No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
John Donne (1572-1631)
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions
Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris
The Human Beings
“I’m just a person”
“I’m just a person,” was K’s response when I confronted her recently about calling C and a few other things. It is one of the most heartfelt statements anyone has made to me in the last six months. It cuts through all the other noises of thinking and feeling.
Often in this train wreck, I’ve treated her as something other than a person. Sometimes I’ve treated her like an ex-wife, my mistress, my fuck, and my secret. Sometimes I’ve treated her like a love, a wife, and someone important. However, because of our history, I haven’t talked about her or treated her like a person.
That needs to stop.
“I’m just a person,” is K’s plea from her heart to my heart. It was her plea for me to talk with her and listen to her. She is asking me to listen, not simply as her ex-husband or someone with a history within the dynamic, but as a person seeking the same acceptance I too am seeking.
It is the same plea I’ve made that has fallen on the now tone-deaf ears of C.
How could I deny K’s anguish when I’m so open about my own?
I’ve often talked about C and K in fairly abstract terms. I think I need to take some time and clarify details on those relationships, and my role in the dynamics as I see them. I want you to see both of them as people too.
Neither C or K are going to necessarily agree with my take.
K is my ex-wife. We were married for nine years.
On the day I left, I packed my things into my truck while she was at work and left a letter on her nightstand. I gave her no dignity or closure. I was finished and just wanted to move on with my life…with minimal fighting
I left her for a jumble of reasons having nothing to do with C. Although, I’m still not sure K believes that.
I will mention she is mortified people reading my blog consider her a skank, whore, side-piece, home-wrecker, psycho or some equally ugly term. She reads the comments. She reads your online journals. She sees your Twitter feed.
She too has been betrayed. Be me. By her ex-husband. By men her whole life. By friends. By women. By family. She knows the hurt of being betrayed and believes she has no one to talk with about her pain that won’t judge her.
She’s been sexually harassed at work by a coworker. Assaulted. Raped. Neglected. Abused. When they talk about the #metoo movement they are talking about K’s experiences too.
She came into our relationship after an incredibly abusive and neglectful marriage. Her ex-husband is the one percent the psychologists refer to when discussing narcissism. He is far more than simply a selfish prick whereas I can at times be a selfish prick.
For this reason, I wanted to own a few truths. After all, she is a person too.
First of all, there is a lot to admire about K including her intelligence, passion, commitment to her family, work ethic, and an unrelenting pursuit of her objectives. K is an educated, smart, successful, sexy, sensuous, independent woman with a great deal of awareness of her own power. She is an amazing cook, writer, and photographer.
She is a fantastic dancer. She likes a good rumble and then a good fucking.
Is K perfect? Obviously not.
First of all, her taste in men is clearly suspect.
However, I will say unequivocally, she would never have emotionally or sexually cheated on our relationship. She fought to make it better.
At other times we just fought.
We fought over sex, money, restaurants, jewelry, families, children, values, what constitutes claustrophobia, and occasionally what the best detour was around construction.
We once had a fierce daylong argument over whether Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell was a courageous non-conformist raising important questions about man’s place alongside nature or a non-conforming loser whose misplaced idealism resulted in getting himself and his girlfriend mauled to death by a grizzly.
Often the fights were verbally ugly. Her fighting style is more ninja while mine was more napalm.
Neither of us ever felt safe to be vulnerable to the other.
After reflecting on something she wrote to me recently, I’m not sure how much of the relationship problems weren’t driven by anything other than our own damage and expectations of the other person. Those expectations became pre-meditated resentments and grounds for withholding emotional and sexual vulnerability.
Of course, like other people, I have my own trust issues, lots of family of origin damage, and can be relentlessly vague and obsessively private. Some will see that as secret-keeping and dishonest.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is just none of anyone else’s business.
If she press me too hard, or too long, and I would walk away mumbling under my breath and looking for a doughnut shop or whiskey. Sometimes both. I just want to avoid what I felt is a meaningless fight.
In all fairness, if you are going to fight with K, you better be prepared. You best bring your A game…and a dictionary. Her family marks on the calendar when she is wrong in her facts because it happens so rarely.
Press K too hard and she will simply skin you alive. Also, she has an amazing set of knives and a wealth of kitchen skills.
The result is aspects of our marriage were complex…and complicated. And at times emotionally and verbally abusive. However, because K is a fighter, and an eternal optimist, she looks at the time invested and decided it was worth more energy..
For nearly two years following my leaving, K got near-silent treatment and trickle truth – and kept fighting for answers.
Eventually, my guilt over her pain swept away my boundaries and I said intimate things to K because she was hurting. My prideful solution was to tell her half-truths to make her feel better so I would feel better.
My worse sin, and there are more than a few, was telling K “I love her.” This statement was honest, but not truthful, opening the floodgate for real and misleading conversations with K. The truth is I was never going to leave C.
However, once it is said you cannot unring that bell either.
The emotional caretaking eventually became sexual caretaking.
If K knew the depth and breadth of my relationship with C she would never have been involved with me. Right out of the gate I lied to K about my reasons for leaving the marriage and about the terms and conditions of my relationship with C.
