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Most dating advice/self-help books end on a self-congratulatory high note, suggesting that it's only a matter of reading and following said advice to have a life filled with happiness and good mental health. However, as your average neurotic tends to be cynical with an at the very least minor self-destructive streak, let's just assume that the relationship you hopefully gained by reading the advice previously offered is now going sour, and you need advice on how to handle it. Sorry.

Part IX: Trouble in Paradise
Much like a neurotic will never ask someone out on a date directly, rarely will they end a relationship directly. Either they'll wait for their partner to end it, or they'll do nothing. In a relationship where both parties are passive-aggressive, it's quite possible that, regardless of how unhappy they might be, the relationship will never end, until such time that death or a more rational-minded friend/family member intervenes. Granted, that's an extreme case, but it is true that it takes the neurotic longer than the average human to even acknowledge that there are problems in his or her relationship, let alone that it may need to come to an end. He might notice at best a slight sense of unease, a disturbance in the Force if you will, only realizing that there is something far more serious afoot when he discovers that his partner has bookmarked U-Haul's website (www.uhaul.com) on the computer.

One of the main reasons neurotics don't fare well in long-term relationships is because they hate conflict. In fact, right up there with leaving voicemail messages, giving directions, and paying for anything with more than ten pennies in one transaction, conflict, especially conflict with a loved one, is the bane of the neurotic's existence. When confronted with conflict, they usually handle it in one of two ways--badly or not at all. It's not that neurotics can't handle conflict, it's that they don't choose their battles wisely, preferring to argue with their mate over a question on Jeopardy! ("It's Pope John Paul I, not II!") rather than why they haven't had sex in three months.

What neurotics believe is their most effective weapon in an argument is what makes them such weak opponents--the apology. Constant apologizing is a trait unique to the neurotic personality, and will make its presence known everywhere from the home to the office to the local Starbucks. If you spill a boiling hot venti latte on a neurotic, he will apologize for getting in the way of the stream. If your neurotic partner catches you in bed with a lover, she will apologize for coming home from work early. As opposed to the schizophrenic, who sincerely believes that Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy are probing his brain for the secret ingredient in Dinty Moore beef stew, the neurotic knows apologizing for someone else's behavior, an incident completely out of his control, or a change in weather patterns is totally unreasonable. He just can't help it. You might consider it to be a form of Tourette's Syndrome, only instead of barking "Bitch! Cocksucker!" at inopportune times, the neurotic is more apt to say "I'm sorry! My fault!"

The ending of a romantic relationship for a neurotic can be compared to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's famous "five stages" of the dying process, broken down as follows...

1. Denial. One of the most mysterious, yet invaluable functions of the human brain is the ability to allow us to deny the existence of something as clear and obvious as the sun in the morning sky. Your entire world could be falling down--lost job, eviction notice, run-over dog, Grandma has cancer, coughing up blood, Friends is cancelled--and your brain will metaphorically envelope you in a warm, soothing bath of delicious Jell-O. Nothing gets through, and nothing hurts. It's certainly not a healthy reaction to stress, but wow, is it ever useful, and it's the reason why most neurotics never need to use heroin.

The first few cracks in the armor usually appear courtesy of a "helpful" friend or family member, who may ask the dreaded question, "Is everything okay with you and (Your Partner)?" This question may come about after said friend or family member observes a subtle change in the relationship, such as the fact that you and your partner no longer hold hands in public, or that you've been showing up alone for recent social functions, or that your partner is posting semi-nude photographs of him or herself on the 'Sexy NJ Singles' website under the handle "fuckmehrdr77". And while your initial answer to such an inquiry of course will be "Uh...n-n-no, why do you ask?", it will finally force you to face the truth, that there is trouble between you and your sweetheart. After all, you can only go so long denying such things before your loved ones will begin to think you're some sort of high-functioning, late-onset autistic.

