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trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and alone (15 Jul 2005 at 15:01)
Warning: This is fairly depressing/embarrassing and so intended for close friends (and family), and also for people who hardly know me. If you are not interested in—for the sake of accuracy—having some objective evidence that I am not really cool and invincible, please skip.

(Damn, I'm sure that sounds like a dare more than a warning. How about this: The following is very long and boring!)

Also: Since this is part confession part exploratory memo-to-myself and part plea for sympathy, I will probably feel somewhat isolated if nobody responds to this. But if you want, you can just reply "Bummer." and I will say "Yeah." and I think that will actually make me feel better.




Here it is: I made a long series of minor and lazy and selfish (but ultimately simply irrational) decisions and now I am fucked, and I have hurt someone that I care about. This concerns my relationship. Yes, I admit it publicly: I have been in a relationship for almost three years with a wonderful girl named Heather. Yes, I admit it: Now she insists that the relationship is beyond repair. Yes, I admit it: I insist in return that I am agile enough to admit wrongdoing this time and because of that, to change my behavior, and insist that, because I see that my behavior is not just lazy and bad for her but also bad for me, that this change would not merely be for reconciliatory purposes but something that I actually want.

"What is the bad behavior?" a reader asks. "How can I avoid similarly torpedoing my own precious relationship?" he continues.

The bad behavior consists of two parts. The first is easier to explain, and I alluded it to it in the previous, uncharacteristically whiny post. It consists of me avoiding certain traditional romantic things (or even just traditional things-that-friends-do-for-each-other things), like paying for dinner, or offering a ride that cannot possibly be repaid, or buying flowers, merely because they are a minor pain to me. (I may or may not also have minor philosophical objections to these, which may or may not simply be the result of rationalizing my own laziness, but that is also irrelevant; see below.) Individually, these are not very serious (though it does depend on the occasion), but cumulatively they lead to a substantial hurt for someone I care about, and that is ridiculous.

The second is probably more serious: that I have cultured an aloofness, that I have had for a very long time, and which is part of my self image and so is difficult to delte. I think that this self image is somewhat obsolete, but it is also very comfortable; it helps me deal with and avoid many kinds of pain and disappointment. How does this manifest itself? It prevents me from talking about uncomfortable things, or even just about things that seem to require some kind of emotional commitment (an example is "talking about the future" which is code for convincing her that you are serious and committed about the relationship). An emotional distance is not great, but I think it can be fine to ease into that, as long as it is done at a mutually agreeable pace. For her my pace is not agreeable; she has a lot of hurt in her past, is extremely extroverted and so finds comfort in externalizing this hurt, and also has very strong anxiety about being stuck in a bad relationship and so feels the need to be thinking about the future. Boy, I must be an idiot, huh? Yes, but not for failing to realize this: Of course I perceive and appreciate these facts and of course I know that emotional distance is damaging and of course I even knew that these things were important and that I had to deal with them and that I was being stupidly oblique and evasive as I deflected them and thought that we can talk about these things later, because I don't feel like it right now and plus, isn't it cool to be so nonchalant? And then, when the issues didn't come up again right away, I guiltily congratulated myself, because, obviously, problem solved. Right?

And here is the keystone of this mess (okay, there are three bad behaviors, but this one is not entirely my fault): whenever one of these problems comes up for discussion, be it in mild form or in relationship-rocking torpedo form, I rationalize my behavior, and I think I convince Heather and I essentially do convince myself that what I am doing makes sense. (I take so much intellectual joy in the sport of argument that I even find myself generating silly beliefs that I do not even hold in order to defend them. That kind of thing is great for lunchtime conversation with friends and awful for adult relationships!) But it doesn't make sense, because on no count is one of these minor inconveniences to myself (or manufactured straw-men) even close to being worth what it means to her, and then reflexively, to me. That is what I mean when I say that the bad behavior is actually bad for me, and that I now realize this.

Now, let's not get carried away: I am in fact a caring and faithful and generous person, I do have a dimple when I smile, and I have been totally unlazy (even manic) many times during our relationship. Noted examples: I recorded a whole album of songs about and for her, some of which are actually touching; I spent many many hours helping her learn to program, and even took a class with her that is totally outside my research area, and wrote software for her project that she uses today; I made her a series of unprompted mix CDs with illustrated booklets; I paid my own way to visit her and her family in California, and even had a good time; I committed to being flexible in post-graduate plans, to avoid the apparently common practice of the woman getting the worse end of that bargain; we have talked sometimes about private things that were hard to talk about (and in fact she was probably the first person to ever hear those). Et cetera. Not all of these were easy.

