Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

Breaking up honestly is hard to do
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The Independent Online

"She told me that she wasn't ready for this kind of commitment, and that she needed some space," he said, downing a massive goblet of wine. "Then I remembered that, even though it was a much shorter relationship, you said the same thing. So what the hell does it mean?"

However much most people claim to hate clichéd break-up lines, there has to be a reason why "It's not you, it's me" has become as ubiquitous a relationship catchphrase as "I love you". So George and I ordered more alcohol and decided to dissect some of the most popular relationship-ending lines to decipher their real meaning. The trick, we agreed, is to focus not on what your partner is saying, but on what they are trying to hide.

Unfortunately for most of us, the sentence "I need some space," generally ends with "to sleep with other people." Likewise, "We need to slow down," is missing the ending, "so I can keep my options open, in case somebody more interesting/hotter/richer comes along."

Honesty isn't always the best policy when ending a relationship. I once had a fling with a guy who was unable to orgasm without making a high-pitched yipping sound. But when we split I blamed a "lack of sexual chemistry" - not his barking. It was just too cruel. Besides, if I had liked him enough his eccentricities wouldn't have mattered.

George had also used a similar line on an ex-girlfriend who had put on a load of weight and found religion. The girl in question had called me a few days after their split to ask if I had any insight. I took her shopping. She didn't need the truth - she needed tequila, a pair of flattering trousers and a guy who loved her no matter what.

Telling a white lie to help initiate a break-up can even save the dumpee a lot of time and heartache. My girlfriend, L, just found out the hard way that when her boyfriend of eight years said "I don't want to get married", he meant that he didn't want to marry her. Three months after she threw him out he was on his honeymoon with someone else - who was pregnant.

After our third bottle, I called Michael, a New Yorker I was crazy about in my early twenties. He had binned me with the line, "I don't want a girlfriend right now," and I wanted to find out what he really meant. "Truthfully? You were a lot of fun, but I couldn't see myself marrying you because you were a bit full-on, and I could never relax," he said. He promised to be more forthcoming in future.

Much as I applaud truthfulness, I, too, chickened out recently when someone whom I adored but did not feel was "The One" asked, with tears in his eyes, why we were splitting.

I should have said: "Because I'm not passionately in love. Because our sex life is boring, and the thought that you may be the last man I will ever kiss makes me want to fling myself off the nearest bridge." Instead, I mumbled something about "Needing time apart", and "still wanting to be friends". Wouldn't you?

c.townsend@independent.co.uk

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