Chaos Attraction

A Discussion of Holiday Breakup Season

2014-12-16, 9:20 a.m.

I was reading some Carolyn Hax columns recently and she was dealing with the topic of holiday breakups: both from the POV of a girl who found out her boyfriend was planning to break up with her and the POV of a guy who was debating whether or not to break up before or after the holidays. The girl was all, "I feel really foolish, plus a bit traumatized by the idea that my relationship could be over without my realizing it." The guy was all, "I think Christmas could be really helpful to me in making a decision. But, since Christmas and being with her family are so important to her, I want to be sure I understand what it really means to accept an invitation to the holidays with prospective in-laws. Should I be more sure about the relationship before agreeing to go?"

I think Carolyn's advice for the second one pretty much sums it up: "Bailing out on the trip will hurt terribly. So will bailing out after it. What you need to decide is whether the girlfriend you know, practically and symbolically, will be further saddened by this memory: of proudly presenting to her family a husband candidate who, unbeknownst to her -- but known to all shortly thereafter -- had one eye on the door all along. Ho-ho-harsh."

Here's the brutal truth: you have fallen out of love with your SO DURING A SEASON OF LOVE. (In LA it is apparently officially called "Relationship Season.") During a time of the year when you HAVE TO love him/her/whatever, you no longer do. To some degree, I don't think it matters what time you do it because it will always be a "Christmas breakup" or "Valentine's breakup" or "birthday breakup" or whatever because it was around that time.* and you are always going to be an asshole** because you stopped loving them at Christmas/VD/birthday. Period. That's the price you're gonna pay for hitting your love limit at the wrong time of year. There really isn't anything you can do to make it better now.

* Why yes, this comes from personal experience. Two days before may get you out of getting me a present, but is still close enough to count as a holiday dumping in emotional funsies. Even though hoo boy, did he ever do me a favor in breaking up with me, it still is a holiday breakup in my brain forevermore.

** I am a believer in the concept of "sometimes you just have to be an asshole," i.e. being the person who has to deliver agonizing bad news and there's nothing you can do to make it less awful. It's a price you pay at times.

What we are arguing about here is whether or not there is a crucial difference between "break up before and ruin their holiday" and "break up after and ruin their holiday." Which is also assuming you don't completely snap and pick everyone's favorite "break up ON THE HOLIDAY." Honestly, I don't think there is very much difference. Some people have different opinions--"he broke up with me before Christmas and meeting my family, how dare he," vs. "He knew he wanted to break up with me all along while at my parents' house, how could he?" You, the dumped one, don't know how long s/he's been thinking this one out. One of my exes went and bought me and him a ton of groceries for my place (we didn't live together) and then he spontaneously broke up with me that night. Now while he'd clearly had The Snap*** the night before and backed out on getting together, the part where he spent all that money the next night kind of gave me pause and I asked about it. "I didn't know I was going to break up with you," he said.

*** or as I like to call it, the moment when a dude suddenly stops loving you, out of nowhere and suddenly starts making weak excuses to not hang out with you. Once The Snap occurs, he'll be outta there within 24 hours once he gets up the nerve. You'll note that the female letter-writer noticed The Snap as well.

So to some degree, folks, they might be like this dude, who isn't totally sure which way he wants to go yet. It might not be a case of "I'm just waiting until New Year's for my freedom, baby." It might not be totally as bad as it sounds. I think there's a difference between the person who is sure they want out and the person who's still wishing and washing, and the latter aren't so much leading you on if they wait to be sure (or not). If you already know it's over, you might as well go. But if you're not sure, there's some other factors to consider.

Some folks have preferences as to how they'd want to have it done to them and they will somehow be madder if you pick wrong, but hoo boy, are you probably not going to be able to find that out before you dump them. It's not exactly something you can ask about honestly and even trying to get an answer through weaseling will look suspicious. I looked around for online polls on the topic and found this one: before is the clear winner, though "after" and "doesn't matter" aren't drastically far behind. I voted for "doesn't matter," but which would I prefer if I had a choice? Before clearly sucked anyway for me, if not for him, which I guess is the point of it all. And since he'd had The Snap, clearly he just couldn't bear me a moment longer.

But after? Eh, I dunno. Might depend on how well you can fake it to give them once nice last holiday. If you absolutely can't and it's obvious, maybe not. But if s/he has no idea until January 15 that your feelings have changed? I tend to feel that avoiding That Territory would be best, if you can, so as to not taint their future holiday memories of "I got dumped for Christmas," that will occur every year, at least until they find someone else.**** The problem, I suppose, is that not everyone can fake it that well/that long. Sigh.

**** And in my case, that's uh, forever because I don't. I don't have any grudges against him now, mind you, he really did me a favor. But still, that thought floats into my brain every year during the anniversary period, regardless of whether or not I even care any more. Ugh.

I think pretty much the period of the week of Thanksgiving to say, maybe a few days after New Year's Eve, is The Bad Territory. Ditto February 1-14. Or the week before and after a birthday, unless you're dealing with the sort of person who declares a Birthday Month. (In which's the whole month.) That is Official Holiday Breakup Territory. Or if you're wanting to break up with someone Jewish, the territory ends the week after Hanukkah does. When you're nearing The Bad Territory Time, you need to decide if you're gonna fish or cut bait BEFORE OR AFTER. If at all possible, don't figure it out and execute during. Besides, January is the shittiest month of the year--you might as well break up during the month where everyone is fat, cold, unattractive, tired, broke, and miserable! What's one more anvil to the head after all of that?

I think about the only boundary line I can draw on that one is, if your plans with the SO involve their family members looking at you as a potential spouse--then you probably should back out ASAP. If you ain't gonna marry him or her, don't lead the entire family on. Which reminds me: you might want to break up a few weeks before Thanksgiving starts if this is an issue for you as well.

Okay, I've thought of a standard. Think of it as a flow chart. If you know you want out, then go. If you're doubting and relatives are involved, then get out ASAP. If you're wishing and washing and relatives aren't involved, then...maybe wait it out, or cut bait before or after the season so as to not ruin their holiday with your doubts.

However, if your SO commits a breakuppable foul--say, she gets a girl fired from her job, throws your cat out into the street and fake cooks a dinner at your house assuming that you're too dumb to see the takeout boxes, or he makes arrangements to sell your family business for $2 million behind your back when he knows you don't want to sell and presents it to you as an awesome Christmas present-- break up with them anyway, holidays be damned. I personally give you dispensation to break up with anyone for jerkass behavior even if it's the holiday season, especially if it happened at a holiday party.

You know what? NOT DATING IS TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME, YOU GUYS. And Christmas is the best time of the year to be single because none of this shit is hanging over your head like an anvil. That is all.

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