In the Neighbourhood of Make-Believe

8, April 2011 at 4:24 PM (conflicted, defeated, this is madness, trapped) (, , , , , , , , , )

One of the things I struggled with most during this relationship was trying to pretend various things: pretend I didn’t know what I did, pretend I don’t think the things I do, pretend I didn’t feel the way I did, pretend things weren’t happening the way they were, pretend I didn’t have things on my mind that I did, pretend he cared more than he was showing me, pretend he hadn’t told me so many lies or broken so many promises, pretend I forgot things I couldn’t, pretend he didn’t just say that, pretend I could get over something I couldn’t, pretend I didn’t have desires, pretend I could live without affection, appreciation or praise, pretend I’m someone I’m not, the list goes on and on. I value and strive for honesty, perhaps above all other things, and that includes being honest with myself. I am not very good at pretending; I cannot do it for very long, and even if I’m trying, I cannot do it completely. So here too I was no good at it, and the only thing it resulted in was tremendous and near-constant internal conflict. I knew every time I expressed how I was feeling or said what was on my mind or tried to get to the bottom of something, I’d get arguments, hours and hours of arguments; I also knew if the arguments went on too long or happened too often, his unhappiness and displeasure would trump all other subjects and all he’d want to do is leave. Another double-bind: either pretend everything inside and out is fine– and in order for me to be able to do that, I’d have to learn how to believe things which weren’t real or true– or get left. For me, that’s a lose-lose situation. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know that.

From his point of view, which was oblivious to and of me most of the time, things probably seemed like they came sometimes out of nowhere– gently-expressed suggestions, requests, reminders or concerns were never heard, things I told him about myself and my life either never took hold in his memory or were discarded from it. In an attempt to bring levity or humour to this situation, I often said it was like being in “Groundhog Day”: he was like the characters who started every day the same brand-new, having no idea anything was out of the ordinary, and I was Bill Murray not able to figure out what was going on and wanting to throw myself under a bus. I can’t function in that universe. Unlike Bill Murray, I do not nor do I desire to get to the point where, after I have learned and can anticipate everyone’s response, I can manipulate everything to my own personal advantage. This gets dull even to Bill Murray after awhile, because he can’t pretend there’s any truth in his interactions with others. In the back of his mind, he still knows it’s just pretend, and pretending isn’t stopping the maddening tape-loop. So to my former partner, I’m sure I sometimes looked just as irrational as Bill Murray did to the other characters, who couldn’t understand what he was yelling about or why.

I was suffering in every sense of the word, trying to reconcile what I knew with how I felt with how he wanted things to be with how I needed things to be with how things actually were, and all the while doubting the validity of my feelings, my needs, my thoughts, my concerns and even my reality or existence. Madness. All I wanted was a little truth. But with all the lies, contradictions and broken promises, my confidence, my ego, my boundaries and my ability to trust even myself were in tatters. I didn’t want to end the relationship, I wanted it to get better. But what constituted “better” just kept getting more and more watered-down, until finally I just started looking for some way to cope.

One day I found this quote from Fred Rogers:

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”

I was blown away by the insight, sympathy and wisdom of it. At the time I found it, my partner happened to be in a phase of reflecting upon his life-long inability to make substantial emotional connections with people, his difficulties with articulating his feelings, his dissatisfaction with life, his inability to open up, and his problems with how he expresses anger and frustration. So not only did I think the quote described him exactly, I thought he would be receptive to the spirit of what Mr. Rogers was getting at with it. I added the quote to goodreads.com, a social-networking site organised around reading and books that my former partner and I are on, hoping he would see it and think about it (and yay! 11 users have liked it so far and added it to their profiles too!). Maybe we could even talk about it. Maybe there’s a new way of looking at what was going on. Maybe I could cope with our relationship difficulties better if just saw him differently– not as someone who was treating me or behaving as he did out of ignorance, carelessness or meanness, but as someone who can’t help it or who doesn’t know any other way, and who can’t simply “get up out of his chair and walk” just because our relationship needs him to. I don’t mean to give the impression that this new perspective would have made me think I should just learn to live with poor treatment, but rather that maybe I/we were going at the problems from the wrong angle and with the wrong attitude. Maybe some kind of emotional therapy was needed, and with that, more time because progress would be slow, and more patience, because success would be measured in baby-steps.

Well, I probably thought that because all that was being drilled into me our whole relationship was that I wasn’t patient/understanding/tolerant/supportive/etc, enough. 🙄 So, go figure.

After reading glowing reviews about the book this quote came from, The World According to Mister Rogers, I ordered the book for my partner and gave it to him for Christmas. He was reading a lot of self-help books at the time, and this was just a tiny book of quotes about life and love and people and relationships that takes an hour or less to read. I figured he could fit an hour in somewhere, or just look at it now and then. I figured it would give us some things to think about, maybe even provide talking-points about ourselves, what we want from our lives and this relationship, or what we can and cannot do about what was going on. I also gave him a calendar with his favourite animal on it (raccoons), so he could better keep track of and communicate his schedule (which was getting busier as he was adding more days he wanted to “do things for himself alone”); a raccoon sticker to put on his new car; a raccoon pin for his new book bag (his previous one got stolen from his old car); a stainless-steel water bottle (with a raccoon on it, of course) so he didn’t have to use plastic anymore (coincidentally his other had just broken, too); and a blank journal (his old one also stolen) with an opossum on it, for his drawings, the million little notes he makes for himself, or whatever he wants to put in it. From him I got a cutting board. Which I gave him the money for that I’d saved out of my tax return so we could all buy each other Christmas presents. I’m such an idiot.

Abuse experts identify caretaking nurturers, “fixers”, givers and optimist-idealists as the most likely victims, the most obvious targets, or the longest-suffering enablers of abusive or controlling men. Hey me, way to go.

Last I asked, and even though I’ve mentioned it several times, he said he still had not seen the quote on my goodreads page. He barely used the journal (he decided to start using index cards bound by a rubber band instead), and he never used the calendar or the sticker. I half-wonder if he’d even be using the water bottle if water weren’t necessary for survival. He broke the pin in an angry fit while grabbing his bag in a hurry to leave me again. And of course he never read the book.

So at least something I did spoke to 11 strangers on a website, but no matter what I tried I could never get through to the one in my house who said he loved me. 😳

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