Tuesday, 5 November 2013

It Is Not Only About You

There are times when we find ourselves in a situation that has us completely dumbfounded by what has happened.  There is a natural tendency to look inwards for the answers and to hold firm to the belief that what has gone wrong, must be of our own doing.  Was it something that I said?  Was it something that I did?  Is it the way that I look?  These questions run through our minds as we try to figure out what has occurred.  This is exactly what happened to Beth.    

Beth's Story
Beth placed her phone back on the coffee table, the one that she had purchased from a second hand store several years ago and was made to look like it had been painstakingly hand crafted by a member of a far off indigenous tribe, when in reality, it was probably mass produced in China, by the same pair of hands that turned out hundreds of identical items each week.  The coffee table that is, not the phone.  Beth was bemused to say the least.  The conversation had not gone the way she had planned, the way she had heard it when she had played it out minutes earlier in her head.  Then everything had made sense, now, nothing made sense and as she lingered on those thoughts some more, the feelings of sadness, hurt and frustration grew.

It had all started so positively.  In fact, Beth had been blown away completely by Michael. They had met in a bar one evening, chatted, exchanged numbers, met up for a coffee one afternoon and had subsequently begun seeing each other.  Countless messages had been exchanged, back and forth, forth and back, like a game of electronic ping pong.  They spoke on the phone in the evenings, shared jokes, told each other about their day, and after a few dates, it seemed to Beth that they were growing close.  It had all been a whirlwind she had to admit.  Never before had she met someone with whom she felt such an affinity.  Someone with whom she shared so many common interests and hobbies, political views, religious views, a love of the out doors and nature, music, TV, films, books, someone who said exactly what she was thinking the moment before she could speak those same words.  It was the discussions on old movies that they had seen that she enjoyed the very most.  Beth never thought that she would find someone who liked to watch old black and white movies, and enjoyed spending afternoons in an independent movie theatre.  At one point while they had spoken, she had almost let out a gasp of pain, finding that she was pinching her own arm, believing that this was all too good to be true.  And now, it was.

Three days ago, it had all stopped.  Abruptly, suddenly and for no apparent reason that Beth could fathom.  It was as if Michael had simply evaporated, or been abducted by aliens in the middle of the night, replaced by a cardboard cut out replica.  The voice was the same but it was now hollow, distant, devoid of any emotion.  She had asked him if anything was wrong, "No", he had replied, "Of course not. Stop being so paranoid."  But Beth could not help it.  She replayed in her head the conversations that they had together, she went back over the times they had met, and she looked for some indication, some clue that things were about to go wrong.  There was nothing.  She wondered what she had said to him to make this happen, and she sat quietly on her sofa, staring at the phone on that stupid, cheap, replica coffee table, and she began to curse her ill-luck, to wonder why this always happened to her, and to ask herself over and over, what it was that she had done wrong?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I've found myself in similar situations in the past.  Someone that I was building a relationship with either inexplicably backed away from me and became distant, or she just broke things off all together.  Each time it happened, I suffered in the same way.  I questioned myself, I searched for words that I might have said that could have caused some offense or could have been misconstrued.  I looked back over my actions and behaviours and tried to find in them anything that could have been misinterpreted or misunderstood.  I asked myself what it was that I had done to cause yet another good relationship prospect, to be flushed away down the tubes?

The answer to that question was nothing, absolutely nothing.  It was never about me.  My lack of self-esteem and low self-confidence had me utterly convinced that the fault was of my own making.  Each time I met someone new, I placed them on a pedestal and held them up as a paragon of virtue and goodness.  I idolised them and I was unable to see any of their faults.  For whatever reasons, I blinded myself to the truth, I didn't want to see it, I didn't want to recognise it or to accept it, because to do so, would be to destroy my picture postcard, perfect image of the person that had shown interest in me.  I made the problem about me because I could not believe that my idol could in some way not be perfect.  It had to be about me, something I had done or not done, it had to be my fault.

The truth is, that it was never about me.  In fact, I had no right to make it about me.  I had never thought about it in this way before, until I was riding a bus this morning and the thoughts started coming to me.  As I gazed out of the window, looking across the rural Costa Rican countryside, it occurred to me that I had been self-centred, imagining that the entire universe evolved around me.  At these times, I had completely forgotten that there was another person involved, another actor in the play of our relationship.  A person who had her own unique set of issues and psychological problems.  What right did I have to assume that I was the only one? 

The mistake that I made over and over, was to make it about me.  By doing that, I tried to set things right, I worked hard to figure out the other person, I psychoanalysed them, looking for reasons behind their behaviour and by doing so, I sought to find ways in which I could make a difference.  I kept coming at them, I continually asked questions and probed for answers, I said things in a way that would try to provoke some kind of response, I pushed and demanded their time and attention, I desperately wanted things to be the way they were before.  The more I pushed, the more distant they became and to counteract that, I pushed harder.  It became a vicious cycle with only one outcome - something had to break and that would eventually be me.

