the man is the gas, and the woman is the brakes

Value added. It’s an economic term referencing "the amount by which the value of an article is increased at each stage of its production, exclusive of initial costs." When working in advertising, our goal on behalf of our clients was to offer customers a perceived added value: something that was cheap and easy for our clients to offer their consumers, just enough to entice them to sign up, rejoin, or tell a friend. When it came to our relationship, Turner should have charged a VAT.

Each step along the assembly line of our relationship, he’d add just enough to keep me there. Some people refer to these as steps in a dance. "The Dance of Intimacy," or some such horrific term, with the man taking the lead. I think of it more like Ford’s moving assembly line. Over time we learn more about each other, interchangeable facts are added in a sequential manner, to create a relationship. Turner was becoming my Model T, and it was then that I learned the man is the gas, and the woman is the brakes.

The man needs to be the one pursuing, wooing, courting, the woman, and it’s up to her to determine the pace of the relationship. She sets the speed of that assembly line. If he’s not revved up enough, if she’s wanting more, then it’s really not a good match. Turner’s engine seized up way too quickly, and I realized I’d never get what I deserved as long as I stayed with him.

Sorry, I’d say come one of our regular drinking Sunday nights, I just can’t do this anymore. When he sensed these talks were coming, he always tried to sweep them aside. Come on, he’d say, let’s go for dinner at Annisa; you love that place. "No I don’t. It’s too sterile." Then pick a place, anywhere you want to go. He was trying to add value, to tempt me with food like a terrier. I’d decline, and he’d need to offer more, just enough to keep me on the line. But Linus would miss me, he’d say more to Linus than to me. When I wouldn’t break a smile, he’d need to switch gears.Look, he’d say, you know I’m crazy about you, and I wouldn’t just say that. I know what you’ve been through, and I’m a good guy. Now please, just come here.

Then he’d pull me into him and make me believe. I second guessed. Maybe he really was crazy about me, in his way, not mine. Or maybe I was just making excuses because ending things seemed too hard. He was too comfortable, and it wasn’t as if he was a bad guy. He hadn’t made it that clear cut. When it’s explicit, when he’s unforgivable, it’s easier to sever things, because you can always look back and point to that shitty thing he dumped on the line. You regret less. But when he just isn’t pursuing you enough, you begin to think, maybe I’m too needy. Maybe this is all he’s capable of, and if that’s so, can I live with that? Can I be happy this way?

Then we do our own form of unforgivable. We ignore our answer to the question and turn to our friends to see what they think. Am I asking too much? As if they know what it is that we need inside. Instead, what we’re really asking is for them to decide for us. But we ignore all the advice we don’t want to hear anyway, and then we’re still just left with our answer. No. I can’t be happy this way. I wish I could, but I’m not built like that. Maybe I could’ve been okay with it two years ago, but I’m not okay with it now.

It would have been a hard next day, a hard next week and maybe even month, had we ended things. Maybe I’d just see. I was making excuses, falling into that "don’t be so dramatic" trap. The words said by the person who doesn’t want to deal with emotions, or the words said to yourself when you don’t want to face what you really feel.

We’d come to this point too often, and I was beginning to lose respect for myself. I knew it would be hard, that I’d miss the way he saw the world, his walk, and the way he crawled the halls with Linus. I’d miss our meals and the way he loved my cooking. His guitar and our whiskey. And come the following afternoon, after hitting refresh all morning, there still wouldn’t be that email where he asked me to take it all back. I’d phone my father and tell him how miserable I was. Won’t I ever meet anyone? And then, mid conversation–while I’m at the office, unable to get any work done–I’d say, "son of a bitch" aloud. "He’s changed his profile to single."

I might have been the brakes, but I wasn’t really ready for a break.

Click to jump to the rest of the story…



  1. I like it. It reminds of something I always say: "You should never have to wonder how he feels."

  2. Stephanie, I hope you take this in the spirit that it is intended, because I really liked SUAD. Tell your story without so much word-play. Brakes/Break, Wasband, hand/foot/foot in mouth disease — it all totally takes away from your always compelling stories.

  3. And then, mid conversation–while I'm at the office, unable to get any work done–I'd say, "son of a bitch" aloud. "He's changed his profile to single."

    Funny how that happens…..what you think and what is real are not necessarily the same. We learn the hard way and in retrospect we can laugh. A hurtful I should have seen this coming laugh. And now we are better off. Aren't we?

  4. Stephanie,
    I love your use of nuance, syntax, and word playing in this piece. I wondered at the end though, where is Turner now? He must know of your book success, of this blog, and these posts about him? Would he change his mind now?

  5. I've been in this position, had to leave a guy because I knew in the long run that it just wasn't right for me. It was difficult, but a much more decisive break up than any of my other ones had been. I didn't leave him because he hurt me in some way, so there was nothing he could do to get me back. My emotions were no longer involved (which was pretty much the reason it was time to leave).

    If you break up because of a fight, he can always come crawling back and you can choose to accept his apologies because the feelings are still there. This is different. When it's over, it's over. You just have to get over the hump of missing what's familiar and comfortable to you.

