere four months into our relationship. He was breaking up with me. We live in the Pacific Northwest so naturally the day defaulted to a gently rainy grey. The perfectly wrong time for such a confession but for some reason I released the words from my mouth into the mist without much thought at all. Our break up seemed to be going so well, why not throw a little love and tenderness into it?

When I say it was going well, I do not mean it was mutual and we were jumping for joy to be free from our commitments. In fact it was unilateral. He was breaking up with me, breaking my heart, in the rain, by the water. However, there had been some indication that this was coming; a very definite text message giving me the generous offer after the digital break up– “I’ll talk to you face to face if you would like.” If I would like? Yes, I would like that very much I thought sighing to myself at the hopeful maturity I thought a thirty year old man would have not to end our relationship with a text message. This resulted in a very unique position in which I could prepare for my own break-up. It was Groundhog Day-esque, a glimpse at the future where I might recover some semblance of control and dignity.

Early relationship love is interesting, enthralling and sometimes wrong. Deciphering love, lust, tingling excitement and hope is a cryptic endeavor in the beginning. With my boyfriend, things seemed to move very, very fast. Uncomfortably so until my uneasiness lessened. I met Oliver three weeks prior to my departure on a month-long trip to Spain. It was at a Christmas party and snow began falling heavily at the end of the night. I knew almost everyone at the party except for a group of three people sitting by the entrance, perched in front of the alter of alcohol. On the premise of refilling my wine glass I casually, in my heels, emerald slacks and Drake Hotline Bling Christmas sweater, walked over to introduce myself.

In my head, I misaligned who was a couple in the group of two men and one woman but quickly realized the mistake and deciphered that the one in a red flannel and tan Carhartts was unattached. So focused on our conversation around tinned fish, I did not notice his foot was in a full boot. Later I would find out that the cause of this injury was reckless golf carting (insert Caddy Shack joke here), how intriguing and silly. As carelessly as I engaged in conversation I exited to my own group of friends and the Christmas duck that was calling my name. When Oliver, approached before departing, asking for my phone number, I was elated. Living in a small town it can sometimes feel that you have few opportunities to meet new people, especially romantic partners in a sea of couples, and small pool of eligible singles.

I was not looking for something casual but was also unsure if going abroad attached to someone was the best plan. But he wanted to be my boyfriend. So badly. Instead I called him “lover” and “dude” but he was not content with these titles that I believed to be charming. We talked about building a house together, having two cats Wolfy and Foxy. He wanted to have ten children and adopt 50; I suggested that starting an orphanage would be a better way to satisfy this strong desire for kids.  This was all in the first three weeks of the relationship, pre-Spain. We spent about every other day together.

The trip was life changing and the support I incurred from Oliver was immense. I tried not to text with him everyday and limit our calls to once a week, so I could really try to miss him. I did. In this time, he said “I feel like we’re gonna fall into something really good for the both of us. I’ve constantly been thinking of you since you’ve left.” I read these words and I believed them to be true. But now, it is hard to know if they were genuine words or those of infatuation, loneliness, and maybe aspiration that we could make them real. Reunification was dreamy. He picked me up from the airport and we drove to his apartment. Worried by the expansiveness of his new king-sized bed, he told me he would be right beside me the entire night. Somewhere in the second to third month of dating was when the love struck. I just had a very strong feeling that he was my “forever person” as I called it—the person you want to share and grow your life with until maturation. I was wrong. Things shifted. COVID-19 broke out.

Future generations may never believe that on the day I am writing the first draft of this essay, March 23, 2020, people were being ordered to “shelter in place”, a term which here means, stay in their homes, only leaving for essential work, food supplies and prescriptions. This is the time of a global pandemic, COVID-19. This time of mandatory isolation did not seam like an ideal moment for my boyfriend to break up with me. I was already so lonely. Why now?  His timing was only made worse by the fact that I had just learned my childhood friend had passed away at the age of 26, just one year older than me. My friend did not die of the Corona virus. He died a month prior, on Valentine’s Day. Again I wondered, why now?

