The biggest fear I have after a breakup isn't that I won't find someone else -- it's that my ex will be better off without me. When I got dumped on the Fourth of July a few years ago, I knew that he was. Because he was drinking in a hot tub full of bikini-clad women after watching fireworks from a boat. Or maybe drinking on a boat before getting in the hot tub with bikini-clad women. Either way, I was lying on the floor sweating, crying, and losing it in that public-private way you do in thin-walled Manhattan apartments.
So, yeah. If this were a choose-your-own-adventure book, no one would "Follow Amanda into the one-bedroom of despair and no air conditioning."
I'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe in love with the right person at the wrong time. My boyfriend of a year -- we'll call him Yankee Doody -- was the most thoughtful, warm person I'd ever dated. Well, he had been. He'd been distant since his birthday a few months earlier. At the time, I chalked it up to a quarter-life crisis.
Y.D. and I loved each other, but weren't ready to take the next step of moving in together. And I was fine with that. He began spending more time with his single dude musician friends and talked about quitting his full-time job to open a studio. I encouraged him to follow his dreams. Then a day before we headed to his parents' house on Long Island for the Fourth of July, Y.D. wondered if maybe it was better to pursue his dreams without a girlfriend.
"I don't know, being single would cut out a lot of distractions," he said. "It's the same reason I don't have a TV."
That's when I should've broken up with him. Why distract him with one more minute of love and support? But I didn't.
We fought about taking a break, half-heartedly made up, and met at Penn Station a day later. As soon as we got on the train, I knew it was over. There are things you can't take back, and comparing me to the boob tube is one of them.
Y.D. put his arm around me like everything was normal, and I stiffened. We didn't talk much, and I studied the back of the seat in front of me the way you only do when you're hurt and angry and trying not to cry. I could probably pick it out of a line-up even now.
His dad was parked at the train station when we arrived and gave us a ride to the house. Then Y.D. borrowed the car so we could get lunch. I wasn't hungry. I hadn't had an appetite since our fight. Y.D. bought a sandwich and asked me why I was acting so weird. I didn't know where to begin. Maybe the fact that I suddenly felt like I was in love with a stranger? Or because the ingredients in his sandwich probably had a longer shelf life than our relationship?
We drove back to his parents' place and decided to eat lunch on the boat before meeting up with friends. Well, Y.D. ate lunch. I was running on sadness and tried to take in every detail. Like how cold I felt at the beginning of July, how strands of Y.D.'s hair shone in the sun, and the way his entire body folded when I threw a bottle of water at his head and for once in my non-athletic life, hit the bulls-eye. (I know violence isn't the answer. Breakups tend not to be anyone's finest moment.)
In one swift move, I'd essentially RSVPed to our breakup.
Y.D. drove me back to the train station, yelling at first and then stewing silently. I headed back to the city alone. None of my friends were in town, and the long weekend was just beginning. Like Y.D., I didn't have a TV, either. Unlike Y.D., I wasn't obnoxious about it.
The next hours were a blur of crying myself dry, re-hydrating, and crying myself dry again. I also attempted to call a number of ex-boyfriends as if I were re-creating a Lifetime knock-off of "High Fidelity." When I finally reached someone, the guy I lost my virginity to, I was too depressed to go on.
Me: Why are you answering the phone? IT'S THE FOURTH OF JULY!
Him: Are you drunk?
Me: I WISH!
I knew this would all be funny someday. I mean, breaking up on Independence Day? Even with the slightest grasp of American history, the jokes write themselves. I could also imagine a Destiny's Child parody. "All you ladies who throw Dasani, throw your hands up at me!"
I was a mess through the summer and most of the fall. Then Y.D. wanted me back just as I was starting to get over him. Turns out, he'd watched a lot of "trashy TV" (other women) in our time apart and missed my "premium cable."
For years, I thought of that Fourth of July as my own forced Independence Day. But that's not entirely true. I didn't want to be alone that weekend, but staying in Long Island and pretending to live in a Land's End catalog with a guy who'd fallen out of love with me would have been worse.
We'd have broken up eventually, maybe even in the hot tub itself, which really shouldn't happen except on reality TV. When it comes to relationships, I've learned that "I don't know" usually means "no" -- and, oh, my God, this is actually a perfect Destiny's Child parody, too.
At least there's one big perk of breaking up on the Fourth of July. The best breakup song ever -- "Independence Day" by Ani DiFranco -- will be all yours.