The Nondating Life

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Take the low road

Not too long ago, before I was distracted from the worthy mission that is the Nondating blog, someone had mentioned a friend of a friend of a third cousin or something who had an “issue.” Don’t we all.

The issue in this case was as follows: This hapless soul had been wronged in a relationship, been treated questionably, then unceremoniously dumped. Not only that, but the dumper wanted to . . . wait for it . . . remain friends.

Yes, the old “remain friends” gambit.

It goes without saying that the dumpee, though mildly tortured by this, was more than willing to go along with this scenario and was armed with all sorts of rationalizations for this idiotic behavior, chief among them the desire to take the high road.

Before you to rush to judgment, admit it: you’ve done it to yourself before. Hell, despite a firm belief in scorched-earth breakups being the only good breakups, I’ve found myself in this pathetic position.

I guess it’s only natural. And by natural, I mean stupid.

So you find yourself with this weird urge to be polite to a person who has crushed your very soul, yet wants to hang around and remain friends. “Remain friends,” of course, means reminding you every day that you just weren’t up to snuff.

It’s almost funny, this impulse to be nice to the Breakup Bastard. You, the type of person who steals office supplies, gossips about best friends, and once stole your best friend’s significant other simply because you wanted to see if you could pull it off. You suddenly have a keen interest in taking the high road.

“Listen, I can be adult about this situation,” you might say to your friends and yourself (over and over again). This from someone who stomps out of the corner deli personally insulted when it runs out of Super Fudge Chunk.

You might toss in a little extra wisdom for good luck. “It’s not like we’re in high school.” Well, I have two things to say to that. EXACTLY. You’re not in high school and you don’t have to see this person again, you’re not forced into homeroom and/or other awkward situations with this person every day (unless of course you’ve been shagging a coworker, which is an entirely different topic). But, that said, high school never ends. When it comes to relationships, no one – and I mean no one – grows emotionally beyond the 10th grade. That’s as good as it gets, my friend.

So if you’re suffering from a seemingly noble impulse to take the high road, I have some advice: Ignore it.

In this case, the high road is paved with delusion, pot-holed with false hope and dead ends in a stagnant swamp of your own tears.

Besides, it’s the road most taken.

We’ve all done it. Out of some mixture of wounded pride and the unspoken hope that we’ll salvage the relationship, we decide to remain friends with someone who has treated us like so much garbage.

And we’ve all seen how that ends.

So screw it. Disclaimer: I’m not talking cases of mutual break ups. That’s an entirely different set of delusions. I’m talking dumpage—everything from the “It’s not you” speech to finding your lover in bed with someone else.

Why take the high road? This is one of the few times in your life you’re allowed to be petty and vindictive, so you might as well enjoy it. You know how you always fantasize about getting fired or winning the lottery and you have this whole laundry list of things you want to tell your boss?

Well, guess what? You just got fired.

So get dirty. Tell your ex to piss off. Let them see you cry or punch a wall, hear you scream. Call them while you’re drunk off your ass, sobbing or angry, it doesn’t matter. Kiss the high road good by. And leave behind silly phrases such as “I don’t want to give her the satisfaction” or “I’m a better person.”

Bullshit. They’re not going to get any satisfaction from you crying or getting angry. That’s just your retarded ego speaking. He just dumped you. You think he’s getting satisfaction from you freaking out? Hell no. The only thing giving him satisfaction at this point is thinking that he got rid of you. He dumped you and managed to do it without you getting mad. He suggested to remain friends? Guess what? He didn’t mean it. He’s just keeping you around to assuage his guilt (or possibly for stand-by sex). So screw nobility, and screw your ex.

Go nuts. Maybe you’ve dumped a person before and maybe you know that dread you have that the other person is going to make you feel bad. It goes both ways. So if you’re feeling like you’ve been abused and you were dumped without good reason (and, really, is there ever a good reason to dump you? YOU!?), kick it up a notch. Don’t let your ex off the hook so easily.

Let her know just how miserable you feel. Let her know how much it hurts. But don’t be passive about it. Don’t weep and moan and write poetry, as if this is some sort of disease that just sort of happens to people randomly. Oh no. Let her know, in clear and explicit terms, that all this pain and misery is her fault. And let her know you’re not happy about it. Tell her, tell her parents, tell your mutual friends.

Worried she might think you’re pathetic? Well, who cares what she thinks? She dumped you, for crying out loud. Worried he might think you’re a psycho? And? Who made you that way?

Friendship is for chumps and suckers. If you’re out of college, there’s no reason to go collecting friends of the opposite sex in the first place. You have enough friends bugging you with phone calls, making demands on your time, pestering you with their stupid relationship problems. What, you want another friend? No, of course not. Besides, you didn’t get into this particular relationship looking for a friend, now, did you?

