When I was in my late teens, still living at home with my parents, I broke up with a man I had been dating for a while. In response, he chose to write a letter to my dad and put it under the windshield wipers of his car so he’d find it on the way to work. His letter told my dad all kinds of things a dad doesn’t want to hear about his 18 year-old daughter’s romantic exploits. Or perhaps even more accurately, he told him everything I didn’t want my dad to know. I could not imagine an adult man (he was several years older than me) needing to hurt both my parents and me in response to a break up. But I have heard far worse stories than my own and the news and movies are full of vindictive-lover-turned-murderer stories. Take the recently revived story of O.J. and Nicole, for instance.
If there was ever an argument in favor of taking your time to get involved, to do your homework, pay attention and choose who you take on as a lover, potential behavior during or after a breakup is one of them.
I contend that people often take more time deciding which car to buy and ask more questions about a house they are interested in than they do about a person that they are going to get intimately involved with. We jump from “looks good” to “feels good” without taking the time to see if it is good. Along with the onset of the sexual revolution, was the departure of courting, or dating before mating. We may do well to reclaim that practice in the name of making wiser choices.
Here are some dating and breaking up practices that can help you to minimize the creation of a vindictive lover…and yes, I mean creation. While I am not blaming the victim for the behavior of a perpetrator, it is important that we take responsibility for how we treat other human beings, as clearly they are reactive. When we treat people disrespectfully, they tend to react the same way.
- Ask questions, pay attention and listen to what your potential lover says before you get sexually involved. Every ounce of mindfulness in the early stages of dating will pay off. It’s amazing how many people share their “I should have known” stories or lament that their ex-lover actually told them what would go wrong in the relationship early on, but he or she refused to believe it. Pay attention to how they describe their previous partners and break ups. Listen to whether they take responsibility or blame. Unless a huge lesson was learned in between, a person’s way of doing things and perspective may remain exactly the same.
- A revealing question to ask when someone is ranting about a previous relationship is simply, “What did you learn from that?” Pay careful attention if the answer is “to never trust” or “all men are cheaters” or “women are psychos” or “everyone cheats on me” or any number of other impaired conclusions that will impact your relationship.
- Build your own self-esteem so that you are less susceptible to saying “yes” when you should say “no.”
- Be as respectful as you possibly can during a break up so as not to send an otherwise reasonable person onto a retaliatory warpath. I’m not talking about going backwards on your decisions, but we can actually practice “conscious uncoupling” instead of launching personal attacks on the other person. At the very least, practice wisdom. Be sure you are in a safe place, or have taken precautions to safeguard against an abusive reaction.
- Break up before you get involved with someone else. There is nothing like getting left for another lover to trigger the ego into a rampage. If you already have a love interest, put it on hold and handle your “business” responsibly first.
- Wait a respectful period of time before you get deeply involved again. There are several reasons for this, besides respect for your previous partner. When we jump from partner to partner without any break in between, we usually have not given ourselves time to heal, to learn, or to integrate the experience. Consequently, we tend to repeat similar patterns because nothing new was learned. We all need time to recalibrate with our authentic selves after the energetic merging, mixing and separating of a relationship. Using a new person as a pacifier to help distract yourself from the pain or growth is usually a three-way mistake—unfair to the new guy or gal, painful to the previous one, and totally dismissive of your own needs to process your experience.
We can minimize the likelihood of a vindictive response if we are mindful and aware ourselves. Whether you are in your teens, twenties, or older, the practice of wisdom, forethought and respect will serve you well. It would also be wise to check for letters under the windshield of your parent’s or new sweetheart’s car.