Initially, I enjoyed the sex but hedonism is non-sustainable. Perspective is all relative to the proximity to the pain. I’m sure three miles out the iceberg looked stunning in the moonlight from the deck of the Titanic too.
K occasionally suffers from bouts of laser-like focus and impulsiveness. When she gets into a mood she can be cruel and relentless. As such, K took actions to intrude in my life with C that were self-serving and a reaction to the lies and secrets I built over years.
These are the types of behavior K wouldn’t have engaged in if I had been truthful and honest from the start. Without a doubt, my deceptions and manipulations clearly set the ball in motion.
K’s personality type kept it rolling.
C reasonably found K’s actions creepy, intimidating, and scary. C applied intent based on previous life experiences and watching too much Shameless. She assumed the worse intentions instead of simply calling K and asking for clarification.
C doesn’t do that. She assumes the worse, files it away for future reference, and moves on.
Because I knew the whole story I didn’t condemn K and instead made excuses for K’s behavior. As such, in hindsight, perhaps C understandably distanced herself even further from me and the relationship. I don’t know. Now I’m guessing at motives.
As a result, I was forced to keep darker secrets and tell more extravagant lies in an effort to keep K’s focus off of my relationship with C, to protect C, and to protect my secrets.
I clearly failed on all three fronts.
Regardless of any nuances in my decisions and K’s actions, the result is, I turned K into an unwitting mistress. I deceived her into being a co-conspirator to my lies and secret keeping. It is a role she would never have chosen for herself. Once she discovered what I did it has caused her a great deal of humiliation, hurt, and understandable anger.
As I mentioned earlier, I can only guess (and do) about K’s motives for calling C, but it is hard from my perspective to see it in any other light than a hurt person lashing out to hurt others. K, of course, denies anything other than altruistic motives. I think this is honest but not truthful.
I hurt K badly and, after all, she is just a person too. I betrayed her, lied to her, abused her trust, and abandoned our marriage. As such, it is hard for me to see her actions in any other light than malicious.
I ask myself, “How would a reasonable person react?” Nothing I did was particularly reasonable so I’m not sure of the best answer.
However, this perspective allows me to have some compassion for K too. I understand how unacknowledged hurt, anxiety, pride, revenge, and jealousy will taint the way we see the world and blind us to our motives and truths.
I’ve come to believe most people don’t really know why they do the things they do. Usually, we take actions and then justify ourselves after the fact. Meanwhile, below the line hurt, pride, revenge, and jealousy often shade the inner truth driving our actions.
We can say honestly why we do things but are unable to say truthfully. Truthfulness is the heartwood of vulnerability. Honesty is simply the leaves on the tree and will change with the seasons.
I cycled through a lot of seasons to justify my betrayal and subsequent behaviors. To get to the heart of my betrayal, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies requires a great deal more cutting and less tree shaking.
Just like my betraying of C, there are consequences of my actions which included K calling C. K didn’t deserve what I did to her.
I will have to live the rest of my life knowing I did this to another person.
C was my Partner for seven years. I loved C and I’ve never given so much of myself to one person.
Which only hurt K more and drove K’s jealousy. My attempts at hiding my passion and life from K created secrets. Those secrets created a need to create new secrets I needed to keep from C.
While I gave K only scraps, C was given all my enthusiasms, passions, and energy. I gave C attention, support, and encouragement. I enthusiastically embraced the role of cheerleader.
I was fully invested emotionally, mentally, sexually, physically, financially, and spiritually to a future with her. Borrowing from writer L.R. Knost, I loved C, “intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally”.
From the outside it may appear as love bombing. However, in reality, she was always my deep and heartfelt passion. I was never afraid to act as such.
I wanted her to know she owned my heart and I belonged to her. I never wanted to be that timid and shy lover. She stoked my passions and I wanted to give them all to her. I was never afraid to show people I lived C, to brag about her work, to be a cheerleader for her accomplishments.
Everywhere I went I talked to people about how important C and my life with C meant to me. I told family, friends, clients, and the occasional bartender. I’d take my phone out and show strangers and friends pictures of her, her art, her kids, our dogs, and our travels.
For the first time in my life I was willing to take a risk and be vulnerable.
Six months after we ended I’m still referring people to her website and to her work. Six months later I’m still proud she was part of my life even if that part of my life is over. I still want her to be successful and happy. Even if it isn’t with me.
Even as she lashes out.
I have remorse over my behavior but I have no regrets over our life together. Every moment together I tried to be a better man…even as I was failing her in other ways.
Anyone that ever saw us together knew how passionately, deeply, and romantically I loved C. C always knew. C still does even if she refuses to recognize it. Because of my betrayal, everyone now knows how imperfectly I love her too.
Artist friends describe us at art shows as, “the cutest couple at summer camp.” A local friend told me recently, people were caught off guard by my betrayal because behind the scenes C and I were described as, “The Golden Couple of YoYo Town.”
Those are some tough expectations.
Too often we expect our partner to be the hero of our life. When they fall off their pedestal it is heartbreaking to learn they are human too. That too is a consequence of my infidelity and of the pridefully unrealistic and unfair expectations I place on myself to protect C.
