It’s crazy how just a little more information can completely change your view of a person – and of yourself. I have prided myself on being an open book, completely forthcoming, complicated, but ultimately willing to hash out those complications in painful detail so as to keep the lines of communication open and clear. But I have not been keeping up with this grand vision. There have been a number of things in my life that were so painful, so difficult to look at, that I just swept them under the proverbial rug and kept on marching along. It’s really a wonder that things went so well for as long as they did, given this glaring oversight.
What’s worse is that my behavior, something I thought I was doing of my own accord, in an attempt to be kind (even though it was killing me) is a direct result of emotional manipulation that I don’t believe either party realized was happening. I only got cued into it today, by a trained professional who pointed it out to me in detail and patiently walked me through. Of course, I somehow refused to see what she was saying for about five cycles, until it suddenly came into view, like one of those stupid Magic Eye posters from the 90s. How easy it is to prod me along a certain path, using only veiled references of guilt and shame. How desperately I want to help, to shoulder more than my half of the burden, to apologize for things that are completely out of my control. To bow down at the greatness of the men before me, and let myself be eclipsed.
I am not without blame. Not by a long shot. This is a direct result of growing up with some solid emotional manipulation at home, and that, in turn, has its roots in the fundamentalist Christian culture in which my hometown has been steeped for a century. As a result, though I might do my level best to be kind and understanding, this is going to take much more work. A lifetime of it. My dual need to be loved and to be fair makes it nearly impossible to stand up for myself. I simply cannot speak my mind when I think that something less than kind will come out. The old saying “think before you speak” was put to good use on me, and my thoughts, though judicious, are often not the kind of thing anyone will want to hear about themselves. I see too much. I am a true Scorpio. I know exactly what to say to sting, and it’s the first thing that wants to come out.
So I hold back, and I do not argue, under any circumstances. A lifetime of holding my tongue has turned into something like a panic attack as soon as voices are raised. So I freeze up, have trouble catching my breath, and can’t talk sometimes, which has erroneously been interpreted as “the silent treatment” (though the silent treatment is literally not talking to someone until you get what you want, and that is not at all what I do…I just can’t argue, and I get all weird and can’t breathe and my eyes start thrumming along with my heartbeat, and then I generally start to cry. If I can sit quietly for 10 minutes or so and just breathe, I get over it and can generally talk again). But either way, avoiding any topics that make me freak out is a malfunction that leads to misunderstandings. It needs to be dealt with.
The other half of this equation is seeing the ways in which I’ve been pushed to do things that I didn’t want to do, and how much this irritated me. All it took was a hangdog air, a guilty, embarrassed look that made me feel guilty for not taking care of him more. A shame that begot shame, and encouraged me to always be sympathetic, to never demand repayment in money, time, or reciprocated action. Explanations for being forgetful and sloppy, then that same old kicked puppy expression, a self-loathing that made it unfair to ask him to do more, to try harder. How could I, when he suffered so on his own? Depression, yes. But also a learned behavior of subtle manipulation, from multiple generations living in a household fraught with this secret language of love and loathing. Mostly harmless in small doses. Absolutely lethal over the course of three years. And still, at the end, the catalyst of the breakup was me, one of the only times I asked for more than he could give.
This sounds cruel, even as I write it. But I have to remind myself that sometimes truth is cruel, and it must be said if I’m going to keep my promise of being an open book. At first, I was horrified to find that it was all my fault. I could have prevented the breakup by just not getting upset, and never expressing my needs for physicality, and maybe just continuing to hold off on suggesting therapy. What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I try harder? Why didn’t I express myself in a different way? I was drunk, I cried, I said something passive aggressive. That’s not nice at all. But then I talked it through with a half-dozen other women who were amazed at my fortitude, and horrified at the mental gymnastics I’d been performing to keep telling myself that this was OK. For me, these were just the things you do for love. You never express dissatisfaction, or push a person to do anything else for your needs or pleasure. Wanting someone to do nice things for you is a purely selfish standpoint, right? But that’s broken thinking. Yes, love should be freely given, but that’s just the point. It needs to actually be given, not hinted at and never shown. I’m just so used to shoving myself into boxes to meet the needs of the men I assume won’t love me otherwise. I can’t keep doing this.
For love, you seek help. For love, you slow dance in the kitchen. For love, you find new ways to build a life together, despite your hangups. For love, you say what you’re thinking, and duke it out if you must. You might push away sometimes, but you pull close, too. I am full of regrets right now, but for the most part, feeling strangely better. I got dumped, but it gives me a chance to set myself on the right path. I’m too old to follow along, cleaning up someone else’s crumbs, boosting their ego, lying about how hurt I am at never having them return the favor. I am not cut out to be a mother. And right now, I have been given the opportunity to only be myself. So thank you for that gift, ex-boyfriend. I hope you find what you’re looking for. For that matter, I hope I do, too.