"I just don't think I want a girlfriend right now."
This bomb fell at the tail end of a romantic candlelit dinner with my boyfriend of one year, just when I thought we were back on the upswing. It wasn't a let's-try-again reunion dinner; it was our last supper.
I went numb. I nearly tackled the waitress ("We need our check! Now!"). I told him to give me back my keys. He resisted: "Can't we wait till I come by and get my-"
"No. Now," I said, fighting back tears and failing. I stood there, rigid, as he wiggled each key off the chain, dropping them into my hand with cold finality.
I had a business lunch the next day. I almost cancelled. I looked and felt horrible. I had been crying all night. And a man I'd known, a former colleague, says from across the table, "You want him back?" I was mute. Of course I did. I wasn't the one who wanted to end it.
This guy, who prefers to go by his pseudonym, P.T. Carlito, started to say the most outrageous things. He told me he could show me how to get my ex back in a matter of weeks. My problem, he said, was that I didn't choose actions based on what I wanted; I let my emotions gain the upper hand and dictate my responses instead of the other way around. "No wonder you're a disaster."
He was aggressive, obnoxious. He had no business offering ME advice. I'm the dating expert, not him! He's just some middle-aged dude, married for 20 years. Who was he to tell me who I am and how to date? The feminist in me threw up a little in her mouth.
"I'll have him crawling back before the end of the year. You can count on it. And, by the way, begging. You better just be careful what you wish for."
P.T. leaned in and aimed his fork at my forehead. "First, I need you to do exactly as I tell you to. Second, I need you to write a column about what a genius I am. You got that?" I nodded.
Rule 1: Cut Off All Contact
Later that same evening, I was sipping a potent mezcal cocktail at the Soho Grand with P.T. and a few other colleagues, hovering over the "unfriend" button on my phone. I felt like I was about to step off a cliff.
"Do it," P.T. said firmly. "Trust me." In a single gesture, my ex was instantly evicted from my digital circle of trust. Moving on to Twitter didn't feel as final as Facebook exile.
This was the first lesson. Doing the opposite of what you really want to do: Cut off all digital contact. "This process is not going to be easy," said P.T. "It feels like the wrong thing. But it's not. It's about strategy." This is something women are rarely taught to do. If you let your feelings rule your actions and your reactions, you lose.
What happened: My ex not only watched my feeds more closely, he started tweeting and retweeting me in ways he never did when we were dating. Once I'd taken him off my radar, I had his full attention. But rest assured there was no poor-me public ranting about it. None.
Rule 2: Enter radio silence.
I didn't initiate contact; I didn't respond to any, either. This was hard. Because he wasn't "gone" -- he was sending a text here, a funny youtube link there, a video of his roommate's puppy.
I feared what anyone would, that I'd come off cold, or give the idea that I didn't want him when I did. Wrong. Far too many women think that if they "keep the door open," that the ex will beat a path to their door. Now was not the time to be friends. "Needy is not attractive," P.T. said.
"You're giving him a chance to feel what life is like without you." After all, that's what he had asked for.
What happened: He started emailing and texting me more. It's human nature; he felt he wasn't getting my attention, so he tried harder.
Rule 3: Pack it up and ship it out.
I loathed the inevitable weepy, sad exchange of goods. "No. Messenger all his stuff and send it to him immediately," he said.
Rather than play Radiohead and fondle his old razor, though, I put on Beyonce (I strongly recommend "Irreplaceable") and packed his shit in a bag, taped it up and shipped it via messenger to my ex's office downtown. And you know what? It felt good, empowering even -- because I wasn't sitting there "waiting" for him to come and strip away what was left. I was deciding. I was in charge now.
This is key. You may never be in control of all that happens to you, but you are always in control of your response.
Rule 4: No bitterness. None.
When my ex received his goods at his office via messenger, you better believe I got a round of riled-up texts. "Why would you do this?" he wrote. "Do you really need to get rid of me that quickly? That's cold."
My emotions tugged at me to defend, point to the irony of his response (really, dude?). But P.T. was not having it. "Wish him well," he said. "Fact is, he's doing whatever he can to get a response from you."
When I resisted, he said something I'll never forget: "You will never teach someone by explaining. You show through actions, not words." I hated this guy. Because I knew he was right.
So instead of emotionally engaging, I texted back, "Stop being dramatic. Now you have your stuff back and you can move on with your life, as will I. I wish you only the best. Goodbye."
Return to: Radio silence. I figured that was the last nail in the coffin.
Rule 5: Go on a few dates.
I wasn't counting on my ex coming back. And I knew that in order to move on I could only cry so many nights in a row; I had to get out into the world and fill my time with other people.
If you're deep in mourning, you may want to wait a couple weeks. Me? Two days. I was dumped on a Wednesday, and out drinking wine with an Air Force general on Friday. Maybe that was too early. Then again, my relationship had also ended early, so all bets were off.
I didn't go out with the intention of finding a new boyfriend. I went to remind myself that I could enjoy the company of new men as soon or as often as I liked. I gave myself that option, and you should, too, if you can compartmentalize your grief (i.e., not spend the date discussing your ex).
(Added bonus: I also blogged about what it was like to be dating again, in a spirited, curious way... knowing full well there's a chance my ex would be reading them.)
Rule 6: Expect the unexpected.
My ex's texts grew in intensity, frequency, and anguish, until he finally said, "If you want me to stop writing you say something. I'm starting to feel like a crazy person."
After a few weeks of silence on my end, right before Christmas, he broke. He wrote me a gushing letter confessing that he had made a mistake, he had taken me for granted, and that he wanted me back. He didn't want anyone else. He wanted me.
I swelled inside with relief and, quite frankly, disbelief. Curse P.T. He was right. That bastard!
When my boyfriend and I met up at a very nice restaurant in Tribeca, he was wearing a tie, and had an armful of flowers waiting for me at the table. He only asked that I consider dating him again. I said I'd consider it. And we have been.
My ex came back to the relationship having learned a powerful lesson, as did I: that you have to be careful what you wish for. And know what you want. In this case, I wanted to give it, and us, another chance.
Do what will get you what you want, not what will encourage more of what you fear.
Fact is, even if my ex did not come back, which was a real possibility, I still would have been better off -- and well on my way to a perfectly fine life without him.
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