Last year, a friend of mine betrayed me in a fashion that was so hurtful to me, it left me numb and shaken. When he first revealed to me what he done, I thanked him for his honesty in telling me (although I would have found out eventually anyway), and explained that I was hurt and surprised and needed some time away from him. He had, in earlier times, been a good friend and supported me through some of the darkest days I’ve faced, so I tried to get my head around his betrayal and find a path to forgiveness. I did not want to lose his friendship and over the next several days, I genuinely struggled to find my way back to a place of trust and security with him. But then he decided that I was taking too long, that four days was an excessive amount of time for me to be upset by his actions, and that I was making a big deal out of things just to make him feel bad and punish him. We spent an evening exchanging emails in which he became more defensive and antagonistic, and I became more aggrieved and less sympathetic to his claims that I was mistreating him. He accused me of withholding forgiveness just to be controlling and told me that I wasn’t be sensitive to his feelings.
At first, I was confused. Was I being a royal bitch? Was I some unforgiving, controlling shrew who allowed no room for mistakes or missteps in my friendships, as he said? Was I really this awful person??
And then it dawned on me: He knew that he’d done a terrible thing. He had at first concealed it from me precisely because he knew that it would hurt me. He felt guilty and bad about his actions, and he wanted me — needed me — to make it better for him. Which is all fine and well, except for one thing: that’s not fair or right or appropriate. It wasn’t my job to make him feel okay for having hurt me. It wasn’t my job to absolve him of the guilt he was feeling for doing something he knew was wrong. It wasn’t my job to pretend that I wasn’t hurting, just so that he could feel better.
I had every intention of forgiving him, and I made that clear from the beginning. But I needed some time to process my feelings, to cry privately and care for my emotional wounds away from him and what had happened. When he contacted me the night of the emails, I told him straight out that I hadn’t been in touch with him because I hadn’t wanted him to see my pain, because I knew that it would only make him feel worse. He was my friend, I told him, and I had no intention of punishing him by making him share the space I was in. But concealing my ache from him while I worked through it apparently wasn’t enough; I was simply not allowed to feel it. I was supposed to be okay with it all, for his sake, and on his timetable, so that he would no longer feel like the jerk he’d been. He didn’t want eventual forgiveness; he wanted immediate forgiveness. In fact, he didn’t want forgiveness at all. He wanted absolution, a complete clearing of the slate wherein we would never mention his action again, and I would go back to being his loving, trusting, caring friend again, without reservation or hesitation.
Absolution is a beautiful thing. The mere idea that we can completely eliminate our sin and any consequences thereof is a comforting and idyllic concept. Which is why devout humans look to a deity to receive it — because we simple mortals aren’t really capable of it. The best we can achieve is complete and sincere forgiveness — the chance to move forward through our hurt and create a new tomorrow, leaving the scars of yesterday to heal over. The expectation of anything more is, quite frankly, unreasonable and unrealistic.
None of us likes how it feels when we hurt someone. We want their pain to be over as quickly as possible, and a sense of normalcy re-established. But to demand it according to our needs and timeframes is unreasonable and unfeeling. For instance, if I have cheated on a boyfriend and informed him of my infidelity, it is okay for me to then demand that he “just get over it”? To accuse him of making too big a deal of it just because I want it be over, past, done? Do I get to dictate the breadth and depth of his pain, or did I relinquish that opportunity when I knowingly damaged our relationship?
Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t believe that a bad action grants the injured party the right to intentionally punish the bad actor through emotional or physical abuse, or to engage in vengeful retaliation, or to seize the mistake as an opportunity to gain on-going control and manipulation of the relationship. In the wake of a serious injury to the relationship, it is certainly incumbent on both people to do no further harm to the relationship or each other. Indeed, in that space, tenderness and compassion must be the guiding doctrines if the harm is to be repaired with the greatest speed and success. But it is not okay, in my very humble opinion, for the injuring party to dictate the progress of the healing. So long as progress is being made in a very real and sincere manner, that should be enough.
A good friend of mine is currently going through something similar with a man she deeply cared for. She is in pain and sad and grieving the relationship, and, merely 24 hours after breaking her heart, he is accusing her of being mean for withholding her friendship and “not getting past it.” Seriously, dude?
Like I always say, if you need absolution, see a priest.