I wanted to move as quickly as I could through my own pains so I could get to helping others. Millions of people were dying across the world, the disease was growing exponentially with no end in sight. However, in order to assist with the global situation, I had to get right myself first. Since I was not completely blindsided by the end of my relationship, this gave me the opportunity to do something I had never done before, come prepared to a breakup. I knew it was going to happen so like the studious, daughter of two lawyers that I am, I brought out my pocket-sized legal pad and decided to prepare myself for a relationship exit interview. I wrote on top of the page “Questions for Closure w/Oliver”, yes, I did chuckle at the little rhyme. Then I began to write down everything I wanted to know about this impending doom. If my boyfriend was going to break up with me, I would at least learn how to improve my character and be a better partner in the future. The questions were as follows:

  1. Describe the moment when you wanted to be my boyfriend and then the moment when the feeling changed.
  2. Tell me what you mean when you say you felt “forced” to be in the relationship.
  3. What is your favorite memory of our relationship?
  4. How Could I be a better partner in my future relationships?
  5. How do you see our relationship going forward in the future?
  6. How would you describe yourself to others?
  7. Do you feel you couldn’t talk to me in person about the conflictions you were feeling? Why?
  8. How will you describe the end of our relationship to friends? Family?
  9. Are you happy?
  10. What are the best qualities I brought to the relationship?
  11. Would you like to ask me any questions?

Hearing these, one friend told me I should write a book and that it was maybe the most mature approach to a break up she had seen. I don’t mean to be patting myself on the back. I was being dumped after all. It was not easy to write down the questions and it was even harder to listen to the responses. In the end, no matter how mature or prepared I thought I was he was still breaking up with me in the middle of a global pandemic. Maybe the questions for closure were also being said at the wrong time? If I said them earlier would I have saved our relationship? Would we have been able to do all the inventive quarantine activities I had brainstormed such as writing a play, painting portraits of each other, inventing a new card game and a manner of other more arousing activities. I knew, I was a creative, cool girlfriend despite my initial resistance.

Now everything was mashing together in my head, an alphabet soup of questions, answers, and “I love you” over and over again, ricocheting off the sides of my skull. The elated feeling of sensibleness transitioned into self-doubt very quickly. After returning home, I wrote down all of my boyfriend’s answers in the blank lines I had left between the evenly spaced questions. This was a physical documentation of closure, something I could never get from an unrequited “I love you”. To his credit, the answers were thoughtful and succinct. He stayed far away from platitudes like “it’s not you, it’s me” “I am not ready for a relationship” “you are a great girl but….”. The responses seemed honest and very direct, echoing my own organization and straightforward candor. I could probably write a fair recommendation letter for his next romantic engagement or job application, whichever came first.

During the following days millions of people were laid off and thousands died. I was fortunate to have both my health and my job, I worked dutifully from my home office and threw myself into planning the annual Plant Sale for my local Grange chapter. The plant therapy was a miracle. I worked in a greenhouse, six feet, from my fellow Grangers and carefully transplanted peppers and tomatoes into their own pots. These previously grouped together plants were receiving their own home, thrown into an independent life, just like I had been. When a plant start is transplanted there is an initial period of shock and the stems and leaves will wilt, sighing in the foreign location. All they need is a little water and some sunlight to pep them back up, not dissimilar to humans. It was the precise moment of Spring when this delicate work needed to be done. The timing of spring in the Northern Hemisphere of the globe seemed necessary for hope and inspiration during this dark time.

After my own transplant from coupled to single, the loneliness and pain began receding like waves, only crashing over me in the early mornings and evenings when I felt for my boyfriend beside me in bed. Remembering his promise to not leave my side, I would sometimes cry. When these moments eclipsed me I dashed downstairs, pulled out my filled in exit interview from the Mark Chagall coffee table book I had stashed it in with his angels. I looked at the sentences, so thankful I had peppered in those “happy” questions as well. I flipped through the pages, tucked them back into the book jacket and returned to my bed if it was the evening or began my day if the sun was rising.  They were definitely the right words; all of them carefully picked and said exactly when I was feeling them. However, time is an absolutely relative, amorphous force that is neither right nor wrong. Time flows like my sadness, coming in and out, a tide that will never cease. If sadness is like water my greater structure is akin to a plant—I need the brightness and moisture to keep going. With no tears, we dry up and with no shining optimism, we cannot grow.

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