DUMPED: WE DONíT like to admit it, but weíve all been there. Whether the victim of a high-school-boyfriend-turned-walking-hormone or of a partner who " just needs some space, " each of us knows what it feels like to be dumped in one way or another.
Lilly Goldenís experienced it, too. And so Golden, whoís edited several anthologies for Atlantic Monthly Press, including A Literary Feast (1993) and In Praise of Mothers (1994), decided to put together a compilation of fiction based on that most common of relationship woes: being dumped. Though Golden edited her book, Dumped (Grove Press), under the pseudonym B. Dolores Max, she feels personally connected to many of its stories, written by the likes of Alice Munro, Dorothy Parker, Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver, and Lorrie Moore, among others.
Q: Howíd this book come about?
A: About two years ago, so many of the relationships of my friends ó that I thought were rock-solid, or at least good and complementary, and likely to last the whole span of their lives ó totally collapsed. It was such a shock, and the ripples of the shockwaves went through so many people. And it happened again and again and again. One of my friends whose wife left him said that he was getting so much solace from Herzog, Saul Bellowís novel about a man whose wife leaves him. He felt really nurtured by this. And so I thought, God, thereís got to be a whole body of literature out there like that.
Q: Tell me about the process of choosing the stories.
A: A lot of reading. I probably accepted one in every 20 stories. So it took a long time. And it was hit or miss. I knew writers that I loved their short stories, so I read all of their collections to see if I could find something. I did ask people if they had anything in mind that they remembered. Things that I remembered reading, too, like Sense and Sensibility.
Q: Was putting the book together ever depressing for you?
A: Not these particular stories, but in the process of just reading so many of them that I didnít include ... I also didnít include them if I didnít like them, and thatís always a drag if you get into a spell of 20 stories and none of them are good enough. That was depressing. But to read, no. And I donít think that this is a depressing collection, because it is about human beings in extremis, and that is so interesting. I just found it fascinating. And I also sort of realized that there was for most of the characters here this process of going through fire and emerging a gem, or a more solidified version of themselves, and so that was really exciting to see. And I think thatís true: in these relationships that Iíve watched fall apart, the person who was left has really reinvented themselves, and found themselves stronger, and they like themselves more because of the struggles that theyíve survived.
Q: What kind of personal experience do you think is necessary to write about the end of a relationship?
A: I think everybody has been at the end of a relationship. Even if itís an unrequited crush in high school. I think everyoneís qualified. Anyone whoís a good writer who can write about the extreme emotion ... and whatís interesting is that the best stories donít write about the extreme emotion directly at all; itís all indirect, and it would have to be for it not to be treacly or overly sentimental.
Q: Describe the different kinds of being dumped.
A: The uplifting dump I think of as a dump that makes you a better person. The example I think of is by a blind date, where in the middle of the date you see on your dateís face the moment it occurs to him or her that youíre being crossed off the list. It doesnít matter that youíve already crossed that person off the list. But you realize that this has happened, and in the date Iím thinking about, I walked home something like 55 blocks to my apartment; I couldnít afford to take a cab home, and I didnít want him to hail me a cab ó I just wanted to be rid of him and not give him any satisfaction of having done anything proper or gentlemanly. And I was so glad to be back to my apartment after I had walked off the date and gotten it out of my system, and there I was in my shabby little apartment, with my shedding cat, and everything in that apartment, including the thrift-shop-purchased furniture and my little tattered copy of Emma ó this was mine, this was my home that I had created. This is what I think of as the uplifting dump: it makes you appreciate what you have. And I think that everyone should experience the uplifting dump.
The annoying dump is the next level. This is not a dump that makes you feel better about yourself; this is one that makes you despise yourself, and you despise everybody, but itís temporary. And this case would be, say, someone you were going out with or sleeping with did something really nasty or hurtful, and you realize this relationship is going nowhere, and you were a fool to be in it! And thatís why itís annoying, because youíve just made bad decisions and you know it and you hate yourself for it. But that passes, too.
