I have a friend who insists that couples usually break up a long-term relationship when the female half decides to call it quits. My friend -- a man -- may be right. But I maintain that men are heart breakers as frequently as they are heart breakees, only they are more subtle about it.
When a man gets tired of a relationship, he often engages in a pattern of behavior that pushes his lady love relentlessly into a corner, at which point she moves him out of her life. In the public eye, he has been wronged. How many women have been accused of ruining some nice guy's happiness and known that if they even attempted to explain his wrongs they would look as if they were adding insult to injury?
For all those who have unjustly accused such women, and for you innocent women who have never been stampeded out of a relationship by a determined man, I will undertake a description of the long goodbye.
Consider what usually motivates a man to end a long affair: boredom. Ennui usually causes the eye to rove. A man tired of one routine soon seeks another.
Most men who are alive and breathing look at other women, and you do not want to draw hasty conclusions simply because a man is lusting quietly for another woman, or having a flirtation. Suspicion may be called for, however, if he is uncharacteristically well behaved (he feels guilty) or unusually critical (he's making comparisons).
A character in Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps provides a useful hint for determining if a man is about to rove: She warns to be wary if a man starts calling you by your first name more than usual. He may be trying to remember who's who.
He may decide to tell you about the Other Woman. If he confesses, chances are he will insist that his in-infatuation with her does not compare with his undying -- but hibernating -- love for you. Note that he never explains why he would risk a burning passion for a small flicker.
Once a man confesses, you might consider that he is probably not worth keeping. If the most mature men in the world honor their commitments and remain faithful forever, then the second most mature men keep their flings to themselves. This could, be about the best you can hope for (unless he's a hopeless recidivist). Men who kiss and tell you about it are usually looking for absolution, a game that gets tedious quickly.
Whether he confesses or not, the roving man eventually gets down to brass tacks. He becomes irrational, unreliable, irritable. If he knows he annoys you by squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle he'll do that and leave the cap off for good measure. That's for starters.
"What's wrong?" you inquire in plaintive tones.
"Nothing!" he snaps.
At last, you become impatient, petulant. You demand to know what is the matter with him. The uncapped toothpaste tube and a thousand other indignities have taken their toll. He has you where he wants you.
"You're driving me crazy!" he shrieks, and stalks off. He has driven you to the brink of your sanity, and then neatly turned the tables and accused you of the same crime.
Pushed beyond the patience of a saint, you call it quits. He is appalled, shocked. He quickly seeks out a feminine shoulder to cry on, and tells its owner, with tears in his eyes, that his lover of long standing has suddenly, inexplicably, rejected him. Since his heart is newly broker, he explains, he may not be ready for a commitment. But he has plenty of free time. And free hands.
And you are left, confused and trying to explain to your friends and your mother why you ruined that nice guy's happiness. But do not despair. Soon, you will meet another man, a sensitive man, who recently, inexplicably, was rejected by his lover of long standing.