I set the stage for the failure. Pride has uses but it can also be a razor-sharp sword cutting everyone involved.
My betrayal may have struck C so dramatically because she didn’t believe she was that emotionally vulnerable to me or maybe she didn’t believe I was capable of such duplicity over such a long period of time.
Maybe both of these things and more.
In truth, clearly I wasn’t able to maintain the deceptions, but that won’t be how it is perceived by C. For all the talk of being simple folk, people are richly complex.
C is one of the most disciplined, focused, and committed individuals I’ve ever known. Once she is committed to a path no outside force going to change her mind. She is more than simply stubborn, private, and prideful. She’s rebellious, free-spirited, unyielding, and at times unforgiving.
She knows her power and uses it.
People have underestimated C her entire life. Ex-husbands, old boyfriends, family, and strangers have told her she wouldn’t have children, couldn’t make a living painting, and couldn’t survive on her own. Someone told her once she would make more money selling fuzzy pink rabbits than paintings. They called her Vision a fantasy. She proves them all wrong every day.
She knows who she is. So do I.
I see her, which is why she loved me. I never wanted her to be anything other than who she is. That is why she allowed me to be her Partner. I knew her priorities were as a mother, painter, and bohemian. I came much further down the list.
I knew my place. She knew hers.
However, this also left little room for error in our relationship.
I never expected her to be everything in my life. I never planned on being everything in hers. I’m old enough and experienced enough to know that expectations are premeditated resentments.
I simply enjoyed our Partnership. I simply wanted to write a long story together.
However, like all persons, C is not perfect.
She is an emotional distancer in my opinion. If it’s hard she ghosts. If it’s complicated she ghosts. She’d rather go around the problem than deal with the problem.
For example, when there were problems with the Twins behavior she’d fall back on the old, “You better not or S will get mad.”
The first time we visited her sister’s at Christmas the boys were being boys, she yelled across the house past twenty people, “You boys better stop or S will make you stop!”
I was mortified. How was this my job?
However, like so much, the hard job became my default role. I became the Heavy. I was responsible for carrying the emotional weight of the hard conversations in our life. If she didn’t want to do it, she just ghosted on the topic. It was my job to protect her and keep her safe from the things she didn’t want to deal with.
C is often unable, or unwilling, to clearly articulate what she needs and wants. Like many people, she too has vulnerability issues. Which left me to guess.
As a result, I became the Pursuer, she was the Distancer. On issues where her view wasn’t going to change I let it slide. On other issues, I relied on a more intimate process of getting to the truthful and honest portions of what she needed and wanted.
None of this is a judgment. It is neither good or bad.
People do what people do. It was simply our way of dealing with the really hard things. Filtered through the kaleidoscope of hindsight and hurt, I see these behaviors added a layer of complexity making our relationship more unstable than I thought.
I know C would never have sexually cheated in our relationship. It isn’t her way. However, unlike K she’s never been a fighter for relationships if it is a distraction from her Vision to paint.
C trusts her Vision and is committed to her Vision’s voice. Her Vision only knows one direction. It is why she has never taken an ex-boyfriend back. It is why she avoids painting the same thing twice. It is why she avoids commission work. She only wants to paint things that interest her and in the way she sees things.
That isn’t a stone, that is simply reality.
As such, C’s own emotional fidelity is less rigid, more fluid, and less her concern. When she is finished it is finished. Fighting to defend and protect the relationship, while keeping it safe, was always my responsibility.
The doctor asked me a few months ago to tell her about the last time C came to me and apologized for something she did that hurt me. At the time, I punted. The loss was too raw.
After some recent revenging by C, a friend reminded me that vengeance, rumormongering, and the silent treatment is about control and manipulating other people. She asked me the same question: When did C come to me and admit she was wrong and work to make it better. “When was she ever vulnerable to you?”
The tragic truth is I don’t remember C ever coming to the table, sitting down, and saying, “I was wrong about…This is what I need and want…”
All too often I was the one responsible for coming back to the table and apologizing to her, to her boys, and to others. It seems I was the only one in the household willing to admit I was wrong and try and take responsibility for the problems I created.
I’d gladly listen to her perspective, and if we were adulting we could, but we aren’t. As such, I’m left only with questions and riddles.
I’ve written elsewhere, a great fireman doesn’t get credit for his valor if he is the one starting the fire. I may have Partnered with C on putting out thousands of fires over the years but the one fire causing the most damage is the one I started.
Once the alarm bell is sounded all the fireman can do is fight the fire in front of them. However, regardless of its size or start, every fire has consequences. C is just a person and the fire I started burned her badly.
It reopened old wounds. It created new ones.
From one person to another, I understand her choices. It takes courage and willingness to make yourself vulnerable to the person that burned you. As such, C ended the relationship. That is the consequence of my actions. At this point, that bell cannot be unrung.
However, after six months of silence and revenging, after weaponizing my betrayal and embellishing my failings, after the trolling and her betrayals, after 30,000 miles and sixteen states?
I’m no longer sure I’m interested in unring that bell…