And, in fact, a really bad thing is that we get along so well. We have similar tastes, similar viewpoints on the world, mutual admiration, and really just have a great time with one another. I believe that you guys have observed this. Even in this awful crisis week, filled with depression caused by each other, the highlights for me were easily in the time we spent together, laughing at dinner, and even commiserating in our mutual, well, misery. I can see that she obviously cares for me and enjoys being around me (in fact, she has cited this as one of the reasons that I "get away with" the bad behavior for so long), I see that it takes deliberate, painful effort to push me away, as if she has to rationalize that it is for her own good, and I think that our relationship actually made a great deal of practical sense (in terms of graduation timelines and post-graduate plans, among other things). This is the ultimate incongruity to me: how could it be possible to heal and then achieve an adult relationship/emotional closeness with someone new, faster than it would be to heal and achieve an adult relationship with me?

A very similar crisis has come up before, under eerily identical circumstances last summer, which gives her very reasonable grounds to suggest that I will just do the same thing again. From my perspective, it also gives me grounds to believe that my behavior does not work, which is enough to make me realize that I have done wrong, to admit that, and to fix it. (If I didn't think I could do better, it would be intensely hypocritical of me to propose that we try to fix it, since the last thing I want to do is hurt her more.) It's clear that I matured too slowly, and—more seriously—allowed that maturation to show itself too slowly. But still, it seems reckless and unfair that my retarded emotional growth should be grounds for early dismissal, because it is indeed growth, and how far, really, is there to go?

I can't shake the feeling that I have been mentally preparing myself for game day but then, idiotically, slept through it. Indeed I feel as though based on my Mario Kart skills, she's not letting me drive her car...

Unfortunately, I have a conundrum of diagonalizable scale. How could I possibly convince her that I am done trying to convince her that I am right? Of course that is impossible. So I believe then that she is correct, that she needs to figure this out "on her own", and that the best I can hope to do is to post a lengthy depressing analysis on my weblog, hope that she reads it, and is able to put aside her sensation that she needs to do something painful for her own good, in order to try the experiment in light of these realizations. I hope that you miss me enough to let me try it again, but to do it right.
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mike (toplap.me.cmu.edu) – 07.15.05 16:07:55
Totally Bummer... but if you're lucky these are the kinds of events that can make a relationship that much stronger.
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Tom 7 (gs82.sp.cs.cmu.edu) – 07.15.05 17:03:53
Totally yeah.
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Anonymous (207.173.77.239) – 07.15.05 19:09:52
Bummer, dude.

I also am emotionally retarded; a 26 year old 16 year old. Sometimes I observe myself behaving like a dumbass teenager and can't help but wonder why I have a serious and intelligent girlfriend. Maybe because throughout our 7 year relationship I've come to accept that she is almost always right -- in the sense that she approaches issues seriously, thoughtfully and sincerely, while I consistenly make a fool of myself. Despite that fact, she seems to know me at a much deeper level than I think she does. Everything has somehow worked out with no serious crises. In fact, our relationship improves steadily as I grow up.

Good luck.
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Max (pcp0010478666pcs.hamden01.ct.comcast.net) – 07.15.05 20:09:35
Yeah, bummer. In my experiences of this nature, one of the hardest parts for me to really accept has been that being right is totally irrelevant.
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ndm (dlh200.labs.pitt.edu) – 07.15.05 20:20:28
Bummer man. But you should totally check your mail.
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jetfuel (c-67-170-103-123.hsd1.wa.comcast.net) – 07.15.05 23:37:13
1. I can't tell you how many times in five and a half years we've been sure that we would be broken up within the week, and then came back together. If it's right, one of you will *always* take the initiative to pick up the bits and continue.

