Required Listening: Dancing On My Own by Robyn

Disclaimer: This is a break-up blog. This isn’t a blog that is going to waste your internet bandwidth with bitchy back-handed comments or salacious back-stabbing gossip. You know, all that unrelatable, boring stuff that people hate to read about online. I promise you won’t find much of that here.

Ok. So, there are a few things in this world that continue to be a mystery to me: Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr., for one and “an enchanting new children’s book by Madonna, bestselling author of Sex,” for another. Mostly though, I continue to be mystified when people (mostly strangers who are really just looking for directions) come to me for relationship advice. It happens more than you might think. I don’t know what it is about me that suggests I am an authority on keeping the spark alive. Let’s take a super quick vote:

Would you take relationship advice from this guy?

Thought not.

I decided to revoke my license to practice relationship advice long ago after I realized it had been years since my last date and the resources at my disposal had become more than just a little bit dated. When did I notice? It happened while I was counseling a boyfriend-troubled friend of mine with anecdotal stories from my last successful “relationship.” Now, it’s important (mostly for legal reasons) to note that I define a relationship as anything that lasts longer than three dates (two, if any of those dates last more than thirty minutes). So, when this troubled friend was just a little surprised by all the Matthew Good Band song references peppering my story, she felt compelled to inquire…

“I’m sorry, when did you say you broke-up with your last girlfriend?”

An ideal answer would have been:

“…a few months ago. It was hard, but it was for the best. We’re still the best of friends though. ”

Yep, that would have been an ideal response. Unfortunately, my response went a little bit like this:

“I broke up, well we…she ended it actually, you know, about…gosh, must’ve been…um, eight years ago? Anyways, so, yeah, she regrets it.”

It was around this time that my license to provide relationship advice expired—and you know what? It was for the best. Asking me for relationship advice was like asking Paula Deen for her no-fail tofu rice bowl recipe. Truth be told, relationships aren’t my specialty. Watching cat videos on YouTube? Going on first dates and never second dates? Listening to Adele’s Someone Like You as I stare longingly at my own reflection in the mirror? These are so my kind of thang (and yes, I hate myself for using that word too).

So while my decade long dating dry spell means people aren’t necessarily knocking on my door for relationship advice these days, there are a few questions I do get asked a lot. For example (and almost always in this order):

Question: Don’t you ever get lonely?”

Answer: Not really

Question: How do you pass the time?

Answer: Wait for it. Wait for it….

Question: What’s that noise? Hold on, is that your cat…?

Answer: …peeing in the toilet? There’s a 50/50 chance. We’re still in training mode. If you go into the bathroom, watch your step.

Question: Can you tell me the Urban Cowboy break-up story?

Answer:  You mean the story that starts out with me trying to take the high-road, and ends with me trying to make my ex jealous by showing up to a party dressed in a super-sized urban cowboy costume? Blugh. Seriously? That boring story? I hardly even remember….OK, Sure!

 

If this doomed-from-the-start relationship had of been a romantic comedy, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have received a “Certified Rotten” grade on Rotten Tomatoes. Just for fun, here’s a sampling of how I think some of the Top Critics would have reviewed the film:

It was like watching Ross and Rachel from Friends do a six-hour Rain Man impression.” -A.O Scott, The New York Times

This was true. Sometimes our lovey-dovey baby talk could get pretty politically incorrect.

This is the first incest comedy I haven’t loved.” -Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times

That’s a fair criticism. My ex and I were frequently mistaken for twins. Not fraternal twins-–identical twins. I’m still working with a therapist to figure out why I am only attracted to people who look like me.

“The only redeemable character in the film was the psychic mother, played by Kathy Bates.” -Christy Lemire, Associated Press

 My mother (who looks and acts a lot like Kathy Bates) had predicted the demise of this relationship long before we ever saw it coming. One night while treating us to pizza and wings, she experienced a premonition–we later realized it was simply a side-effect brought on by the consumption of not one but two bottles of the Rex Hotel’s House Red Wine. Before we could restrain her, she had my then-girlfriend in a death grip, shouting hysterically and repeatedly, “don’t bring someone into my life who I love and then take them away!”