Not only do I say to hell with the high road, I encourage you to take the other person down into the mud with you. Besides, did she not say, “It’s not you, it’s me?” So, obviously, she needs to be taught a lesson.

Just don’t take it too far. I’m not advocating stalking, tire slashing or house-burning (but mostly for legal reasons and, hey, there’s a lot to be said for catharsis).

Previous Post

UPDATE: A "Ken's stupid and wrong" post and a comment-section debate. I guess it would be too much to ask that the debate happen on MY site.


  • While I agree with your general premise that bad break-ups can never lead to anything good, you seem to be drawing a distinction between acting noble and throwing a temper tantrum after the break-up. In fact, it has nothing to do with acting noble. I think the better distinction is between acting adult and throwing a temper tantrum. Or between "spending your time productively" and "wasting it on someone who mistreated you".

    I guess if the satisfaction of trying to make your ex's life difficult is really that important to you, go for it. The only potential value I see is that it -might- help you begin the process of "getting over" the person. More than likely it will just be a tremendous waste of energy that could be better channeled into something more positive.

    When it comes to relationships, no one – and I mean no one – grows emotionally beyond the 10th grade.

    If you’re out of college, there’s no reason to go collecting friends of the opposite sex in the first place.

    Wow. Just, wow. Do you really believe these two statements?

    By Blogger F-Train, at 5:28 PM  

  • F-Train,
    I'll leave it to others to answer that last question of yours.

    By Blogger Ken Wheaton, at 5:39 PM  

  • I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I agree with you. When breaking up, take the low road, its not like you don't hate their guts anyway. Its easier said than done though. Take it from one who has taken the low road a few times.

    And this line:

    When it comes to relationships, no one – and I mean no one – grows emotionally beyond the 10th grade.

    If you’re out of college, there’s no reason to go collecting friends of the opposite sex in the first place.

    Totally makes sense to me.

    By Blogger astrocoz, at 5:41 PM  

  • You are so very right, Ken!

    My ex tried to make the "let's just be friends" gambit with me, and I turned him down flat on that lovely offer. No one who is my friend would treat me as he did, and I told him exactly that. That doesn't mean I went crazy and screamed and threw things at his head (though I wanted to). I just told him that he'd hurt me more than I ever wanted to be hurt, and there would be no forgiveness--I couldn't see him ever again. Period. Handed him his things, shut the door in his face, and haven't seen him since. Best decision I ever made.

    And when his mother called me the next day to cry and tell me how sorry she was that the two of us weren't getting married and how she wanted me to try to work it out with him, I told her I wasn't sorry after the things he did and that if she wanted to discuss her feelings on the subject she should call him about it. And hung up. She's his problem, not mine.

    Who needs people who treat you like crap? I have plenty of friends who aren't assholes to me. I'd rather spend my energy on them instead of trying to play nice with someone who made me cry repeatedly.

    By Blogger Delia, at 9:39 PM  

  • Delia pretty much has it nailed as to why one wouldn't want to be friends with an ex.

    By Anonymous Jennifer, at 1:49 AM  

  • I did throw things at his head. It felt damn good.

    By Anonymous Lola, at 12:03 PM  

  • I very much agree with Ken.

    As for the two statements, I think there is some truth in the first one (about 10th grade), though I do believe emotional growth exists.

    Collecting friends of opposite sex - that's a good one. Women are not for friendship, because their sense of loyalty works completely different from ours. A woman may be nice and friendly to you, but she won't have your back, unless her kids depend on you or some shit like that.

    By Blogger Ivan Lenin, at 3:18 PM  

  • Well, I certainly wasn't espousing the "let's be friends" position. I just think there are better ways to spend one's time then trying to make an ex feel miserable.

    But then again, I also believe in emotional growth after the 10th grade and the value of collecting people -- not males, not females, but people -- as friends. I guess that puts me in the minority.

    By Blogger F-Train, at 3:47 PM  

  • i'm with you. fuck being friends.

    btw, just got dumped this morning. worst parts are, we live together (i won't be able to get my own place for a couple of weeks, so i'm stuck there in the same house with this bastard who just stomped on my heart) and next week is/was our 3 year anniversary.

    sorry for cursing on your blog, but i'm a little pissed off right now. feel free to curse on mine if it'll make you feel better.

    By Blogger Sweet Reagan, at 5:55 PM  

  • SR,
    Curse away. I only ask that you not curse AT any of the other commenters. Sorry about the breakup.

    I also believe in emotional growth after the 10th grade and the value of collecting people -- not males, not females, but people -- as friends.
    Well, that's why you're better than the rest of us.

