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Jessica #19 - Breakin' Up Is hard To Do

May 8, 2009 | by Jessica

Harris wants to know: what's it gonna be? Jessica decides that the "character issue" is one on which she won't compromise.

Alison and Beth shoved me and my bag into the car over my futile suggestions that we extend our trip -- so I could avoid having to go home and tell Harris that I didn't want to go meet his parents.

"We're already halfway to Las Vegas..." I tried.

Blank stares.

"Maybe Knott's Berry Farm?"

No takers.

Alison roared off and I sulked in my seat until we passed Flagstaff.

Sure enough, Harris had left flight information on my answering machine.

He arrived shortly after I got home, flopped onto the couch and asked if I'd looked at the papers he'd left.

"Um, Harris..." I began, my stomach in knots.

"Yes," he said, obviously having no idea what was coming.

"Harris, I, uh, I think we need to talk..."

"Talk?" he said warily. "That sounds ominous."

"Um, well," I began, "I don't think we should be making plane reservations now."

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow. "Any particular reason why?"

"Well, I don't think that I want to go."

He sat up straight and folded his arms across his chest.

"You don't think you want to go," he repeated, as if speaking to a child.

"Meeting our families means, uh, moving forward with our relationship," I said. "I think, though, that maybe we shouldn't be doing that just now."

He looked exasperated. "Why? Jessica, would you please just tell me what the problem is?"

"Um, well, for one, we've never really discussed what we want long-term. And two, there are issues of character."

"What we want long-term? Isn't that obvious? I made it plain to you the first week: I am looking to get married. I want a wife. I am ready."

"But, Harris, there are so many things to discuss. Like do you want kids? And how will we balance work and family? How involved in the community will we be?"

He continued in the slow and patient way people talk to the not-too-bright. "We're talking about getting married, not reinventing our lives. Of course I want kids. Is that what's worrying you?"

Suddenly I felt a little ill. Our views of marriage are completely different, I thought. He sees it as adding me into his life. I view it as beginning a new life together. There's so much more work involved than just figuring out closet space.

"Uh, Harris -- it's more complicated than that. How are you going to balance the time our relationship will take -- the time I need -- with your job?"

I saw a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. He realized that I was serious.

"It won't always be like this, Jess," he said. "I'm building right now. Once I'm a partner, I'll have much more control over my time."

"It won't always be like this, Jess," he said. "I'm building right now. Once I'm a partner, I'll have much more control over my time."

I listed off the events we'd missed and dates he'd cancelled over the past few months. "You have to be realistic. You may be able to say that you don't want to work on a given Sunday, but I don't believe your time commitment doesn't go down as your salary goes up."

"You're right, Jess. Do you know how much the last raise I got was?" He named a figure larger than most teachers' salaries. "Do you know how much money I'm making already? In another 10 years we'll have the freedom to do whatever we want!"

"Okay -- and then it's over? You're going to set a figure and then, when you make that much money, you're done?"

He looked blankly at me.

"And what about those 10 years?" I continued, "That's 10 years worth of ballet recitals and baseball games and skinned knees you're going to miss. They don't come back."

"Don't be so melodramatic," he said with a sneer.

"I'm not being melodramatic. It's reality. And by the way, that's also 10 years of your wife coming second."

"So what are you going to do, young lady," he said, starting to sound nasty, "You're going to marry some nebbishy accountant that makes it to every little league practice? C'mon, Jessica, you're not being honest with yourself."

"About what?"

"You like your elegant dresses and posh restaurants just as much as I like my custom-made shirts," he said, knowingly. "Your pearls are real and your watch isn't a Timex."

I inhaled slowly and counted to 10.

I wasn't talking about money. I was talking about priorities.

"Harris, I'm not talking about money. I am talking about priorities. I seem to always come second with you. Everything else comes first. Your job, your investments, your contacts, all the organizations you're involved in."

I realized I'd hit the key. "I think you see me as someone who can help accomplish what you want, Harris. I'm another accessory. And I am scared that when you get used to me, you'll start treating me the way you do other people."

"What are you talking about?"

"Harris, you're not always nice to people who you don't need to be nice to."

There. I said it.

"Like who?" He looked really angry now.

"Like your secretary," I said softly. "Or like waiters you think are too slow."

He threw back his head and laughed.

"Is that what this is about? Aren't I always good to you?" he asked, more gently.

Now I understood what people mean about the "character" issue. It's not a matter of him treating me one way and others another. The flaws in someone's makeup will come out on their spouse eventually.

"It may not be directly affecting me now," I said, carefully, "but I believe it will in the future."

The flaws in someone's makeup will come out on their spouse eventually.

I thought -- but didn't say -- that I want my kids to grow up learning that everyone should be treated with respect.

He looked at me coldly.

"Look, what do you want?" he fumed. "What on earth happened on your trip? Did your man-hating sister get to you? You were fine until your sister got here and now all of a sudden you're playing power-to-the-people... I don't even know what this is all about!"

I winced. "Harris, I just told you two things that really concern me and your response is to make me feel oversensitive and melodramatic," I said, struggling to remain calm through my anger and hurt.

He pursued his lips. "I think you're just scared of your feelings for me," he said.

My jaw dropped. God certainly blessed some of us with amazing amounts of self-esteem!

He was starting to speak smoothly, as if calming a recalcitrant pony. "Jess, I would never treat you badly," he said.

"Don't you get my point?!" I shouted. "This is not about me getting scared. This is a real concern about our relationship."

He exhaled quickly, as if frustrated that I'd not fallen under his sorcery.

"Yes," he said, in a cajoling tone. "You want me to be nicer to waiters and my secretary."

It was more than that, I thought, remembering him describing my friend Steve's altruism as "goody two shoes." The first few weeks I dated Harris, I wasn't even sure what was going on because he seemed to "court" everyone, so long as he needed them. Once he'd gotten their business or support or friendship -- if he thought they'd be of use to him down the road -- he stopped courting.

I was surprised at how quickly he'd gone from indignity and real anger to Mr. Smooth. Usually, I mused, if someone is really upset by something, it's because it hits close to home.

He knew what I was talking about. But he didn't care. How on earth had I been so dumb?

"Harris," I said, in a loud, cheerful voice that broke through the sweet-talking aura like a flourescent bulb in a dimly lit room. "I think I want to break up."

I said in a voice that broke through the sweet-talk like a flourescent bulb in a dimly lit room. "I think want to break up."

He sat back, jaw agape.

"You what? You're serious?"

"Yup," I said, hoping my voice sounded convinced. "I am."

He furrowed his eyebrows and in a long, silent moment, he looked me up and down, as if seeing me for the first time. I felt like I was being appraised. It wasn't a pleasant feeling.

He stood up.

"Jessica, I am finding this all very surprising and disappointing from you," he said. "Normally, I consider myself a better judge of character."

I didn't say anything.

"I don't extend offers twice," he said, now standing over me.

I nodded, silently thinking, what are we? In negotiations?

"I am sorry," I said, feeling silly for offering yet another cliche.

"Jessica, I have no doubt that, ultimately, you will be," he replied coldly.

With Clark Gable-like flair, he turned and walked out, collecting his briefcase as he went.

I sat on the couch, feeling stung and confused for a minute. Then I wondered how long it would be before he realized that he'd left his precious Palm Pilot behind.

God is just, I thought. It's not fair that he should get such a perfect exit. After all, he's the creep, right?

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