The Cursable Case of the Sneak-a-Break

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Image by Chernobyl Bob via Flickr

Image by Chernobyl Bob via Flickr

On last week’s episode of The Monologue in My Head, I discussed the conniving—but totally acceptable—sneak-a-date strategy many guys employ. This time, I’m going to talk about another sneak technique, one much more despicable, and one used by both men and women….

Julie had been dating Mark for several months. What she found most attractive about him was his laid-back style. He was cheerful and agreeable, and nothing ever seemed to fluster him. Even when he was stressed at work, he always managed to maintain an optimistic outlook.

Around the third month of their relationship, though, strange behaviors began to seep through Mark’s sunny surface. He became moody and argumentative. He started finding fault with little things that Julie would say or do—things that never bothered him before. Gradually, the upbeat guy Julie knew was replaced by an ornery cad.

Have you ever dated someone whose personality suddenly and inexplicably changes? Someone who turns from warm and fuzzy into cold and prickly? Someone who transforms from Big Bird to Oscar in the blink of an eye?

If you have, you might have been the victim of a sneak-a-break.

The sneak-a-break occurs when the person you’re dating wants to break up, but instead of using a backbone, manipulates you into doing the breakup. The human fillet accomplishes this by turning antagonistic, needy, petty, pernicious, surly, edgy, sleazy, queasy, tipsy, dizzy, remorseful, or whatever it takes to drive you away.

The sneak-a-break is the ultimate indulgence of the chronically passive-aggressive. It’s the Red Ryder carbine-action, two-hundred-shot range model on the Christmas list of cowardice.

After three months, Mark realized that he wasn’t into the relationship anymore. There weren’t any specific reasons. He was just over it. So, he started to take issue with every little habit Julie had that he even slightly disliked and every little thing she said that he didn’t completely agree with. He figured that if she couldn’t handle it… oh well. But if she was actually willing to bend for him… then hey, that could work to his benefit, too.

Not surprisingly, she grew tired of his crankiness and called off the relationship.

So how do I know that Mark was sneaking a breakup? Because Mark is me, and Julie is the amalgamation of several girls I’ve dated over the past ten years.

Consider this my official apology. (Or is this a cowardly way of apologizing?)

The problem with the sneak-a-break (or the brilliancy of it, depending on whether you’re a giver or a receiver) is that it’s easy to pull off, yet difficult to prove. If the person you’re dating suddenly changes, and you can find no possible explanation for this change (i.e., you’ve ruled out stress, anxiety, depression, or addiction), how do you know that this isn’t the real him you’re finally seeing? Perhaps he’s been hiding his nasty habits just to impress you, but now he figures he’s won you over, so he can drop his charms.

Or, perhaps he doesn’t even realize what he’s doing. As my friend Laura points out: “When your feelings change, you act different. At times I have been ambivalent or uncertain about breaking up, but because I am very bad at faking positive feelings, it becomes clear to the other person that I’m not that interested anymore. So, if he’s the type who doesn’t care to talk it out, he goes for the breakup.”

Then again, do you actually need to prove the sneak-a-break? Whether 1) this is how he really is, and you’ve been seeing a façade up to this point, 2) it’s a spineless attempt to get you to initiate the breakup, or 3) he’s unconsciously acting differently because he’s feeling differently, you’re left without much of a choice. You’re not actually going to put up with his new-found foulness, are you?

The bottom line is, there’s no defense against the sneak-a-break. You can try to confront him, you can try to discuss it with him, but no matter what the reasons or excuses turn out to be, the relationship is probably over.

So, if you ever suspect that the person you’re dating is sneaking a breakup, if his personality goes from good-natured to bad-tempered faster than Tiger went from billionaire golf player to billionaire golf player, maybe you’ll have to be the bigger person and finish what he started.

Or, you could just turn yourself into a cantankerous grump, and see what happens….

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