Kelli Korducki recently posted an interesting essay on Thought Catalog, in which she opined if a relationship has to end, she would rather be the one dumped than be the one who ends it. Her chief argument seems to be that the person who ends it is deliberately taking on the role of the Bad Guy, which is the harder role to play because, in the absence of mitigating factors like abuse or deceit or what have you, it comes with no sympathy, no legitimate period of mourning, no way to acknowledge that it too might be painful. That got me thinking about how my own relationships have ended, and while I agree with some of her points, I think fundamentally her thesis is wrong.
Before I get to that, there are two minor quibbles I’d like to deal with. First, there’s this paragraph about people behaving poorly when they end a relationship:
I know some people who have been dumped in cruel, unforgivable ways. I know someone who got married, paid off their spouse’s credit card debt instead of their own student loans, and dutifully served as the household breadwinner before being swapped after 9 months for the town exterminator. In that case, I side with the dumped—even though one might argue that this person had their own poor judgement to blame for the situation—because, in that particular instance, the dumped had been completely disrespected, used, and discarded. It was about more than romantic rejection.
She’s absolutely right about that sort of thing being cruel and unforgivable (I have considerable experience being on the receiving end of that behaviour), but her suggestion that her friend might have “their own poor judgement to blame for the situation” is straight up victim blaming, and it bothers me a lot. Like Korducki, I have not had a great many relationships, but unlike her I’m not an expert on dumping: I’m an expert on being dumped. I’ve been dating for close to twenty years now, and one of those relationships lasted nearly a decade, so I feel that, again, like Korducki, I understand how a number of different kinds of relationships work, and some of the different stages they go through as they evolve. Her friend trusting his or her partner may have turned out to be a mistake economically and tactically, because they were betrayed and their finances ruined, but it was still the right thing to do. Love and trust go hand in hand as the cliché goes, and if you aren’t ready to trust your partner then you aren’t grown-up enough to be in the kind of relationship that has shared finances, or perhaps in any relationship beyond casual fucking. Having one foot out the door or one eye on the piggy bank in case your partner might walk off with it is not only disrespectful of your partner, it’s disrespectful of the relationship, and yourself. Besides, nobody will ever be able live up to your trust if you aren’t willing to risk trusting them in the first place. The risk is worth taking, but not only that, it must be taken.
My second quibble is something that was brought up in the comments; Korducki gives no consideration at all to laziness or cowardice. Ideally we do a tremendous amount of soul-searching before ending a relationship. Sometimes a relationship can’t be salvaged. Sometimes it shouldn’t be salvaged. More often than we’d care to admit, however, folks will end relationships because, though they know that they can—and in some cases should—sit down with their partner and together do the work that will save it, they see how hard that road is and turn away because they are afraid of the difficulty, or because they would rather have an easier reward with another partner today than a richer one with their current partner tomorrow. Laziness and cowardice: they are human failings, and we can understand them—may even suffer from them ourselves, as I surely have at times—but they deserve no pity, and will find none here. I’ve been dumped in this way more than once, and when I read in Korducki’s essay that “[s]ome might argue that it’s even (!) a mutually beneficial act,” I’m reminded that those were the times I heard that sentiment the most. It’s what’s best for both us. The arrogance of such a statement is beyond words.* I’ve been accused of arrogance more than once myself, and almost as often as not the accusations have been just, so I know arrogance when I hear it. It’s also an easy shield to hide behind when we’d rather not look too closely at our own motivations.
But these are really minor things. Folks who know me will know that I’ve been dumped at least twice as much as I’ve done the dumping (I hate this terminology, but what can you do?), and they will also know that I take being dumped hard, as I don’t enter relationships lightly in the first place, not being particularly fond of or good at “casual.” Unfortunately this will sound like sour grapes to them, but a lot of this comes from thinking long and hard about why I am how I am, and why I want what I want and expect what I expect.
Here’s the crux of things: Korducki writes that “when referring to garden-variety 20-something relationships (the ones that don’t involve life savings and/or offspring, say), being dumped doesn’t automatically equate being wronged,” and that just isn’t so. Dumping, as I’m using the word (and I hope Korducki will forgive me if I’m misunderstanding her use of it), is the unilateral ending of a relationship, as opposed to ending it after honest and heartfelt discussion between all parties. Even when unilaterally dissolving a relationship is the right thing to do, the necessary thing to do, you are always wronging the other party because you are using your agency in a way that explicitly denies them the use of their own, and for that express purpose. Even twenty-somethings can play for keeps, and as with the body, so too the heart: sometimes when we hurt people, they don’t ever get better, regardless of our intentions. So we have the absolute responsibility to understand that when we dump someone, especially someone we still care about, we are potentially altering the direction of their lives, and we are doing so by explicitly denying them input. In short, when you dump someone, you rob them of their agency, and that is always a “wrong,”** even when it’s the right thing to do. We all have the right to determine the course of our own lives, to choose our partner, to love whomever we will, but sometimes our choices don’t line up, and in those cases the person who doesn’t want a relationship always trumps the person who does. That is as it should be, but it doesn’t change the fact that one person has been denied the right to exercise their agency, and that is never a small thing.***
Korducki is absolutely right that anyone with any self-respect at all will sometimes feel pain, even tremendous pain, when they dump someone, but she’s wrong about why. It’s not because they’ve taken on a necessary responsibility. It’s because they’ve wronged someone they care about by taking away the very rights that they themselves are exercising. All acts have consequences, and the pain felt by a self-respecting dumper are those consequences being acted out on their heart or soul or body or psyche, whichever of those things you prefer to believe in. Having looked back at all my past relationships, the most terrible thing anyone has ever done to me, the absolute worst betrayal, has been taking away my power to choose. I would be the Bad Guy a hundred times over before I’d want to face that again even once.
*I don’t think that Korducki was saying that’s her actual stance on the issue, only that some folks make that argument, so bear in mind that I’m not attributing the arrogance to her.
**In the sense that it causes legitimate harm, even when it is a morally justified act.
***Here I am still talking about ending relationships that already exist; beginning a new relationship is something else entirely.