Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 414: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

One of the hard things about life is that you lose people.

Figuring out how to deal with this is an ongoing thing. The experience of loss for most people starts in childhood with a pet, but loss isn't always a death. Soon enough, everyone will lose a family member.

Loss can also be of a life situation. Families splinter, or they move, or even a drastic event such as a job loss or a devastating illness can create a hard change in what once was. These are also deaths.

In your adult life you deal or have dealt with all of these things previously. But then you get into new territory: loss of a relationship.

The standard example of this is the loss of a love. Breaking Up is Hard to Do. My mother told me long ago that two people always agreed when to begin a relationship, but rarely agreed when to end one.

Personally, I have botched more than my share of breakups. My tactics were often terrible, sometimes clumsy and infrequently adult.

One of the worst was an incredibly tumultuous relationship that had become too heavy to continue. Both of us had invested a lot. A lot. But then came a time where I just couldn't handle the pressure. And I panicked. I didn't know how to continue and I was not mature enough to deal with it in an adult fashion. So I took a coward's way out and just withdrew. I didn't answer or return phone calls, I didn't respond to attempts to reach me. I just abandoned the thing.

Which was completely juvenile and heartless. How did I adopt this cruel solution?

Much behavior is learned, not everything is innate. I have had the exact same treatment doled out to me.

It sucks, and it sucked.

As for those who I foisted this BS on, I accept my responsibility and can only hope that this person's life has become so much better than it could have ever been with me. They deserved better.

Fortunately with lessons like that one and the painful experiences of losing family and other situations, you get better at the messy ending of relationships. The father of an acquaintance died just a few days ago, totally unexpectedly. In this scenario, I have been fortunate: the deaths of my relatives have almost always been exclusively anticipated. My father's mother died when I was very young, and I couldn't process it. But my mother's parents all had long battles with the things that ended up killing them. My stepfather and aunt also were lost gradually.

This, to me, is the way to go. You have a chance to say goodbye. You have a chance to put things right, if they need to be.

Then you have the end of a relationship with a friend. Sometimes they move away, that's just the way things go. It's easy to lose touch. The friendship is still there, but it's just not as good any more. Immediacy matters. Anyone who has been in an LDR knows how hard it is.

But sometimes a breakup happens with people you thought were friends. Friends becoming ex-friends can be as unpleasant as loves becoming ex-loves. Almost always, someone's feelings are going to get hurt.

There's nothing anyone can do about a death; you just have to fight through it. But when losing these other relationships, it's easy to misplay them. Even if the end is inevitable, you can make them less painful. If you're the one moving on, you should do everything you can to ease that transition. Since it's reasonable to think that you've been the one left behind at some point, why can you not remember how hard that was and be human about it?

This is a great regret for me, that in those situations where I was the one who opted out, I did not treat the other half of this equation with the dignity and respect I would have wanted for myself.

Sometimes things just have to end. You fall out of love, you fall out of like, your tastes grow and change, you're simply no longer stimulated by the relationship. The reasons don't really matter that much, although people will think they do. What's most important is that the transition from "yes" to "no" in a relationship needs to not be so abrupt and stark. A little communication and fair play can go a long way. No one wants to feel rejected or abandoned.

I thought I lost a friend this week, but I found out this person wasn't a friend at all. We had a falling out and I communicated directly and honestly about my feelings. I thought I was handling it maturely. The response I got was to instigate a giant amount of drama, to widen the war to bring in allies (not me... it wasn't about anyone else), and to rant and throw a fit. Adult conversation can't be carried on with only one participant.

So instead of reaching a reasonable conclusion that wouldn't destroy the friendship, instead I became the recipient of outraged blustering, potshots from randoms, and a ridiculous conflagration that I had no choice but to escape from. I couldn't allow myself to be treated so shabbily.

And it made me really sad for a couple of days. Instead of addressing legitimate differences of opinion and working something out, I was treated with condescension, belittled, called names and weathered snide comments about my age (can't do anything about that) and appearance (working on it!). That shit's just below the belt, man.

This is someone who I've shared experiences with and tried to share more, although I should have picked up the signals when the last two times we tried to get together, there were excuses. Fortunately that wasn't exclusive to me, that's just this person's SOP.

I've asked this person for advice, they've asked me. I've promoted and encouraged their work (a treatment I wanted in return, though did not get much of). We weren't lifelong buddies or anything but the vagaries of a friendship were in place. And in a moment of crisis, the response wasn't "let's work this out," but instead "how many of my friends can I enlist to support my position and throw barbs at someone I'm feuding with."

It was shitty. It was ugly. And it was small.

And it's over. After a couple of days of feeling betrayed and let down, today I am documenting this unpleasant event, and moving on.

I have higher goals. It's not enough for me to be the star of a little circle of sycophants, or a "big deal" on a little cubbyhole on the Internet.

Breaking up is hard to do. But finding out who people really are is worth it. When the journey is challenging, travel light. I've jettisoned some things that I didn't need. The voyage continues.

1 comment:

  1. For the record, I'm:

    * A chucklehead (my dad's name is Chuck... I can work with this);
    * An asshole (Hmmm... next!);
    * A wax statue (Cool! Until I melt...);
    * Geriatric (Ouch, I think);

    I may have missed something during the barrage.

    Fortunately, I'm also:
    * Genuinely loved well by many people, especially my wife;
    * Someone who volunteers in my community (I was even Santa!);
    * A lucky dad to not just a smart daughter but also three great dogs;
    * Not the kind of person who has much sympathy, understanding or patience for people who are abusive and cruel. It's not as easy to be your own person, but it's much more rewarding than being a slave to your own vanity.