She started crying, right there in the local pizza restaurant and I didn’t know what the fuck to do. I hadn’t been mean or offensive. I hadn’t lied or deceived her. I just told her the truth. The truth she very obviously did not like hearing.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I took a sip of my beer and let her cry.
It hurt. I hate seeing people cry. I’m not good at handling excessive displays of emotion. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and throws out my normally excellent people radar, so much so that I get panicked and start worrying about what to do with my hands. Oh shit she’s crying. I should do something. Should I put my hands on her back? What should I do with my hands? WHERE DO I PUT MY HANDS?
Crying is the pinnacle of discomfort causing emotions. When people cry around me it’s like I’ve lost all sense of up and down and I’m blindly spinning a wheel of fortune that has a list of dickhead-ish actions on it like tell them everything will be alright, pat them softly on the back, or sit back and drink your beer like a jerk.
But when I think back about that terrible night that I made my ex-girlfriend cry at a pizza shop I realise that I did exactly the right thing. I had my hands in EXACTLY the right place!
OK I don’t actually remember what I did with my hands but I do know that everything else that I did that night was spot on.
The truth that had caused my ex-girlfriend, let’s call her Theresa, so much grief was that I had started dating someone else. You see where I am going with this?
Theresa and I had broken up many months beforehand and, after a handful of weird post-breakup scenarios (like her dating my room-mate and then trying to cheat on him with me) we severed ties. Our interpersonal interactions hadn’t been great the last few weeks when we were still both pretending our relationship had long-term potential but, even so, it degenerated surprisingly quickly after the breakup.
I moved out that of that incestuous house and I moved on. I rented my own place, starting hanging out with other people, and found some nice girls to date.
When Theresa called me up, said she had moved on, and wanted to try to be friends I thought we’d give it a go. I was happy that she had finally moved on and wondered if friendship was possible. We had started more like mates, or mates-of-mates, so maybe we had just got our relationship level wrong by getting sexual/romantic. Maybe friendship was the better option for us all along?
Looking back I can tell I also was clinging to that deep desire I had to be liked by everyone. If I could turn a bitter and slightly crazy ex-girlfriend into a regular friend and pro-Jack supporter than all would be right in the world, or at least in my weird and insecure mind.
I didn’t plan on the tears though.
Telling Theresa the truth about my new girlfriend was absolutely the best thing I could have done both for her and for me. I always believe the truth is more useful than lies (apart from when it comes to telling people about what I actually do in my job) and especially so when it comes to emotional entanglements. Telling her the truth was the first thing I got right about this entire situation.
The second thing I got right that night? Being a cold mother fucker about it.
The tears were the symptom, not the cause. Theresa was crying because she still had feelings for me. She still held on to the idea that there was a chance of rekindling our relationship. In my mind there was zero chance and I had to be sure she understood that.
In those few seconds when I sat there watching her crying, freaking out about my hands, I realised that I needed to swallow my pride and accept that I could not let her go away liking me. I didn’t want her to hate me but I knew that I needed to crush her hope. She needed to move on and she couldn’t do that whilst holding on to the possibility that I might come running back to her. I had to ensure when she left that night that she knew there was no going back.
Cold hearted Jack was in town.
When she went to the toilet to cry in solitude I asked the waitress to change our order to take-away. Then I finished my beer while I waited for her to finish her crying. We walked the three blocks back to my place in silence and I held the door open on her car one last time. As she sat in her car holding back more tears she finally broke the silence by calling me abusive names and saying she couldn’t see me again. I listened and nodded along, cold as ice.
Before she drove away she steeled herself and I could tell she finally understood. She was finally free. She was going to be alright.
I trudged up stairs, grabbed another beer, and sat alone on my deck watching the sky change colour with the setting sun. It was a beautiful sight but I couldn’t feel it.
“Happy birthday Jack.” I muttered to myself as I downed the last of my beer, turned the lights off, and went inside to go to bed.