    By Blogger Ken Wheaton, at 6:17 PM  

  • I agree with taking the low road. My ex wife wanted the "lets be friends" thing after we divorced but I could not do it. Scorched earth policy. I always try not to break someone's heart hard as I remember how mine hurt. But it is a lot like what I learned while I was a Navy Corpsman. The completely severed limb hurts less!

    By Blogger HedgeHoggHockey, at 7:09 PM  

  • In cases where both people have been well-treated and the break-up was mutual, people can and often do remain good friends. Two of my best male friends, one for more than 20 years and one I only met this year, were both guys I dated. But the reason that we were able to stay friends was that the break-up was mutual, non-horrifying, mostly non-hurtful, and mature. Be friends with my ex husband who treated me like dirt for 12 years, cheated on me, lied to me multiple times? Why in the sam hell would I WANT a friend like that? And it's that LATTER category of breakup that ken is describing, not the former. He explicitly said so in his comments.

    By Blogger Spill The Beans, at 9:07 PM  

  • Ken:

    I'll ignore the subtle shot because I think you have misinterpreted my statement. My point is this: while there are many differences between males and females, in the end they're all just people. I'd like to think that when people set about "collecting" friends, the potential friend's gender doesn't factor into the equation.

    If people "collect" friends on the basis of gender, I think they're missing out on quite a bit in life.

    By Blogger F-Train, at 9:39 AM  

  • i loved this post!

    By Blogger desert boy, at 10:43 AM  

  • F-Train,
    I took a shot at you for the same reasons I took a shot at Karol on her site and for the same reasons I've dressed down people here before. Not to sound like Michael Moore trying to weasel out of one of his many errors, but this is a humor site first and foremost, which I thought was sort of evident from the tone, the silliness, the suggestion at the end of this piece that it might be okay to set an ex's car on fire.

    But as in all humor, there is an element of truth. And the other reason I'm busting your chops ... and Karol's chops ... is your both wrong. You asked if I believed a couple of the statements--namely the lack of emotional growth beyond 10th grade and the bit about collecting friends of the opposite sex. Up to a point, yes. There are certain emotions that are almost primal and those having to do with love and rejection are among them. You can protect yourself from them. You can pretend you've mastered them. You can do any number of things. Do people grow? Sure. Do they grow as much as they like to pretend? Hell no. And, quite frankly, I think people who walk around talking about emotional growth and self improvement too much are full of shit. But I'm a southern guy with Republican leanings, so I WOULD say that.

    As far as friends of the opposite sex. Hey, some of my best friends are girls. I'm still friends with the few girls I've dated and many of the ones I've just fooled around with. That doesn't mean anything other than in most of those situations I wasn't outright dumped.

    Collecting friends of the opposite sex? Again, in an ideal world where we're all neutered and our spouses feel no envy, it's a PERFECT idea. Well, I could get into it, but that's a post for an entirely different day. But I'll suggest this you and Karol are the ones guilty of grossly over simplifying things. If you believe the official grownup party line -- Take the high road, remain friends, be 'adult' -- while pretending that the complexities of being dumped don't exist, that these things are easily surmountable or that it's even good for your own mental health to overcome them, it means one of two things: 1) you've never been seriously dumped or 2) you're about as reality-based as a DailyKos reader.

    By Blogger Ken Wheaton, at 11:00 AM  

  • It does look like Karol is losing her sense of humor. I guess she takes her happiness a bit too seriously to actually be happy.

    By Blogger Ivan Lenin, at 11:32 AM  

  • We weren't meant to take the bit about setting the ex's car on fire seriously? Oh. Shit.

    Also, F-Train, weren't you likened on Clarified to the Seinfeldian "bad-breaker-upper"?

    By Blogger pearatty, at 1:53 PM  

  • Pea and F,
    I think this is the part when the Oprah audience goes, "Oooohhhhh," then falls silent, waiting for a surprise revelation.

    By Blogger Ken Wheaton, at 3:21 PM  

  • Bah, don't hide behind the ol' "this is a humor site" line. That's lame. The statements seem to have been made with a tone of all seriousness (though inferring tone from text can be tricky sometimes) so just own up to them.

    I too think that people who walk around talking about emotional growth and self-improvement too much are full of shit. The difference is that I don't see it as an all or nothing proposition the way you seem to. Or at least, I believe the line exists further along the growth spectrum than you seem to.