Later that night we would walk in on her going through my girlfriends suitcase while my sister sat on the floor trying on her shoes. The Kardashians have nothing on this family!

“A solid romantic comedy for people who hate romance but love toilet humor!” -Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

Truth be told, it took me over two years of friendship to build up the nerve to confess my real feelings to her, and even then I couldn’t go through with it . Thankfully I had no shortage of frustrated friends willing to give me the extra “push” I needed to kick-start things.  One night, a drunken mutual friend of ours – driven to madness by our never-ending will-they-won’t-they-love-at-first-sight-Ross-and-Rachel antics decided it was time to confront the girl, even if it was while she was taking a number two in some dive bar bathroom. When she emerged from the facilities, it was official—we were off to the races. It was the start to a love story that I couldn’t wait to tell our grand kids. Err–actually,  if they ever asked, I planned on telling them a slightly revised, more romanticized variation– we met on Craigslist.

With all the pressure we had put on ourselves, it was no wonder that exactly three years later it all ended (totally worth it, guys!).

Okay. Moving on to the break-up.

Now, here’s the trouble with me. I’m not a jealous person. I’m not even a competitive person.  And you all know I have a well-documented fear of confrontation; so this makes me the absolute worst person to break-up with, if what you’re looking for is a dramatic, drawn-out for months, come-back-to me English Patient-style ending. And let’s be honest with ourselves, who doesn’t kind of want (or expect) this reaction these days?

Well, I gave perhaps the very opposite. After hearing the words “I want to break up” I immediately realized so did I. It was the right time; a chance to end on a high note. I was so okay with things that when I found out that my ex had started dating someone else, there wasn’t even a small part of me that was bothered by it—I remember feeling good about it. It was the healthy closure I needed to really move on with things. I was fine with it. Fine with it. Fine. Really! Water under the bridge? Absolutely! Even if it was only a week and a half after she’d ended things? Psshaw! Even if she had awkwardly presented him for the first time at a work function full of people who had not yet been told that we’d broken-up? You know what guys? It’s such a gray area. 

Seriously! The heart wants what the heart wants. All’s fair in love and war. Que sera sera–you get the picture.

As it often does, our break-up had taken a toll on several of our mutual friends. It was difficult; every story worth talking about involved the other person, so when you removed those stories from the equation, there really wasn’t much for us to talk about. As I tried to navigate these uncharted waters my paranoia began to get the better of me. I didn’t want to discuss the relationship because I wasn’t completely sure if my friends were asking me how I was doing because they were being good friends, or if they were just probing for more gossip–fodder to be delivered to the other side. Because I couldn’t crack the code, I decided it was better to sever ties (temporarily) and instead chose to lose myself in my work.

That was my first bad decision.

In University I had one of the worst jobs ever. I worked in the faculty office—doing absolutely nothing. Basically, it was my job to wander around this old house asking if anyone needed help with anything, but they never did. So I sat in a dimly lit room most days—alone–contemplating. And no, contemplating isn’t a euphemism for masturbating. Keep it clean guys!

My boss at the time—lets call her, um–Tyra.

I know what you’re thinking: with a name like Tyra she was probably some conservative, retired schoolmarm, who loved classical music, making mulled wine, neatly stacked spiral notebooks and daily encounters with the mail man. Well, you’re wrong. Tyra was actually a sassy red-headed MILF who went to the gym twice a day and had a smokin’ body. She had many passions, and in the time I knew her I was able to categorize  them into this convenient list.

  1. Her Family
  1. Survivor. Yes, the TV Show. Even ten years ago she was the only one keeping this show alive.
  1. The music of Maroon 5. More specifically, she was obsessed with the song She Will Be Loved.

Yeah, you remember it. To this day when I think of Tyra, I picture her as Mrs. John Travolta–dancing sloppily in her floral caftan to the music of Maroon 5. With smeared lipstick all over her face, she blows into a conch shell  while watching the opening credits of Survivor. I like to picture her still living the dream. Work it out, girl.

