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July 17, 2015 8:11 am

The year is 2009. Katherine Heigl was in some romantic comedy about having it all and my high school-turned-college boyfriend and I were supposed to have a date to see Heigl’s latest movie at the mall. We were all set for a classic hometown mall date full of food courting and casually browsing Forever 21. But something was bugging me. It was the summer after our freshman year at college and we were changing. We were figuring out who and what we wanted to be, and unfortunately those new-ish people weren’t a very great couple together. He loved frat parties. I loved experimental theater. We were different, and instead of having fun together we were just kind of existing. The more time we spent together that summer, the more it became clear that nothing was really keeping us together except nostalgia.

We needed to break up. And in my head, the best place to do that—to end things cleanly and quickly—was at the food court. Break-ups are hard but food courts are fun! Ergo, a food court break-up will be not that bad, right? At least there’s unlimited junk food, you can indulge in retail therapy immediately afterwards, and mall security is there if anything gets a little reality television-esque. So we hit up Panda Express, and settled into what would be our last conversation as a couple. And it taught me some important lessons of break-ups.

Never break-up with someone at the beginning of the meal

Before I even put my fork into that orange chicken goodness, the break-up was spewing out of me. “I don’t think we should be together anymore,” I said, as he delivered a forkful of fried rice into his mouth. You may be thinking, “Great! It’s out there! Now you can talk about it.” Nope. He was angry. Very angry. The kind of angry that wants to get up and leave. Certainly not the kind of angry that wants to talk about our feelings or hear why I want to end things. It was the kind of angry that wants to shut down and shut down he did. He clearly wanted to leave but we had just shelled out a cold $9.57 each for these two-entree plates and he wasn’t letting that go to waste. So we just sat there in silence, broken up, eating Panda Express.

Sometimes you are “the bad guy” in someone else’s story, but that’s OK

He was angry. He was upset. He didn’t want it to be over. These are all facts. But I’m not an awful person for breaking up with him. The other party may think that, but relationships are opt-in experiences. That means that anyone is free to leave them for whatever reason they want. You can’t always make something as tough as a break-up palatable, and you won’t always leave as a hero. That’s OK. I will remember that day as the day I got out of an unhappy relationship that was hurting my personal growth. He will remember it as the day he got dumped in a food court. Which is…fair. Sometimes people need a bad guy in their story. It helps them deal with their emotions and move on. It doesn’t mean I am a bad person, it doesn’t mean we’ll never be friends again.

You can’t predict anyone’s feelings

I convinced myself that if I was feeling unhappy in the relationship, he must have been feeling that same way too. That’s another reason why breaking up in a food court was appealing: I thought I would say that we shouldn’t be together and he would be upset but then kind of mutually agree and we’d talk it through and still have time to catch that Katherine Heigl joint. I legitimately thought that he would still want to see a movie with me, to the point that I was a little hurt when he didn’t. Retrospectively, I realized that was misguided. You have to make room for that other person’s feelings in the equation. They may not feel the way you expect or want them to feel. And that’s OK, too.

A relationship is a partnership until it isn’t

It’s amazing how in such a short time you can go from partners who share their life together to just two people at a plastic table in plastic chairs. That is the craziest thing about break-ups: the breaking. When we were in a relationship, we made decisions together. Suddenly, I was making a huge decision that affected both of us and he just had to deal with it. There’s no negotiating or compromising a break-up. That shift happened in less than a minute.

If you do dump someone at a food court, let them have the eggrolls

We had made an order of spring rolls that I let him had. I wanted some, too, but it seemed only fair. But really: Reconsider the food court strategy.

What happened next is pretty straightforward. We got up from the table, left the food court and headed to the parking garage. On the way we passed an American Eagle, a Sunglass Hut, and a Chico’s. We walked to our separate cars; drove away from each other and that was it. At the end of the day, break-ups are hard no matter where they happen. But at least now I know who gets the egg rolls.

Chrissy Shackelford is a comedian living in Brooklyn, NY. Her varied interests include blankets, pillows, and sleeping. She is currently the only person reported who has learned more from commercials than informercials. Her work has been featured on Reductress, CollegeHumor, and bathroom walls. You can follow her love of puns on Twitter @ChrissySh and check out her blog at www.thechrissyshack.tumblr.com

[Image via iStock]

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