2. Your warning may have roused my own initiative enough to save me a similarly ugly situation in the near future.

3. Tonight I'm listening to GGGCAGGG in your honor. :)
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Stephen (c-24-3-194-19.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 07.16.05 00:15:09
Sorry to hear this, Tom. I can sympathize, as I've made similar mistakes (recently, even!). I hope things work out.
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Tom 7 (h-68-166-177-68.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 07.16.05 00:21:44
Thank you friends.
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Anonymous (217-13-25-142.dd.nextgentel.com) – 07.16.05 11:31:02
Just be around, call her and ask if she wants to play Mario Kart.
She deserves another try at it.
I like your songs alot.
People are weird. They feel suffocated and then they feel neglected. If she's irrational in any way, give her space and then contact her. But don't leave her alone for days unless she asks for that.
The same advice would be given to her if you were the irrational party. With Murphy's Law taking into effect, you're probably both irrational. Then you have to do something that is so irrational and in her favour that it just stuns her.
And that's probably not something that's so big it gets insignificant, but something much different. Small and concrete.
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Arthur (ctwboo101.ctw.utwente.nl) – 07.18.05 07:41:55
Bummer...

I read this too late to warn me for a same kind of experience the day before yesterday. In our case, my tiredness, not listening and not appreciating what she does enough were the cause of a row, which escalated. We nearly broke up, which is not a good thing to do when you're married and have a kid.
But we managed to get back together again and did a roadtrip to celebrate that.

Good luck, and I'm listening to your AAD right now...
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Tadbot (pcp0010451887pcs.walngs01.pa.comcast.net) – 07.18.05 14:37:11
And here I thought your worst laziness was not updating "Ask Dr Snoot" since September 2003.

But seriously... bummer.
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Tom 7 (gs82.sp.cs.cmu.edu) – 07.18.05 15:12:14
I told you not to read it. ;)
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cdinwood (63.84.110.232) – 07.18.05 21:03:19
But it is impossible not to read these sorts of things, good Tom. Be well.
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ur little sister [3 (pcp01935919pcs.hamden01.ct.comcast.net) – 07.20.05 17:28:23
i feel for you tom and and can understand your pain i've been through the kind of the same situation, just help yourself to realize that she is the one for you (which we all know at home) and that reaching out, and revealing your whole self will probably save this. its probably a murphy thing because feelings are hard to talk about for me too. so do what you can, maybe some flowers and diamonds(hehe)..perhaps a mini vacation. Good luck. we're all rooting for you at home.. xox g2g luv ya
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Anonymous (pcp01254999pcs.hamden01.ct.comcast.net) – 07.20.05 20:12:38
Hi Tom
I have know you for a long time and you are a terrific guy. Hang in there and don't give up. Those of os who have met Heather love her also.
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FARINA00 (host226-98.pool8536.interbusiness.it) – 07.23.05 12:52:18
Tom, of course this won't soothe at all your "pain", if conventional pain it is - but let me just tell you that I can understand perfectly because some minor details aside (paying for dinners etc., little things you mentioned in the beginning just to cast them away before the "serious core") - I just lived your same *exact* situation for the same *exact* reasons, with my last girlfriend. Who now isn't my girlfriend anymore, after a 2 years and half story, and a full year of cohabitation [possibly this has been my most important relationship ever]

Now go out and win her back as I am trying to do: we went through this two times already and unexpectedly enough each time our bound grew stronger... on a geometric progression :D Hey, btw we need the female touch on the ugif messageboard. Go Tom go!
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Brian (potetz.dsl.telerama.com) – 07.24.05 19:17:19
Crap. I'm going to have to start checking this journal much more often. I can't believe you were in my office last week while I was acting like an idiot. At least my intentions for calling were good.

Crap. You guys were a great couple. I hope its alright if I'm still optimistic. I'm pretty fond of both of you, and it was nice seeing both of you happy, and that when things were working out, they seemed to be working out really well. I hope things work out.
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Tom 7 (h-72-244-70-115.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 07.25.05 00:36:46
That's okay, I don't expect my friends to read my web page in order to make up for my own inability to breach difficult subjects in person. That would be pretty lame of me...
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WRR (219.90.82.42) – 07.25.05 00:42:51
Bummer, indeed! Hang in there. It sounds like you have enough to build on and survive all this crap and hopefully be able to clear up all this emotional debris to start anew. Here's affirming both your fulfillment, and so it is.

Sorry i'll be pasting the content of my email to you as it bounced when I sent it over to your email addy. I thought a gratitude/ fan mail of sorts would cheer you up somehow. Anyway, here it is:

I thought I'd take the time to email you a thank you for all the
wonderful stuff your sharing in your sites. I've uploaded most of y our links on my class e-groups. I thought my art students (Fine Arts & Design college in Manila) would benefit from your infinite creativity. I have this visual journal exercise module for my art studies courses (History of arts, Aesthetics) where they make visual/ conceptual journal entries of what we've taken up in class every week.

