Brexit at Tiffany’s
Like many intelligent, informed Americans, I only pretended to understand Brexit, Britain’s long, painful breakup with the European Union.
No matter how diligently I followed the twists and turns of the Brexit story and convoluted U.K. and European politics, I remained confused.
Yes, I knew Brexit was an Important Issue on the BBC and boiled down to the Brit punk Clash hit, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” But I still couldn’t fathom the Brexit crisis nor the causes thereof.
Until one day when my British girlfriend, my “bird” as the Beatles were wont to say, announced she was breaking up with me.
I was surprised by her rejection.
We’ve been together for what feels like decades, if not centuries. Over the years, we’ve been through a lot together.
Sure we’ve had our spats. But we always defended each other as great partners do. Like I did when that German guy threatened her, and then a few years later, an even worse German guy did.
My Brit gal and I certainly have had our issues to work through, like most long-term partners do. But I had no idea she was harboring so many deal-breaking resentments:
1.We’re too different about money.
Many partners are. In our case, my Brit girlfriend was more financially rigorous, responsible and secure than I’ll ever be.
It’s not as if I couldn’t make the big £s or euros if I wanted to. But as a socialist intellectual, I regard capitalist money-grubbing as a shameful tragicomic bourgeois farce and post-modern commentary on the doomed human condition, like we’re forced to read about in boring college lit requirements.
No surprise, I’m often teetering on financial collapse, needing my British girlfriend to bail me out lest I drag her down and everyone around her. But she makes plenty big £s/euros. Being together is about sharing, right?
However, she grew resentful of always taking me to posh clubs and restaurants and plying me with cash and expensive presents just because I happen to be a bon vivant who is très jolie.
“It’s as if you’re Holly Golightly,” she said grammatically and sniffingly in that delightful British way that makes you feel stupidly.
2. Our work ethics are too different.
She takes her job and career in business or finance or whatever she does seriously. She works long days, nights, weekends and even on our vacations at five-star resorts in the south of France she pays for.
To me, life is too short to have a 9–5 job to sit in boring meetings, stare and swear at spreadsheets, fake answer “urgent” emails at midnight, struggle to balance work and life, or really, have any job at all. Not when société du café is calling its siren song.
On the other hand, if I did have a job, I’d be willing to strike for better wages and job security when I do a terrible job or show up tardy or not at all following late nights at société du café being a bon vivant who is très jolie.
It’s a hilariously absurdist postmodern existential irony when your money-grubbing capitalist employer can’t fire you when you’re bad at your job. MDR! aka, mort de rire!, aka, “dying of laughter!”
3. I don’t respect her boundaries.
She thinks I “invaded” her with my multiculturalism.
Forgive me, but I happen to love hummus, falafel and fattoush, and respect all people and faiths including Muslims.
My Brit girlfriend worries about “culture change.” She likes delicious Middle Eastern cuisine but believes claims that the Koran orders Muslims to hate and kill Western infidels.
“I feel like a stranger in my own land,” she said.
I replied that she sounded like a Trumpy right-wing, white supremacist, nationalist, nativist Islamophobic bigot, which I found offensive. Shouting of insults ensued followed by cold fraught silence.
4. I’m frustrating to deal with.
Like Britain feels about the EU bureaucrats in Brussels, I’m arrogant and distant, my Brit gal said. I ignore her concerns and care more about my other friends than her, even though she pays most of the bills as they do not.
Also, I’m a control freak, dictate rules, and make her run every little thing by me first. Then it takes me forever to make the simplest decision.
Except when she decided to break up with me. I quickly got huffy and said no, sorry, you’re wrong, you can’t leave me. You need me more than I need you, so good luck surviving without me.
5. She craves her independence.
She can’t be dragged down by me any longer. She can do better on her own. She doesn’t want to follow my rules and check with me for every little thing. She wants to make her own rules and decisions.
Also, she wants to make friends with anyone she wants. She’s thinking Americans but especially hard-working, financially successful, organized, prudent, proper and punctual Germans who share her values and haircut with German Bundeskanzler(in) Angela Merkel.
My Brit girlfriend makes a powerful case to Brexit me.
So it’s odd: While she declared we were through with great passion and finality, that was almost two years ago. Still no agreement on the terms of the breakup. Still no closure. She obviously is conflicted.
Was her breakup just acting out, a last-ditch effort to get my attention and her needs heard, considered and met? At some level, deep down, does she agree we need each other? And we’re much better together?
Sensing an opening, I plied the best arguments of anti-Brexers.
I asked,“aren’t you being irrational, rash and reckless? Isn’t breaking up a solution in search of a problem? Aren’t you caving to your basest impulses and fears, overlooking all the benefits of being together? Aren’t you just hurting yourself?”
Then I threw in some classic British John Donne poetry, that no one is an island, entire of oneself, everyone is a piece of a continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, then we’re all the less.
“No doubt I am a clod,” I followed, mining a lesser poetical vein, “and while I can be wishy-washy, I do not wish to be washed away.
“But,” I concluded, quoting Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, “If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.”
My Brit gal paused, reflecting deeply on my powerful soliloquy or perhaps confused by the welter of mixed references.
Then fixing me with a direct and loving gaze, she marshaled her classic Brit stiff upper lip and replied with pointedly delicious crispness, “You should have closed with Donne.” Then she walked away forever.
But maybe not completely yet…?
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer