“He is my best friend, and it will be that way forever,“ Paris Hilton said of Paris Latsis. “She’s the most incredible woman I have ever met in my life,“ Paris Latsis said of Paris Hilton, reading from the nearest Josh Groban lyric sheet.
If you assumed that these soul-shriveling testaments of mutual respect and admiration were made when the two Parises announced their engagement, you simply haven’t been reading Us Weekly closely enough. No, this is how the lovebirds informed the world that the wedding was off.
We hate to interrupt the group hug, kids, but for Chrissakes—put up your dukes and come out brawling! Nobody walks away from a broken engagement unless they do so with a pronounced limp. Breakups should be wholly uncivil affairs: smashed plates, shattered egos, cheap insults, hate sex. If you put out a statement, it should come not from a happy-talking publicist but from a ball-busting attorney. And if your lawyer employs a private detective to come up with videos that will cause your ex to drop her alimony charges with extreme prejudice, so much the better.
“All this feel-good breakup stuff rings completely false,“ says Greg Behrendt, coauthor of He’s Just Not That Into You and the new It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken. “Nobody comes away from a breakup saying Well, yeah, that was all right!’ Someone’s always crushed. Somebody has to be angry.“
And anger can be therapeutic—or, at the very least, entertaining. You think Lisa “Left Eye“ Lopes didn’t feel better after burning her boyfriend’s Atlanta mansion to the ground? Or how about Nicole Kidman? I’m sure that getting in a dig on Tom Cruise’s hobbity stature by sweetly purring “I can wear heels now“ was a big step toward recovery. You have to tip your hat to Halle Berry’s ex Eric Benet, who made his exit while plugging himself into any socket that wasn’t properly capped. Even the boozed-up slap-fighting that David Gest complained of in his divorce papers was the least revolting and most plausible part of his eerie union with Liza. Besides, unless you can figure out how to get pregnant, the whirling emotional Ginsu knife of a breakup is the only time in your life you will have carte blanche to offend friends and family like Jenna Bush during Pledge Week.
“It’s hard to be civil, even if you have the best intentions,“ says Ian Kerner, relationship counselor, best-selling author, and cohost of Discovery Health Channel’s Love on the Rocks. “But I think you have to go through the anger to get to the catharsis.“
Which is bad news for Bruce Willis, the former badass who has been adopted as a kind of family pet by his ex-wife and her new husband. Bruce and Demi and Ashton vacation together. They go to premieres together. They probably stage naked drum circles in the Hollywood Hills together.
“Ashton is a really great guy,“ Willis told People earlier this year. “A really thoughtful, introspective guy.“ Hell, Bruce . . . don’t let us get in the way of the reach-around.
Willis at least has an excuse: He has an image to worry about. Luckily, the rest of us can get away with doing properly pathetic things we’ll most certainly regret in the morning—stalking, drunk dialing, nasty e-mailing, backstabbing, messy breakup sex disguised as makeup sex. “People do a lot of stupid things,“ says John Gray, the relationship guru who wrote Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. “Men tend to seek revenge by indiscriminately trying to get laid. It’s like a man starving in the desert who suddenly comes across steak and omelettes.“
Going through a chorus line of headboard-shredding one-night stands is par for the course, though, as is taking your fair share of sniper shots. Believe it or not, getting drunk and telling your friends about the time your ex hooked up with that midget from Willow isn’t completely out of bounds. “As long as the trash talk is done in the right context,“ Gray cautions. “And, of course, as long as it doesn’t get back to the other person.“
Good luck with that—these days, instant messaging, cell phones, and blogs make sure that gossip gets passed around like herpes. Even supposed relationship professionals can get hit by the fallout. Kerner’s book Be Honest—You’re Not That Into Him Either was not only a lucrative self-help guide but also a cleansing expulsion of steam directed at some of his former flames. In a chapter titled “The Cage,“ Kerner documented his time with a woman who was a controlling taskmaster; he also mentioned a habit of falling for intellectually inferior waifs. Several of the ladies in question recognized themselves immediately. “The exes came out of the woodwork,“ Kerner says. “And they were all very pissed off.“
And really, is there a better place to say “Eff you“ than in the pages of a best seller?
By telling all the world that your ex is a frothing lunatic with a patch of hair the shape of Afghanistan on her tits, you’re not just burning bridges—you’re pissing on the ashes. The “scorched earth“ policy allows you to blow things up and move on, and pretty much guarantees that you won’t accidentally reconcile after a late-night booty call. “You should be pretty glad to let go of your exes in general,“ says Behrendt. “Otherwise, you become the creepy guy who wants to hang around with her and her new man. Which is basically saying I have no life, and I’ll lie on the floor here while you guys spoon.’“
And really, that’s the kind of thing you want to leave to Bruce Willis.