That Kind of Girl thought she knew all about the final stages of relationships…but there was one more to go.
When my boyfriend of four years and I broke up in the summer of 2009, I thought I went through all of the stages of grief.
Anger: What do you mean you get to keep our favorite Caribbean restaurant AND frozen yogurt place?! Break-up fascist.
Bargaining: Fine, keep the fro yo – we can still have sex at Christmas, right?
Depression: (Regret to inform I can’t comment on this one because, for the sake of the universe, I’ve deleted my post-break-up text message log.)
Acceptance: You know, the part where you look at the person who’s been your closest confident and biggest champion for as long as you’ve been the person you are — the person they helped you become — maybe hold their eye a bit too long, then burst out laughing because, dude, remember that time we used to call each other “sugarpants”?!
So imagine my surprise when, over a year after the break-up, I discovered the stage of break-up grief no one ever told me about. Putting down the imaginary dog.
For the last few years The Ex and I dated, we engaged in that special brand of early-20s relationship talk: speaking vaguely of future children – children, we were careful to point out, that weren’t, like, ours … but perhaps coincidentally happened to look like both of us? The one part of the future that we could concretely speak about, and often did, was the dog.
Our imaginary future dog was a mischievous pug named Ponzi…because as over-educated nerds we’re legally required to name all future pets after renowned socialist leaders and/or noted scalawags of Western Europe. And since The Ex and I couldn’t commit to planning for a wedding or children, we invested all of our hopes for a glorious future into that dog.
When we saw kitschy dog toys online, we’d joke about picking one up for Ponzi. If a neighbor crammed her poodle into a hideous sweater, we’d solemnly agree that Ponzi would never put up with such disrespect. If one of us looked particularly mischievous, the other would invariably smirk: “Ponzi! What’re you schemin’ about?!”
But when The Ex and I parted ways for good, I was so wrapped up in the work of dismantling a relationship that I forgot all about Ponzi. There’s so much to do when you physically disentangle two lives. Mutual purchases to pay back shares of, DVD collections to segregate off the shelf, love letters to scan copies of into your laptop. (Yeah yeah, I’m a real romantic.)
It wasn’t until almost a year after the rest of our mutual possessions had been sorted that I remembered the dog that still, in my mind, belonged to both of us. And although I have fully moved on from the relationship, I wasn’t prepared for the sudden pang of loss, thinking of that dog we’d so hoped for, and knowing he would never exist.
I’ll fall in love again, I’ll adopt a dog – maybe even a pug – but whatever dreams end up coming true for me, the mutual fantasies that my former partner-in-crime and I so lovingly constructed are lost forever.
In the aftermath of a break-up, we’re so often told that our most important task is to move on. Forget what you’re losing, focus on building yourself back up. And these are great things to do. But I think there’s something to be said for taking a few moments to recognize and mourn the euthanasia of a particular hope. After you put down that imaginary dog, eulogize for just a minute, hey buddy, you were a good boy. I loved you, little dude.
Man, it’s a good thing The Ex and I never did get around to discussing kids. Something tells me that would have been a slightly more macabre mental euthanasia.
“Bobble head pug dog” Calendars.com