When you take your seat on an airplane or in a movie theater, you are asked to note the nearest exit. Why? On the off chance that something goes horribly wrong. If you're like me, you evaluate all the exits in your view and notice the number of people in each direction. Without getting too detailed, I mentally map out what I would do in a variety of situations. I have quite the imagination.
Maybe not every time, but over time you know where the exits are without having to aggressively crane your neck to spot them. This is just one grandiose metaphor about relationships. We have gotten better and better or maybe more creative about our escape routes when a relationship is not where we want it to be.
I wish I could point at a culprit for why the joke of millennials is that they are cautious and passive in relationships and their ends. As Neal Brennan puts it, "you're the first generation to have fewer sexual partners than their parents... You're dorks... Your drug of choice was adderall. You know what that means? You did drugs to get better at school. You're not having sex because you're too busy online, trying to get likes."
Maybe we aren't following in our parent's footsteps out of fear or the desire to be accepted and validated through social media. But is that what adds meaning to our lives? "Likes" and "Retweets"? I would argue that we measure the significance of our lives in how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.
Now, I could do a song and dance about all the possible reasons we are the way we are -- technology, dating apps, insecure politics, overbearing parenting, arrested development, paradox of choice, but who knows, we are ending relationships based on what we have experienced and anticipate experiencing. It's nothing new, but now we have exit options that include cell phones, computers -- avoiding face to face.
The Golden Rule: Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Or rather, treat people the way you have been treated in the past (for good measure). Someone took your eye, you take someone, anyone else's... The ultimate goal being to have our cake and eat it too.
In our fast paced world, we don't have time for long-winded goodbyes or postmortems on what when and why the relationship went south. We have to dine and dash to make it in time for the next personal opportunity. We can feel safe leaving relationships behind because we live longer than we ever have and have more ways of connecting with people.
Ester Perel, a thought leader on sex and relationships, discusses on her website the question of relationship accountability. We have ghosting, icing, simmering, and power-parting. All are the actions that lead to the relationship finale.
That time I feigned enjoyment of a Tinder date talking about the strange women he met while in Russia (was she a spy?!) and telling me how he does not discriminate, but is looking for his "Michelle Obama" (aren't we all?). Then when he proceeded to text me a few days later about a second date, I never responded. This wasn't the first time I stopped responding and it wouldn't be the last.
My logic? I had met him once in person. It wasn't worth my time. I don't owe him an explanation, right? What do I know now? Own it. Own your communication style. I know it isn't great to text anything, but sometimes you have to say it: "Thank you for the message, but I am not interested."
Something slightly less cold than that. What do I do now? The closest I'll come to ghosting is not responding to the "hey" text. If that's all you have to say, I am nodding in my head with nothing to respond. If I'm inclined, maybe I'll send an emoji.
That time I pushed off going out for Thai food so many times but ordered in by myself at least three times. I was "too busy." It's true, it wasn't a good week. But I could have made time. Anything worth doing can be done. I keep a ridiculously organized calendar that sometimes even includes travel times, so if anyone could do it, it should have been me.
I tried to dig into my subconscious and note if I wanted him to pine after me, but I didn't really care. That's not entirely the icing concept then, but close enough. My logic? Again, didn't know him well enough to care. What do I know now? It's easy to push plans away when there is a rare chance of running into someone again.
It's tough to invest in a relationship that might be inconvenient, but it also can close off opportunities that may be worthwhile. What do I do now? Time and schedule is still a challenge for me, but that's life. I try to respond to every request to see friends or prospective romantic partners, but it is definitely easier said than done.
That time... Oh wait... I am doing that right now. I tried to power part (see below), but other changes and challenges in my life occurred that I could only keep it up for a few days. We both know that unless one of us makes a sizable compromise on our needs, this will end sadly.
Read: this will end. While I don't want bandwidth to meet others, he does, so we are seeing each other less and speaking to each other less. My logic? There are worse things (shout out to climate change, U.S. politics, Beyonce not winning album of the year, and so on and so forth). What do I know now? I'm still figuring it out, but probably that this has to be a short-lived experience. What do I do now? Simmer.
That time I decided it wasn't a good time for me to be in a relationship so I cut it off over tea, with a conversation and expressed appreciation. My feelings weren't there. They were staying very friendly. I didn't want to be with him, but I admired his kindness and support. I didn't keep him hanging onto a thread of hope so I expressed how great I thought he was, but this was not the relationship for me.
My logic? I was too weak to outright say I wasn't that into him because I didn't want him to wonder about why he was not what I wanted, so I chose to focus on gratefulness and mutual respect. What do I know now? Still some form of this. There is a lot to be said for meeting face-to-face and talking, but you have to go into the conversation sticking to your guns. No compromising and staying in a relationship that is not for you.
At the end of the day, this was more for me than for you.
So I could say that in all of this turmoil, in a world spinning fake news and alternative facts, in times of fear and doubt -- the people in our lives are too important, too precious, too fragile, and too unique to be treated without empathy.
Our exit routes can be destructive to others and the more we act in such a dismissive and passive fashion, the more it will become the norm. The normalization of things will not change how hurtful it is, but will make it more difficult to stop once we have reached gone the path of ignoring and disrespecting others.
While it can be easy to ghost, ice, or simmer, power parting can leave a relationship on healing terms instead of harming terms. We cannot excuse our behavior and reduce our expectations of ourselves simply because of convenient virtual technology. We have to be better than that and truly treat people with courtesy and respect. Forget the "likes" and exit strategies and have a happy Valentine's day.