In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
My mom always told me that I could argue with a brick wall, but I prefer healthy debate with other humans—like when I argued with her for two days over whether pine straw is mulch. I insisted that pine straw is a particular sort of yard furnishing that should not be lumped in with mulch, while she was content to live in a world with imprecise definitions for flowerbed fillers.
When I spotted Lauren—a slender blonde in a smart purple dress I met at one of the not-quite-fancy alumni events my university was always throwing in D.C.—she struck me as the type of confident and independent girl I’m always drawn to. Just shy of a semester out of college, she’d moved straight to the capital in lieu of settling in one of the southern towns that net too many of our fellow grads. A few open-bar Yuenglings and several passes of lackluster hors d’oeurvres later, I sidled over to talk to her. I don’t remember anything I said, but she smiled a lot and l aughed. I made sure to get her phone number before leaving.
I called, and a week later, we were washing down fried dates and chorizo with sangria and telling each other about our families and hometowns. Soon, we were hanging out in dive bars on Pennsylvania Avenue, rooting for our alma mater at Saturday football viewing parties, and dawdling through Trader Joe’s on weeknights, where she introduced me to the gloriousness of mint-flavored Joe-Joe’s.
Lauren and I got along well, shared the same values, and enjoyed the same snack foods, namely craft beer. Coming from the same South Carolina university meant that we had common ground that stretched beyond most of the people I’d met in my nine months in D.C. But once we had established all the little affinities you build a relationship on in those early months, I was ready to dig into the differences that set us apart, that make any relationship compelling.
My work at the time—economics and policy research—meant that, for better and worse, I was adept at turning the pegs of the latest news cycle into fodder for happy-hour debate. Even if you aren’t utterly informed about the latest ins-and-outs of global relations or domestic policy disputes—like when, say, U.S. ships fired Tomahawk missiles into Libya from the Mediterranean last year—I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you have a feeling one way or another about our military forces gallivanting around the world, intervening in other countries. But at some point, going out for a drink with Lauren went one of two ways:
1. I’d bring up a current event that she wasn’t quite up on. I’d give her a two-sentence backgrounder. “Isn’t that so absurd/wonderful/horrendous/amusing?”, I’d say. She’d agree. It was, in fact, absurd/wonderful/horrendous/amusing. Conversation over.
2. Lauren would bring up some other topic, like the relationship quandaries of a friend. I might play devil’s advocate and push back against her take on things, mostly for the hell of it. She’d say something like, “Oh yeah, I guess I see that.” The server would arrive. I’d ask her what kind of beer she would like. She’d ask me what I was having before responding.
This wasn’t exactly fair—it’s a lot easier to shoot the shit about relationship troubles than it is missile strikes. But while I’m not truly interested in yelling at walls, I don’t get too excited over conversation with invertebrates, either. Lauren was agreeable. About everything. And as we hung out more and more, her unswerving acquiescence only grew—and so did my urge to push back.
The worst part was that she was, deep down, an engaging person who could hold her weight in conversation. But quickly, the dynamics of our relationship tipped the scales. You know when someone is just a little more into stuff than you are in the beginning—when you’re still feeling the temperature of the water with your toes, but they’re already wading in the shallow end? Lauren seemed more invested than I was over those first couple of months, and she came to agree with me in that weird way where you like someone so much that you constantly and unwittingly affirm their every word.
I can relate, because I’ve been that person. I never noticed it until a girl I’d been dating pointed out how my normally resolute backbone had withered over the course of a few short months. When she broke things off, she told me that, lately, it seemed like I’d just agreed with her take on whatever happened to be the topic du jour. As soon as she called me out on it, I could picture my spine wilting under the weight of my crush. In a rush to please her in that big, romantic sense, I’d subconsciously tried to appease her over every little thing.
I’ve always known that I wanted to date an independent woman who stands up for herself, calls me on all of my bullshit, and occasionally disagrees with me just because she wants to get a rise out of me. But I also want her to have the resolve to stay that way, and to expect the same sort of independent spirit in me. And when I ask her what kind of beer she wants to drink, I want her to be offended that I assumed she wouldn’t be ordering a bourbon.