The Cage

Freedom can feel an awful lot like not being wanted. It’s no wonder then that so many of us rush back into that cage again. And again. I’m reaching the point in being single that I wonder now why anyone would want to give that up just to be captive again. It is as if we find value in ourselves only if someone else wants to possess us.

Our value is our desirability to others.

So, self-worth is tied to being controlled by someone else. Whether it is a partner, God, family, our government, or our jobs. Co-dependence is a royal bitch, people. And there will come a time in your recovery when you realize that you don’t have to buy into this. Your value doesn’t depend on someone else wanting you Your value is whatever you want it to be.

I thought about this for a number of reasons. One of which was thinking about the time I was dating a woman who had a very good professional life, she didn’t really want for anything. Emotionally, maybe things were different, but she was so surface that I doubt I ever really knew her all that well. After a twenty year marriage, she waited only a few months before she started seeing me. We had an on-again off-again kind of romance that really wreaked havoc on my life for a time.

I was no different, though my marriage had dissintegrated years before I finally got out. I was probably more emotionally open to connection with someone, since my life had been devoid of it for so long. My value was tied to the money I brought home from work. The chores I did around the house. Enforcing draconian laws over the kids. It was never enough, but my value was tied to Family. Until it wasn’t anymore. Until I decided it was time to find what I valued about myself.

Hell, I’ve been single for years in the interim since my divorce. Sometimes it is lonely. Sometimes I am content. Free. I’ve done therapy. Traveled. Had experiences. Hardships I had to overcome alone. Defeats and victories with no one else to bear witness to them. I feel no less valued for it.

That woman I dated got remarried not long after we broke up. In total, after a twenty year marriage, she was right back in another one. She might have spent about three or four months on her own. Figuring her shit out. None of them were consecutive. She needed marriage for intimacy and emotional connection, just as some people think they need religion to be spiritual. For her, marriage came with the emotional factor as well as the more practical aspect of finances and image. Like we are living back in Edwardian times again.

I see this happening a lot. Especially to those who have dated or been romantically involved with me. The foster boyfriend, finding forever homes for wayward women. But that’s a whole other post. You see, I can be good to someone. So good to them. But I’m not wealthy and I’ve been told I don’t look very attractive on paper.

Like I said, a whole other post.

I used to crave that connection. That moment when you meet your forever person. The optimist and the cynic in me are at odds over that debate. The optimist says that these women just found Their Person after dragging me along for so long. Sometimes things just click, so they say. The cynical side of me says they just went back to old patterns. They didn’t really learn anything and just clung on to what was familiar. For whatever reason, they need that cage to feel valued. The world is terrifying outside of those bars.

A little bird could get lost out there in the world without a cage to keep them safe.

At the end of the day, unless you have actually done the work to figure your shit out, it will always come bubbling back up to the surface. No matter how you change your persona, no matter how far you distance yourself from those who got to know you, no matter how many times you start over. Wherever you go, there you are. And if you don’t figure out what is rotten in you, you won’t ever get out of that cage. You’ll just trade it for another one.

But, like I said, some people are more familiar with that cage. It’s comfortable in there. If the world you create continues to let you down, there is comfort in knowing you controlled your own self-destruction. I’m still learning how to deal with that about myself. If you don’t expect too much out of yourself or a situation, you won’t be nearly as devastated when things go to shit. The truth is it will hurt just as much. Trust me.

With love, the love you have for others will always fade or temper into something else. Sometimes it becomes a patina with character and other times, that tarnish just crumbles and decays. The love you have for yourself isn’t a cage. It’s a chilly wind on a summer day.

Or, you can get out of that cage and fly far from it. You might surprise yourself just how far and high you can fly. The worst thing we can ever tell ourselves is “We’ve always done it this way.” It’s the death knell of the spirit, of a workplace, and a relationship. Of the self.

Time to do something different. Something better. Something scary.

Here’s a song that partially inspired my post. The rest was inspired by the shudder I got when I realized just what everyone is running back into. Companionship is wonderful, but if you are the same broken person, and they are the same broken person, and nobody has done the Work…you’re just going to cut each other on your sharp edges and pull at each other’s loose threads. The same fights. The same tears, screaming silently in a different cage.

How to Lose Someone Important to You

Shut them out

Communication is key, and non-communication is an even better key! If you do find yourself in a situation where you are opening up and communicating, be sure to have a supply of things that come up that you can use to avoid any further communication. Emotional neglect and giving the bare minimum is also a good way of letting them know how clingy they’ve been.

Ignore apologies. What matters more is how much they hurt you, instead of a willingness to overcome that hurt. After all, apologies admit weakness, and you need someone stronger than that in your life.

Tell them you need to Process. And by Process, it means distract yourself with all sorts of other bullshit, hanging out with friends, closing down the bar, or doing literally anything else besides Processing. Your toxic friends will provide the right throwaway piece of advice your way because their lives are so stellar. Prefereably in meme or motivational quote form. Or wine.

Don’t box me in! Accuse them of lumping you in with their past while following textbook behaviors demonstrated by people in their past. Because all of us are a completely blank page who shouldn’t rely on past experience to inform us that things are about to implode. Especially if your own self-destructive patterns are right on schedule and obvious to anyone who knows you. There’s nothing worse than being lumped in with your own past behavior!

Remind them they hurt your trust: Tell them in very long text messages that there is nothing they can do to regain that trust. Make sure to repeat this process every week so they know you can never regain your trust. Repeat as often as it takes to explain in excruciating detail how they will never regain your trust. And how there is nothing they can do to fix it. Ever.

