Wednesday, April 11, 2012

a lesson learned over time

Many years back, I shared life with someone who, time would show, wasn't good for me. They were smart, funny, brash, had strong opinions, were a bit on the 'asshole' side [externally confident], took a while for me to see that even generally good people can be bad for you.

It was slow, it was subtle. We started out well: my over-empathy and 'mediator' personality fit well with their 'in your face' extroversion, giving me a stronger base and helping to soften them. But it started building, bit by bit...I was told that my introverted nature was 'wrong' and 'holding me back', that we should work on it. I was told that I was lacking in imagination because I loved what I was doing at work and didn't want to move into managerial roles [when I argued that I had gone the manager route and it didn't appeal to me, I was told that I was just being stupid and that I needed to climb the corporate ladder in order to make something of myself].

I was made fun of for my singing [I can't sing worth shit, I admit, but I still love music]. I love to write, but when I would proudly show something I'd done, I was told that I "was trying too hard". I used to draw [again, not well, but I enjoyed it], but got tired of every effort being first I would stop showing things to them, then I just stopped doing it. My fashion sense was mocked [I wasn't girly enough]. I was teased for liking food that was less-than-gourmet. The music I liked was mocked, and they spent a lot of time trying to educate me on what to listen for in 'real' music. I was taking guitar lessons, but got tired of not being able to practice without being laughed at for bad attempts or having a wrong note causing them to cringe and complain. I found myself avoiding friends, because I often felt that I had to apologize later for things that offended them...eventually I just stayed quiet and distanced myself from the conversations.

Eventually, I got stronger, and realized that the relationship wasn't good to either one of us. I ended it.

When I write all this down, it seems like it was a horrible relationship, like it should have been a Lifetime 'movie of the week'...but it wasn't like that. It had some very good parts, and the bad parts started out few and far between. It was over time, over years, as the patterns built up, as my frustration and hurt grew, that I started making the connections...and as I started pushing back, it got harder for us to get back to an even keel. So things escalated, until eventually, something gave.

As weird and stifling as those years were to me, I learned from them, learned very important lessons from them. I learned that I need not, should not, compromise the things that matter to me. I learned that sometimes the dysfunction is subtle, creeping in slowly over a very long period of the apocryphal 'frog in boiling water', I didn't realize the detrimental effect that these seemingly isolated incidents were having. I learned that being mocked, however smiling and 'for your own good' the mocker may be, can wear you down. I learned that a person can truly love you, and still be bad for you. And I learned that being alone can be preferable to being with someone with whom you can't be yourself.

So now I occasionally look at my life and try to apply those hard-earned lessons. I try harder to pay attention to patterns, to see and acknowledge something 'bad' before it becomes ingrained. I am trying to keep in touch with the people who help me be a better person, and to let go of the people who don't. It isn't easy, and a lot is risked by pushing back or letting go or moving on. But a lot can be gained as well...

[Addendum-20120412: LOL! Relevant XKCD (be sure to check the hover-text) ]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw you had got married and came to look for photos. Congratulations, you look beautiful. +1 on the name change.

As the person I presume you had shared your life with then, I could write down "my side" of the relationship, but it would look very similar to yours. The warning signs from the start. Communication and honesty replaced with mocking and masks. Distancing yourself from your friends instead of including them. Wanting things to be different and not knowing how to do it. Passion and caring replaced by abuse and disrespect. Wanting to end it much earlier but not having the courage.

It was a very bad relationship at the end, and that's what people tend to focus on. As we reconnected with our lost friends and discussed what happened, the pain is reinforced. When you see friends fall into those patterns or split up the memories return.

I don't think that much about our time together; so much has happened since then. Yet when I do I still try to think about the beginning, the young and the fresh, before the empathy drained away. Not with longing or melancholy, but to appreciate the journey and what I learned.

We're both in a much better place emotionally now, happily married to people better suited for us. Hopefully, we are better people for having that short time together. I think I am.