Why the phrase "you dodged a bullet" is the ultimate falsehood.
Friends like to say, "You dodged a bullet" after a breakup but what if you've just endured the emotional equivalent of a firing squad?
To dodge a bullet means you emerged from a situation relatively unscathed. You drove away in the escape car, pulled the latch on your parachute, and now you're far away from the gunfire. Rationalizing the end of a relationship by claiming to be without wounds makes it seem like the ideal way to sever emotional ties.
The typical media narrative on celebrity breakups mimics these sentiments. The Inquisitr claims that Nick Viall "dodged a bullet by not getting engaged" to The Bachelorette star Kaitlyn Bristowe. ATTN writer Jennifer Crocker wrote a recent personal essay on being ghosted by her beau of three weeks. She claims that after contacting him to find out why he stopped calling her, she said, "I know now that I dodged a bullet but if I never reached out for that closure then I'm not sure I would know."
Ah, the typical: "Lessons are learned, no harm, no foul," routine. As for that would-be shot through the heart? Well, as told through this lens, the bullet never made its way to the intended target.
But that's bullshit.
For me, when the end of love is nigh; it doesn't matter if I'm the rejecter or the rejected. All signs will point to waning affection, less contact initiated by myself and the other person, the unexplained cancelation of plans. I hope they will me the truth: they can explain that their feelings changed and how it might be time to reconsider our current situation.
Yet, I find myself hearing the same refrains if I point to changes in my beloved's behavior:
"Everything is OK."
"I've just been really busy lately."
"I miss you, too."
They may even talk about plans for the future. They will reassure me with enough affection to keep me waiting for the return of what once was: a happy, committed relationship. I don't claim that these circumstances are unique or the most painful of life's offerings. But neither instance constitutes a bullet dodged.
Yes, there are relationships that can end without shots fired. It is, indeed, possible to part ways on amiable terms; to speak to a former partner with respect, tenderness and enough truth to make both parties feel understood.
You can say, "I don't want to be with you anymore," and those words can be interpreted as a release from an ill-fitting obligation, a salve, a clear voice in a dark room. And yet, there are other words that seem intended to cause harm.
When someone tells you, "It's not like I was in love with you," that's a bullet hitting the target. When they say, "I've been seeing someone else and I wasn't sure if I wanted to break things off with you," that's a shot that pierces through every layer.
Those words don't go away, even when well-meaning friends play the role of prosecutor as they argue that so-and-so was a mess, a liar, not good enough to be your partner. If we stopped saying, "You dodged a bullet," and instead reckoned with the pain that comes after a break-up, we could better support one another in coming to terms with a bad ending.
We could listen without judgment. In the rush to declare that our friends and loved ones are "better off" out of the relationship, there's a kind of erasure that occurs, perhaps unintentionally, and yet the damage is enough to keep this person from speaking out about their pain to someone who has effectively shut them down.
"You dodged a bullet" papers over the hardship of love's loss: the finality of parting with sex or companionship or a friend-with-benefits or unrequited feelings. This language regarding a bullet dodged implies so much about what is meaningful to grieve (and what is not): this loss couldn't have really hurt you because you’re better off and I know better than you how to feel about this.
Those who are nursing their wounds could ignore the impulse to speak with bravado. Most of us want to be Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill who employs the five-point exploding heart palm technique on the bastard who took her baby, not the bloodied figure of The Bride who begs for her life as a gun is cocked to her chest.
In an essay for Role/Reboot, Kristen Forbes claims that among friends, "our go-to way of communicating with each other in post-breakup situations" is to denounce the ex as an assh*le, a douchebag, a fool. "Make her feel like she made the worst mistake of her life by ever-occupying the same space as someone with the capability of being a monster, of course."
Telling someone they dodged a bullet falls along the same lines as the dumper cast in the role of shooter. And if the dumper is a monster ... well, what exactly does that make the person who loved them?
The victim. The wounded. The lost.
There's an extended time lapse between shots fired and bullets extracted. I can't speak to your process in healing from a bad breakup, but the cleanest of my wounds mend with no contact, long walks in the woods, writing, reading, movies, spin class.
It's a privilege to have the resources to change my routine and make other choices, ones that keep me out of range from the gunslingers but it's not to say that I won't be put in harm's way again.
Writer and grief expert Hilary Stanton Zunin says, "The risk of love is loss and the price of loss is grief, but the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love."
I'm neither the bleeding Bride nor the revenge-driven Beatrix Kiddo. Truth be told, given the choice between Will Hunting and Skylar, I'd rather be Skylar, the dumped: the one who isn't afraid to roll the dice on true feelings, who doesn't need a bullsh*t story or bravado to be noticed, who can tell a good risqué joke, who can walk right up to someone and say, "You're an idiot. I'm tired now and I have to go home, and couldn't just keep sitting there waiting."