I hate calling my mother a liar because she wasn’t. She was a loving, kind, fun, playful mother, the best-friend type. But she and all the other mothers in the world lied to their children, me included. A mother tells a child crying from something that was said to her in the school yard, or in class: “Words can’t hurt you. They are just words.” Then the mother goes on to say that whoever said the “mean thing” that made the child cry was “actually jealous of you [the child]” or “wanted to be your friend” or “didn’t know how to express her real feelings.” Well, that is all malarkey! Malarkey, I say! The lie told is a white lie, and told for the benefit of the crying child as much as for the parent saying it. No parent wants to see his or her child hurt and in tears, and no parent wants the tears and crying to last longer than it should. The mother says, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.” She may follow it up with a cute true [or made-up] story that happened to her when she was her child’s age and then all is well. Most of the time, the child feels better and moves on until the next life-shattering crisis for a six- or seven-year-old comes along.
But we are all adults here and we know that words can hurt. I remember all the times I came crying to my mother. Sometimes, it was because other girls called me fat (I was a little chunky for a few years and very sensitive, as well – not a good mixture), or when girls said they didn’t want to be friends with me. This is why I try to be very careful with the words I use, and I try to teach this to my daughter, too. Sometimes she says something that will make me say, “Huh?” but then I realize she isn’t using the word properly. It’s just a new word she heard and she tried to fit it into a sentence. But some of these “new” words can be hurtful if said to the wrong person, especially if my daughter doesn’t know the true meaning of the word.
But how does this connect with dating? Very simple. When dating, people speak, and words – unlike numbers – are subjective. While 1+1=2 every time, “I’m fine” can mean different things, depending on when and how it’s said. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the unpleasant topic of abuse: when to be on the lookout for it if it isn’t the overt kind. Now I’m going to discuss breaking up, because unless you are an extremely lucky person, you will break up with at least one person in your lifetime, whether it’s a significant other, a friend, or an employee or co-worker. Let’s keep in mind that relationships aren’t just between two people in love. They are between everyone you meet. How you leave a relationship may be just as important as how you started one.
How many times have we heard about a couple dating and things not working out; and then a few months or years later, they date again, and they end up getting married? Well, I’m living proof of that. We all know that when a relationship comes to an end and it was initiated by only one person in the relationship and it’s not mutual, it may become an emotional scene. When emotions run high, they may get the better of you, and we may say something we regret later. You may want the other person to hurt as much as you do now, and knowing that person well from being in a relationship with him/her you know exactly what to say to “go for the jugular,” to really make it hurt. I’m asking you to stop, take a breath, and really think about what you are saying in that moment. Will it sting? Will it burn a bridge? Are you saying it just to make the other person hurt as much as you are hurting?
Whenever a relationship comes to an end in my life, whether it be one of employment, friendship, or “love,” I try to do it in a way that if I should meet this person in the future, it won’t be an awkward situation. We are all adults, and while feelings may be hurt, we should, in that moment, make our parents proud by acting and speaking in a mature way. I once wrote of a girl who really was in love with the fellow she was going out with, and she was devastated when he broke up with her. A year or so later, he proposed to her cousin. They would now be interacting with each other for the rest of their lives. What if she would have said things to him in the heat of the moment to hurt him. Now a year or so later when things have changed, it may be difficult to face him again.
When I left my first job for another, I had what to say to the executives. I knew why I was leaving. There was a very specific reason for my departure. But do you think I told it to any of them? Do you think I had my parting shot or “mic drop moment”? No. Why? Because you never know where life may take you. Hopefully I have many years of gainful employment in front of me. Our paths may cross again. If I told them how I really felt, possibly the next time we met, if it was for a business purpose, they may not want to move forward because of the hateful and hurtful things I said. I would have thought that what I said were facts, but they may have viewed them as hateful and just my side of the situation. Again, words are subjective. That’s why many times I tell people to accept what I say at face value and not to be Rashi. If I wanted my words to mean something else, I would have said it.
But what if everyone doesn’t think like I do? Shocking, I know. But it’s possible that people speak and don’t care if what they are saying affects the other person, because this person is now out of their life. They won’t see this person again, so why should they care how or what they say, especially if your paths cross later in life because it was all facts: “You really are a disgusting, selfish person”? “I really can’t stand the sight of you.” “You aren’t what we are looking for. You just don’t fit in.” Whatever is said can’t be unsaid, and they will be hearing it for the rest of their lives, depending how deeply it affected them. And again, you may not have thought you were saying anything harsh; but this isn’t about you, it’s about how your words are affecting this other person.
Take, for instance, when a person is fired from a job. What would be the better way to terminate someone’s employment? “I’m sorry. Things just aren’t working out. We tried, but it didn’t work. We wish you the best.” Or: “Wow! You’re still here. You didn’t pick up on any of the hints we were dropping, waiting for you to resign? But you kept working. Everything we asked of you, you accomplished! Fantastic! But I’m sure you can see that things aren’t working out, right? Great! This is the easiest exit meeting ever, because I have nothing to argue with you about. Really, feel free to give my name as a reference.” The result is the same, but which words do you think are playing over and over in the now unemployed person’s mind? “Dropping hints to resign, everything we asked of you, you accomplished. Easiest exit meeting,” Those are the words playing over and over.
Always remember, when ending any type of relationship, that you are speaking to a person with feelings and who may take it well on the outside but be crushed on the inside. Whether it’s a relationship or employment, no one wants to hear that things haven’t been working out and this should be mutual or that they should have seen this coming or something similar to that. In the moment, the one dumped or fired may agree that “Yeah, me, too. It wasn’t working. I was just waiting for you to say something…” because they have nothing else to say and they don’t want to look and sound like the fool if they say, “What do you mean? I thought things were okay.” The employer or former love interest moves on, satisfied that all was handled in such a neat manner – no fuss or emotions – but in the meantime, the other person is in a downward spiral. They begin to question every move they made: Was this a hint? Did I not notice something? They doubt themselves and their ability to read people and situations. It may take days or weeks for them to recover.
Basically, the message I want people to take away is: If you do end any type of relationship, do so in a way that you feel would hurt the other person the least. Yes, the breakup will hurt, but don’t rub salt into the wound. You never know if your path will cross with this person again in the future, and you don’t know how your words will affect this person. No matter what kind of relationship this is – friendship, love, work – at least one person involved had strong feelings. If the breakup comes “out of nowhere,” think of how much more devastating the breakup is for him/her and how long they will live with those words playing on Repeat in their head.
Hatzlachah to you all.