A bit over five years ago, my partnership of 16 years with Mary-Anne ended. Walter was a dear and loving frend to me as I went through that. One day, we were walking on the bank of the Heathcote River and Walter said to me that this was bad. Worse even than the death of a partner.
I didn’t think I’d ever be in a position to make the comparison. When I was, Walter was right there again (you lovely man, Walter). We both remembered what he had said. Had he just said that to be empathetic and would he be revising it now? We shared a doleful little laugh about it.
Since then, I’ve reflected on this quite a bit and, seeing that I am in a position to make a comparison, I figure I will venture to. First, however, there are some things to take into account.
1: It is not always clear who dumps whom. I’m coining the phrase ‘constructive dumping’ where the real dumper makes it impossible for the other to stay but won’t end it. Actually, most of the comparisons apply to both parties.
2: When (am pretty sure that I) got dumped in 2000, I cracked open and faced a lot of pain that I had been dragging around for decades. That certainly added to the trauma that I experienced but was a separate factor and I think the following is unaffected by it.
3: This relates to my experience, not anybody else’s. Perhaps there are some things that apply generally here but your experience will be yours and will be very different from mine.
The guts is that I reckon the death was not as bad as the dumping. Four reasons:
1: There’s no rejection.
2: It’s clean. There’s no hope of a second chance and you don’t come across your ex or their new partner.
3: It’s sexy. You get heaps of cards and flowers, casseroles and hugs. People cut you lots of slack and let you hog all the attention. They throw a huge party and travel long distances at no notice, make speeches, cry and laugh (I think we should definitely consider doing this for relationship breakups).
4: (You could argue this is still #3, but) it’s less isolating. When a relationship ends, for both parties actually, you are the only one that it happens to. Everyone else just gets on with their lives. With a death, there are friends, family, workmates who are sharing the experience. Even months later you can check in with them about your shared experience.
Of course there are various factors that are the same in both cases. Huge sense of loss, denial, regret, anger. Languishing at the bottom of a pit of misery. Possibly shock. That nasty ‘phantom partner syndrome’ where you keep relating with the person when they’re not there. Trying to find new balance. Regular grieving stuff. Settling affairs.
And there is the thing about death that it is really frightening and reminds us of our own mortality. But that is about the only thing I can think of that is worse about the death than the dumping.