A time may come when you know a relationship must end.
The bond may be romantic or friendly. The connection may be among coworkers or with an employer. Most of our liaisons shatter or fade into the mist. We treasure the scarce; lasting attachments are most precious of all.
The time that comes is the "oh-oh" moment," says "Alfie," in the 2004 remake of the 1966 movie. "A certain little something happens," he says, "and you know you've just witnessed the beginning of the end." A light flashes. You know it's all over, now. You're a tinge blue.
"Oh-ho moments" are most likely in June, September and December. Season closers, you might say. The pattern holds across time and in most places.
Summer is hustle and bustle. We use the phone less during the summer, and the computer, too. We get outside, and loaf with friends or family, who understand; at least we hope they do. A vacation is full of distractions. A disconnection that comes undone fades fast in the hazy days of summer.
Fall is when we refocus on work or going back to school. There are long hours in front of the computer or taking calls, in meetings or class, and on the road to meet clients. New friends or coworkers are welcome distractions. The busy time keeps us from mulling a lost connection, during the fall.
December is a time to reassess. Gift giving, heaping plates of food and plentiful good cheer set the bar of social life high, if only for a moment, the rest of the year pales in comparison. We put up with harping, poor taste or sniping in July. No fashion sense and Beardsley prints assume a different hue in the winter light. Just another moment in May can be an "oh-oh" moment in December.
Your appraisal of a connection changes at the "oh-oh" moment. You may have silently waited for the "oh-oh" moment. A sense of relief may silently sweep over you as the tension eases: "Thank gawd; at last, I can exhale."
An event often marks the "oh-oh" moment. Maybe the connection has failed a critical test, such as illness, or a series of petty annoyances peaks. You see friends, lovers or coworkers in a different light. There's no denying, the time has come to move along.
The event may be trivial, a tick or a shirt incorrectly buttoned. The accidental breaking of a glass, when toasting the New Year, is a reason for second thoughts. Given the build-up, the cavil becomes earth shattering. "Good gawd, what have I put up with all these years?" An intimate connection begins to unravel.
The event may carry great weight. Refusing a gift, infidelity or black-lies lead to a change of mind. "She's an ingrate." The hallmarks of a relationship, honesty, trust and loyalty, falter after the event. "He told the boss I did what?"
An event, at that moment it happens, may seem unrelated to the attachment. "She was rummaging for a scarf, and exploded." There was no warning, right then and there.
Alone, a direct or obvious link isn't important or enough. "When she found the scarf, she went ballistic." Pent up annoyances caused a moment of rage.
There's no bouncing back, no matter how easily you like to think you recover. "She says we can just go on, no problem," says Jason. After the event and moment, there's little chance. "That's when I realized it was kaput, over, done."
Relationships may not end with the event or the "oh-oh" moment; untangling can take a while. The telephone listing, which so proudly proclaimed, "J & P Moore," with an implied flourish of pride, now reads vapid vanilla: "J Moore." "Joe edged me out of his life," says Patrick, "one little bit at a time.".
"Strange," says Alfie, "even when you know it has to end, when it finally does, you always get the inevitable twinge. Have I done the right thing?"
The dumper pays the price of a moment of guilt and second thoughts.
Dumpees usually react, and don't respond.
Dumpees reassure. "I'll change," they plead. Their pleas fall on deaf ears. Implying the dumper is right, that you need to change, makes him or her more right. Who'll change their mind when you confirm the correctness of their decision?
Dumpees reassert the bond. "We vowed to be friends for life," says the dumpee, "no matter what." Reminders about what the dumper wishes to forget are for naught. The dumper wonders how effective the reassertion would be if it were the other way around.
Dumpees resort to reason, the worst tactic of all. The dumper is wrong, they say, making a big mistake. Without the dumpee, the dumper will be alone, forever, implying no one else would want him or her. The dumper wonders why the dumpee would want to stay with such a loser.
What options are open to the dumpee? He or she should agree, and mean it. Doing so, the dumpee moves toward why, and drains the situation of emotion.
Animus unravels bonds. Thoughtless first reactions by a dumpee are more of the same, and futile. When you agree, aren't dodgy and don't try to explain, the reasons to unravel are not as forceful. Heated conflict is less likely if parties agree.
Agreeing confronts the decision and is supportive, which is harder to handle. A dumper is ready for reassurance, reassertion and reasoning, but not agreement. What's a dumper to do?
Agreeing resets the tone. "We're all lazy," goes an old adage, "and damn few of us change." Pessimism is an expression of laziness. Optimism takes effort, but pays off big. Offered the chance for a big pay off, pessimists may twinge, again, and rethink their decision. One twinge may cancel out the other; maybe it's like math.
When wondering about connections, beginning, middle or end, the romantic ideal comes into mind, first. Support is at the centre of all bonds. Beyond support, bonds are a matter of emphasis. Friends seek friends. Lovers add faithfulness. Coworkers must be reliable. The same concerns are in play when any connection comes undone.
There are reasons to preserve ties, such as children or money. "He's okay with Scott and Zelda," says Helen. "Brad comes alive with them, just not with me."
Money is often provisional epoxy for a lost bond. "Neither of us can carry the mortgage, alone. If I lost my job at the bodega or hours driving cab, I'd be on food stamps." Together you get by, just; apart you both sink. The inanity, the insanity, of nothing left to do, nowhere to go, and everything to lose.
This much is for sure, after the event and its moment, the relationship changes, for better or worse and for good. "With me, he's sullen, cold, distant. Somehow I don't think Pudge realizes what he's doing," says Irene. "He's on automatic." There's no decrying it. "Now, we walk through life, like ghosts through walls."
Note: situations and dialogues are fictive examples, not based on specific events or inspired by a specific person, unless explicitly stated as such. Examples are inspired by song lyrics, movie scenes and old jokes.
The "Aflie" screenplay is by Elaine Pope and Charles Shyer from an earlier work by Bill Naughton; Shyer also directed and produced. Paramount (2004)
Randall Charles Bachman (1969), "Undun (She's Come Undone)." (SOCAN, BMI).
Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart (2004), "Old Habits Die Hard" (ASCAP) is from the "Alfie" soundtrack.
Roderick David Stewart (1976), "You're in My Heart (Final Acclaim)," published by Rod Stewart with Music EMI April Music. (ASCAP)
dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.
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