And then there is the crushing dump, when a relationship of many years begins to go south. But you donít realize it, or you realize it but you think itís just a rough patch, and then your partner says he or she needs to talk, is in a rut, doesnít know whatís wrong with him- or herself, needs a break (which means break-up), needs some space. Those are all very, very bad indicators! And that kind of break-up, where youíve been involved with someone for a long time, is the crushing dump, and this just knocks the wind out of you at first, and thatís the good part. Later comes the hollowed-out feeling in your gut, the sense of massacre-scale tragedy ó Iím not exaggerating ó the groveling, the disbelieving, and then the catatonia. But people recover from that, too. Every serious relationship that doesnít make it to the golden anniversary, people experience that.
The worst is what I describe as the death knell, and that is when your believed life partner, soul mate, walks out; usually this means divorce. And that kind is devastating, truly devastating, and I think that takes much more than years of misery. It takes therapy! And that also is something that people can survive, so itís not truly the death knell, but it is the death knell of the person who you are. What must happen is that you have to be reborn as a new person, a single person, and a person whoís not in this relationship, this marriage, thatís been going on for what you thought was going to be your entire life.
So those are the levels, and Iím sure there are many in between.
Q: Do you think itís harder to be the dumper or the dumpee?
A: I would say intuitively, and immediately, itís harder to be the dumpee. But I donít deny that itís very difficult to be the dumper. That takes its toll. However, the dumper is in control, so the sense of loss of control and temporary insanity is probably greater for the dumpee.
Q: Would you ever advise someone who suspects theyíre about to be dumped to do a pre-emptive dumping?
A: Ooh, gosh. Thatís calling a bluff that you might regret! I donít know. Thatís a hard one. I would never advise anybody in any way in any relationship.
Q: Whyíd you put the book together under a pseudonym, B. Dolores Max?
A: First, I wanted to have fun with the introduction, and I wanted to be able to use stories that werenít necessarily mine. So I wanted to kind of free myself up to speak in a different voice, or write in a different voice, in the introduction. I also felt that where I am now in my life, which is married with two children, living in the country, isnít really who the persona who gathered these stories should be.
Q: But it was you.
A: It was me, yes, but I thought it would be ... it was more me 10 or 15 years ago, living alone in the city, who would be a better persona than the person I am now.
Q: So thatís who B. Delores Max is?
A: Yeah. Delores Max is definitely, maybe with a harder edge, me 10 or 15 years ago.
Q: Howíd you decide on the name B. Dolores Max?
A: That shedding cat that I referred to is Borus, my cat of 14 years, who actually is no longer with me. His name was Borus Delores Max. And I also realized that Dolores spelled a little bit differently means " pain " in Spanish. Maximum pain. Borus was my cat through all of the bad dates. He was always the one waiting for me at home, so I thought I should honor him in this way.
Q: What can people learn from being dumped?
A: I think they can learn a lot if they choose to. Iíve seen people choose not to learn a lot, and continue to make the same mistakes. Also, sometimes it is the time and place in your life, and a temporary incompatibility, and if you had met this person maybe 10 years later, this wouldnít have happened. But you canít have a relationship in a vacuum, so all of these other factors are always in play. I would say what you can learn is to be more self-reliant, and to treat yourself better, and be wiser about the people you choose.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I donít have an anthology under way, but I did think while I was working on this and reading stories, occasionally I would come upon a beautiful story about a relationship that was wonderful, and I thought there should be a companion book about marriage.
Q: The happy-ending book?
A: Right! But then I feared that it wouldnít be interesting; the most interesting things are difficulties. So Iím not sure. But I did read about some really wonderful, quirky marriages, and I thought maybe this could be the happy-ending book, but they would have to be slightly bizarre: the bizarrely happy-ending book.
Tamara Wieder can be reached at twieder[a]phx.com