A Guide to Writing Characters Who are Over 30: Part One, Ending Relationships

AN: This is reblogged from my personal Tumblr. 

First, let me start by saying this isn’t because I don’t value young writers. By contrast, I’ve met a lot of writers who are churning out better stuff at 16 than people in their forties. That’s why I’m doing this. It’s not skill that makes people who are younger unable to write people who are older, it’s just experience. So I’ll be writing some pointers. If you have specific questions, just ask, I’ll get to them.

Problem One: ″Well I’m friends with all my exes…″

High-school relationships are not adult relationships. This isn’t to say that they aren’t real or that the emotions you feel aren’t valid. But let’s say you’ve been with the same person since you were 12, and you’re 18, you (general you) have never lived together. You’ve never combined finances, you’ve never sat and paid bills jointly. You haven’t made and crafted a home together. These are important pivotal things in adult relationships that by their nature, teenage relationships lack.

When you’re writing a character in their late 30s who is getting a divorce, you aren’t going to be able to treat it the same way your high-school breakup is. There are a lot more things to consider if you’ve lived together and depended on each other 10 plus years. Where will your character live? What will they do about the things that are in both of their names? If your character ran off on their spouse for a lover, how is their family going to react? Are there children involved? Do they have a business together?

Anytime you’re ending a partnership like this, where your lives are netted together, you are going to have a lot of emotions. These are going to be strong ones, anger, melancholy, depression, and a lot tension are going to happen. They are going to fight. They are NOT going to like each other sometimes. Even if a divorce is amicable (like mine was) there are still going to be strong emotions. Just because you leave someone doesn’t mean that you don’t care about them anymore. It doesn’t mean that you don’t ache a bit when you think of them. You’re changing the entirety of your life here. It’s not something that is going to be done lightly.

There’s nothing wrong with your character realizing that their relationship isn’t working out! They fell in love with someone else, they have been in a rut, there are tons of good reasons. But you can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen. To see a grown man drop a partner he’s had and worked with for over ten years to just vanish is not very realistic. Yes, it happens, but I assume if this is your main character you want people to like him.

The truth of the matter is that ″one true love″ doesn’t happen very often, relationships end, but you don’t just shove them off and forget about them. You’re going to get depressed on your ex’s birthday, on their parent’s birthdays. You’re going to delete your whole netflix queue and buy all new sheets to get their smell out. Because being reminded that something you had and was ultimately the most important thing in your life is gone? Sucks. It sucks even if you knew it had to happen and you wanted it.

Treat the ex with some respect. If you are writing an amicable breakup, remember that your main character loves this person. They were once IN LOVE with them. To end that and then say, move your new lover into the house you shared with your old one while the old one still lives there? That’s… well, to be frank it’s disrespectful. It just opens one or three people up for a lot of heartache and heartbreak. It is most believable if the ex says that ″they need time″ and just bows out of your story altogether. If you really want them in there, you need to realize that to make this believable, you need to have some tension.

Your ex and your character may even be bitter with each other. See, when adult partnerships end, you can’t just walk away from them and no longer be invested. Bill collectors are going to call you about the truck payment your ex missed. You then are going to remember that you didn’t want them to buy the damn truck anyway. You’re going to be mad and give that bill collector their dad, mother, grandmother, and all their siblings phone numbers. Your ex is going to call you and you’re going to yell at each other. Then you’re going to drink, eat a grilled cheese sandwich and watch really bad movies till you fall asleep because that shit HURTS.

See, this relationship was the most important thing in your life. Now it’s been reduced to yelling about who owes who and what goes where. NO ONE will feel like everything is fair. You are both going to hurt. We haven’t even gotten to the holidays. Whose family did you spend them with? What about if you have younger children in your family. What are you going to say when they ask ″Where is Ex?″ What happens when their grandmother dies? Do you send flowers? Do you call? You always liked her a lot, but now what?

You are going to spend a big holiday totally alone. I know it may seem AMAZING to you right now because you’re forced to interact with your family. But when you’re miles away from them, there’s nothing to do, and everyone else is busy, that first year blows. I mean it’s really bad. They get better! I, personally, kinda of like that I spend two major holidays with myself. But a lot of people really don’t. And they won’t ever.

And how about your FRIENDS? Oh, did you have those? You probably don’t anymore, not if you’re the one who left. Not if you’re the one who was always sort of the add on. If this was your whole social circle, good luck. You may not have kids, but you get joint custody of your friends. It’s really actually just like high-school bullshit, but this doesn’t last a few years. No way, this is forever. It’s a second blow to the gut too. Because you’ll be trying to get everything done on your own, then suddenly realize that no one’s called to check up on you. No one.

Let that sink in a moment.

Certainly you can have your character skip off into bliss immediately and not address anything I mentioned above. You can think that this will never happen to you because ″I’m friends with all my exes and I know that’s how I will always be″. But see, I’m friends with most of my exes too. The ones I had in High-school. Adult relationships have a lot more inter-connectivity and therefore a lot more hurt. If you just want fluffy running off with a lover, that’s fine. Just realize that’s not how 30 year olds act, by and large.

Bear in mind that I’m not addressing poly relationships, starting relationships, or continuing them. This is talking about breakups. Most of the time, they’re a slow boil, a lot of consideration, and, despite everyone’s best efforts, there is almost always an explosion. So please, give it it’s due.

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2 Comments

Filed under Advice, Writing

2 responses to “A Guide to Writing Characters Who are Over 30: Part One, Ending Relationships

  1. I think one point that you talked around but didn’t quite hit is that (adult relationships being complicated and all) there’s no One True Aftermath for a divorce. You may not spend any holidays alone, because now you’re spending them with your new partner and/or their family. (This may lead to complicated feelings about your old holiday rituals with your ex, or feeling frustrated that now you have to totally renegotiate how holidays are spent when you’d finally got all that worked out with the ex.)

    Then there are the lingering feelings of failure, and grief for that naive person you were at the beginning of the relationship, making promises like “til death do us part” with all the good faith in the world. And guilt! Lots of guilt, especially if you left your ex in a bad situation. (How’s your ex’s health? Have they been working? Is their job enough to pay their bills? Have they been a stay-at-home parent – and kids bring in whole new layers of complication.)

    Plus the friends/family members that you DO have left crawling out of the woodwork to tell you what a shitty person your ex was and how they never liked them.

    And that’s also assuming that you and your ex had a good relationship that ended due to inevitability! Add in infidelity or abuse or no sex for the past eight years and it gets emotionally super complicated in a hurry.

    If you’re sixteen, think about those friends you have who break up and get back together and break up again, and take that level of complicated and messy, and add joint finances and never enough money and only one car, so you still have to carpool to school together, and multiply it by about six.)

  2. All excellent points. Do you mind if I post this comment in my next update on the topic? Because I agree. The old holiday rituals were hard for me to sit aside, even while I was enjoying Thanksgiving with my Ladyfriend. And it also hurts to hear people you love bash someone else that you love, even if you’re NOT IN LOVE with them anymore. There are also the family members and friends that will smother you with calls and invites to go out because they don’t want you to be alone when you really really REALLY want to be alone.

    The single parent as well was something I didn’t even start to touch on.

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