Neil Sedaka said it best, breaking up is hard to do.

No one enjoys the moment when you realize that your relationship has run its course, and that the person you’d thought would be in your life for the long haul (or the short run, depending on your intentions) will henceforth be referred to as “the Ex.” Even worse than that is coming to terms with the idea that her – or his – role in your life is now over, as you watch their image get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror.

But the undisputed worst part of parting ways is the ceremonial Dividing of the Stuff that inevitably occurs, be it retrieving discarded items or in the larger sense (read: friends and hang out spots). “Happy trails to you, now give me back my stuff,” would most aptly describe it. And, if the person you’d been dating is even remotely reasonable, she or he should cede the spoils of love back to their rightful owner.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go down like that.

That’s why there needs to be a set of rules to steer this awkward – and often bitter – two step. Even if they’re informal, they should be understood. So, Miss Wingman is here to offer you the gentlemanly guide to custody arrangements. Pretty please pay attention.

Actual stuff: This one’s easy – whomever it belonged to, it gets returned to its rightful owner. If it was hers, she gets to keep it, yours and it goes back to you. The only exception is in matters of gifts: Barring any big ticket items or major declarations of love (read: engagement rings) this rule almost always applies. But, if you were gifted something lavish and your gut tells you it’s not right to keep it, be like Spike Lee and Do the Right Thing. Give it back.

“People” stuff: If your friends are loyal they will perform the ritual parting of the sea and go back to whomever they were originally friends with post-Relationship Nuclear Winter. This is the best argument I can use to emphasize why you should never rely on someone you’re dating for your entire social life, 1) Because it makes you pathetic and 2) Because you’re going to lose all of your friends if/when you call it quits. Also, if you were friends with someone who ultimately sticks by your ex in the end, it’s either because you did something he or she can’t get behind, or because they secretly liked her better all along. Either way, it’s a prime opportunity for some introspection, so use it.

“Place” stuff: This gets divided into two parts. If it was your go-to place prior to your relationship, it should go back to being your haven once she’s out of the picture. This applies to restaurants/bars, parks – hell, even places of worship. Does that last one sound ridiculous? Of course since my life is fodder for all sorts of crazy stories, this one applies to me.

Someone I briefly tangled with (though not classified as a boyfriend) now goes to my church after I mentioned to him that it was chock full of young, good looking people in a hip neighborhood. He began going there after we stopped hanging out – presumably to pick up women, since he lives nowhere near it – and avoids saying hello or making eye contact though we’re mere pews apart every Sunday. Then he scurries out quickly at the end to avoid confrontation (of the benign, social kind at least). And yes, I still go to church, whatever.

I glean two things from this example: First of all, that it confirms my suspicion that the guy wasn’t worth keeping around anyway. Secondly, that he’s lucky the saying, “What Would Jesus Do?” applies, or else I’d be a lot less holy in this criticism. Who steals a church, anyway?

Am I unapologetically calling him out on this forum? Yes, yes I am – for educational purposes of course (wink). Heed this advice, boys – if you’re going to disobey the rules of ownership, at least man up and acknowledge it, especially if you have a face to face run in with your former flame. It helps keep things civil, and it doesn’t make you look classless. I chuckle every time I see him, I just can’t help it.

The flip side to the “places” coin is that, if it was a place that the two of you discovered or frequented together, you wont want to be there anymore anyway, right? Why revisit a painful reminder of what once was? As much as it sucks to abandon these relationship landmarks, it’s probably best. And I would advise against bringing new dates to these places once you move on, too. Start fresh, it’s only fair.

Of course, things are much more complicated when you either lived with your ex or were (yikes) actually married. For the latter, let the law deal with it – I can’t even begin to go there – and for the former, lean heavily on this rule of thumb: Whoever has to suffer the inconvenience of moving out should be afforded as many, “Here, you can have this…” moments as possible – so long as it was an amicable split.

But if the party moving out cheated, lied or committed some other really egregious error, then just consider yourself lucky if your ex didn’t change the locks and keep your stuff, or toss everything you own onto the front lawn. You know what they say about hell having no fury…

The way someone conducts him or herself in a break up is very telling. If you know the person you dated really loved something and it was inconsequential to you, leave it for their enjoyment. Also, try to remember that if you cared about someone once, you should be considerate of their feelings always.

But the reverse is also true. If they really cared about you and know that they’ve caused you immense suffering and can still live with themselves, this is equally telling. It takes a specific type of person to be able to sleep at night, and it’s not the type of person you want in the end.

Whatever the circumstances of the demise, realize that these parting acts will leave a final impression of you to the person you once valued, and maybe still do. There’s no steadfast way to get over a break up other than excessive amounts of time and/or perspective, neither of which are easy to swallow.

But eventually, for your own sanity, you’ll have to let go of that picture of the life the two of you shared that you’ve been white-knuckle clasping and put it away. In a box. And then tie the box off neatly with a bow. And set it down.

Just as long as it’s on your side of the room.ETIQUETTE WINGMAN

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