On Saturday, CBS legal correspondent and Politics Daily contributor Andrew Cohen wrote a heartfelt tribute to the love that got away
on the occasion of her wedding to someone else. I've never had an ex sing my virtues on a massively trafficked Web site, but as someone who's been dating for almost two decades, I've noticed when you date long enough, communications from male exes start to fall into charmingly distinct categories.
There's the old "how's our breakup going?" e-mail (usually sent fewer than 24 hours after the event in question), and its sister apologia, a slightly more-thought-out unburdening that can arrive anywhere from two weeks to decades post-termination. (Once, I got a note from someone who'd had a crush on me in 7th grade, apologizing for the emotional harm he'd done at the time.)
There's the tarmac text ("They're thinking of their deaths," one friend opines) and the perennial tenuous pretext, which uses any excuse -- "I saw someone who looked like you in Panera!" -- to restore communications.
Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of Internet stalking have rendered many of these communications moot. (Though I will miss that old midnight land-line call from someone whose name I barely remember!) It's hard to object to someone who simply communes with your virtual proxy. The worst Internet crimes -- like, say, breaking up with someone by changing your Facebook status -- seem happily confined to the young. (Like!)
But that all may be changing. Andrew Cohen's, "On Her Wedding Day, Saying the Things Left Unsaid
," seems to indicate the start of a new and highly risky technology-enabled post-break-up recapitulation ritual
that I'd like to nip in the bud if I can.
A brief bit of Mars/Venus wisdom: One of the great frustrations, for women, is how often displays of post-parting passion have nothing to do with us at all. (Check out Jezebel's "Crap Email From a Dude
" feature for some stunning examples.) It's already annoying that someone who reserved the right to be numbingly uncommunicative during the relationship is now such a freakin' Chatty Cathy. But once you realize all this impressive agony you've left behind (scorched earth, my friend! Barren promontories!) doesn't actually have anything to do with you, it makes it hard to hand over your hanky -- especially when you're trying to hold on to your bouquet.
STILL. I'd like to think Andrew Cohen meant well. Yes, publishing an unauthorized account of one's regard for a past love on a Web site is ill-advised. Yes, publishing, on her wedding day, a rundown that frames the lady's virtues almost entirely by how well she treated you falls somewhere between inconsiderate and catastrophically narcissistic. (But much better than that man I dated for three weeks who broke into my neighbor's yard, climbed up the fire escape, then banged on the window until I let him in. Of course, then I had the advantage of being able to call the police.) I've also enjoyed a bunch of very nice communications from exes, and feel qualified to present a definitive "Don't" guide here for any gentleman who really wants to make his ex know how appreciated she was. (And yes. Avoid fire escapes.)
Rule 1: Mention at least one fact about her.
A kinder colleague than I suggested that his column was the equivalent of Dustin Hoffman, in "The Graduate," running into the church to yell, "Elaine!"
I humbly submit that his wedding day appreciation is in fact the equivalent of Andrew Cohen running into the church and yelling, "Andrew!" Not only does he attest to the woman's character only through her behavior toward Andrew ("I want to thank her for all those times she stuck up for me -- with her friends, with her family, with her work colleagues"), it is a veritable mine-field of the personal pronoun. Is there no room or call for one concrete fact about this woman at all? Is she an awesome dancer? Does she like persimmon? Can she climb Half Dome in less than a day? Seriously, even those "A Diamond is Forever" ads make a stab at explaining how cool the lady in question is for some other reason than how she treats you.
Reading through this virtual toast, I was reminded of the Ray Bradbury story, "I Sing the Body Electric", in which a family orders a robot grandmother to take care of them. She's perfectly calibrated to their every need, down to adjusting her robot face to look a little more like who she's baking cookies for at the moment. Gentleman -- if you really are with a person who expresses their selfhood primarily in enhancing the idea of how awesome you are, check that she's a lady and not a robot.
Rule 2. Wedding.
Yes, this rule is just called "Wedding." Do you want to know why? Well, first, because if there's anything you want to do that involves anything to do with your ex's wedding, or even the word "wedding" at all, I can advise you immediately that you should almost definitely not do it.
Why? Well, there's a lot of things we don't do at weddings. If we're a female guest, we don't wear white, for instance. If we're the best man, we don't make jokes about the STD the groom caught that one time. If we're the maid of honor, we don't stagger up the aisle drunk and puke in the gladiolas because we slept with the best man last night. We send gifts within the year, we get out on the dance floor, and we save our massive fight and breakup for the car and do you know why? Because a wedding is about celebrating another couple WHO IS NOT YOU. So remember: Wedding.
Rule 3. Don't make digs at single women.
This is really just my personal objection but hello -- "She did not give in or sell out or become one of those poor women of a certain age in New York who have put their careers ahead of their lives" -- what was that? In the trade, I believe this is called a neg, and it is exactly as successful as anything called a "neg" should be. Is this something you dropped as a hard sell on her? It's not surprising, then, that it's not you she's marrying. And if it's you projecting -- and ding ding ding on that, my dear sir -- why don't you get busy marrying yourself and stop worrying about the single women who aren't marrying you? We want you to know how our hair smells, and we are legion.
Rule 4. Don't suggest it's OK for your ex to move on.
Yoo-hoo, sir. It is YOU writing the big Internet column on your ex's wedding day -- on which she is, you know, marrying another dude. I guess it's possible she does need "worldly absolution from any guilt or sadness she felt between the time she said no to [you] and the time she said yes to him." It is true, as you say, that "No one ought to have to carry that with them into a marriage." But here's the thing. SHE'S GETTING MARRIED. I know you'd like to think she's staggering up the aisle consumed by guilt and sadness, but honestly, there's a dim possibility she might just be looking forward to her life with the man she's marrying. (At HER WEDDING.)
Rule 5. If you're giving her a gift, give her a gift.
"The present I humbly send her today is this column . . ." Nice try, cheapo. You know what a present is? A present is a gift you give someone to carry them into their future, not a big detour into the past. It's about something someone has said they'd like, not something you yourself need. And the great thing about weddings and presents is people actually put what they'd like for a present in something called a registry. I'm sure your ex has one.
It's probably on the Internet.