    If you believe the official grownup party line -- Take the high road, remain friends, be 'adult' -- while pretending that the complexities of being dumped don't exist,

    Please re-read all of my comments. Didn't I start off the very first sentence of my very first comment by saying that I support the general premise that bad break-ups can't lead to anything good? I still stand by that. If the break-up is bad, or if one person was treating the other like shit (this almost always leads to a bad break-up), then nothing good can come. "Remaining friends" is for shit. (See my second comment where I thought I made this even more explicit.)

    Where I disagree is with the idea that you should "take the low road". You seem to think there are two choices: high road ("ok, let's stay friends!") or low road ("you're a fucking whore and here's why"). I believe in a third choice -- ignoring the person completely and moving on with your life. Really, if they were that bad for you, the best thing you can do is get them out of your life completely.

    Why do I know this? Oh, from having been dumped by people who treated me pretty badly. As Clareified would say, "So's your face."

    Pearatty, your facts are off. Or rather, you don't have all of them -- and by the way, certainly Clareified doesn't have all (or even any) of the facts either. But this isn't about me, so I'm not going to go into it.

    By Blogger F-Train, at 4:21 PM  

  • Aw, I'm just messin'. Trying to stir you and Ken up -- nothing cuter than a cockfight. Really, I don't know nuthin.

    By Blogger pearatty, at 7:03 PM  

  • I think tenth grade as a benchmark for general human emotional maturity is too high. More like seventh... (this is a humour comment page too, right?)

    By Blogger kaiela, at 7:11 PM  

  • Hey, I just saw this comment on the Carolyn Hax chat over at It was so apropos, I had to post it here:

    "I was recently dumped for another man (after I knew and dated her first). Of course, she said she still 'wants to be friends.' I believe that line is used to soothe her internal turmoil rather than for my benefit. My new reply was to ask 'how do you envision this proposed friendship?'"

    By Blogger pearatty, at 3:04 PM  

  • Ask Karol if she's EVER been dumped. She hasn't.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:22 PM  

  • I loved your post - I had to learn the hard way why you are right in so many ways why one should not be friends with an ex. One time (long time ago) I even went as far as asking the dumper if we could still be friends - he was a good guy overall but there is still no reason why we should have remained friends. The reason I am posting anonymously is because it was (still is) so embarrassing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:36 PM  

  • Ken,
    Thanks for the post. I've been able to remain friends with a couple of exes, but they were the exceptions, not the norm. Usually my exes and I just end up "ignoring" each other in an effort to move on with our lives. I'm someone who needs closure, and the Friend Zone just seems too murky to navigate in the immediate aftermath of a breakup.

    Recently I ended things with a guy I'd dated only a few months. The problem with the breakup wasn't the friend dilemma, but rather, getting him to break it off at all. Clearly he was the one having issues with me (not treating me so great at the end, etc.). I knew we weren't right for each other, but thought we could end things on an amicable note. When I brought it up, he just said he "wasn't good at these conversations." Well, who is? Basically, I had to break up with myself, because this guy flaked so badly at the end. Playing the part of the breaker-upper and the break-ee is so NOT the way to go. I guess some people are just not mature enough to be in relationships. Or, at least, to end them in a semi-adult way. I don't know which is worse: taking the low road, which you describe, or taking NO road (which is what this guy did).

    Sorry to have rambled on, but this particular post struck a chord with me. Thanks again--I look forward to future posts.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:10 PM  

  • I dated a guy for 6 years... I loved him, he broke my heart. He wanted to remain friends. I obliged. He called and wanted me and my new guy to go to dinner with him and his new girl. Sure, why not? I can be the big person, right? WRONG.... I spent the entire evening comparing his new girl to myself... And finding faults with my new guy. Trouble... I should have just said, "NO!"

    By Blogger anywherebutTX, at 2:59 PM  

  • What about the side of women who's boyfriend has a best friend that is a woman, what is going on there?

    By Blogger JewishShiksa, at 7:40 PM  

  • The guy should start letting go of that best girlfriend. Sure, he can still call her his best friend, but he'd better stop acting like she's his best friend. It's just common decency.

    By Blogger Ken Wheaton, at 8:11 PM  

  • look at this its just stupid this is what she told me. i no im probably the last person u want an e-mail from n all i can seem to say is im sorry. i didnt want to hurt you wich is the main reason i left u. ur too good for me. i would have hurt you more by either lying to you wich i really dont want to do or leaving you later on. either way it was always going to happen, i just wish i was there to dry ur tears n give you a big hug. n the biggest thing i regret is not telling you inperson. but i wouldnt hav known how to say it n i would have cried too much to speek. last night i couldnt sleep i felt so shit, n i have felt sik with myself all day literally. i dont even know why im trying to appologise its my own fault that i hurt you, i never wanted to, but the onli way i couldnt have is by not goin out with you in the first place. im so sori x

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:20 AM  

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