2. Anger. Once the comforting embrace of denial has been cruelly torn away, anger sets in, and with it comes a distinct sense of self-righteousness. Neurotics may have a generally low self-esteem most of the time, but in the face of a breakup suddenly they're living saints, pearls before swine. "How dare he break up with me, I drove his mother to the supermarket that one time last summer!" you may think. Clearly some sort of organic brain disease must be present, as no one in his or her right mind would even consider dumping such a fine specimen of decency and humanity as yourself. Though anger is a healthy, essential emotion to experience during the ending of a relationship, it should be kept as brief as possible, not just to prevent any unseemly outbursts, but also to prevent such rash acts as firing off an acid-filled e-mail about your partner to a friend without remembering to double-delete it, or getting drunk, calling up a platonic opposite sex acquaintance who is also experiencing relationship problems, and suggesting you get together for a bout of "revenge sex." If you and your partner are living together, this is also a bad time to go about dividing possessions, as you may use the opportunity for a petty jab about her musical taste ("I can't believe I performed cunnilingus someone who owns a Hootie and the Blowfish CD!"), or to decide that all of his dress pants would look much nicer with the crotches cut out.

3. Bargaining. This is the shortest stage of the breakup process, and it's fortunate because this is also the stage where you are most likely to lose every last shred of dignity you have. You've admitted that things are about to come to an end, and you've managed to repress your anger so that it's residing in a small space just above and to the the right of your large intestine, only occasionally flaring up like an untreated ulcer. Fear and panic begin to set in, as well as the realization that, while you probably really weren't much happier in the relationship than your partner, staying together is a far more palatable alternative to being out in the cold on your own and having to meet new people, thus starting the whole wretched process all over again. So you start bringing up the idea of reconciliation, a second chance, even resorting to that dreaded phrase "I can change." Certain concessions suddenly seem quite reasonable to you, such as agreeing to spend Thanksgiving with her parents for the third year in a row, or allowing him to sleep with his female best friend "just to clear the air."

It helps to remember that "bargaining" is just a polite word for "begging." You might think it's a marvelously romantic gesture to put your entire character on the line, to be willing to change into the person you think your partner wants you to be in the name of love. However, this is unfair, and though it would be nice to have the Terminator 2-style technology that allows us to morph into different versions of ourselves, it's impossible to transform into what our partner wants, mostly because they're probably not sure what they want in the first place. So drop your bat, Heathcliff, you struck out in the last inning, game over, thanks for playing. Start practice swinging for the next game, and maybe you'll hit a home run.

4. Depression. So, it's over, and you're alone, and while you like to think you're being stoic about it, like mold on a badly wrapped block of cheese the sadness starts to creep in. Depression is the longest stage of the breakup process, lasting weeks, months, quite possibly even years. This is because neurotics only really feel in their element when they're depressed, because finally they have validation for all the time they spent worrying about the things that would drive them to that point in the first place. So wallow in your misery for a little while, you're entitled to it. Wander around the house in your pajamas, taking a moment to wistfully stare at everything that reminds you of your now ex-partner: the I WUV YOU THIS MUCH teddy bear she gave you for your first official Valentine's Day (and yes, gentlemen, it's okay to cry yourself to sleep while holding it to your chest, just as long as you only do it once and not tell anybody), the ticket stub from the last Lord of the Rings movie that he made you go out at three in the morning to see, the carton of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey she bought and left in your freezer, half-eaten and now preserved for all time.

Alcohol consumption should be in moderation, and it would be wise to have a companion should liquor be your anesthetic of choice, not just to safely escort you home, but to convince you that you are not in fact doomed to die alone and unloved in an efficiency apartment, with only a wall calendar and a hot plate to keep you company. Other than that, measures should be made to avoid others during this period, at least the first couple of weeks. Most self-help guides will tell you to surround yourself with friends during this lonely time, and while this is a touching suggestion, the truth is that your sense of perception will be significantly warped during this period, leading you to believe that everyone you know is in a blissfully happy relationship. Even those you've registered in the rational part of your mind as being completely incapable of normal human interaction have suddenly found the loves of their lives. Your downstairs neighbor who spends far too much time rooting in his pants pocket for his keys? He met his special someone while you weren't looking. Your cousin, the one who collects Hummel figurines and smells vaguely of wet dog? She's dating a man with the looks of Colin Farrell minus the cocksure attitude and the wit of Truman Capote minus the raging homosexuality. You are the lone wolf existing inside a giant Hallmark card, where perfect couples have perfect kisses superimposed against a perfect sunset.

