Dear Janet (In Which I End a Long-standing Relationship)

Junior High BandDear Janet,

This has to end. It’s just not appropriate and you have to admit yourself it’s not working.

I’m getting ahead of myself. You may not even remember me. It has been a while – what, 32 years? Give or take. How are you? Doing well I hope.

We went to junior high together. We were both in the band? I played the clarinet? You played the saxophone? Alto, I think it was. Do you still play? I don’t. I always wanted to play the saxophone. Or the guitar. And I really lost interest in the clarinet. I went through a period when I felt the clarinet didn’t support the image of myself I was trying to project. That period lasted about 30 years. Who am I kidding? I’m still in that period.

Sorry, that’s really off topic. Not at all why I’m writing to you today.

This is awkward. I don’t want to hurt your feelings. But I just have to say it: we need to break up.

Wow. You know, I am glad that’s out there now. It feels good to be past that. I hope it’s not a shock to you to hear that coming from me. It’s never easy to admit the need to end a relationship and maybe you don’t want to hear my thoughts, but I feel compelled to explain why I think we need to end it. Bear with me. Please.

First of all, if you’ll remember, you asked me to go with you. It wasn’t my idea in the first place. I don’t want to argue with you and I’m not saying that you disagree, but just for the record here’s how it went down: 7th grade, we were in the band practice room. We were taking a break after yet another run through of “Ebony and Ivory” and you sent Angie over to talk to me.

“Janet wants to know if you will go with her,” Angie said.

That got my mind spinning. I’d heard about people “going together”; I knew that was something desirable, something that signaled a certain status in the school, a certain maturity – although I wouldn’t have used that language then. I knew it was big. I wanted that. The problem was I hadn’t fully rounded the corner on girls yet. I was in the process of concluding you weren’t all cootie-infested beasts. But having a relationship with a girl? No, that I did not know how to do. If I said yes, what would that mean? Would I have to take you to the movies? Would I have to hold your hand? In public? Would I be expected to sit with you in study hall? Would I have to do your homework for you? Would you start eating things off my lunch tray?

We really should have talked about our expectations ahead of time. But there was Angie putting me on the spot, asking me if I would go with you, Janet. And there sat you, across the band room, pulling a spit rag through the neck of your saxophone, but, I’m sure, watching with one eye to see how I was reacting to your emissary. I had to make a decision.

I wanted to be chosen. I didn’t know the implications of being chosen. I was open to the idea of going with someone; I didn’t know if I wanted to go with you. And here’s the hardest thing for me to admit: the thought crossed my mind that maybe the fact you were interested in me was an indication of a wider and heretofore undetected undercurrent of interest in me flowing through the 7th grade. If I said yes to you, what opportunities might I be shutting myself off from? If I went public with you, might even greater glories pass me by?

But of course I didn’t want to hurt your feelings and so I split the difference.

“OK,” I said to Angie. “I will go with Janet. But if she tells anyone, I will deny it.”

The weird thing is that after that moment in the band room, though we were now going together, we never spoke. We didn’t speak about our going together. We didn’t speak about anything. Ever. I’ve come to realize in the intervening years that when two people go together, talking to each other is usually a big part of it. But that’s OK, we did it our way, right?

Only problem is that because we never spoke, we never actually broke up.

And that brings me back around to why I’m writing to you today. Let’s be realistic: I’m married now. Have been for 19 years. I have kids. I’ve moved 2,000 miles away from that school. I have no idea where you are now. It’s time to move on.

Thank you Janet. For reading my letter. For having an interest in me all those years ago. I’m sorry I did not receive it with grace and the proper gratitude. Still we’ve had a good 32 years. If this ending is hard for you, give it a little time and I’m sure you will see it’s for the best.

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8 thoughts on “Dear Janet (In Which I End a Long-standing Relationship)

  1. Gads Ethan, that was fantastic. I’m feeling especially sorry for Janet now. Look what she’s missed out on all these years. At least it must be some sort of solace for her to know she was your first girlfriend. Sort of.

    • I feel sorry for Janet that she put her emotions in my bumbling hands. You’re very kind, but I’m pretty sure she feels OK about this outcome 😉 Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this.

  2. My Janet was Sean Strom. He had a friend ask me “to go with him”, after a Christmas dance; there was actually a ring (plastic, I think) involved; or a pin? I went home that evening and my grandparents had just arrived from California (we were in Alaska). All I could think was, “what just happened?”

    I never did speak to Sean. Every now and again, some 35 years later, I wonder about him and still ask the question (but phrase it a little differently) ” what the hell was that all about?”.

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