Once upon a time, I found myself shouting on the phone in a parking lot in Hollywood. The person on the other side of this conversation had blown up my phone with messages since 11AM and it was now 3 in the afternoon. “Why are you still texting me, Sean? I told you I was done, that I was sorry. Stop this.” I shouted, finally losing that eerie calm people get when they are mad but don’t want to show it. Calm people win arguments, right? And he told me why, losing his eerie calm, in great detail, at the point I’m so far beyond listening because we were both hurt. “Bye.” “Bye.”
A month or so goes by, we don’t block each other on anything, he’s tried to like things on Instagram, like a little nod “hey”. That’s not good enough for me because I’m so bent on waiting for “I’m sorry.” Neither of us are ready for that. I ignore him, I remove him from my follower list. I don’t block him, but I establish distance.
Over the course of several months, people in our separate lives ask each of us if we know each other. We say “Yeah, I know them.” They say, “Sounds like ya’ll got history.” We say “Yeah we got history.” They say “Oh yeah? What?” We say nothing. Still waiting for the other to make the first move.
Finally, we’re in the same place at the same time. A mutual friend with good intentions comes up to me, “Sean’s here. If I bring him over will you talk to him?” I pause. Do I really want to risk another fight, here after how much this person hurt me? But the real question is do I want to fight? I shrug, no I don’t. “Sure. I’ll talk to him.” They go to get him. The second he comes around the corner and I see him I know we’re going to be fine. After the initial test the water Hey, Hi, he says, “I’m sorry. Here’s why I’m sorry.”
And when Sean’s done, I say, “Dude, all good.” and it is but I wouldn’t know why it was good until later.
Fast forward to last week, when I’m frustrated about someone else, Gabriel, not hearing me and spinning myself into the void guessing what it is, how to fix it. Oh sure, there are people who will tell me he’s wrong, a monster, I’m right, I’m the victim. But I know I’m not right, it’s not a binary where one of us is perfectly correct and the other is absolutely wrong. It’s called a relationship. I think we’re both wrong, his superiority comes up a lot, with me it’s a lack of communication, but I’m too far in it to see why or ready to admit to myself how to fix it. I don’t need sweet comfort, coddling emotional support, I need real shit.
I need someone who has history with me and reconciled. So of course I ask Sean for help. I tell him everything, and he says “It’s weird I see his side and yours, I’ve lived this story, so let’s take it back to when you and I fought.”
It was a long conversation, so I’ll summarize the big things I learned through all of this experience:
Sean and I both did this, default to people pleasing. Saying yes to things where we’re just trying to make the other person happy because what we’re getting otherwise as a result is worth it or some day it will pay off. “Please keep giving me this thing I like you giving me. Comfort, attention, validation, I’ll be the thing I think you want me to be if it means I won’t feel alone, go back to not having those things.” And people get scared because they’re afraid of not being liked, a lack of confidence in the person they crafted to survive not only their solitude, but the rest of the world that taught them rejection for being themselves is bad. Or, conversely, so much confidence in what they crafted anything that tries to reject it must be bad. “It got me here, you’re not me or where I am, therefore you are bad.”
The solution is multi faceted. The lack of self esteem can be a big aspect of this. Sometimes we choose people to be in our lives because they have something we lack, “He’s strong and I’m not. She’s popular and I’m not.” The excess of self esteem can also be present, “I’m so good, I can make them better.” And the frightening thing is it’s so normalized in media. “Oh, the project boyfriend, the train wreck girlfriend.” They need me to save them, to give to them and if I am so capable, I will be able to do so.
But then we create this lens to see them through and when that expectation of improvement isn’t met, we’re confused because the lack of improvement means ultimately, through this lens, we’re unable to teach. “Your failure is a mark against my adequacy, a willful rejection of what I taught myself. It was good to me, so fuck you.” And so the seeds of resentment are sown.
After Sean and I separated, we found ourselves in situations that echoed facets of our actual problems pretty readily and all the true things we had said to each other while simultaneously hurt by each other came up yet again. Here’s the thing: the truth is now separate from the perceived source of the hurt. During our phone call, we said to each other “You’re right. I did those things. I was like that. Here’s how I lost that part of myself I thought I needed to hold onto. Here’s the way I’ve learned to be now.” It’s not about us trying to convince the other, but we’re approaching each other with respect to hear more truths that might make us “feel a feeling”. But one of the things I wasn’t able to let go of until the second round with Gabriel was expectations. I don’t have this problem with my other partners...because everything was clear, from the start: ”here’s how I want to be with you, here’s what I need to work on, here’s who I am, here’s what I respond to, where it hurts, etc.” No room to guess, we check in pretty regularly. Something along the lines of: “Hey am I addressing this correctly? Am I living up to the things we agreed to, how we want to be together?”
