GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
OK, so I'm just going to say it, you have been lied to. You have a terrible lie from the depths of hell. You think you want to fall in love, waiting for Cupid's arrow to magically strike and you'd know at first sight, Prince Charming, white horse. All of this noise, it is a lie. That ain't love. That's lust. And believe me, ain't nothing wrong with a little lust. Nothing. It's just that lust does not wake up at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday to take care of your kid who just vomited all over the living room carpet. Lust snuck out the back window. But love works. Loves knows. Love sees your extra 20 pounds, your unlotioned legs, your first gray hair, your 3,000th gray hair. And love keeps on being love.
And here's the awful truth - even love - true love, it might just have a breaking point. Today, on SNAP JUDGMENT, from PRX and NPR, no more lies. That's a public service announcement. We proudly present "Joy and Pain," amazing stories from real people doing their damnedest just to keep it together. My name is Glynn Washington. Hold someone close or hold someone else close. Life is short. Your choice because this is SNAP JUDGMENT.
WASHINGTON: Now then, some couples - some couples are not like the rest of us. There's this air of destiny, of purpose, of direction to their relationship to the point where the rest of us kind of feed off their relationship. You know who I'm talking about. SNAP JUDGMENT.
SHARON MASHIHI, BYLINE: When I think about the relationships I've been in, it seems like 50 to 80 percent of the time has always been spent trying to break up. It's like the first time I call someone my boyfriend is just the beginning of goodbye. And I'm not the only one. I look around at my friends and I see long, drawn out breakups. Of all the people I know around my age, there's one couple I can picture still fiercely in love 40 years down the line - one couple - my old roommate Claire and her boyfriend Finbloom. Finbloom and Claire told me they want to get married someday, and that I'd get the enormous honor of officiating their wedding. I can remember so clearly when they first met.
CLAIRE EPSTEIN: I remembered in the beginning, like, I thought that he was a lot older.
AARON FINBLOOM: We had really animalistic physical chemistry.
EPSTEIN: You could see his body hair, like, coming out the edges of his shirt. He kind of seemed like an animal.
FINBLOOM: When you just are coming into that with someone, it's like, pretty intense.
MASHIHI: Claire met Aaron Finbloom in a coffee shop in Brooklyn. Finbloom, by the way, is called Finbloom because the name Aaron sounds so tame. And Finbloom is a very eccentric man. That's what Claire loved about him.
EPSTEIN: Our first date was when we went to see to The Neo-Futurists. They do like, 20 plays in an hour. And I was really struck by the way that Aaron was, like, talking to strangers the entire time. Being around Finbloom, it's like having a magnet. I guess 'cause he wears his eccentricity on his sleeve or his forehead. It draws other people toward him.
MASHIHI: On that first date, Claire and Finbloom were so excited by each other, they literally skipped through the streets. Finbloom used to carry around an accordion, and he would serenade Claire outside her window at night. Claire once wrote a poem and left it for Finbloom in his bedroom. And I don't mean a little note on a pillow. The poem, conceived on sticky notes, covered the surface of his desk, traveled down across the floor and then up along his bookshelf and walls. It spanned the entirety of his room. Finbloom says it was one of the best presents he ever got.
(SOUNDBITE OF VOICEMAIL)
MASHIHI: Hello, this is Sharon leave a message.
EPSTEIN: Hey, Sharon. It's Claire. Finbloom and I want to ask you something that no one has ever asked you before, and no one will ever ask you again. So give me a call back whenever and I look forward to talking to you.
MASHIHI: I'd been out of town for a while, and rumor had it Finbloom and Claire were going polyamorous. So the message could've only meant one thing - did I want to have a threesome? Suffice it to say, I didn't call them back for a while. Then I get this email in my in-box from Finbloom. Here's Finbloom.
FINBLOOM: Dear friend, We, Clairon Steinbloom (ph), broke up on the 1 of October, and we feel we must honor the death of our relationship by laying it to rest in the Earth in the presence of its most dearly beloved.
MASHIHI: They broke up. My favorite couple, no longer a couple. It's embarrassing to admit this, but I was devastated. So OK, back to that mysterious phone message. The question no one had ever asked me and no one would ever ask me again - would I officiate the funeral of their relationship - their unwedding.
FINBLOOM: In accordance with Jewish tradition, we hoped to have the funeral as soon as possible. And so it is with the great love, endearment and gratitude that we invite you to our unwedding. Dress is formal, expressive, symbolic. Much love, Aaron Finbloom and Claire Epstein.
MASHIHI: Claire and Finbloom did, in fact, have three very happy years in a solid relationship, but then that thing happened that happens in all of our relationships. What Claire fell in love with turned stale. Finbloom's eccentricities stopped being thrilling to her and instead became embarrassing. For example, when Finbloom and Claire went out one Halloween, Claire was confronted with a few difficult facts.
One, Finbloom was completely naked. Two, he was draped head to toe in rotting, raw fish. All Halloween night, when Finbloom would walk down the street, others would have to cross the street. The stench was so severe. When Claire first told the story of his Halloween, she was all giggles and "isn't Finbloom great," but the longer they were together and the more times Claire told the story, the more she seemed bothered by it. And at a certain point, Clare simply did not want to be the person standing next to the naked man wearing rotting raw fish.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNWEDDING)
MASHIHI: Dearly beloved, thanks for coming to Finbloom and Claire's unwedding. We are here because the two people standing before you have dared to reimage breaking up.
