Walls

Today is a double post day.

Occasionally a post about personal growth or observation sneaks into the mix. Today I decided to write about one such moment. Typically I haven’t been because my ex-wife loves to stalk my blog and try to indicate where I am a danger to myself and others. Then brings it up in court.

The Best Leonardo DiCaprio Memes Shared on Social Media for His 46th  Birthday
Right there, Cliff! See it!

Jeez, does that shit get old fast. If you haven’t been paying attention, this blog is more or less about personal growth, which is the opposite of that. To be clear, I write about these things too because I know a lot of other readers out there are struggling and part of healing is knowing you aren’t alone. That is if anyone is actually interested in putting in the work to heal. That being said, let’s continue.

Lately I’ve been facing an anniversary.

We’ve all been facing an anniversary. Mine is a little bit different. A year ago, I was nervous about changes that were coming. I was being taken back to court again by my ex-wife. The hearing was set for November. I had no money to hire an attorney either. Also, just on the heels of a romantic weekend in Glenwood Springs with my (then) girlfriend, it was confirmed that there would be layoffs coming at my job. As coronavirus (as it was called back then) began to trigger lockdowns we parted ways on March 13th, with the anticipation that we would see each other again in just a few weeks when the quarantine was ended. We had plans to go to the UK on a couple’s trip where we would visit London and Edinburgh. My hopes of finding someone who would join me on my adventures had been realized!

We never saw each other again. The quarantine dragged out for weeks. We talked on the phone every night and as the panic began to creep in on me about losing my job, child support probably going up, and having to cancel our trip, she decided she needed to end our relationship.

I used to count the end of our time together as April 30th, but really, it ended that night she left my house in the rain on March 13th. I could feel her slipping away, and when I would try to talk to her about it, she just told me she wasn’t going anywhere. That I was overthinking. Of course that was until she did go somewhere. I felt that trust begin to unravel two days before we were over. I played Thomas Dolby’s “I Love You Goodbye” on repeat for most of an evening before she dropped the final bombshell.

Previous relationships and of course my tumultuous marriage have left me with a lot of pieces to pick up. This one hurt. No, it went beyond that. It left a lot of damage behind. Mostly damage to my ability to trust others in relationships. It is something I struggle with. Strange how building something together that showed me it was possible to love again damaged my ability to trust so badly.

When I met her, I had been healing from another relationship, which I have talked about often on this site. Rather than get into all that BS again, I will say that it was hard to realize it wasn’t me, but seriously them. I had value. Which I had all along but had forgotten over years of isolation and abuse from before. I was fine with being Alone. I was enjoying my own company. Then I met someone who showed me all the effed up things that other person was on about for three years. Namely how badly I was being treated–even though it was significantly better than my marriage.

She never pointed these things out. It was always revealed by things that she did. Her actions. Things like calling me when she got home or not being vague about her “friends”. She treated me as an equal. We built each other up, encouraged each other. We indulged each other’s weird hobbies or activities and accepted them. We gave each other bad habits and enjoyed them together. Damn, was that nice. Each of us had a past but we chose not to let it haunt us too much.

I allowed myself to trust and slowly those walls I built to protect myself began to come down. When she ended things, the walls went back up immediately. They were twice as thick and the tower I stuck myself in this time was much higher. Unless someone was somehow on my side of the wall when that happened, there was no getting in.

The walls stay up.

Sometimes a little light gets let in, but it is with reluctance. With the light, sometimes you get rain. It’s hard to trust for those of us who have been hurt. It’s harder to not cling to that victimhood because it gets you a pass. That is something I am really wanting to be rid of. I am bringing it up today because I want to help others. I want to show them that sometimes being brave is just getting out of your own way.

Sometimes you get into your own headspace and the story you are telling yourself…well, that’s just it. It’s a story until you ask the right questions. It’s hard to ask the right questions because sometimes you are afraid of the answer you might get back. It’s hard to not beat yourself up and say you believed answers another time too, until those changed.

Sometimes you knock out one brick and replace it with two more. You might be afraid of setting yourself up to lose everything all over again, and sometimes its safe and warm behind those walls (you tell yourself it is anyway). It is really hard to be open to trust again. It gets to the point where you don’t even trust your friends. In your 40s, relationships are hard. Especially after a life-changing event like a divorce.

