Monday, December 13, 2010

The Christmas Breakup: Dropping the Mistletoe Bomb

Christmas is just around the corner: The tree is up, your cocktail party RSVPs are in and you suspect she may have picked up that controller-free gaming system you’ve been drooling over all year.
Somehow, though, your heart’s not in it: You feel a growing urge to break up, with just 15 days to spare.
Do you risk her family’s wrath and drop the bomb now, or play nice at the Christmas table – and wait till 2011? End it now and save money on a gift – or splurge to assuage your guilt about the impending split?
They are questions that plague every would-be dumper at this time of year. And December is a breakup bonanza, at least according to a Facebook survey by David McCandless and Lee Byron, designers who tracked the words “break up” and “broken up” across 10,000 status updates for a TED Talk and discovered that splits spike dramatically two weeks before Christmas Day.
The actual day, however, had the fewest breakups in the entire year – too cruel, perhaps.
“Christmas is a very joyous day. You’ll be like the Grinch who stole Christmas. You will be talked about for a long time as ‘that jerk,’ ” says Andrea Syrtash, author of He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s A Good Thing).
The New York-based relationship expert says that, just like last-minute shopping, “You’re going to have last-minute dumping.”
If a couple’s time together is truly ticking, now’s the time to talk, Ms. Syrtash says. “The sooner the better. It’s never a good time – there are just better times.”
Jo Whiles knew she was through with her boyfriend a month before Christmas, 2006. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to tell him, even though he’d cheated on her. “I knew it was going to be a huge hassle with the holidays coming up,” says Ms. Whiles, 28. “Directly after the holidays were my birthday and our anniversary.”
To boot, her family had made a special journey from the Midwest to see her. So the New York consultant stayed mum. “I remember the whole time being pretty painful. I was mostly thinking about being betrayed.”
She waited until after Christmas dinner to tell her mother. “She didn’t understand why I was trying to keep it together.”
They finally broke up before Easter, a less fraught holiday. In retrospect, Ms. Whiles says, she should have ended it “much sooner.”
Natalie Lue couldn’t wait, and broke up with her boyfriend three weeks before Christmas Day.
“I spent the whole Christmas checking my phone and nursing my broken heart,” says Ms. Lue, the British-based founder of the relationship blog Baggage Reclaim.
Still, it was better than the alternative.
“Even though I felt miserable, I was around people who actually loved me. It was far better than doing the whole, ‘Let’s pretend that everything is okay and put on a front’ thing,” says Ms. Lue, author of Mr Unavailable & the Fallback Girl.
She says Christmas splits are particularly traumatic because the holidays stir expectations and involve many people other than just the couple.
“Christmas is a very sentimental time of year you spend with family, friends and loved ones. It’s one of those occasions that really marks where you’re at in your relationship.”
But even if a partner chooses to wait out the festivities, “it throws open this whole minefield of, ‘I just spent Christmas with this person. Were they pretending when we sat under the tree and exchanged gifts?’ ” Ms. Lue says.
The worst-case scenario is wishy-washy partners who stir division when they aren’t truly sure they want out, says Michael Finkelstein, a holistic physician in Bedford, N.Y.
“If you’re not sure, this is not the time to do it. The reverberation will affect other people. To create a scene now is a little self-centred,” Dr. Finkelstein says.
So what happens if you’re wedged in at the table with 20 kinfolk of your soon-to-be ex?
“If you didn’t have the courage or the time to break up, and you now find yourself in the family’s home, think like a good politician and spin it,” is Ms. Syrtash’s advice. “Divert the question, smile politely and say, ‘We promise to let you know if there’s any news.’ ”
And if you absolutely must fly the coop before Santa’s arrival?
Try not to blindside people, says Ms. Lue: Give them ample time to make alternate arrangements.
“Imagine you leave it until two days beforehand and the person thinks they’ve got plans with you. Next thing you know they’ve got to say to their family, ‘Uh, I’m not bringing him to dinner,’ or ‘Actually, can you make a place for me at dinner?’ ”
After you shatter their hearts, Ms. Lue cautions restraint: “Don’t then start sending them text messages and e-mails to soothe your guilty conscience. You’ll mess with their heads over Christmas. They won’t be able to process the breakup or have some time to themselves and grieve the loss with their family and friends if you’re trying to poke around.”
If you can’t muster separating now, you might want to consider waiting until 2011: Do you really want to crush his heart under the disco ball on New Year’s Eve?
Ms. Syrtash thinks breaking up close to Dec. 31 is even worse than doing it over Christmas, mostly because the day is tied (perhaps foolishly) to the hopes and dreams of the coming year.
It’s much like the sugar-plum visions people have of Christmas, another reason breakups are so verboten at this time of year.
“Everyone in the family expects that Christmas is going to be peaceful and beautiful, and that’s nice,” Dr. Finkelstein says. “They have expectations that this is how it’s going to feel and this is how everyone will behave, that nobody will act out. Of course, that’s very rarely what happens because life occurs – even on Christmas Day.”

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