It's been years since I last checked out your website and I see you've been productive despite your pursuance of your PHD. You we're still in undergrad when I first downloaded your fonts. Its amazing how you've been able to churn out creative output despite the neckbreaking pace that grad school demands. Kudos to you!

I still can't believe your not an art student! Anyway, thank you.
You've inspired me immensely and now that i've uploaded links to your
websites in my e-groups I know you'll inspire my students as well.

WRR
http://winniedstitchwitch.net
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Hock (adsl-67-119-9-165.dsl.snfc21.pacbell.net) – 07.27.05 01:50:09
Thanks for writing this post. I learned a lot from it. Also: bummer.
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Chris Wass (207.227.21.162) – 07.27.05 14:53:08
Serious bummer, Tom. Thank you for sharing this highly personal and meaningful post with all of us out here. I hope that people's words of encouragement have been of some comfort to you.

Though you don't know me, I'll risk giving you this advice:
Work to become the best Tom 7 that you can be. Not to win her back, but because you know in your heart that is what you need to do for you. Be her friend, a good friend. Make her a partner in your life without expecting to get back together as a couple. As you grow as a person and she sees that, she may want you back as a boyfriend. She may not, but you will be more of a whole person in all of your subsequent relationships.

I know that these are lofty ideals that seem unrealistic when you are in emotional pain, but I have observed you to be a thoughtful person, and I think that you have the willpower to do it.
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Marc (c-24-91-40-167.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) – 07.31.05 11:53:43
Hi Tom. Sorry to be late with a reply.

But firstly, I'm sad to hear about this, and that's it's been so hard for you and all that. But I'm glad that you at least see that you are clearly learning things from this, even if possibly a little too late.

Aside from that, my advice is to not try to focus on proving to her what you have learned and how you have changed and therefore should get another chance. In breaking things off with you, she has made a very difficult decision that I am sure she took quite seriously after thinking a lot about what she needs for herself, knowing that she is giving some important things up, but making that decision none-the-less. I just really think that you need to give her the benefit of the doubt that she knows what she's doing, no matter how crummy it may feel for you and no matter whether you think you see holes in her reasoning. I just think it's important to recognize that she is does know best in the case of this decision, which is for herself. And in some senses, it's disrespectful and kinda missing the point of the problem here to begin with when you try to "win her back" or anything like that, though at the same time of course very tempting to want to do that, and at least mostly that just coming from caring about her a lot I'm sure.

That all said, I don't necessarily think it's a bad idea to share with her what you think you've learned from this and how you think you could change (though note I said how you could change, not how you have changed, since it remains to be seen in actual future experiences whether what you are "getting" in your head now will translate to changes in how you behave, and I think it's important to not equate those two and say something which is not true). I think that's fine, as long as it's not couched in some sort of making the case for why she should give you give you another chance. She can figure out what she wants, and of course that's something that she's going to be considering whether or not you are lobbying for that or not, she's losing something here too, but I just really feel that this needs to be left up to her.
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Tom 7 (h-72-244-70-115.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 07.31.05 19:08:03
Yes, marc, of course you are right. That's basically what I was trying to say at the end. I'm not talking about "winning her back," despite some others' comments here to that effect. You are right, though, that it is tempting to try to 'convince' her. It is very hard for me to not try to take mental control of issues, especially things that are this important to me.

It's almost certainly true that she knows better what she needs for herself. The thing that bothers me is that I think she may be making that decision on faulty information, i.e., her own guesses about what I will be like in the future, what I am capable of and willing to change. On that subject I have the expertise, and other than a rather cathartic relationship self-autopsy, that's all I'm trying to get across here. (And, of course, I bear most of the guilt for giving her the faulty information in the first place, but that is one of the consequences of being me.)
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Marc (c-24-91-40-167.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) – 08.02.05 08:38:38
Sorry for getting some things misunderstood, Tom. I think after reading through the 20-odd comments, I started to lose track of what your original message...
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Anonymous (adsl-66-72-100-118.dsl.chcgil.ameritech.net) – 10.23.05 02:06:42
I am still so sad about this...
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Tom 7 (h-67-100-132-206.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 10.23.05 09:21:50
Hey, me too.
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ingiltere vizesi (dsl88-233-46182.ttnet.net.tr) – 10.11.08 11:04:40
These are not surprising my anymore, but thanks..
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