Breaking up — no matter how pretty the words are, it really just comes down to: You’re not good enough for me.
Think of it this way.
It’s not you, it’s me. (What about me? I don’t think you’re good enough.) I just don’t love you like I used to. (Why? Because I realized that you are/became not good enough.) I never loved you. (You were never good enough!)
You say it’s situational and that there are extenuating circumstances? I met someone else. (I chose them over you because you’re not good enough.) The long-distance is too tough to handle. (Your location isn’t good enough, or you’re not good enough for me to suffer the distance to be with you.) We’re too different. (For some reason, I was thinking of two people who speak different languages, or who come from two different cultures. In which case, you could say the cultural background is just not good enough.)
What about, You’re too good for me? In essence, I see that as coming back to some sense of insecurity on the part of the so-called “Reacher.” So along that line of logic, the “Settler” is not “good enough” at stroking the ego of the Reacher. See what I did there?
While this is, in essence, a blanket statement about breakups, I also don’t want to sound like this is a define-all blanket statement. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes, people just need time and space to grow on their own, or deal with unexpected challenges in their lives (death in the family, career change, a personal revelation like, I don’t know, realizing that your one purpose in life is to become a celibate monk). Sometimes, there are external obstacles to a relationship (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?). And sometimes, people turn out to be wrong about thinking someone not good enough.
That said, I find these situations to be very, very rare. How often are people willing to let obstacles stand in the way of getting what they really want? As humans, we’re fundamentally selfish and out for our own survival. We’re just built that way. On that note, when you truly love someone and don’t believe there’s anyone better out there for you, I don’t think many people are willing to let anything — read, anything — get in the way of keeping that someone around, even at the cost of all the other indispensables in modern life.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being not good enough — it’s just a fact of nature. Seriously defects and flaws aside (the guy is a jobless pothead, the girl is emotionally abusive, and so on), it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, per se — sometimes it’s just a compatibility thing. There’s also the tossup question — where you acknowledge that no one is perfect and you weigh the pros and cons of being with a certain someone. He’s nice but boring. She’s pretty but dumb. He’s fun but physically unappealing. It’s also a matter of taste and your priorities in terms of what you can or can’t learn to deal with.
I do understand the inclination to deny this fact of not being good enough for someone — and, with those who endure in their denial, no matter what, am even slightly envious of this endless self-assurance. No one deals well with being rejected and feeling like they’re inadequate. And we all feed ourselves the lines we need to to make ourselves feel better for, in harsh words, falling short. I was thinking of breaking up with X anyway. I’m too good for X. He’s not clean enough for me. She starfishes me all the time. And so forth.
I guess I bring this up as another extension to the conversation with the Ex mentioned in my last entry. To give the context of why we split in the first place, it was because, 1) I never really got over seeing him as a friend i.e. I was never in love with him (the reason I told him), and 2) I always felt that he was, when it came down to it, beneath me. Harsh and a bit superioristic, but it’s just what I felt.
The good (and bad) thing about Ex is that if nothing else, he has the world’s firmest conviction that he is great and that he will get to all the great places he wants to reach. In a way, I feel bad that the person who ended up being his first girlfriend (yours truly) was one of the few people who didn’t agree with him and the many friends and family members who love him endlessly that he was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Compatibility.
But here’s what peeved me a little bit. Ex and I are both Korean-Americans partly raised in Korea and coming with somewhat heightened senses of those typical Asian/Korean judgment scales — you know, the whole scrutiny of educational background, career choices, income, race, and so on. And we both have a leg up in working that system — we both come from highly academic families with strong pedigrees ourselves in the education sphere. He and I both know how to work the Korean parents and win them to our favor with some polished Korean language skills, a few strategic name drops of this and that school, and a generous dose of deference and etiquette.
So when those elements didn’t work for Ex with my parents — my parents are a bit atypical, Asian parent-wise — I know it came as a shock to him when they didn’t love him and if anything expressed nothing but disappointment. Of course I felt bad, not only that he was so crushed by the experience, but also because I’d had a strong feeling that that would happen.
At the time we had left it at that, since we had our own issues to deal with anyway that ended up in my eventually breaking up with Ex. But these things have a way of rearing their ugly heads later on down the road, and it happened to surface during our recent conversation.
It happened like this. Ex was talking to me about how he and his most recent girlfriend of two years had recently split up. I expressed my condolences. He told me about how her parents adored him, and how, despite their daughter’s repeated insistence to Ex that “she wasn’t looking for a serious relationship” (sidenote: I wonder if that didn’t mean, “she wasn’t looking for a serious relationship with him”), asked him whether, if Ex and girlfriend got married, Ex’s parents (professors of decent repute in Korea) would mind the fact that Ex’s Ex-Girlfriend’s parents were “only” a sushi chef and a laundromat operator.
“I see,” I quipped sympathetically. “But as long as she has the credentials, that’s what really matters, right?” From what I knew of Ex’s Ex, she was smart as a whip and decently attractive with a wicked sense of humor.
But Ex was on a roll. “Parents in general always love me,” he told me, not for the first time. Then he said, “Your parents are the only parents who didn’t think I was awesome” — also not something he was saying to me for the first time. “Your dad is scary and hated me right off the bat and your mom… I don’t know, she’s just weird.”
Now, granted: I’ve felt a lot of remorse for the kind of girlfriend I was when I was with Ex. I allowed myself to date him, even though I had my doubts about whether my romantic inclinations for him were genuine, and about whether I in fact even wanted to be in a relationship at the time at all. I started feeling pretty quickly that Ex was not the right person for me, but kept at it because of this and that question to my conviction — would I really find someone who was as good or better to me (I did), would I lose his friendship, did I really want to be single (and it’s not like I had any intention of dating anyone else in Korea anyway), would breaking up with him mean I would lose our many friends in common. But as time went on, the parts of our relationship that felt inadequate made themselves more and more apparent, and naturally I began taking out my frustration, unjustly, on Ex. And I hate to say, my eyes, mind, and heart started wandering as well. All in all, my biggest regret with Ex is not breaking up with him as soon as I felt the relationship wasn’t right. Dragging out that dead horse of a relationship was the most hurtful thing I could have done to him.
Back to the moment: I shouldn’t have taken it upon myself try and curb his ego. Who was I, really, to attempt to, or even think that I could, change Ex? It wasn’t my right, it wasn’t my job, and it wasn’t my ability. And yet, even given that, I couldn’t help what I said next. But I was pissed off, because he shouldn’t have slammed my parents for not being like all the other cookie-cutter Koreans he had dealt with until then. It’s one thing to have conviction in your merits, but it’s another thing altogether to expect that other people hold you in the same lofty regard, and insult them for not doing so.
But what’s done is done, and this is what I said:
“My parents didn’t like you because they have higher standards. And they were also judging based on what they felt was the right fit for me, in a way that also reflected my own feelings. You and I broke up for a reason, and it was because I felt you weren’t good enough for me. So that was their conclusion too.”
It wasn’t a kind blow, and I silently berated myself for feeling the need to put him down like that. As I expected, I could immediately hear the hurt in Ex’s voice, although it manifested itself more in indignance than in any sort of self-reflection. But I couldn’t say I regretted the message, because it was true.
I guess I resent the enduring arrogance of Ex’s attitude. Sometimes I even wonder whether Ex doesn’t think the biggest mistake I ever made in my life was breaking up with him.