From the first moment, the unwedding had lots of correlations with an actual wedding. Finbloom's best friend Abe flew in from Indianapolis to perform as best man. Our friend Richard, who photographs weddings professionally, was there taking pictures. I wore a long, black, velvet gown. I was heartbroken that my friends were breaking up, but as two of the world's best weirdoes, at least they were doing it in a weirdo way. Standing at the gates of Prospect Park in Brooklyn for the 12 or so guests and myself, whatever skepticism we may have had seemed to fade away when we saw the unbride.
FINBLOOM: I hadn't seen her in like two or three weeks. Yeah, she looked really beautiful, as I usually think she does when I see her.
EPSTEIN: The trees were - the leaves were, like, bright yellow. It was so beautiful under the height of autumn. Yeah, I was really happy that day just because I felt like all of my friends were, like, coming together. I felt really excited about the next chapter of my life, and also I felt really grateful to Finbloom for working through this with me. But then, seeing Finbloom was like, this reminder of, like, oh my God, this is so profoundly painful. And I think he still kind of didn't understand in some ways.
MASHIHI: For the ceremony, Finbloom and Claire designed rituals for themselves. It was sort of like writing your own vows, only writing them completely for yourself. Finbloom's ritual was to purge himself of all the sweet nothings Claire had ever texted him.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNWEDDING)
MASHIHI: In a moment, I'm going to ask you to approach Finbloom one by one and whisper your message into his ear.
He typed them all out. He printed them, and then he deleted them from his computer and phone.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNWEDDING)
MASHIHI: And then I ask that as you deliver the message...
FINBLOOM: The hardest part for me was, I think, when I did the most crying was probably during when the text messages were read. Everyone took turns kneeling down on the ground, whispering the text messages into my ear.
EPSTEIN: I guess the ones that were either funny or sweet and, I kind of didn't realize until the last minute, erotic.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNWEDDING)
MASHIHI: Excuse me? No read all of the messages that you have.
UNIDENTIFIED GUEST: (Whispering) I love it when you get out of the shower, and your towel falls and you see me watching you.
GUEST: I love you.
GUEST: I always want to be watching you.
FINBLOOM: There were some that I cried and some that I laughed. After they were all read to me, we put them in a little chalice and burned them. And then I played a little short song on the harmonica.
EPSTEIN: There'd be no record of their existence after that, except I guess in the collective memory of the people who came to the unwedding.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNWEDDING)
MASHIHI: ...In certain moments, there it would be, and it was perfect. Finbloom and Claire will miss spooning each other's bodies. Claire will miss how everything she ever did with Finbloom had a heightened sense of meaning. He will miss how yes-saying Claire is and how affirmative it is to be around her. Finbloom will miss Claire's smell. Fin, please lean into dear Claire and take a whiff.
At that point in the ceremony, Finbloom leaned into Claire. I looked around, and most of the guests were crying. And I was crying too. It was as if we were all mourning breakups from our own lives or were getting to say goodbye to the ghosts of relationships' passed.
The ceremony ended with Claire and Finbloom walking out of the park alone in separate directions. And there was this distinct question or feeling in the air that hung over everything. The event seemed so right. If they could do something like this together with such togetherness, why were they growing breaking up?
FINBLOOM: Oh, yeah, a lot of people, like, said that to me when I told them about what we were doing. They were like, you guys are doing this amazing thing, like, you guys can't break up. Like, they said it, like, almost exactly that.
MASHIHI: OK, so it's three months later. I sat down with Finbloom and Claire to see how everything was going.
(SOUNDBITE OF MEETING)
MASHIHI: So what's going on now? What's the state of you and Claire?
FINBLOOM: Things are indeterminate a little bit.
EPSTEIN: It's so confusing. I mean, obviously, I remember feeling like, this is so over, like us being in a relationship is - it's not a reality, like, I can continue with. I'll just say that, like, in the time since the unwedding, Finbloom has just really been great.
FINBLOOM: You know, we have hooked up a little bit.
FINBLOOM: Did you want me to give a different version of the story?
MASHIHI: No, no, no. I want the truth, but I want to also express that, as the officiator - I suppose if you had gotten married, if I were the officiator of your wedding and then you got a divorce, I would've been pissed.
MASHIHI: As the officiator of your unwedding funeral, it is a little bit annoying to me that it was just like, a fun thing that didn't really, like, count.
FINBLOOM: I understand you being annoyed. I think you should be annoyed. But, at the time, it felt absolutely real and necessary, eternal and very meaningful and serious.
EPSTEIN: In some ways, I feel like the unwedding, like, purged out a lot of the negativity and replaced it with something positive, which, paradoxically, makes me look back and then question everything.
MASHIHI: Claire and Finbloom thought the unwedding would make their breakup less painful or less lonely, less ugly, but they rekindled their feelings and fell back into breakup purgatory. In that way, they're back where everyone else seems to be - stuck, trying to break up.
WASHINGTON: Bad news, so sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I've got to let you know that Finbloom and Claire officially broke up. But you know what? They officially broke up before so I don't know. Let's just thank them for sharing their story. Maybe we'll see them back here next year. That piece was produced by Sharon Mashihi and Rachel James. It was adapted for SNAP by Julie DeWitt. It originally came from KCRW's wonderful, UnFictional show. We're going to have a link to their program on our website snapjudgment.org. You're listening to SNAP JUDGMENT the "Joy and Pain" episode. Stay tuned. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.