I’ve had my fair share of relationships (some would argue I’ve had more than my fair share). Most of them ended even though I didn’t want them to, which is really just a way of saying I got dumped more often than not. That’s not to imply I was never the one who initiated the breakup. I broke off relationships for various reasons (and as I got older, those reason became far more, um, reasonable). Whatever that reason might be, I always knew exactly what it was. If I told the girl or woman I was dating that “it just wasn’t working out,” I could also explain why. It’s been over a movie only twice.
The first time was a woman I dated in college. We both worked in the mall and were introduced by a mutual friend. The mutual friend suggested we go out (it was years later I discovered the mutual friend only suggested we go out to make it absolutely clear the she wasn’t seeing me). We did go out and hit it off. We dated for a while and it was going pretty well until one night at her apartment.
We rented a movie and settled on the couch to watch it. It was My Life starring Michael Keaton as a man dying of cancer. He knows he will die before his son is born, so he records video tapes to make sure his unborn child will know something of his father. It’s a movie obviously ripe with emotion, and there are many scenes that bring tears to my eyes. There is one scene, however, that absolutely slays me.
Keaton’s character at one point in the film recounts a lie he told as a child about having a carnival in his back yard. He tells all the kids at school who naturally follow him home to enjoy it. He talks about almost believing he could wish it into existence, but as he pushes through the sheets drying on the line, there is , of course, no carnival.
Later in the movie he is confined to a wheelchair and his wife tells him he needs some fresh air. She pushes him through the back door and through some sheets billowing in the afternoon air on the line. The blow back and reveal the carnival his family and friends have provided. It is a real carnival and he smiles. It is a moment of tragic beauty and every time I see it, the tears come and I bawl like a baby.
The scene comes as we watch it together. I began crying as I knew I would. Even though I knew the scene was coming, it still hit me hard.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“It’s just that this scene with the carnival gets me every time.”
“Because it’s so beautiful and sad.” As I answered, I turned to face her. She was not crying (or even misty eyed).
“What are you talking about?”
“The carnival. They gave him the carnival he lied about as a kid. It’s moving.”
“Which makes me cry. Doesn’t this stir any kind of emotion in you?”
“Not really. It’s just a movie.”
“I know it’s just a movie, but it can still make you sad. Movies can move you.”
“They clearly affect you, crybaby.”
“Crybaby? It’s My Life! You have to cry while watching it. It’s as normal and human as crying when Old Yeller gets shot.”
“I didn’t cry about that either.”
“But you have a dog!”
“I think you’re overreacting a bit.”
“And I think maybe we shouldn’t see each other any more.”
“Wait, what? Are you breaking up with me over a movie?”
“No, I’m breaking up with you because you’re clearly heartless.”
“And I thought they claim women are emotional!”
She asked me to leave, which I did. It will not surprise anyone that she seem unconcerned about the end of our relationship. If you don;t cry over Old Yeller or Michael Keaton in My Life, you’re certainly not going to shed a tear over me. Nor, apparently, will you return the movie I rented on time. It accrued a heft late fee until she finally turned it in. After I explained she didn’t even shed a tear during the movie and that I broke up with her over it, the video store waived the fee on principle.
The second time I broke up over a movie is a story for another time.
One thing that I did not get rather I initiated the break up or was the one who got dumped was a good exit. For some perverse reason I always wanted a dramatic break up where I got to storm out full of righteous anger (or at least understandable annoyance). I wanted a Rhett Butler type moment that made a good story. I had come close, but it didn’t work out well.
That changed when I dated a woman in Nashville. It should have been obvious that she was about to dump me, but I was clueless. We went with some of her friends to a comedy club and then back to her house where we were all going to spend the night since it was so late. I should have realized something was up at the club, because she seemed to keep trying to pick a fight with me.
It all came to a head back at her house when she revealed that she had second thoughts about dating me. I was understanding because it was a bit of a distance and I also acted poorly, but I also thought we could salvage our relationship so I said, “I think we can salvage our relationship.”
“I’m not so sure,” she replied.
“Why not, it was going pretty well. I know I was kind of a jerk tonight. You know I get grouchy when I’m sick, but that’s not an excuse. I should have have snapped less. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not just tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just need some space.”
“You need some space.”
“Yeah, I’ve been talking to a friend of mine and he agrees.”
“Wait a minute. He agrees? Who is this guy?” I became less understanding as she explained he was about 20 years older than her.
“He really gets me. We’ve been sorta going out and -”
“I though you needed space.”
“I do. From you.”
“Fine, but couldn’t you have told me on the phone?”
“I wanted to tell you face to face.”
“Then why didn’t you do it earlier? You’ve had hours.”
“It never seemed like a good time.”
“But 2:30 in the morning is a good time?”
“Well, no, but . . . what are you doing?”
“I’m getting my shoes.”
“Why? Because I’m leaving. You clearly don’t want me around and I’m not going to stay.”
“But it’s really late. You’re sick. You could have a wreck and die.”
“Than I guess you’ll have your space!” I yelled. I registered her shocked look as I slammed the door behind me.
On the drive home I had time to ponder the flip side of the dramatic exit. I know I did the right thing (mostly), but I still felt extremely alone in the night and couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I should turn around. I began to wonder what ran through Rhett Butler’s mind as he walked in the fog. He probably had his doubts as well, so it wasn’t much comfort.
I came to understand that the dramatic exit may make for a good story, but it didn’t make for a good life. Now that I have a woman who won’t ever break up with me, I don’t care about dramatic exits. Oh we still have our fights, but I know they can’t end our marriage. Neither of us are looking for the dramatic exit. It takes a little more work (and a lot more humility), but it’s worth it and it makes for a great story.