I believe we are indelibly marked by our experiences. And in that way, we are forever evolving. Or devolving, as the case may be.
Yet, others’ memories of us are static, and often the memory does not match the moment.
We fought again this weekend. This is no surprise by any means–the weekends seem minefields for conflict. In the end, I summarized to him our relationship dynamics as I was experiencing them: He’s wanting autonomy and freedom, I’m wanting love and belonging.
And then he added: But there’s a specter hanging over our relationship of things done in the past.
I knew what he was talking about–it’s always the same thing: my involving his employer in our breakup. The email I sent with a warning about trusting him, and revealing intimate details about how’d he’d used company time and property to entertain female love interests, how he’d make suggestive comments about staff, and even how he interfered with employee investigations.
It’s no surprise that his employer counseled him, not to amend his behavior, but to rid himself of “this crazy person”–me.
In all fairness, I wrote that email in the height of crazy–a frenzy incited by rejection and heartbreak and anger. I wanted him to feel the pain I felt.
And it backfired.
I became–I was–“the crazy one,” eliciting nothing but sympathy from his employer and advice that he could partner himself with someone much, much better–in personality and looks.
That stung when he told me.
And I spent nearly a year emotionally prostrating myself before him, so desperate to be deemed worthy of his love and keeping. I begged, bawled, and acquiesced. Until I didn’t. But even that didn’t last long. I wasn’t ready to leave. And sometimes I wonder if my attempts to leave were not subconscious ways to try and manipulate him into changing his behavior. Which, of course, he didn’t.
I am not the same as I was a year ago. And the truth is, that I’ve reached a peace about our relationship. If asked, I’d tell you he was a great guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s the greatest guy for me.
And yet, the specter.
That specter of the pain, guilt, shame, exposure, and vitriol that surrounded our breakup last year. The dent that cannot be easily removed.
I want to make this his problem. This is his inability to let go of the past. This is his continuing to cast shame on me. This is his way of maintaining distance that he knows I hate.
But I, too, am holding onto a specter through which I interpret and predict his behaviors. In my mind’s eye, I play out our breakup, and see his social media account plastered with pictures of them together. In my mind’s eye, I see him refusing to honor my boundaries, and respecting another’s. In my mind’s eye, I see his wedding announcement. Or baby announcement. Or simply an, “I’m finally happy,” announcement.
If he views me through a specter of the pain he’s felt, I certainly return that.
No matter how hard I may try to lean into the vulnerability, there is certainly a large “but” keeping me safely attached to the invulnerability. The yes, but….he won’t listen. The yes, but…I know what he’ll say. The yes, but…I know what he’ll do.
And yet lately, he’s surprised me. He has listened. He hasn’t said what I expected him to. He has made efforts to respond in healthy ways.
But there are times when he doesn’t–such as this weekend. And I get so caught up in the irrationality of seeing him throw himself on the floor in front of me, that I stop seeing and listening in the moment, and start seeing and listening only to the specter that lingers between us.
I’m venturing to guess that this is something he’s doing, too. And when we’re both engaged in giving attention to the specters above, we’re not giving attention to each other. We’re not able to listen or lean into the vulnerability or practice compassion.
And that’s when we fail–not just each other, but ourselves.