Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Only Thing I Can Change Is Me

One of the lovely things about getting older is getting over things a bit faster than I used to. I'm not talking about death or injuries (my sore ankles are certainly a contradiction to that statement), it's more along the lines of "hey, this sucks but I'm not getting stuck here". Sort of like hitting a scary and suddenly-out-of-nowhere pothole in a familiar road. Your car is okay, you are rattled for a bit, but then you realize it was just a shitty old pothole and you keep on moving, because you have to keep going.

We've had a tough winter in our family. Last fall I watched as a ballot measure I had cared about deeply and volunteered for fell through on election day. Add to that the end of all logic with the election of a man I personally loathe. Honestly, I felt a bit helpless, like I needed to go hang out in a blanket fort for a few months. Joe and I both have had health issues and Kiddo is... well, a growing kid, with all the fun and love and hard moments that go with a pre-adolescent human being.

Over the last month or so, I've been fighting hard to get out of the funk that I was in. Not full-on depressed, but definitely less excited or motivated about life than I like to be. Some things are practical changes like being more considerate about what I am putting into my body. I've upped the veggies, decreased the 'empty calorie' favorites like bread or pasta to goal of one serving a day, drinking a lot more water.... but not flogging myself for having the occasional burger and fries sort of meal. I'm trying to walk more, which is hard with the ankles, but I still do it. Maybe slower than usual, but moving feels good. Working in the yard feels good. Trying a yoga video for core and back strengthening. None of this is easy, but I don't mind it. I know that change comes gradually, and while my hormones and genetics are ganging up on me, I'm not going to just accept this lying down (in bed with a book, that is). Gotta give aging at least a little bit of a fight, right?

That said, there are also some things which happen that are completely out of my control. Last week I received an email from an old friend. I'd offered to get together and the email response was a surprise, sudden and unexpected exploding pothole of anger. I had been too remiss in making plans with her and she was pretty furious. While I hadn't realized this person was actually holding anger toward me, and had been for a long time,  I was now was painfully aware of it. Her unprovoked attack on both myself and my life was decisive and left me with the impression that she was done with me. Which hurt like hell. I went up to my room, had a good hard cry, which is what you do when someone you care about has let you know you are, indeed, a piece of shit.

What happened in the days after, though, surprised me. I didn't feel the need to defend myself. Instead, it occurred to me that, why should I grovel when this person had been going on for quite some time being angry at me, yet never asking me a simple question about why I haven't been living up to her expectations? It was almost strange to me that, while I could understand the kernel of truth in what she was implying, she was also capable of being an adult and just asking me to change how things were. It would have been simple. I could see my own part in the problem she was having... she wanted to see me more often and I do, sometimes, just get overwhelmed. I didn't communicate enough. When I had said I might be available at a certain time or day, instead of calling or communicating, I figured that, since I hadn't heard from her, she was fine. She wasn't fine.

I wish she would have asked me a question, made a request. "Hey, can we get a date on the calendar today? I hate wondering..."  "It really works best for me to make a plan right away instead of the long email back and forths"... none of these would have been upsetting to hear. I'm an adult. I'm sometimes a flake and I'm the first to admit it. It's also the case that I perhaps don't communicate well as to why these lapses occur. I don't want to bore her with the same old story: sick kid; husband working late sometimes--makes it harder to plan things; just plain effing tired from being teacher and mom all day... It's the same reason I don't tell my husband all of the things I do all day: because it would bore me to death. And when you have a friend who doesn't have kids, it does feel rather lame to say "I am feeling overwhelmed and sort of don't even want to plan anything beyond what can be cancelled at the last minute because I don't know if any of the things which could happen will, and frankly, I'm cross-eyed and want to be left alone."

So, I said nothing, and she said nothing... oh boy, it would have been good if both of us had said something.

I can see my part in this, but I also see, now, that apparently I was being tolerated. That my status as a homeschooling housewife is not worthy of respect because I'm not earning. Everything in her response to me was a vivid comparison of our lives and I came out looking pretty bad, from her perspective. "If you still want to get together, I'm available on X, Y and Z dates."

Um, really? You think that was a prelude to a friendly lunch?

What I realized, though, was that there were two things possibly going on here: either she had deliberately torpedoed the relationship and the dates thrown out were facetious, or that she really thought I was going to apologize and beg forgiveness for something I hadn't really known was a problem. Which might be a reasonable expectation in her own mind, because that's exactly what I've done before.

 I used to be a pushover and that's what she had come to expect from me. The only thing is, I've changed over the past few years. Somewhere in my mid forties, going toe-to-toe with my son's school, managing my family... I grew a backbone. It was liberating to learn that I am not responsible for everyone's feelings, a falsehood which had been instilled in me from a very early age. In the past, when conflict arose, it was my habit to regularly accept the blame and try to smooth things over. I wanted to be liked more than I wanted to be true to myself, and that caused a lot of problems with how I valued my own self. Now, on the other side of that, I am more than happy to share the burden of blame when it's truly mine, but I won't be responsible for what other people do or don't do.

Sometimes, there's no win available. There was no good way to meet up, feel safe, and respect myself. So, a short note: sorry, didn't mean to hurt you, we are at different places in life, I wish you and your husband well. Portland is a small town; I didn't want her to feel weird if we ran into each other. It was obvious the friendship had run its course with her, or why would she write what she did? "I think we are both too intelligent to pretend that you didn't mean exactly what you wrote." I wanted to give her an easy out. Forgiveness and no hard feelings.

I have changed.  A lot. I can't ungrow a backbone. It just doesn't work that way.

A few days ago, I received another angry email, 'sad that you are throwing away years of friendship'...No. It wasn't thrown away that; it was sacrificed for the sake of my own self-esteem.
She gets the last word: what response is there to more insults and anger? Only walking away and moving on.

People close to me will know that I've come a long way from where I started. I can't really fix what she thinks about me, or her anger-- I can only fix myself. Walking away from a soured relationship is not easy. Even with this hard exchange, one doesn't stop caring for someone. I had a dream last night that we had the conversation we should have had months ago. "I can handle it if you say I'm being flaky and you need me to be better about making plans, okay?"  It would have been nice to be given this opportunity in real life, instead of in a dream on roller skates, but maybe this is one of life's lessons. When you hit the pothole, it's okay to pull over, catch your breath and take inventory. Make sure your muffler isn't hanging off the back. Call Triple A if you blow a tire and need roadside assistance. But by all means, get back in the car and keep going forward. Don't get stuck.

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