I was only working at KA for a few weeks when I found myself witness to the first of many, terrible breakups. Valentine’s day is a tricky day at the frat house. Most of the boys who have steady girlfriends wait until the day before to rush into the kitchen, frantic that there are no restaurant reservations available, wondering where they can get some flowers, candy, gifts. etc. For years my husband would send me a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day (a tradition I’ve always loathed for how cliché it is, but it took me a long time to convince him I really meant “do not send me roses on Valentine’s Day!”) only to have me bring about 5 of them home, because the other 7 or so went to the last minute Larry’s who, at about 6 pm realized it was VD and they were screwed (or wouldn’t be) without showing up appearing to care. Then there are the lonely hearts, no steady girlfriend- I always make sure to make a really nice dinner on VD, and some of these super romantics with girlfriends stay for my dinner before going out so they eat less and the bill is smaller (gotta love a romantic). I digress, back to the masacre. On my first VD there, a sweet boy came into the kitchen wearing a suit, carrying flowers. Since I didn’t really know everyone’s story then, I assumed he had a girlfriend, but I was wrong. He explained that he HAD a girlfriend, but they had broken up and he was going to use this day of love to get her back. In my head I remember screaming ” No, No, don’t do it sweet boy, you are going to get your heart ripped out” but out my mouth came “That sounds like a great idea, I’m sure it will go well”. A short time later he returned, tie off, tossed a few things around the kitchen and walked out. It did not go well. That was my first experience with a boy’s broken heart, (my son was 10 at the time and would be another 10 years before I had to deal with his broken heart) here are some of the others-
The “I didn’t see it coming” breakups. These are the worst. They involve a boy who’s been in a pretty long relationship, things are seemingly going well and then WHAM! out of nowhere, he gets dumped, for a variety of reasons, all shitty. I had a lovely young man at the frat house years ago who was dating a girl I really liked. (not a common occurrence) After years of dating, and a visit to a foreign country when she was studying abroad, she dropped the bomb and broke that poor boys heart. He spent weeks just sitting around, not even eating, not really knowing what the hell happened. It was hard to watch. These are really the most common of the break-ups, because, I think, 20-year-old boys are dumb. They can’t read the signals, they’re not paying attention to the signs, and frankly, they’re so full of themselves they can’t imagine why any girl would want to dump them. So when it happens, they go into shock. And some of them don’t recover for YEARS!! All I can ever do when these break ups happen is feed these poor bastards. And listen, and listen, and listen. I will forever be grateful for all of the heartfelt, sad talking that has happened in my kitchen because of a break-up, these conversations made me a better mom when I had to bear listening to my own children’s sadness.
The “let’s take a break” break up. This one is really kind of funny, because the pattern of this break up is so very predictable ( I will say, there have been a few times when a relationship has survived the “take a break” and they’ve gone on to thrive- but there have been only a few) . This scenario typically happens second semester sophomore year- when the ” I’m so cool it’s hard even for me to believe it” factor is at its peak. These boys have been living in the frat house for more than a semester, going to parties with sororities ( can’t always party with your girlfriends sorority ) and have convinced their 19-year-old selves that they can “do better”, or need to “play the field” (read, get laid by more than one person), and so they strongly suggest to their girlfriend they “take a break”. Convincing her this is a great idea that will ultimately lead to a stronger relationship, she agrees. And then this happens- after a short while, she figures out that her boyfriend was a douche and when he decides the “break” should be over (read- no one else wants to sleep with him), she decides to make the “break”, a “break up”. And the boy is always shocked!! Always.
The “I made a mistake” break up. This one requires absolutely no sympathy on my part. It usually involves a cheating boy and a girl who figures it out and catches him. Sometimes it’s really easy to catch him because he’s basically making out with another girl while his girlfriend is 10 feet away. The explanations for this behavior are almost always “I was blacked out” “I made a mistake” “I don’t know why she won’t give me another chance (or 8 more chances)”. Recently I had a serial cheater in my house- super surprised that his girlfriend (who actually caught him with another girl) was not ready to take him back. I asked him “Do you actually see the two of you, sitting on a porch 10 years from now, kids in the front yard, laughing about when you were in college and you constantly cheated on her” and he said “Yeah, maybe” Makes me crack up even now!!
In almost 12 years, I’ve seen a lot of heartbreak, and I’ve learned a lot about boy’s hearts. I can tell you this, for certain boys do not recover from a break-up as well or nearly as quickly as girls do. I have a daughter and a son, and I can promise you this is true. Girls get hysterical for days, cry until you can’t recognize their face, write in their journals for hours, talk to all their girlfriends for what seems like days. And then they’re over it. They take a lesson from what has happened, and they move forward. Boys don’t recover so quickly, perhaps because when they do give their hearts, they have really thought about it. Sure, they’re scoundrels, but when they aren’t, they are so sweet and so soft and so full of love that when they give some of that love away and then it gets tossed away, they are really, truly wounded. My own son had a brief break up with his long time girlfriend a short time ago. Thank goodness it was brief because I was immediately reminded of all those sweet sad boys who took a really long time to recover and it made me panic- how long would he be sad?, how long would I not know the right thing to say? Thankfully, I had a ton of experience with broken-hearted boys to help my own son navigate this brief and very difficult time in his life. But, I would have happily traded the knowledge for never having to watch one of my sweet Kappa Alpha’s have his heart ripped out.