Category Archives: friendships

if you need absolution, see a priest

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.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, relationships

two years

This weekend will mark an anniversary for me: two years to the day since I loaded my earthly possessions in a moving truck and formally separated my life from my husband’s after 11 years of marriage.

The day of my departure played out like a suburban melodrama. I had scheduled my move for a Friday, so that my children would be in school, but that morning we awoke to find my youngest running a fever and generally feeling rotten.  So, my five-year-old spent the day numbly watching her mother extricate herself from the family home. Feeling her eyes follow me around the house that day was agonizing. My husband stayed home from work, ostensibly to watch my daughter, but subsequent events suggest to me that he would have been there anyway. That morning, he alternated between standing with his arms crossed, surveying the moving men as if insuring that I didn’t take anything to which I was not entitled, and whistling as he moved through the house taking care of small things with a kind of forced nonchalance that I found grating, but would have gladly suffered all day, had I known what was to come.

A month earlier, my husband had made it clear that, other than tossing all my clothes into trash bags and depositing them in the guestroom (“Was Daddy helping you pack, Mommy?” “Yes, dear. Wasn’t that nice of him?”), he was not going to lift a hand to assist me. So, I hired two strong Mexicans with minimal English and a truck to do the heavy lifting. They were kind and by the end of the day were offering sympathetic half-smiles of encouragement. They could see how much I needed them, I think, because my child and my Mexicans were witnesses to possibly the most hurtful moments of my life that day.

Of all the acquaintances and friends I knew, of all the women and men whom I reached out to during my 12 years in our town, only one friend offered to help me move that day. She arrived, despite her husband’s opposition and the disapproval of our mutual friends, in ready-to-work clothes and with a can-do attitude. Within moments, she had plunked herself down in my living room and was busily packing my china. Had I been less numb, her gesture of compassion and kindness would have likely reduced me to tears, as they did later when I was able to fully appreciate that day.

Next to arrive were the couple that my husband and I had been closest to during the last year or so of our marriage (we’ll call them Brooke and John, because those are their names). John came first, and joined my husband for a beer in the living room, as I bustled around them, removing items and apologizing (yes, seriously) for disrupting their conversation. And then later Brooke came sweeping in, right past me without a word, my former best friend who hadn’t spoken to me since I told her that I was leaving my husband. Just as I finished in the living room, the three of them followed me to the den, standing casually in the middle of room, and I was again reduced to shamefully collecting my belongings as I shuffled around them and tried to be as small and inconspicuous as possible. Even in that moment, I understood their need to punish me for daring to break a covenant that we’d all held so dear, and the nature of my guilt was such that I bore their condemnation with alacrity.

Like most people my age, I have suffered my share of intentional acts of meanness directed at me, but the memory of leaving my home under those circumstances currently surpasses all others. It was a cut so deep and painful that I could barely process it for months. Were it not for my Irish stubbornness and determination, I would likely have fallen apart, truly. Even now, it takes my breath away.

It was a long day. My friend had to return to her familial duties after a few hours, but my Mexicans and I worked until after dark. At the end of the day, I offered them each a beer from my new fridge, which they accepted ruefully and drank quickly. As they left, the older one turned back to look at me and ask, “You be okay, yes?” “Yes,” I replied, but I don’t think either of us was convinced.

That horrible day mostly seems very distant now. Within days of my move, a few kind couples offered various assistance and support, every single one of which brought me to the verge of tears. In those dark days, I saw the true character of many of the people around me. The people who surprised me pleasantly will never know the indebtedness I feel for their small acts of kindness. As for those individuals who were so certain that I was making a huge and horrible and unforgivable mistake, I have thought recently how perturbed they must be to see me now. They say that living well is the best revenge. I hope that’s true. It’s the only kind of revenge I really believe in.

I have often thought that how we feel about a milestone is more about where we are in our life and how our previous expectations fit with where we are, than actually about the date or occasion we’re marking. For instance, my 25th birthday – when I was broke and un-coupled and struggling through graduate school – was far more difficult for me than any birthday since, primarily because I was unhappy with where I was and frustrated that my life didn’t match the expectations I had for myself.

This anniversary is oddly sweet for me. The initial elation of freedom and blossoming possibility that I felt during the first year has passed, but so has the loneliness and doubt of the phase that followed. I feel like my new beginning actually commenced within the last three months, not two full years ago, as if I had been previously in a holding place, a benign purgatory of sorts, over the last two years.

One of my more colorful friends likens my recent history to a difficult birth. She invoked this analogy not long ago to explain to me that leaving my husband and the home we’d made was like detaching from the uterus and beginning the painful journey through the birth canal.  I pushed my way through, gradually, until recently, when I finally emerged, damp and blinking, into the new world I’d created for myself. In some ways, her analogy is a bit graphic, but I appreciate how vividly it captures the struggle one encounters when separating from that which is safe and warm and secure and embarking on a world that seems wrought with uncertainty and newness.

Of course I had certain ideas about where I’d be two years hence from my separation, and I can honestly report that not much of my life looks as I’d anticipated it. There have been losses, and regrets, and stumbles, but there have also been insights and gifts and love. I cannot honestly say that I would change much. True, I’m not where I thought I’d be, but I think there’s a strong case to be made that where I am is even better. And for that, I am truly and completely grateful.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, single mom

hello, i’m mrs. jones.

Shortly before I announced to the world that I was leaving my marriage, I had a bizarre conversation with my then-best girlfriend.  We were in my kitchen, one evening during a dinner party I was hosting, and she was helping me tidy up after the meal.  We were talking about the second home my husband and I had purchased and how much fun it would be to have weekends away — all of us together — up in the mountains during the coming winter.  And then, with a smile, she said it:  “You know, y’all are the Jones.  You’re the ones that have it all.  The rest of us are just lucky to keep up with you.”

The air left my lungs as I bent over to the load the dishwasher and I mumbled some attempt at a witty reply, but my head spun with her pronouncement. Was that really what she thought?  Could she really not see how terribly unhappy I was?  Did my husband and I really seem that right for each other?  God, couldn’t she see that I was dying inside??

True, I hadn’t told anyone how I felt.  At that point, I wasn’t even sure myself.  I hadn’t yet determined that my marriage was the reason for my depression and grief.  I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that I’d been mourning a relationship that was still on life support.  But I did know that something was terribly wrong and that I felt like anyone who glanced at me could see it written plainly on my face, and yet she — my closest friend — did not. 

In that moment, I saw my first glimpse of what would unfold months later:  the utter shock on my friends’ faces as I told them I was leaving, the complete shunning I received from some acquaintances, the gossip that analyzed my “sudden” action.  To them, it would seem like I was upending perfection, tossing away all the good stuff we all want and strive for.  To me, it felt like the final, gasping breath of a woman flinging herself from her gilded cage in a desperate attempt to save her soul from a quiet, silent death. 

I never wanted to be the mythical Jones’ whom everyone struggled to match and keep pace with, and I don’t think that my ex did either.  But somehow that’s where we found ourselves, performing the roles of the couple who seemed to have it all, when in fact, we were missing everything that really mattered.

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Filed under friendships, relationships