I recently broke up with my boyfriend. It was one of those breakups where you say the words, but you feel like he put them in your mouth. The kind of breakup where you leave wondering who actually did the dumping after all. It sucked, plain and simple.
But the harder thing for me, other than trying to talk and breathe through my mouth at the same time, as my nasal passages were clogged with snot from crying, was that not thirty seconds after we decided to end things—literally in the very same conversation, my now-ex boyfriend wanted to shoot the breeze. In one breath he was saying that he couldn’t handle the long distance. In the next he was telling me that his mom had finally sold her house.
He had asked if I wanted to do the breakup “cold turkey” or if he could call me. I said cold turkey, then braced for the last goodbye. But he kept going. It was as if he had saved up everything he wanted to talk about in the two-week silence that had preceded the final break, and now he was just relieved to spill it. He talked about the promotion he found out he wasn’t getting, a job offer in another city he’d decided not to take, his mom’s move. I told him I wasn’t in a place where I could chitchat; I didn’t want to be his buddy. And still, he went on. It was jarring and confusing. The few instances we’ve texted since then (about the return of things still at his apartment) have been equally breezy.
After griping to some friends about his befuddling behavior, suddenly they were encountering the same. One friend who’s divorced had her ex call, wanting to meet face-to-face to finally apologize for cheating. That, of course, was appreciated. But when, after the apology, he started asking about her family and wanting to chat about her life, she had to cut him off at the knees.
Another friend had an ex call from Afghanistan, where he’s stationed with the military. He started with a few contrite words about being an ass, but really he just wanted to talk. She didn’t get a word in. “It was so awkward,” she said. Even more so because the guy had a girlfriend.
Look, I get it. It’s habit; it’s a lingering sense of intimacy. Okay, no, I don’t really get it. What do these guys want? I don’t think it’s about getting back together, the possibility of sex, or even being friends in the truest sense of the word. Because friendship requires reciprocity, and this was not about reciprocity. It’s like the person who tells you something awful just to get it off her chest and then goes on as if nothing has happened, feeling better and lighter despite how the information affected you. In short, it just feels selfish. My guy had made it clear he didn’t want a relationship, but he still wanted a listening ear. Is it crazy of me to say, “Sorry, buddy, it’s a package deal?” Is it uncaring?
Maybe it’s because most men don’t get the support from their male friends that women do. So they have to seek it out from the women they’ve pushed to the periphery of their lives. My friend made the point that if these guys would learn to have meaningful romantic relationships, they wouldn’t have to use their exes as their release valves.
If I’m completely honest, some part of me didn’t mind my ex-boyfriend’s chitchat because I was clinging to that emotional tie, thinking maybe it was a sign things weren’t really over. But deep down, I knew it wasn’t the same for him. It wasn’t emotional, it was just a release. And after the hopefulness faded, I felt used. Funny—in all my years, I’d prepared for an ex to use me for sex, but I’d never prepared for him to use me for small talk.