I’m getting a lot of unfriendings lately, and I know that part of that is normal and natural for a breakup. But I also know that it feels like the death of a thousand cuts, because in part I measure my worth by how valuable my friends are to me, how much I admire them and how much I like them.
So let’s start by saying that even though this is the first time for me, I know it’s normal and natural in a breakup for folks who were mutual friends of all partners in a relationship to choose sides. This happens even if there’s no reason for it – sometimes people just gravitate to a certain person in the relationship, sometimes a friend doesn’t really like one individual and sees no reason to continue once the relationship is sundered. Certainly there are quite a few folks who have told me of no desire to continue with Hanne now that we’re split up. I think it’s a shame, and I don’t think it’s necessary. I’d rather that Hanne and I could continue to have all the same remarkable friends that we started out sharing.
I guess the stragglers who choose sides late in the game or express it to me late in the game are the hardest for me. Sometimes it seems a pretty trivial thing, like I commented on something they wrote and it reminded them that I’m no longer in the inner circle. But it’s hard not to take that pretty personally, especially since it’s so unilateral and so uncommunicative, just a switch flipping off where it was previously on.
I also think, though this is hard for me to conjecture, hard for me to bear thinking, because it’s hard to feel the additional impact, that folks are taking my internal processing and external silence as cutting them off. If that’s true, then I’m cutting off the world, and it’s not personal. It’s just how I work. It’s part of decades of Dad’s insistence that I keep a low profile, that I not cause trouble, that I take care of my emotional shit before I go asking for help, and probably a little miscalibration from my constant clashes with Hanne for the six to nine months prior our official split-up. (There was a lot of silence then. It was that or risk an emotionally violent clash where neither of us could understand where it was coming from. Very rough.)
It’s in my nature to withdraw while I try to get my house in order. I think it’s usually not noticeable. Because of my early childhood training in emotional control and conflict resolution, it usually takes me seconds or minutes to do that. But because of all that was going on, all that happened or was happening or about to happen, there was a point where I just couldn’t get right up again. And I was down for a very long time. Down and silent and hurt, raging, in despair, lonely and helpless.
I took the subject for this post, paraphrased because the piece is in Baltimore, from a piece of art that Hanne commissioned for me from Liz for my birthday in 2011. It’s art and calligraphy with lots of charming, loving phrases about how we love each other. I think that still holds. At least it did last time I checked with Hanne. That we can no longer live together, that our friendship took some serious, mighty bruisings and that we need some time apart, and out of communication to maybe heal that is incontrovertible, but the love and regard for each other is still there, battered though it is.
And speaking of bruisings, why silence, Malcolm? Because I’m still reeling and recalibrating. Aside from my long, intense and traumatic breakup with Hanne (and the grieving and loss associated), I have also had other things going on in my life. Dad, demented, brain injury, had cranial surgery in February of 2010, spent 6 months or so with Hanne and me (doing serious harm to and straining our already rock relationship to a breaking point) and is now, long term, possibly until he dies, in a long term care house, a nursing home. I visit him weekly and I’m lucky when he remembers who I am, when he remembers something I told him 5 minutes ago. Somewhere in that hot mess I was grieving Dad too.
This flared up in winter/spring of 2010/2011. In part because of that and in part because of the breakup and in part because I need healing, a rest, I’m selling my house in Baltimore and moving back to my childhood (High School) home in Berkeley, CA. I’m helping run my Dad’s estate, helping bring the house back into full repair, helping Mom manage Dad’s situation. I’m negotiating the repercussions, still, of the breakup. I’m negotiating a new relationship that I found along the way (from OK Cupid, oddly – and we’re still randomly discovering these sort of improbable things we have in common). These are serious, huge, life changes singly. All together? I’ll let you imagine that.
So yeah, life’s rough, with diamond patches of pure bliss, and in that way it is similar to every other day in my life but more intense, more immediate, more draining, more loving? More of everything and sometimes it feels like I’m simply not going to make it through the day. And sometimes I have very escapist fantasies. And as long as they remain fantasies, I should be okay. And they do and they are.
But I have been keeping to myself and I think that’s been to my detriment because in the face of my stony silence, some friends who might have been on the fence about me versus Hanne (though again, I exhort everyone still on the fence NOT to take sides – there’s no practical reason that I know of to do that) maybe chose Hanne because at least she was talking.
It is not in my nature to dwell on the bad, or at least it isn’t any more. That’s a change in me that’s recent and I think very much for the good. But let me lift the covers and give you a taste.
Before I turned all of it around (by finally going to therapy that Hanne had been begging me to go to for years, on and off, by taking on the lessons of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, by getting through this neutron star of depression, anxiety, fear, introversion and seeing light on the other side… freedom) I was crushed by all this life going on around me. I was grieving the lost (one-sided, Dad living in dementia-land) relationship with my Dad, grieving the changes in my relationship with Hanne that ultimately wrought our split-up, grieving loss and change in general. It was rough. I was suicidal (privately), escapist, desperate for sleep, for rest, for any sign of hope and any cure. I think that Hanne matched me there or was worse (and she certainly has had her own life-changing issues to deal with), but I was sincerely not equipped to handle all of that AND help Hanne AND help my father AND help my mother AND cultivate my career AND find my own peace in anything but desolation.
In our split up and talks, discussions, fights and screaming fights (and a notable one (TRIGGER WARNING: I talk about violent rage in the link) where I punched the fridge and immediately regretted it) during which we separately and mutually engaged in a lot of nasty, dirty, unseemly fighting tactics including siliencing, gaslighting, shouting, screaming, witch hunting, guilting, icing each other out and desperate, clinging codependence and loss, it became pretty clear to me that there was a lot of mutual lostness, helplessness and despairing loss.
And I couldn’t do much about Hanne’s. It was ultimately why I agreed to split, agreed to share assets, agreed with all I could – feeling guilty, feeling desolate, feeling lonely will get me to agree to a lot of generousness in hopes of healing the world.
I guess, though, I probably overextended the generosity because now I feel poor. Not in material goods. What deficit I have there will be healed with time. But I feel poor in friends I used to have. I have driven away some or neglected some into despairing of me, and for that I’m deeply and truly sorry. I wish I could wave a magic wand and fix it but I know that the truth is far more work.
Which I am absolutely willing to do. But I won’t chase you. If you’re gone, you’re gone, and I will get over it. But if you are on the fence and you want to talk and you want to see it further friendship can be made to work, please give me a chance and talk with me. Far too many are already gone with nary a word. And though it should be least of all given my other worries, it really is significan to me that the most frequent mode of departure is just cutting me off. I’d love to have at least a civil conversation about it before my former friends leave. So I can at least know what the perception is of any wrong I may or may not have done. So I might argue for some forgiveness and, if nothing else, closure.