But if even one person has that slanted balance “You are/I’m not. You could be so much better if you were like me.” it’s going to be a rough ride. So here I was feeling like the project partner with Gabriel, getting the “I’m trying to teach you and you’re failing.” (a thing that was actually said) and when I changed things and didn’t receive what I expected, more time, more favor, more attention, I got upset. The classic “See what I did for you? See what I did for you?” Oh shit.
Not because we don’t want to, I think Sean and I both walked away with a lot to think about and wanted it to go back to how it was before the fight. But you see it can’t. Because we brought our demons out to play and they burnt a whole relationship to the ground. The demons are out and they were going to keep coming out until we both got our demons in line with how we really wanted to be. Being hurt is a part of the process, so is reflection, recognition of what is our shit and our shit and adopting a healthier way to view ourselves, our partners, and our relationships. Even if we had managed to get to this point faster, it takes a sincere amount of time, patience and effort to come back, with a mutual respect and concentrated effort to understand, not change and of course, to trust together.
Yes, you are the only one responsible for your demons, but what are you responsible for? Bending them to someone else’s inner problems to eventually repeat the cycle of unfulfilled expectations/hurt feelings? Making sure they never see the light of day lest, god forbid, someone finds out you still keep them? Or developing a deep enough relationship with them to know when they aren’t demons anymore? When you can turn around and say “Remember how I used to be? Lol’
I didn’t forgive Sean because he said sorry. I forgave him in that moment because the effort was there. He heard the me from then and we’re hearing each other now. Someone who has not changed their perspective probably wouldn’t be able to see me. Still hurt, still holding up the lens. I’m the monster in that story. “They failed me. Fuck them.” If I hadn’t let go of that hurt I would have said “Fuck no, I dont’ want to deal with this person.” The “sorry”, the “I forgive you” lies in our being able to recognize where we fucked up, where we contributed to that moment and present these new selves to each other, move past it together. It does not mean we have to be friends but we get to.
Let me be clear: the word “toxic” gets thrown around a lot, like narcissist, psychobitch, you know the ones. I think we’ve been taught to quickly weaponize it as a last resort to defend the parts of ourselves being hurt, the things that stem from our egos more than the situation itself, so we have this contorted relationship with the word toxic and we become desperate to avoid it being used on ourselves. “You’re toxic.” “You’re crazy.” and it all burns down.
I think we hold on to those toxic ways even long after we have left the truly abusive parent, partner, friend unknowingly carrying them into relationships and being genuinely surprised when it’s used to describe us when our unresolved triggers, insecurities are finally triggered. Toxicity breeds toxicity. We then justify it, “You made me like this. You brought it out of me.”
But I don’t think it’s just healthy and toxic. I think we’ve propped toxic so high up in our minds we’ve lost sight of unhealthy. I don’t see Gabriel as this toxic, arrogant, awful person. I think there are some unhealthy things in me, in him and our idea of us that we’re becoming toxic because we were holding onto them. “I’m hurt, I’m stressed, you’re easier to lose than this thing because it’s a part of me, it’s just how I am, I can lose you.” Unhealthy is like drinking poisoned water and upon finding out it’s poison, continuing to drink it becoming toxic to ourselves laughing “But at least I’m drinking water, right?”
And sometimes you don’t have a lot to start with, but you can give yourself more. I don’t know where Gabriel is, but I do know the healthy thing for me to do is to leave. But not in a “yessss bitch, leave his ass” way. I am hurt and I want to sit with that hurt for a minute, get acquainted with it, and heal the unhealthy parts of myself I discovered I had with him.
People say they want someone to grow with but I don’t think they remember that growth hurts and it hurts like a bitch sometimes. Our ego, our idealized versions of things, partners, relationships is going to get bumped and bruised sometimes. You’re going to feel self conscious, you’re going to doubt yourself, but you have to take the next step and figure out how to reconcile with, at the very least, yourself.
Until next time,
Don’t be hungry for life. Be ravenous.
Zakkarrii Edison Daniels