January 14th, 2011

Dater Unknown: Throwing in the Towel

Mid-January is inherently a bit of a beating. The holiday hangover still lingers, your pants are tighter, it’s cold, and college football is over (not that Houston had much to root for in the way of college football anyhow). What we are given, however, is a clean slate. The mere possibility that comes with a brand-spanking new year is the thing that makes me refrain from locking myself in a bathroom stall and not coming out until March.

It’s not always easy to embrace a clean slate with open arms—especially when it comes to one created by a break-up. Break-ups are painful and have been since the dawn of time—or since the band Chicago started making music reminding us how painful they are—whichever came first.

But sometimes, throwing in the towel on a relationship is the best thing you can do for yourself. Being clear on whether the towel should be thrown, however, isn’t always the easiest decision. To help, here are a few sample situations in which pulling the rip cord, like, five minutes ago is probably best.

Situation 1: “The Person I’m Dating Reminds Me of Barbara Hershey in Black Swan”

If when you saw Black Swan, you thought “Wow, Barbara Hershey’s character really reminds me of the person I’m in a relationship with,” it’s probably a good idea to see things for what they are—which is completely horrible.

At a dinner once, the now-ex-boyfriend of a friend said to her, “Hey, that’s enough bread for you,” and proceeded to move the basket to the other side of the table. He was serious and she was embarrassed and everyone else was dumbfounded. The flags are usually glaringly red to some (your friends and family), while to you they may be more of a muted pink—but only due to a blanket of denial you throw over the flags to hide the glare.

Seeing things for how they truly are can suck, but I mean, who wants to be Natalie Portman in The Black Swan? Wait, don’t answer that. Her physique/face/new smoking hot fiancé make me weep. But you know what I mean. Just trust your gut, y’all.

Oh, and to be clear, I’m not talking about contained control freaks/OCD-ish people in this situation. A friend of mine once dated a guy who had some funny OCD habits like cleaning his nose with a hydrogen peroxide-dipped Q-tip each morning and night. While pretty damn funny, he wasn’t controlling or manipulating her. It’s when the controlling begins to turn your way, that you need to have a looksy on whether this mission needs to be aborted.

Situation 2: “This Time Will be Different”

Let me first say I believe in the concept of second chances. Depending on the circumstances, giving somebody the benefit of the doubt and a second chance (again, this is circumstantial), aren’t necessarily a bad idea. It’s when you find yourself explaining “maybe 7th time’s a charm,” (I’m looking at you, self), that it may be time for a final towel throwing.

I remember being in my kitchen sometime in the 90s when I was contemplating a relationship that was so intense and meant to be that I can’t even remember exactly who it was with. What I do remember was that I was making ramen noodles, sitting on our Formica countertop and looking forlorn—the weight of the world on my shoulder-padded Merry Go Round rayon shirt.

My mom walked in with the intent of probably asking whether I was ever going to take my clothes she had folded up to my room. (Side note: It’s funny to think of how much our parents did for us growing up considering we were all just a bunch of a-holes.) I assume I told her the highlights of my plight because she asked me something along the lines of “Well, how does he make you feel?”

I don’t recall how I answered—probably a shrug—but looking back it’s such a great question. If the truthful answer is that the majority of the time the relationship was on, you felt more Sad/Angry/Hurt/Frustrated than Happy/Calm/Valued/Content, it may be time to move on. For good. The bottom line is to be with someone you like just as they are and don’t want to change. And vice versa.

Situation 3: “I Need a Dramamine”

Hear that? That is the sound of your relationship flat lining. This situation is when the thought of kissing that person now makes you sick. At one point in time you couldn’t wait to kiss this person and now the thought makes you recoil and want to squeeze Purell into your mouth like a can of whipped cream.

The other day I was with some friends from high school and we were talking about our first kisses. My first kiss and I both had braces, and the kiss came on the heels of us both eating fun fruits (gummy anything + braces times two = sexxxy) and jumping for 45 minutes on a trampoline (Houston heat + that I’ve been playing outside smell = sexxxy). When he kissed me, we both had purple gummy gunk in our braces, post-sugary snack breath and reeked of old gym clothes. A scene out of Casablanca it wasn’t, but I had such a crush that it didn’t really matter. Okay, maybe I was too nervous to notice anything, but I do remember the feeling of liking him being greater than wanting to dry heave.

When you think of kissing your partner, you should smile —not want to reach for a Dramamine. If you do, please know that the towel dun been thrown in already. It’s time to do the right thing for you both and part ways.


Again, I know breaking up—even when it’s right—is much easier said than done. Even the cleanest break-ups take getting over. Regardless of the break-up, we should take comfort in whatever it is that helps. And really, has much changed in our break-up rituals? For me at least, no. There is still a period of flailing around the swamp of somber love songs (cue The Cure’s Disintegration album). There is still the use of the break-up as a free pass to do, well, whatever the hell I want. There are still the talks with consoling friends, only now there are usually cocktails involved. And there is still the notion that as much as I may not believe it at first, everything always gets better with time.

— Dater Unknown


Franny — Friday, January 14, 2011 6:37 pm

Genius, my dear. I love your writing. This was the perfect way to finish my week! And, I mean, Disintegration??? Hells-to-the-yeah. Perfect for nursing a break-up depression.

Gil — Saturday, January 15, 2011 11:43 am

Love it…the antidotal endgame to the ‘ol, not-quite-so-simple, Towel Tug ‘O War ritual!! :-) Brilliant, Master Dater!!

Amanda — Saturday, January 15, 2011 12:37 pm

I love it. And you babe. Amanda.

Monica — Saturday, January 15, 2011 1:28 pm

Amazingly funny and so true! I’m still recovering from the guffaw inducing purell/whip cream of it all.

Alex — Monday, January 17, 2011 11:26 pm

Great writing & so true! I’m glad for the reminder.

Blaire — Wednesday, January 19, 2011 8:41 pm

The towel done been thrown in. LOVE IT. This is great advice.

Giussepi — Saturday, February 5, 2011 7:19 pm

Brilliant! Some of my most painful yet liberating moments just flashed before my eyes! Great writing master.

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