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Breaking Up Is Hard to Do - Especially if You Still Have to Use the Same Toilet

The Break Up.jpg

As a rule, I don’t see many romantic comedies in the theatre. Manhattan cinemas tend to be rambunctious and claustrophobic and The Boyfriend prefers violent car-chase-gun-fight-gangster-drug-dealer movies, anyway.

But last week, when I was in Chicago for a faux vacation ("faux" because one cannot have a real vacation with one’s parents, in one’s childhood home), I thought it an appropriate place to catch a screening of “The Break Up.”

Set in the Windy City, “The Break Up,” – in case you’re one of 17 people in the world who haven’t yet heard – is Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn’s recent foray into the trippy world of art imitating life.

In my decidedly not-Roger-Ebert opinion, the movie was a little too much life and not enough art. If I wanted to watch a screaming fight about washing dishes, I would just go home and have one with The Boyfriend. Although he probably wouldn't scream back, as he tends towards the "excessively non-confrontational" end of the spectrum. That's why I like him.

Still, I felt that as a dating columnist, I couldn't ignore the biggest story of the year - and so I wrote this week's AM New York article about it, or more accurately, as a jumping off point for telling my own Break Up story.

I don't tend to get super personal in my column, preferring to analyize other people's lives, instead of my own (don't we all?). But given the overexposure of the Aniston-Vaughn-Pitt-Jolie love square, I just couldn't find anything new to say about it.

You would think, in a world with gazillions of news outlets, it would be difficult to reach an irritatingly level of hyper saturation. And yet, every time I pass an ubiquitous New York newsstand, there they are, week after week, the same three faces (with Vaughn thrown in occasionally to mix it up). Always looking consternated (“Jen Realizes That She’s No Longer Married to Brad!!”) or joyful (“Angie Ecstatic That Brad Is Still Cute, Despite Being Totally Whipped!”) or just confused (“Vince Just Not as Good Looking as Brad, Concludes Jen!”).

It's the Same. Damn. Story – relentlessly repackaged. Over. And Over. And Over.

You can’t blame people for being intrigued; human drama involving sex, betrayal and really, really good-looking actors is extremely compelling – especially if it’s unscripted. Certainly no soap writer could have written it better. But … um … even Days of Our Lives doesn’t fixate on the same story line for a year and a half.

Some selected clips from recent "Break Up" articles:
* “Aniston Savors Break Up Irony"
* “Aniston has acknowledged the irony of starring in a film about break ups"
* “The irony wasn’t lost on any of us when we were shooting a movie called The Break-Up"
* Or my personal favorite? “Actress Loves Irony.”

Hmm … I doubt “loves” is the right word. Perhaps she found the irony ironic, but most probably, she just found the irony felt like a year-long punch in the stomach.

It’s certainly no surprise that the movie – and the drama behind it – has gotten heaps of attention. But I’ve had it – I’m not interested in hearing anything more about ANY of them. I am totally, irrevocably, irredeemably over the whole thing.

Oh yeah, but first - read my article, after the jump. :)

JUNE 26, 2006

A journalist sent me an email a few weeks ago, looking for couples who had split up but continued to live together, a la “The Break Up.” I snorted and thought, “Who would be so stupid?? Good luck trying to find people like that, sucker!”

After sending her a dismissive reply, I forgot about it – until last week.

As a rule, I don’t see many romantic comedies in the theatre. Manhattan cinemas tend to be rambunctious and claustrophobic; besides, like most men, The Boyfriend prefers to drag me to violent car-chase-gun-fight-gangster-drug-dealer flicks.

But last week I was in Chicago, sans boyfriend, for a faux vacation ("faux" because one cannot have a real vacation with one’s parents, in one’s childhood home). What better place to catch a screening of Jennifer & Vince’s “art imitates life” enterprise, set in the windy city?

I felt like I had already seen it.

No, not because I’d been subjected to the trailer more than a dozen times, read at least 279 tabloid stories about it (a conservative estimate), and discussed the “horrible irony” of Jennifer’s life with my mother/boyfriend/friends on more occasions than I care to admit.

Halfway through one of actors’ all-too-realistic breaking-up screaming matches, I remembered why.

I did know of someone who had gone through that experience. Me!

Two years ago, I broke up with a significant other – and then lived with him for five agonizing weeks while I frantically searched for a new place to stay. Oops. Who knew I was so good at blocking out unpleasant memories?

I quickly emailed the poor journalist, confessing the whole story.

Would I give her the name of my ex? She wanted to know. Would he talk to her? “Or do you guys not speak?”

“Ummm … Yeah, ‘don’t speak’ is an enormous understatement,” I wrote back.

It was. We were nothing like Aniston & Vaughn’s characters, who fight like angry monkeys during the actual break up, but then run into each other six months post-split, gushing, “Wow, it’s really good to see you!!” “No, it’s really good to see you!” “Seriously, it’s sooo good to see you!!” (I swear that’s what they said. Barf.)

Our scene went more like this: “If you even THINK about throwing my clothing off the balcony again, I will call the police.” “Oh, yeah, just try calling them – I’m cutting off your cell phone because you were on my Friends & Family plan and now you’re NEITHER!” “Oh really? I’m glad, because your mom is ugly.”

I think you get the idea. (Although I never really said his mom was ugly. She’s not.)

Given, break ups never bring out the sunny side of people’s personalities, but living together during a break up is like dipping your toes into relationship hell.

My ex, ever the sweet Dr. Jekyll while we were dating, turned into Mr. Hyde quickly thereafter. Mr. Hyde liked to dump the contents of my closet outside the front door and engage in screaming matches over who would get the Kleenex box holder (I’m not making this up). Mr. Hyde also asked me on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis when I was moving out, and suggested oh-so-helpfully that I sleep on the couch.

“Yeah, about that,” I would attempt to explain to him. “I bought the bed, I’m sleeping on the bed. You like the couch so much, you go sleep there!”

We ended up both awkwardly sleeping on opposite edges of the mattress, very aware of the invisible line of demarcation drawn down the middle – our own mini 38th parallel.

Our conversations were a minefield of italics, expletives and exclamation marks. I slapped him across the cheek, Hollywood-leading-lady style, on more than one occasion. I thought it was very cathartic; alas, he didn’t agree.

We fought over groceries. We fought over rent. We fought over custody of our two shih-tzu puppies.

We fought like we had never fought before – or since. In the end, he kept the apartment, the furniture and the state of California. I kept the Kleenex box holder.

And my mother got the two dogs.

After that, we stopped speaking entirely. Complete radio silence. No cell calls, no “just saying hey” emails, certainly no “it’s sooo good to see you” run-ins (although that’s probably understandable given that I now live 3,000 miles away). In the two years since we split, I’ve often wondered: if I had just moved out the day after we broke up, would we still be friends today?

Probably. But I wouldn’t have that Kleenex box holder. And let me tell you, I needed it.



I have a similar tale. Communication was handled through Post-It notes. I shudder to this day when someone leaves one on my desk.

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