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DECENCY DEMANDS THE END OF LOVE BE WRAPPED IN SHROUD OF PRIVACY

After reading a half-dozen breathless reports on the breakup of Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, and now the breakup of longtime partners Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher, I can only think one thing:

Thank God no one followed me around after my last breakup.

Without putting too fine a point on it, let's just say there were days when I was a dead ringer for the post-lobotomy Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest": open mouth, vacant stare, frequent stumbling.

We've all been there, and, to paraphrase Jim Morrison, nobody there gets out alive.

You don't eat. You don't sleep. You don't work out. You don't read or watch TV. Mostly, you put the kettle on for tea that you won't drink; you walk endlessly; you chain-smoke even though you quit after college; and you lie in bed at night feeling what now passes for a heartbeat, which is actually more of a painful lurching inside your chest.

Ask anyone. If they have the guts to admit it, they'll cop to at least two of those behaviors, if not more.

"My concentration was totally shot," admits Connie McEwen, a local actress and co-star of Channel 7's "Off-Beat Cinema," reflecting on her last big breakup.

"I went back to smoking with a vengeance. And I couldn't be around people, so I would go sit in the middle of Delaware Park." Pause. "This was in the dead of winter." Pause. "At night."

Reacting so strongly to the loss of a love is no chick-thing, either. One of the toughest guys I ever knew wound up in the local emergency room the night his fiancee, a woman he completely adored, broke it off. His diagnosis: arrhythmia and mild shock. He was admitted and watched very closely by the nurses all night long.

We've all been there, done that and got the T-shirt and the gray hair to show for it.

So why the gleeful fascination with Ann Heche's midday, incoherent stumble into the suburbs of sunny, hellish California, and the possible Etheridge/Cypher custody battle over David Crosby's children?

Judith Skretny doesn't get it, either. She's the director of the Life Transitions Center and Hospice Bereavement Services Inc. on Harlem Road. Mostly, they help people cope with death or serious illness. But often, she says, they help the severely brokenhearted.

And the severely brokenhearted are capable of extremism.

"Losing a love has physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual implications. It can be a very disorienting experience because the world as you have known it is now changed," Skretny explains.

"When someone has chosen, for whatever reason, to exclude themselves from your world, you question everything about yourself. Unlike a death, a breakup is someone who is alive yet choosing to no longer be in your world. That's the hard part. It's just awful."

Now about this time, you may be rolling your eyes and muttering, "Now, why in the world izzat newspaper throwin' a pity party for all them gay gals?"

It's not a pity party. It's a plea for simple compassion.

What is it exactly we are all hoping to see, in watching these former lovers let go of each other? Some heretofore unknown Lesbian Parting Ritual? A different kind of hurting, a different kind of tears?

If your answer is yes, you're going to wait a long time. Because the truth is, when we fall in love with someone and then lose them, the journey we embark on is many things -- exhausting, disorienting and a leading contender for Hell On Earth -- but it is not a journey that is any different because one is gay. It isn't any easier. And, I submit, it isn't funny or fun to watch.

Perhaps you disagree, in which case, try this.

The next time you break up with someone -- or, heck, the next time you come to a place in your marriage where you seriously wonder if this might be the end -- and you find yourself walking down the sidewalk feeling like your chest has cracked open and your heart is spilling out and you can't breathe or figure out how you'll ever eat or laugh again, try to imagine something.

Imagine that every time your face crumples into tears, or you break down while at the wheel of your spiffy SUV, or wander aimlessly around a park at 2 a.m. so you can sob in peace, there is a camera crew recording your every move.

Imagine, too, that with that crew is a complete stranger ready to speculate why you're doing what you're doing, and then tell it to a few million people. Imagine that.

Then ask yourself:

That's entertainment?