It’s the trend of every breakup I’ve had for the last 10 years. Some version of “it’s not you; it’s me,” or “sometimes it just doesn’t workout.” These classic and cliché breakup lines are intended to be polite, to preserve the fragile emotional state of the person being rejected, but there is a problem rooted in them. They don’t provide real feedback. The person who is rejected doesn’t learn anything to help in the next relationship. In pursuit of being polite, they choose not to be helpful.
It makes to want to shake them and yell, “I’m in my thirties. I can handle the truth. I need it, because whatever I’m doing wrong, I’ve been doing wrong for a very long time, and no one will tell me what it is.”
But I don’t. Instead, I start making a data tracking sheet. What I did and how they reacted. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I could finally learn what I was doing wrong all these years. It yielded some interesting points, but when I implemented the changes, I kept getting the same results. The girls kept dumping me. I realized my problem was that whatever wasn’t working didn’t make it on the data sheet. Once again, I found myself in need of genuine feedback, and no one would offer it.
I suppose my question is: why did this culture develop? Why is it so important to keep secret your real reasons for ending a relationship?
So, let’s talk about feedback.
Several years ago, I started shopping around my first manuscript and got an endless stream of rejection letters. No explanation, just “no” or most of the time nothing. (They let you know up front if you don’t hear back, it’s a ‘no.’)
I joined a writing group, and they destroyed my work. From structure, to paragraph, to sentence the just tore it apart. It was devastating. I left the first meeting in tears, but I learned for the first time why my writing wasn’t working. I suddenly knew why all those agents rejected my manuscript, and I could finally start fixing it.
Skip forward a year, and this time when I sent out my manuscript instead of rejection, I started getting requests for more. (usually, you on submit the first 50 pages.) Now they all wanted to the whole book. What changed? I got genuine feedback, and with it, I could make changes that worked.
Doesn’t that mean that I think I or anyone having a similar problem should fundamentally change their personality? No. I didn’t fundamentally change my story either. Same characters. Same plot. Told differently.
It’s about the presentation. Just after high school, a guy joined my group of friends who liked to tell everyone he loved them all the time. It was weird for me. It was weird for everyone in the group, the guys and the girls. I could see it on their faces. And I spent a lot of time thinking about it. The problem wasn’t how he felt, it was his presentation. I imagine that he felt the same way as when any other member of the group would say “you guys are awesome,” or “cool” or any other common term among friends. All he needed was a little genuine feedback, and he wouldn’t weird people out.
But once again I find myself at the impenetrable enigma of politeness. I’m getting dumped. There is no protecting my feelings. I’m going to get hurt. It’s the nature of ending a relationship. At least be honest, and maybe I can learn something in the feedback.