Something I forgot to mention is that Tyra had one other favourite thing. An annual faculty tradition known as The Ninnie Awards. And yes this is the real name–I could not make something like this up.

The Ninnies was a themed costume party thrown by the student council in conjunction with the faculty of Film Studies. People loved it because it was an opportunity to see professors dress up (usually in drag) and do crazy things, like drunkenly admit that the French New Wave wasn’t really a thing.  Then they’d give out awards to the student films with the least amount of stereotypes and tell jokes like:

“What happens when Kurosawa, Spielberg and Orson Welles walk into a bar?—(wait for it)—Rosebud!” Then we’d all laugh and laugh—Ok, guess you had to be there.

Everyone loved The Ninnies, but no one loved them more than Tyra. So, when I told her I wasn’t planning on going to this year’s “films of the 1980’s” themed costume party, she was outraged.

I couldn’t tell her the real reasons:

My ex and her new boyfriend were head of the planning committee; I was doing my hardest to avoid my friends; and more importantly it was our final year of the program. While most students were reminiscing and saying their goodbyes, I was just beginning to realize that I had made no real attempt in my four years to get to know any of these people—and the idea of being that sad, desperate guy searching for someone to talk to in a sea of strangers brought me back to the ever-present memories of my elementary school days. All things considered, this just wasn’t something I thought was a good idea for me.

So, I lied. I told Tyra that the real reason I wasn’t going to the party was because I didn’t have a costume. This was my second mistake. Because of course I should have known that Tyra was the kind of lady who had a tickle-trunk full of costumes just waiting for someone like me to pull this excuse.

“Problem solved! I have the perfect costume! You can be The Urban Cowboy! Did you know my husband [we’ll call him LL Cool J] used to be a cowboy? You might even break a few hearts!”

That last part (break a few hearts) sparked something in me. I had spent so much time pretending to be unphased by all the changes in my life, that I hadn’t realized how self-loathsome I had become. Here was an opportunity to reinvent myself, even if only for one night–and if I happened to break a heart or two, well that was just playing the game. A game I hadn’t been interested in playing–until now.

“And you can take Natalie!”

“Who the f**k is Natalie?” I thought to myself.

I followed Tyra’s gaze into the corner of the room where I realized we weren’t alone.  There, safely camouflaged into the velvet drapes was a quiet film archive assistant who, until now had always seemed like scenery to me.

“I would love to go! I just ordered my costume online. It was more than I wanted to pay, but I think it’s gonna be worth it!”

I looked at Natalie, then at Tyra, then at my own reflection in the mirror. I was making a face not unlike the one the Grinch makes when he decides to steal Christmas. Things were really coming together quickly, and it was nice to see Tyra taking an interest in helping me—because truthfully, she wasn’t exactly my biggest fan. I know this because, once, while serving as one of my references she used the words “I’m his biggest fan,” then promptly hung up the phone looked me straight in the eye and said “I feel terrible. I hate lying!” That was how I realized I wasn’t great at my job–which is too bad because I had just started getting really good at “contemplating.” No! This still isn’t a masturbation joke. Seriously guys, what’s your deal? It’s just not that kind of blog. That said, if you’re into scat talk you should definitely check  Not Your Average Boy Scout.

Okay, let’s get back to it. It was now the night of the Ninnie Awards.

I was nervous, but excited to see the sexy costume Natalie had spent all her work study money on. I could see her approaching the door through the frosted glass. My heart was pounding. Let’s face it, I had a lot running on this. I waited with baited-breath as the door slowly opened to reveal Natalie on the other side wearing…sweatpants and an over-sized t-shirt. Her eyes were puffy from crying. Turns out, only moments ago, Natalie had discovered the dead remains of her beloved Guinea Pig, Pebbles.

“I don’t think I’m feeling this tonight. I’m just too sad.”

“No, you have to come!” I pleaded “Pebbles would have wanted you to go to that party! Furthermore he would have wanted you to make out with me on command, should it come to that.”