    What's killing me right now, is that this just happened to by younger brother. His girlfriend of several years just broke up with him, and although it was quasi-mutual, from the way he describes it I can tell exactly where she was coming from. And I know that on some level he thinks she might have a change of heart, and I don't know how to tell him she really won't, because her heart just isn't in it, and there's nothing he can do.

  6. I love the use of language in this and all your writing. It's an extension of both facility with language and creativity. Very Walter Winchell.

  7. that SOB moment sucks… I call it the Shithead moment where you come back from a 10 day vacation, and realize 2 days later the guy is active on jdate again. Good times trying to make sense of them… ; )

  8. That kind of reminds me of a relationship/non relationship that I was in once. There was a strong pull toward this interesting, exotic guy even though I knew he was bad for me. It was hard to sever the ties as there was something addictive about him but at the same time the underlying feeling that he was bad for me. He made me feel very good about myself and very bad at the same time. It was only when I'd had enough of feeling bad that I could break it off – but when I sit back, detached from the situation, free from the addiction, I think – boy, why did I put up with so much shit. I saw him again years later at a workplace but he was walking past with some other people and couldn't stop. He gave me a dirty look and I thought to myself, yes that is how I really remember him and thank goodness I am free.

  9. I had to ask myself that question too: "Maybe this is all he's capable of, and if that's so, can I live with that? Can I be happy this way?" and in my case I decided to stay. In the end he broke up with me as he was going through a depression. He's still not fully recovered but we're occassionally seeing each other again, although not 'officially' dating. "Can I be happy this way?". Probably not in the long run. But I know that he's capable of great love so I'm willing to wait a bit longer, I hope he's worth it.
    Turner definitely wasn't worth sticking with, that SOB moment proved you were right in dumping him. Painful, but at least you knew you didn't need to have regrets. SOB indeed.

  10. "Turner was becoming my Model T, and it was then that I learned the man is the gas, and the woman is the brakes.

    The man needs to be the one pursuing, wooing, courting, the woman, and it's up to her to determine the pace of the relationship. She sets the speed of that assembly line."

    I was really surprised to read this from you. Do you really believe that? (I'm not asking to make a point; I'm asking because in an earlier sentence you said "Some people people refer to…" and I want to be sure I'm not ascribing thoughts to you that aren't yours).

  11. "Or maybe I was just making excuses because ending things seemed too hard."
    This hit the nail on the head. When you`re in a relationship for a long time then I think it`s normal to be afraid of being single, of being alone again. It`s hard to break up and, like you`ve said, it`s much harder if he hadn't made it that clear cut.
    A few years ago I came to the point where I had to ask myself "can I be happy this way?" and the answer was no, I can`t. I`ve tried to imagine our future together and I couldn`t see it. This made things easier for me.

  12. Once upon a time, someone told me that the person who says no is the person who controls the pace of the relationship. In subsequent years, I've learned that's entirely true.

    The person who wants to move forward, male or female, can only go as fast as the one who doesn't.

    Any woman who cedes control of the gas, to continue your metaphor, always has the ability to put the pedal to the medal and speed out of there. She only needs to read the signs along the road to know what's going on.

    When a man gives you a crumb and you try to make a meal out of it, I think we really need to ask if it's a satisfying meal. No excuses. It isn't a bad night at the restaurant. They didn't run out of ingredients. When you're paying full price for a three course meal, why accept an amuse bouche? It's fun, but not filling. And definitely not nutritious.

    On another topic, I like the word play. Keeps me interested and entertained, though I was sorry to see you make the gas and the brakes gender specific.

  13. My probalem, as you know, is over acceleration. Leadfoot syndrome. I AM listening but ultimately, I just end up driving around in circles.

  14. It's sad that almost every girl has experienced this relationship. When reading this, I instantly thought of multiple people (including myself). It brought me back to the feelings I experienced at the end of a relationship.

    I found the question "Am I asking too much?" especially poignant. I remember asking myself, will I hate myself because I broke up with him and I can't look back and say "It's because he cheated, or it's because he hurt me." I will have to look back and say it was because our relationship had become hollow. We relied on habit and familiar comforts, all while ignorning the fact that we had stopped moving. Your post captured perfectly the sort of tension that women have when they know something needs to happen, yet they're too scared to take any action.

  15. I definately recognised what you wrote about. I have just covered a similar situation and the bottom line is that we should take more note of our gut reactions and not be persuaded otherwise….it just delays the inevitable. Lulu

  16. i'm surprised more people haven't commented on this one. This totally hits home for me- when something is off but not super bad so we stick with it, even though we may deserve more. Something feels comfortable and there is a great fear of change and a fear of what if something better doesn't come along. And at the same time, feeling like maybe we need to learn to be happy where we are in life and change our attitudes rather than our situations. It is hard to make decisions when things aren't black and white but many shades of grey.

  17. Like you crawled inside my head and put it on the screen… To plantation: be strong and follow your heart – there is a whole big world out there waiting to know you!

    Don't look where you fell, look where you slipped – not sure who said this, but I like it.

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