Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My High School Reunion: Facing a Friend Who Betrayed Me

I recently attended my 30th high school reunion. I was nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I had decided not to go. High school wasn't a laugh-riot for me though I wasn't bullied. My marks were good. I had friends. 
Sadly though, one of those friends betrayed me. After two years of being with the first boy I'd said I loved, the first boy I had sex with, we broke up when I went to school in another city. Days after we broke up and just days before I left, I went to a party. There, on a couch sitting on my now-ex's lap, was my friend.
You could say that what she did was fine -- after all, he and I had broken up. We weren't technically going out. That's essentially what she said.
But I know better.
Friends don't do that to other friends. There are enough guys in the world that, unless you're convinced this one is your soulmate and you're willing to sacrifice your friendship for that, you can obey the law of the sisterhood. She and he broke up a month or two later when she started dating another guy. 
It took me years to get over my anger. Her name made my blood boil. The thought of her having any measure of happiness in life seemed like a bad karmic joke. Eventually I got past it, though I've nursed a simmering resentment for the decades since.
So when she was one of the first to RSVP to the reunion, I decided to just stay home.
At the last minute, however, I changed my mind. 
I'd had a mind-shift. I remembered back to what I knew of her before she dated my ex. She craved attention from men. She was self-absorbed. Almost childish at times. With what I know now, it's easy for me to recognize that she desperately needed validation from others (men!) that she was worthy. She's now on husband #3 so apparently she's still looking.
But I was able to recognize that her dating my ex wasn't about trying to hurt me. It wasn't about me at all. Surely she knew that my still-aching heart would be a casualty of her choice. But obviously I didn't matter more than her need to have someone pick her.
I decided that I would attend the reunion and that I would let go of 30 years of bitterness. That I would note the fact that all of us had undoubtedly changed in three decades, including me. 
So I did. 
She sought me out. Not to apologize – I doubt that even dawned on her – but simply to catch up. In the course of our conversation she made note of another event, when she'd suddenly quit a job that I'd got for her. A good job. I had thought it was because I'd been promoted and she was jealous. Turns out she quit because when she asked for an upcoming night off to attend a school dance the supervisor said she could have it off...if she gave him a blow job.
I was stunned. I'd had no idea.
I realized how often we make assumptions about others' actions based on a piece of information, not the whole story. I asked why she'd never told me what happened. "Because I thought I'd done something wrong," she said. Instead, without the maturity or perspective that comes with age and confidence, she quit.
What my friend did to me still sucks. It's still something that I hope my daughter never does to a friend. But the bitterness has, for the most part, evaporated. I feel sorry for her. For her unquenchable need to be adored. For her own inability to admit her shortcomings. For her continued quest to fill from the outside what can only be filled from within.
She recently had a health scare and she told me that when her third husband came into the hospital where she'd been taken that the look on his face – total panic – made her finally realize how much she mattered to him. In that instant, she said, she realized that this was truly the man for her. Her marriage, she said, changed. It became a priority. 
I was glad to hear. Finally. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fool Me Once...

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Or so goes the old adage.
We were fooled once. We were fooled and lied to and deceived. It brought us to our knees. It damn near killed us. And there is no way in hell we're going to be fooled again.
So we put up our guard. We're on constant alert. Did he look me in the eye when he came home last night? Is he checking his phone more than usual? Is that a new cologne he's wearing?? Was he really working late?
We might check his computer, even if we haven't in years. We might sneak a look at his phone.
Even if we've let our guard down, even when we think we can finally relax into a marriage that has been rebuilt, made stronger by the storm it weathered, the slightest something-not-quite-right can send us spiralling back into our conviction that we must NEVER be fooled again.
I've been there. And, in fact, am there.
My husband thinks he's ready to kick his therapy. Over the past six years since D-Day, he's seen a sexual addiction specialist, done EMDR, attended work-benefit-supplied emergency counselling and, finally, a Jungian psychoanalyst. So yes, a lotta therapy. (Though, frankly, he was a lotta messy.)
In that same time, I've watched a man who frequently swung between childlike fear and superhero-like faux invincibility become balanced. I've heard him tell clients that he simply can't meet them in the evenings because that's his family time. I've seen him, finally, stand up to his mother. He pauses to take a breath before he responds to our child's requests. He find humor in what might have infuriated him. He's found space in his heart to learn to love himself with all his mistakes, which, of course, has allowed him to truly love me and our kids. He has wrestled his shame to the ground and though it sometimes resurfaces, he can recognize it and subdue it. In other words, he's a very different man than the one who confessed to me not only an affair but many.
Still...my own fear is awakening. Without that constant check-in with a therapist, I wonder if he'll lose his way. Without being guided along the path, I worry that he'll lose his way. In short, I worry that I'll be fooled again.
And that's the danger. Not that I will be fooled, necessarily, but that the possibility is always lurking in a shadow.
And the reason it's a danger is because it keeps us hostage to the fear. It doesn't, of course, alter the outcome. If we're gonna be fooled again, well it's not because we didn't check his e-mail often enough, or weren't vigilant enough. It's because the person who was broken enough to fool us the first time, is still broken. (And, perhaps, because we didn't set clear enough boundaries around our hearts the first time by insisting that he seek help in whatever form you felt he needed -- by kicking drugs, entering a 12-step program, seeking therapy, finding a new job...)
There are, I'm sad to say, no guarantees. No way to be certain that we'll never feel that heartbreak again – whether from the man who first fooled us, or from a new man. There is only our hard-won knowledge that IF we are to feel our hearts break again, we can trust our own strength to put them back together.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and you're really only fooling yourself.


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