When you hurt yourself, make sure they see it. Even the closest people to us in our lives can’t withstand watching us dismantle all the progress we’ve made in our lives. Even the ones who love us will show their true colors when they watch you go off the rails and have to Step Away. Sad choices are the comfort food of emotional healing.

Push away the people who love you most. These people won’t always say what you want to hear. They see good in you, potential, and they will call you out when they are watching you hurt yourself. Being called out hurts, so why let other people hurt you when you are already an expert? If they decide to step back and let you do this, that’s on them.

Orbits are better than emotional investment. Why have one sure thing (that is sure to fail) when you can have four or five people in orbit around you that combine to make at least 1&3/4 of a sure thing! Like old scraps of cloth for quilters, or keeping a jar of bolts and screws, at some point they will serve some kind of purpose. Look at how much emotional support you get too! And if you want, you can always get laid.

ABA: Always be assuming! Actually talking to the other person rarely accomplished anything. You know they are talking shit about you with their friends! What about that song they put on their Facebook! It was a dig! Fuck them! Why aren’t they texting back? Why did they text back?! What are they saying about me??!!

Change the nature of your relationship. Always roll back the nature of your relationship. After all, don’t all people who are “just friends” do these kinds of things with each other? You’ve probably got half a dozen “friends” who stuck around for the breadcrumbs you’ve been throwing them. Hell, they probably told you how much of an asshole this person was too (they are totally objective, btw). If they read too much into things, that’s on them!

Here are some examples of rolling back:

  • Parent = Sperm/Egg donor
  • Valuable employee = Former person in that position
  • My dream job = What I wanted to do when I grew up
  • Lover = Friend with benefits
  • Fuckbuddy = Somebody who keeps bugging me
  • Boy/Girlfriend = An old friend
  • The One = Someone I used to hang out with
  • The One who got away = That motherfucker

Commiserate with enablers

  • People who still want to bang you: You’d be surprised to know how supportive someone you used to sleep with will be when you are in a crisis. You’ll soon see that you were right! It was the other person’s fault entirely! What a good listener.
  • Just any random person: They will see things only through their lens and if you curate the information you give them, it’s pretty certain they will see things your way. If they don’t, then there are other random people to commiserate with.
  • Have a heart to heart with the most toxic person in your life: You’ll see how honest, supportive, and hopeful for your well-being someone is who has completely fucked up the lives of others for their own amusement. This person might have also come pretty close to endangering your safety, your job, and never showed any remorse for dragging you into their drama. Your pain couldn’t possibly just be entertainment for them.

The Process of Healing

Take the high road. Don’t unfriend them. Don’t get angry. Don’t express your frustration. Tell them they are important to you without actually trying to fix anything. You’ll be the good guy. And if there is a good guy, then somebody is the bad guy. Especially when they unfriend and block you, because that’s what bad guys do.

Self-medicate. Spend more time at the bar, or drinking at home. You know, rather than spending an evening hashing things out with someone who you considered important in your life. Alcohol and drugs are great ways to numb any real feeling you might have.

Use your words. Or rather use someone else’s words, and motivational pictures, and TikTok videos, because there is no better way of expressing how you feel than sending someone what somebody else has said about what they feel.

Build walls, not boundaries. Boundaries keep the toxic people out. But walls keep everyone out! At some point everyone will betray you, so build those walls thick and high.

Second chances. The second chances already got used up by everyone else who came before. Their first chance was already their second chance. Or third. Or fourth.

Write your feelings down

Write passive agressive shit about them on the internet. Get angry with them. Write where you know they will see it. Make it bitter. Put it down in words that can’t be unsaid, that will damage the trust between you that was already broken because why the hell not? You didn’t know the secret combination to their heart–Right 26, Left 17, Right 4–to open it. Or was that the combination? Did they even know what it was? How were you supposed to?

What have you got to lose? They walked out of your life. Say the thing. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be mean. It won’t win them back. You lost them a long time ago.

Even though you still love them, even though you want someone who comes home instead of just comes over, even though you know that things can’t go back to how they were, but you can’t help but wonder how things ever were anymore, not now, you don’t trust that anything was real anymore and what was just playing out a fantasy that you wanted and thought they did too. Maybe your finger still itches from where you used to wear their ring. Maybe you still haven’t taken it off. Maybe you see pieces of them in someone else’s smile or laugh. Or when you are scrolling through your phone and you see a picture of them staring right back at you and have to look away because it fucking hurts. Maybe you hear their Name and think about how that special word used to play on your tongue, how you would sometimes say it, just to feel how it felt in your mouth. This is what you get for making plans or daring to daydream. For going past the routine and comfort zones and experiencing actual growth instead of replaying old reruns.

Was it all just a waste of time? Why let anyone get close, ever? Is this why we can’t have nice things?

Sitting there second-guessing your gut. Second-guessing the second-guessing. Keeping your mouth shut even when they were screaming all the warnings at you and waving the red flags and you just watched them drift away. Even when they told you you were overthinking. When they said to stop fishing for assurances. When something was off, but fit perfectly with their old patterns which you had watched before. And yet you had to be right instead of being happy, didn’t you? When you mistook that moment they reached out as wanting you again instead of just…

Stop. Breathe.

Take time to sit in this mess and acknowledge that sometimes things aren’t healthy and that you did enough. You were enough. You were courageous. The only shame you really felt was not feeling worthy of connection with someone who disconnected. Paranoia never brought you happiness. Overthinking is self-harm, just as much as cutting, drinking too much, suicidal thoughts, or alienating yourself from those who truly love you and care about you.

Vulnerability made you beautiful. In spite of your trauma you decided to trust. And you’ll do it again. And again. But each time that weight will be heavier and there are fewer years ahead of you now and we aren’t promised tomorrow. And we are all a little beat up at this age. It doesn’t get any easier.