On the Genealogy of Immorals;
or, How To Get Dumped

Getting dumped gets easier with practice. While the initial stages of romance--first date, first kiss, first fight--are difficult each time through, the final step should become simpler with repetition. It's a shock when your first love ends and you discover that life does not resemble a Smokey Robinson song. But only those with ideals can be betrayed. So after a few years, and a few busted hearts, you learn that love is more like a Sex Pistols 45--loud and short, with a sudden ending. Once you accept this, uncoupling becomes less traumatic. The best approach is to study their dynamic--after years of experience, I fancy myself the von Clausewitz of estrangement--so that, like a wise but defeated general, you can cause a little damage before your retreat.

The first temptation is to recreate every cheap movie melodrama you've seen. Being dumped is a great motivator. The same guy who lacked the initiative to even fill out a Starbucks employment form suddenly is planning the Invasion of Normandy. Enroll her in the N.R.A. Hire a vodun priestess to curse her future orgasms. Give her phone number out to a few party-lines, or write it on the bathroom wall at the Cat Club. It's Halloween again, and your parents are out of town!

Feel no shame. Spite tops the ranks of underrated emotions. Some great books, movies, and songs--to say nothing of Web articles--have resulted from the petty desire to publicly humiliate a former ally. "To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer [does] even more,'' declared Friedrich Nietzsche a dozen years after his only marriage proposal was refused. Maybe it's ridiculous to hypothesize that Nietzsche would not have invented existentialism if only he'd been getting laid regularly. But depression seems to run pretty low among Lotharios, and it's hard to envision Warren Beatty or Jack Nicholson re-filling a Prozac scrip, calling a suicide hotline, or writing "Beyond Good And Evil."

Revenge may be briefly satisfying, but it's poor strategy. She's dumping you because you're not good enough for her; now she'd like you to substantiate that belief with the kind of idiotic behavior that will circulate among her friends, and help them to reassure her on lonesome nights.

Conventional wisdom about breaking up was established by Neil Sedaka, who observed that it's hard to do. But that's because HE was the one getting dumped. Although your imminent ex will claim that it's harder to do the dumping than to be dumped, this is much like arguing that the archer suffers more than the deer. Actually, guilt runs very high in the spectrum of emotions she's feeling, second only to elation. Men who have been pink-slipped a few times know that she even feels obliged to offer one last roll in the hay. The question is, do you really want her that way? Do you want a charity toss that she won't even enjoy, do you want to cheapen your wonderful memories with seediness and desperation? The answer is yes. This explains why so many women have learned to break up over the phone.

Leave magnanimity to the guilty. This is not the time to turn consoling and nurturing. A perverse law of dumping compels her to linger and try to initiate the kind of frank discussions you never had when you liked one another. She will make at least two confessions that she would have withheld for another year of your relationship, in the hope that you will reciprocate with honesty. Acts of deceit are motivated by gain, and she has just told you that the favors you've long enjoyed will not be gained again. Therefore, she reasons, you have no cause to lie. She is now as credulous as a woman can be. You would be a fool not to exploit this. When she asks, solicitously, "Are you going to be okay about this?" the best reply is, "Hmm? Oh, I was just trying to remember whether the cruise tickets are refundable."

After you've reclaimed any gifts you've given her--do you really want her to use the hand mirror with someone else?--work on those insecurities she's confided during tender moments. "I guess a woman your age has to keep an eye on that biological clock," you can say. "And with so MANY single men around, I can understand you wanting to have your freedom."

Or: "I read in Women's Wear Daily that big thighs are fashionable this season."

Or: "You should look up your old fiance, Mort. Or is it tax season?"

While this is not the most noble of strategems, it's impeccably designed. The illusion of concern will spur fond memories of you, while the vicious subtext will satisfy your macho psyche. Covert battle is fair because she has a cunning agenda of her own: friendship.

By suggesting that you remain friends, she's hoping to keep her options open. Through your friendship, she can audit your emotional and financial progress, and if you should ever advance to the point where you ARE good enough for her, she can try to rekindle the embers. If you're tempted to comply, in the romantic hope that a fairy tale reconciliation may one day occur, remember this: in the unlikely event you do become sensitive and successful enough to win her back, you'll have access to more babes than George Hamilton could squire in a month of Sundays.

Subliminal battle can be a tricky tactic, because you won't think of your really best exit lines until three days after the breakup. The surest option is also the most spiteful: a courtly, stoic departure will cause her to second-guess the decision each time she's in a relationship as lousy as yours was. What a perfect legacy. Because she's steeled herself for tears and oaths, concession is your most potent weapon. You'll do more damage acting like Neville Chamberlain than like Clint Eastwood.

Try this: "Look, you're right. I AM afraid of commitment. I don't deserve a girlfriend like you. I just hope you find a man more worthy." Then smile enigmatically and squeeze your broken heart through the door as quickly as possible.

Once you're home, and the door is locked, you can dim the lights, listen to George Jones, and indulge in some serious self-pity. Replay the horny message she left on your answering machine only last week. Bask in it. But no matter how drunk, how sorrowful, how despairing you become, don't look for solace by phoning the girlfriends you dumped. You were a shit to them, and they've got vengeance in mind, too.

Send comment to Rob. Rob is a recognized personality and never travels without entourage, so don't interrupt him unless you feel able to take on some heavy muscle.