If only I could have seen that it was not about me.  How could I not see that what I was giving was goodness and that all I had to give was nothing other than my true self?  Not some aspect of myself that I thought the other person would like and enjoy.  If I did that, if I was honest and tried hard, then what person would not want to be with me?  Of course, when it comes to affairs of the heart, there is no logic, there is no rhyme nor reason, it is always just is how it is.  From giving myself honestly and truly, if a problem was to occur, then it would become apparent that the problem was not created by my actions.  And if it was?  Then clearly that person on which I was giving my affection and attention was neither suitable for me, nor were they worthy of me.  Then, I would be able to walk away, knowing that I tried and that there was nothing more that I could do.  That is what I should have done, that is what I failed to do.

This might seem blatantly obvious, but what I have come to finally realise, is that no one is better than anyone else.  There is no pedestal on which to place another.  Everyone has faults and weaknesses.  Every single person is flawed and less than perfect.  I know that I am, so why has it taken me so long to understand and see that of other people?  I know that answer, it lies in many of the other blog posts that I have written.  The simple logic is that if I am flawed, if I suffer from psychological problems and afflictions, then so too does everyone else, to some degree.

If and when things go wrong, do not make the mistake of assuming it is something that you have done, nor something that you can necessarily fix.  Every person needs to have the time and the space to figure things out for themselves and to resolve their issues.  Of course, it would be preferable if they were to do that before they entered into a relationship, but unfortunately, that is not how life works.  If is through our close relationships with others, that we are often able to see ourselves.

When someone alters their behaviour towards you, if they grow cold and begin to distance themselves, do not make the assumption that it is you.  You are not the centre of the universe, despite what you might like to believe.  If you have been your true self, then the relationship was never meant to work, there is an incompatibility that you will never be able to overcome, unless the other person fixes themselves, or they come to you and talk about their problems, involving you directly, seeking answers and help, so that you may work it out together.  Let that person go and if you are able, give them time and space, don't crowd them, don't fuss after them.  If it persists, then it is time to let go of them completely and to move on.  There is nothing more that you can do.  Open your heart and let them fly free.  Let them figure themselves out.  And when your heart is open, who knows what just might flutter back in?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That weekend, Beth caught the 5:15pm showing of Harvey on the Sunday afternoon.  It had long been her favourite movie and she could not believe that the Regency House Cinema was having a James Stewart special that day.  As she laughed along hysterically to the antics of a grown man who could see a mysterious giant talking pooka, and she revelled in the feel good factor of the old film, she felt a wave of freshness and relief wash through her.  This is what she loved to do, and if Michael was too dumb and wrapped up in himself and whatever issues he had going on, then so be it.  She really didn't need that or him!  Beth left the theatre, a broad grin still across her face, and as rummaged in her purse for her bus ticket, she walked straight into the back of a man standing on the sidewalk.  As the man turned around, Beth found herself looking up and falling into the deepest eyes that she had ever seen.  "Hi", she said but a different thought spun through her mind, Michael?  Michael who?

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Firstly, because of that very pretty frame you gave it in the shape of Beth and Michael's story. It's a story that I'm familiar with. At first it felt like Beth was me. This sentence "Of course not. Stop being so paranoid." is one that echoed from my past particularly loudly. It's one sentence that turns a problem around sneakily and oh ever so successfully and destructively...
    There is an issue which one party (Beth) raises - and which the other party (Michael) not only denies and belittles but turns into Beth's problem. Which, in exchange, will start growing into a tree of insecurities: "should i start a discussion about how I feel when he ignores my plans for the weekend? or when he never says thank you? Ahh, no, I'll drop it, it might be my fault... I might blow things out of proportion... I might be too demanding... It's just me who needs to work on herself... nothing wrong with Michael..." This sort of mental processing then usually leads to unresolved conflicts, unhappiness, anxiety and the "he is out of my league" feeling. Grrrrrrr.... Can I ask you to kick Michael in the ass really hard for me next time you see him? :))

    Give up or not give up. Walk away or stay. These are hugely, tremendously complex questions in a dysfunctional relationship. I recently realised something for me: my parents stayed together despite the fact that my mum probably should have left. When she was in the most agonizing pain of her highly dysfunctional relationship her priest told her that she had to stay. So she did. I think I learnt something important there and then. The art of making excuses for the other. The incredible ability to turn a blind eye... forgive... ignore... even for the price of taking all the blame on my own shoulders.

    I really liked your realisation of looking at your relationships from a very self-centered perspective. I think I have been doing exactly the same. I'm wondering if there is a way to figure these things out earlier. During adolescence let's say. Do these things come with a healthy self-confidence by default? Or do people learn it by themselves? Will I pass the wrong patterns on to my children without ever realising? Is there a way to unlearn these thought processes? A way to improve them without building up a protective wall? I hope so. That's the very reason why I read your blog and think about your topics. Thanks for writing.