If your situation involved being isolated from your friends, family, or anyone else you were close to (even co-workers) you might find yourself starting all over again. The strong bonds you had with people have been stretched thin by time and distance. You are no longer in the inner circle of those relationships. You start over. This time with a layer of cynicism. You feel jaded. At some point the fear of caring about someone new is overwhelming because you keep expecting the other shoe to drop. Attachment anxiety ensues.

When you are in your 20s, like a hangover or the days after an all-nighter studying, you bounce back pretty quickly. In your middle years, it is much less so. Like the sounds you make when you try to extract yourself from a comfy chair or struggling to walk across a cold floor to the bathroom every morning, it takes a lot more. You don’t bounce back. In friendships and relationships you are also pretty hardened off and set in your ways to some extent. In your 20s you are maleable. Adaptable. Less broken. Like little kids who approach each other on the playground and say, “Hey! Wanna be friends!” and from that moment on, they just are. Best friends even.

Boundaries are important, but they aren’t the same as walls, even if they sometimes serve the same purpose. But those walls you build just get thicker and stronger. Because you can’t be hurt that way again. Sometimes you just wish you could step outside of them and be like you were when you were young and beautiful.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible. No. That’s what I hope for anyway. Some days are difficult. Do we chisle our way out of Shawshank with a tiny rock hammer or do we ask for more mortar and bricks to make our own prisons? Or do we build a beacon for others?

What would you say?

A buddy of mine struggled for nearly five years with a breakup. In that time, he didn’t date, he just minded his own business, he endured many hardships alone, from the loss of his job (twice) to the loss of his dad in the last month to COVID. I remember one day calling him out to go to dinner with another friend and myself, after his first layoff. He was buzzing from day drinking beers for the last few days. He was still dazed, angry about losing his girlfriend of five years. She left without any explanation, putting the blame on him, the typical bullshit of “If you knew me well enough to keep me, you would have…” I wasn’t sure he was going to survive that day, but he did. He kept going.

The year before he went over and over in his head what had happened, driving himself crazy with how he could have done things differently. How he could fix it (as men tend to do–we fix stuff). There was nothing he could do. She was hostile, threatening him with legal action if he continued to contact her. He really hadn’t done anything wrong. It took a couple years but eventually he stopped venting to me about her. He started talking to other women online, though he didn’t really date anyone. Sometimes her name would come up in conversation, but it often shifted from missing her to what he would tell her if he got the chance, and it was never good. He was hurt, angry, but damn if he didn’t stop loving her.

A couple nights ago, he called me to tell me that his ex girlfriend, after being gone for over four years, contacted him. She apologized for how things ended. They have been talking again. He didn’t unleash a vile tirade upon her that would have killed her lawn for at least a few years. He listened. He sat for a few nights in his own head, turning over what she had said again and again until he was exhausted. I don’t know what will become of them. I wish them both luck, however it turns out. You see, they aren’t the same people they were four years ago. I have my guesses as to why she decided to break her silence after all these years. And I also know that he never got close to getting over her.

Again, I wish them luck.

If I had to call it, I would say that she ran across a slough of losers and realized that the man she left she had taken for granted. The grass is always greener, but that’s usually because of all the bullshit fertilizing it.

I couldn’t help but wonder what I would say to an ex-girlfriend if they ever reached out to me. I’ve thought about it again and again, and really I don’t know. I can’t even slip into that writer’s space where I can create an entirely different life and timeline to suss it out. Maybe that’s because I truly believe the likelihood of it happening (or wanting it to happen) is zero, so why even entertain the notion? I’m not the same person I was a year ago.

It just really hasn’t occurred to me until now.

I’m more cautious, more guarded. Content for the most part. Patient. Termially optimistic. Still romantic, but hopeful, not hopeless. I also think that there comes a time when doors close for good and a guy ought to be fucking aware of it. I’ve been through the gaslighting, the mental abuse, the Michelin star rated codependent relationships where I accept abuse so I can get sympathy and achieve martyrdom. I’ve gotten to grow past that. I get to look at red flags now and see them for what they are.

I’m not sure I could welcome someone back with open arms who had left me to go on a four year World Tour of Dicks like it was sampling beer on Friday nights at Old Chicago. Like nothing happened. Maybe I’m not as mature as I hope to be.

What would you say to an ex? Especially a long-lost love, the one who got away, if they contacted you?

We’ve gotten lazy

I tend to share a lot of personal things on this site and there’s a good chance if you are in my life, your stories might find their way here. I always try to do my best to obscure the originator, since I’m just relating their story based on my own lens. That’s what people have done for centuries. They share each other’s stories, they tack on their own bits and push this collection of things to the next person. Entire civilizations have been built this way.