Misery does not love company. Misery loves lying in bed and masturbating.

Just as a diabetic should take measures to avoid Hershey bars, the newly single should also avoid listening to sad music. Such musicians as retro rocker Chris Isaak and alt-country beefcake Ryan Adams have based their entire careers on writing perfect breakup songs, and while their efforts can certainly be appreciated, once you realize that Isaak has probably had more panties thrown at him than a Victoria's Secret cashier and Adams dates women like Winona Ryder, the efforts are rendered meaningless. Check over your CD collection, mp3 file, or iPod, and if you find the following songs, remove them promptly from your immediate vicinity...

--Every song ever written and performed by Coldplay. This is absolutely essential.
--Tracks 3, 8, and 10 from R.E.M.'s Out of Time. For that matter, get rid of 'Shiny Happy People' as well, because it will just make you want to hit something.
--Boy George's cover of 'The Crying Game', especially if you attempt to sing along in the cracked, ruined voice of the broken-hearted.
--Justin Timberlake's 'Cry Me a River', because you should never be nodding your head and agreeing with anything an ex-member of 'N Sync says.
--The Police's 'Every Breath You Take' and Garbage's '#1 Crush', because stalking should never start to make sense.
--Nick Cave's 'Where the Wild Roses Grow', because murder should never start to make sense.
--'Just Like Heaven', 'Pictures of You', 'A Letter to Elise', 'Maybe Someday', 'Boys Don't Cry', 'Lullaby', 'Close to Me', 'Love Song'...oh, hell with it, just throw out the Cure's entire catalog right along with Coldplay.
--the Bee Gees' 'How Can You Mend a Broken Heart'. Don't ask questions. Just do it.

Avoiding the radio at this time is also advisable, not just for the likelihood that you will have many, many insipid love songs inflicted upon you, but also to minimize the chance that you will accidentally hear what was once "our song." If you were with someone for longer than three months, chances are you had an "our song", a tune with either lyrics that perfectly suited your relationship, or remind you of a special time in the relationship. In short, it will always remind you of your ex, and even long after the healing has commenced, hearing it may create a mild to moderately uncomfortable stirring in your abdominal region. If "our song" happened to be, say, the Violent Femmes' 'Country Death Song', the chances you'll accidentally stumble across it while flipping through the radio dial are minimal. On the other hand, if it was Van Morrison's 'Brown-Eyed Girl', you might as well save yourself the trouble and rip the stereo right out of your dashboard, as well as the dashboard of any other vehicle you may find yourself in over the next six months.

5. Acceptance. There is no such thing as "acceptance" of the end of a relationship for a neurotic. There is only "acknowledgement."

Conclusion: So What Now?
Well, the obvious answer would be to jump right back into the dating pool and start all over again. But let's face it, neurotics are more than happy to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, especially when it comes to relationships, without giving much thought to what exactly it is they're doing wrong. The truth is that, while neurotics love to talk about themselves, they don't necessarily like to ,i>think about themselves, and finding success in relationships requires a good deal of introspection. Whether the change is relatively minor, such as expanding the "type" of person you're attracted to, or as major as a difference in location, religion, or sexuality, change will be required, and it will be up to you to make it. If you don't take it from us, then at least take it from Dr. Phil.

As old and corny a Hollywood cliche it might be, there really is that one and only for each of us, the cream in our coffee, the spring in our step, the one that sets our hearts aflame, our other half, our doppelganger, our soulmate, the Harry to our Sally (and vice versa) who had us at "hello." We might be far from perfect, but we're somebody's perfect, and if they don't find our various quirks endearing ("He sounds just like Forrest Gump when he tries to say 'I love you', it's so cute!"), then at least they'll so be wrapped up in their own they won't have a chance to notice. Either way, with a little bit of confidence and optimism, eventually you too will find "the One", and you'll be living your own Hallmark card romance, making your single, bitter friends sick. Happy hunting!

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