Want to Improve Your Boyfriend? Break Up with Him

Liz also took on Josh’s employment prospects. “He was always asking me to do a résumé and cover letter, but

Liz also took on Josh’s employment prospects. “He was always asking me to do a résumé and cover letter, but that’s, like, the least sexy thing I can imagine. I don’t even want to do that if someone pays me a lot of money! But I finally did. Then that night, we went to dinner, and he was like, ‘I’m seeing other people.’ I don’t know if he specifically waited to tell me that after I had helped him make a résumé and cover letter, but it kind of felt like that. And even though it was in the middle of a recession, he quit his job without having a new job and used my brilliant cover-letter and résumé-writing skills to get a new job—within two weeks!”

Another version of the Butterfly Effect is the woman who shows a guy the ropes, and is shocked to discover, post-breakup, how much he’s taken her lessons to heart. A 26-year-old writer who lives in Williamsburg was dating someone who, she says, “hated New York—he never went out, and the person he dated before me also never went out. So I took it upon myself to introduce him to people, go out, show him around the city.” They broke up in August, and since then this gentleman has become quite the man about town. “This is what bothered me,” said the writer. “He didn’t take the initiative until after we broke up to really enjoy the city, when I wanted to enjoy it with him.”

Liz, the 31-year-old, had a similar experience with another boyfriend, Jamie. “He would go for weeks without leaving Brooklyn. He always thought I was living beyond my means. We broke up and I expected him to be depressed and never leave Brooklyn and be loser-y.”

But Jamie had other ideas. “For some reason as soon as we broke up, he just shed all of that, and was suddenly DJ-ing places. My hippest acquaintances would be like, ‘Oh, I saw Jamie DJ-ing at Lit; it was so fab!’ And I was like, what? How did my ex-boyfriend get cool? It almost felt like I couldn’t imagine anything more offensive. It made me so angry because it was like, you were so boring and depressed when we were dating, and all it took was me dumping you for you to be this fun guy who’s DJ-ing?”

Of course, some of these Butterfly Effect stories seem like twists on the old “it’s not you, it’s me” excuse. Sheila, a 27-year-old who lives in Greenpoint, was dating a guy (“this was our third relationship, and he followed me to New York”) who lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “On the 43 bus, it was 30 minutes away. No big deal—I mean, come on!” Also: “He was unemployed, and I was loaning him money.” The distance proved to be too much for this chap, though. “After he decided he didn’t want to see me for the third straight week in a row, I broke up with him. I mean, he could never even make the effort to come to my house anyway.”

Fast-forward eight months, and Sheila started seeing her ex every day in her neighborhood—“standing outside his new girlfriend’s apartment, right in front of my bus stop, smokin’ a cigarette.”

Melissa, a 36-year-old art director, speculated that the security of a long-term relationship can cement in place behaviors that have been present from the beginning, thereby preventing the catepillar-boyfriend from ever passing through the pupal stage. “I think to a certain extent when you’re in a relationship, you don’t worry as much about impressing that person. If you have to get out there and start all over, you suddenly become very aware about how appealing you are to other people. You just sort of realize that you want to make the best impression.” Melissa’s ex, whom she dated for over six years starting when she was 23, always “had these random jobs and was making $24,000 a year. We were living in San Francisco and we were both supposed to move to New York. I got tired of waiting for him. I was like, O.K., you’ll follow me—and he never followed me. When we finally did break up, he totally, massively got all of his shit together. He started studying computer programming and got this crazy job making $120,000 a year and stock options, and he bought this hot rod car—the Steve McQueen Mustang.” While they were dating, Melissa says, any vacations they took were planned by her; she would also advance him the money for the trip, and he would “slowly” pay her back. But after they broke up, “he started going on all these crazy vacations, to India and Thailand.”

One 27-year-old woman who works in publishing is philosophical about what she calls her three and a half “wasted years” with her ex, who got engaged to someone less than a year after they broke up. “This is an arena in which guys shine,” she said. “They just seem to bounce back so much quicker, to be edified by a relationship ending rather than destroyed by it.”

I suggested that men are perhaps just much better at compartmentalizing.

“Yeah!” she said. “That’s what he said, too, when I flipped out on him about it. ‘It’s a different relationship, Rachel.’”

dshafrir@observer.com

Want to Improve Your Boyfriend? Break Up with Him