One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve internalized since I started dating was to always leave a relationship quietly and with grace. Don’t ever get emotional, because you’d never want to give the other person the opportunity to call you “crazy” — because being called crazy is the modern-day equivalent to wearing a scarlet “A” on your chest.
That was a piece of advice I held sacrosanct until a few weeks ago, when I went absolutely batshit crazy on an ex of mine in an incredibly public setting.
Here’s a very brief synopsis: Rob* and I met on OkCupid and started seeing each other off and on about two years ago. He was your typical “hot-and-cold” dater — he’d be into me one minute, and then turn around and say he didn’t want a relationship. I, being young and desperate to play the “cool girl,” acted like I was 100% fine with the fact that I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks, only to be summoned to his apartment on a random Thursday. This continued for about a year and change, culminating in us just being friends, and then fizzling into nothingness.
I’d basically forgotten about Rob until he started sliding into my DMs on Instagram a few months ago. We chatted platonically, so I suggested drinks as a part of my “bury-the-hatchet-and-move-on-it’s-the-new-year” zen state of mind that always bubbles up around the holidays.
Rob and I met for drinks and started hitting the bourbon. Things got fuzzy quickly, but here’s what I’ve been able to piece together: As I get a little lubricated, we start talking about the past, and things rapidly slide into emotional territory. The entire situation culminates in me trying to kiss him, which he rebuffs, and then I just unload on the guy. I tell him how fucked up it was that he strung me along for as long as he did, and how there was no reason for him to reach out to me if he had no interest in picking things back up, because he knew how much I had always cared about him.
Rob tries to calm me down, but I’m already on a brown liquor-fueled roll. My voice gets louder, and I slur-yell that he was emotionally immature, that we would have been perfect together, but that he was too much of a wimp to ever try to be vulnerable with me. I then stumble off the bar stool, scoop up my coat, tell him to never contact me again, and storm out of the bar, everyone’s eyes following me the entire way out. Mercifully, my dear friend Elisabeth answers my weeping phone call when I get outside. I wind up on her couch eating chocolate cake until I sober up enough to get into an Uber home.
Now, I had never let myself lose it this badly in front of an ex before. In past situations, when I’d let my emotions run wild around men I’ve had romantic attachments to, I’d wake up the next morning with a serious regret hangover. I’d replay the scenario over and over again, wincing every time I thought about how I slurred or stuttered or went a little “crazy.”
But that didn’t happen this time. Instead of feeling embarrassed and ashamed, I felt free — like I could finally walk away from a situation that had been haunting me for the past two years. It was a greater sense of relief than when you unbutton your pants after eating too much Chipotle.
Did I go “crazy” in front of Rob? Absolutely. But here’s the thing — he’d been making me crazy for years! His hot/cold routine would keep me up at night. I’d cry on the phone to my friends whenever he said he’d come over, and then ghost out of nowhere. I gobbled up the scraps of intimacy that he’d toss my way like I was starving, because he knew to dole out just the right amount to keep me on the hook. Sure, I should have seen the signs and gotten out before I went off the deep end. But I’m also of the opinion that a person should have enough emotional maturity to see when they’re hurting someone they claim to have feelings for, and walk away. You can’t drive a person insane, and then tell them they’re wrong when they go a little nuts. That’s like chucking someone out in the middle of a blizzard with no clothes on, and then calling them a wimp when their lips turn blue.
Look, I’m not totally condoning my behavior. I don’t necessarily think everyone should get wasted and throw themselves at an ex before having a bourbon-soaked meltdown with an entire bar of people as an audience. (Though, I have to say, it felt good as hell.) But I do think we need to change how we tell women to exit relationships.
I truly believe that women (and men) not expressing their pent-up emotions during a breakup is what leads us to have serious communication breakdowns in future relationships. There’s no reason to bite your tongue out of fear of looking crazy if you have something to say to someone you feel has wronged you — especially if you’re in a romantic relationship with that person. Having feelings that you need to express doesn’t make you crazy. It makes you a living, breathing human. And sometimes people — not just straight men — need to be put in their place. The idea of the “crazy ex” is a trope that seriously needs to die.
Once I told Rob how he felt, it was like I poured Drano on a part of myself that had been clogged up since I met him. I can’t even describe the feeling of openness it provided me. You know that scene in The Darjeeling Limited where the three brothers are running for the train, and they leave their luggage behind to catch it? That’s how I felt. I’d let go of all of my emotional baggage, from my relationship with Rob and other relationships, and gave myself the opportunity to enter the new year free of all that shit.
I hope you never encounter someone in your dating life who puts you through the emotional ringer, like Rob did with me. But if you do, I hope you have the strength to tell them exactly how you feel when they let you down. Just maybe don’t do it drunk off bourbon. The hangover may be the one thing that wasn’t worth it.
*Name has been changed, because I think I’ve already called him out enough.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.