It took about twenty minutes of persuading until Natalie eventually agreed–but not to the make-out part. Fair enough.

Okay, so you know in the movies, when the skinny, pale, awkward nerd gets a makeover and somehow they manage to find like a really hot date, and then they make that really breathtakingly unforgettable slow motion entrance to the party and people can’t stop gawking because they’re just so luminous? Well, turns out I have nothing in common with films of that nature.

The truth was: Tyra had totally f**ked me!

She had neglected to mention that her husband was a seven-foot-tall giant with size fifteen feet. I looked ridiculous. Think Man In The Yellow Hat, meets Fievel Goes West, meets Annie Get Your Gun.

We began our slow motion descent through the hallway. It was awkward, mostly because I was having a hard time walking in a pair of cowboy boots that were five (okay seven) sizes too big. Every bowlegged step I took brought me back to the days when I was five-years-old, walking around the house in my mother’s high heels (come on guys, we all did it, some of us still do it).

Ten paces behind me, the fog from the smoke machine began to dissipate, and I watched Natalie struggle with her own slow motion walk. Seductively she dabbed at her blotchy eyes and blistered nose with tissues, tucking them subtly into the buxom bust of Princess Leia’s golden bikini. And by Princess Leia’s golden bikini, I mean the thick, luscious, golden curls of her form-fitting, full body CHEWBACCA costume. Attached to her belt–a light saber, only half-ignited (in honor of Pebbles—may he rest in peace). It was a nice touch.

I waited for her to catch-up–paused for a moment, hoping desperately that I would have some time to catch my bearings before running into my ex and her new boyfriend. I took a deep breath in, and exhaled out. Then I opened the heavy wooden doors and found myself face to face with…myself, and myself.

It was a full-blown twin peaks experience. I immediately locked eyes with my twin-like ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. We all stood there awkwardly starring each other in the face. It was like looking into a 360 degree fun house mirror, because of course, we all saw this coming: her new boyfriend had also dressed up as the Urban Cowboy. And of course, you know he looked sooooo much better than I did (it wasn’t hard). My ex on the other hand, had really thrown me a curve ball with her costume choice. As the head of the planning committee she had translated the “films produced in the 1980’s” theme quite loosely. She had dressed up as her new boyfriend– she was even wearing his clothes. Technically, I guess his life was produced in the Eighties? So it kind of made sense. Kind of.

Her costume was the exact opposite of mine.

Me: Swimming in miles of leather boots and plaid curtains.

Her: Sandwiched into a size 6x t-shirt. It belonged to her boyfriend, who was to be fair, probably four feet shorter.

It was an interesting choice that would have been totally insensitive had it not have been the most perfectly executed and original f**k you I have ever seen. I took comfort in the fact that we both looked completely ridiculous. We deserved it. I looked towards Natalie, who by this point had already run off with some Ghostbuster in the corner.

It was then that I had an epiphany about break-ups-–they’re dumb!

Why had I put myself in this situation? Why had it been so important for me to prove myself to my ex? The truth is, this was really just my bass-ackwards way of letting her know that I was going to be fine without her. But the thing is, I was fine, or at least I would be fine, once I took these damn boots off. And as I looked at my ex, all smiles in the arms of this new guy, I could see she was fine too. And you really can’t hope for anything better than that.

It was time to leave the Ninnie Awards on a high note.

I tapped Tyra on the shoulder and let her know that I was heading out.

“Well, if you’re leaving…would you mind giving me those boots back? And the the hat—the shirt too please.”

I would like to think Tyra thought I had a change of clothes with me, but either way, as I walked out of that party with much less than I came in with–stripped down to my undershirt and completely barefoot, I couldn’t help but feel like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I began my slow-motion exit from the party, pausing for a just a moment at the doors. With only my silhouette visible to the crowd, I tipped my imaginary cowboy hat forward, clicked the spurs of my imaginary cowboy boots and threw my arm up in a triumphant fist pump!

Then, with the help of a dry-ice machine, I disappeared in a puff of smoke–headed for a new adventure somewhere on greener pastures.