I contacted my friend last night because I was working on a chapter of the book that sampled heavily from a conversation we had at a New Years Eve party a few years back. We hadn’t visited in person for probably sixteen or seventeen years at that point, only keeping in touch via social media or Messenger. When I arrived at the party, it felt strange because everyone aged so rapidly from my memories of us all being in our early twenties to all of us being middle aged. I was like hanging out with everyone’s parents, pretending to be those kids I knew from so long ago.

As the night progressed, I was in the middle of a FOMO attack. That’s Fear of Missing Out. The woman I was dating at the time was off with “Friends” for New Years. Always so vague. It’s hard to be with someone like that, especially if you have trust issues. Especially when you find out later that these friends wanted to be a lot more. As I was moaning over not being included in this woman’s life, yet again, my friend–always the cool one of the group who did her own thing, made her mistakes, and somehow turned it around to seem like she had everything under control–gave me some perspective.

She said, “You used to be so cool and confident. Now you are sweating some basic bitch. What happened to you?”

It was a psychic ass-kicking, which I probably deserved from an evening of whining about my disasterous romantic interests. Back then, I was irritated by it. I had been through a lot. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was really worthy of anyone’s affection. It was always a constant struggle with my kids, who were caught in the middle of a high-conflict divorce. My oldest was peeled away from me the year before. The “relationship” I was in was toxic, since it mostly depended on whether or not she thought she wanted to spend time with me. I won’t even get into how my marriage served to break me down over the years to where I doubted everything about myself, and was still healing from that.

I had a lot of stuff going on, I guess. No, I wasn’t that cocky, confident guy at 20. I too had aged. I had my battle damage and I also wanted to know what the hell happened to me. In the years between getting married and finally filing for divorce, I lost everything. My friends. My family. I was isolated from all of my support systems, and made to think it was my decision. When you come back to people you lost a long time ago, your confidence is shot. It’s almost like you are apologizing. Asking for permission to be around them again. Not worthy of the love and respect they probably have waiting for you right where you left off.

She is living in a beautiful country right now, and I sometimes see the gorgeous photos of her travels in South Korea, with its colors and life that look like they are straight out of National Geographic. You see something like that and it’s hard to think they aren’t just having a blast. Last night as we were chatting, I caught up on a lot of her life via her blog. I’m a multitasker. I hadn’t even known she wrote one. Since this pandemic bullshit started, she has been physically cut off from friends and family, so she keeps up online. Like the rest of us, she has been segregated from her personal connections there too, with the hopes that social media and texts can still overcome that solitude. It works about as well as you’d expect. I mean we’ve all had our share of Zoom meetings.

Texts and emails are great, but they are no great substitute for a hug or sitting down and having a conversation. She really didn’t sound okay. In some ways, it was difficult to get her to engage in the conversation. I felt for her. Yet in some ways, I knew that it was like that New Years party. We were all catching up after a long hiatus. I remember that night and thinking “How come nobody checked to see if I was okay during those fifteen years?”

They didn’t know. When people are silent, sometimes the rest of us figure that they are just out there living their best life. We are hoping for that anyway.

We’ve gotten lazy. We rely on algorithms to deliver the news of our friends and family to our newsfeeds every day. Sure, we see a little bit, once we scroll through the ads for mattresses, soap, puzzle games, political punditry, and so much other static that permeates these little places we think are ours. Once in a while a crumb falls through the cracks, and we think of an old friend, and we click on their name and get to see this distorted reality of what their life is like. Usually the extremes of morose, desperately hopeful memes of encouragement, or sacharine pictures of their perfect lives. The truth is someplace in the middle.

I know that through my blog, I’ve seen the level of apathy we all have for each other these days. Back when I wrote on a LiveJournal account, we had networks of people dropping in to read each others’ posts. We would comment, have conversations. Some of my best friends are people I met that way and we have followed each others lives for over a decade now. There were no algorithms then. Just everyone’s stories laid out to share. What a time that was.

Very rarely though do people share like that anymore. We Tweet. We post one pretty picture on Instagram. We vomit our politics onto Facebook. We don’t call. We rarely text. And especially during this pandemic, we aren’t going to coffee or hugging or laughing together like we once did.

I was glad I reached out to say hi, to catch up a little bit.

Check on your friends. They probably aren’t okay.