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?

Act right part II

In this educational series/TED Talk/Nickel’s worth of free advice, I wanted to leave a little bit of room for something which I have considered lately as probably one of the most dangerous things of starting a new relationship: Charm.

Just knowing how things work out in relationships much of the time, I have to say that in the Snow White story, it was doomed from the start. Prince Charming might only have that going for him, just like your Prince Charming. Er…Princess Charming. Whatever. Adjust the pronouns as you need, because this shit is universal.

Charm

Charm gets you through the door but it won’t be what keeps you there. Being funny, interesting, having a crude joke, or a party trick will catch their interest, but unless you are in the Ringling Bros. eventually that shit is going to wear thin. Usually when someone is front loading the charm, it means that they will probably turn out to be a real piece of crap later on. Charm is nice, but it doesn’t last and anyone who has been burned by it will actively avoid it once they understand it is pretty much just bait for a deadly trap.

Some of my friends have recounted some of the most charming people they have spent time with later turned out to be horrifying monsters. They fell for compliments and sweet talk. So the next time someone sweet talks them, they won’t believe it, even if it is spoken with total sincerity…which is only about 1 in 1000 times.

Masks

Yes, I sound cynical. How the hell else are you supposed to meet people? On dating apps you are supposed to have a great opening line or you won’t get even a hello back. Those are supposedly what is required these days to even participate in the gene pool. (I’ll pass, thanks). Like most of us are doing these days, you are just wearing a mask. Masks are fine as long as they don’t exceed their purpose. Some of the greatest romances in stories have begun at masquerade balls…well, of course those also end in tragedy…bad example, Romeo and Juliet. But everyone wears a mask to some degree. It removes them from the situation just a little bit so they can operate. Some people wear a mask of alcohol, which they think emboldens them; The old Dutch Courage. For some, their mask is their physical prowess. Either a push-up bra, lots of makeup, big biceps, a six-pack of abs. Etc. This mask dazzles people who don’t really consider having to actually speak with someone they are involved with apparently. Masks are what you want the world to see, and even buy you some time until you decide what you want to reveal about yourself.

In time, all masks dissolve, however. Even if there is just another mask under that mask.

A schtick

Others have their schtick or their line of bullshit. In social situations I tell stories, make jokes, etc. but only when I’m loose or comfortable enough to do it. This is just in general too. The only problem is you have to have a receptive audience. I’ve been to parties where I hid behind a mask of just sitting in the corner and watching people. I know some people whose schtick is doing a parlor trick like drinking a lot of hard liquor in a short amount of time or demonstrating they have no gag reflex.

To which I have to say, I remember my first beer.

Movie quotes are a good mask, but eventually someone wants to know what you have to say, rather than something you’ve memorized from your favorite Quentin Tarantino flick.

At the end of the day, even if I am ON IT at a social gathering or just out in public, the introverted side of me kicks in and I just want to be quiet, listen to sad songs in my car, and breathe. Having a schtick also means that you eventually won’t be ON. Nobody can be.

You have to back it up

Charm is fine for breaking the ice. But even the sweetest person in the world won’t be charming all the time. You have to back it up with integrity, kindness, empathy, and putting in the work. Otherwise, once that mask comes off, if charm was all you had, they will see the ugliness you’ve been hiding, instead of the beauty behind the mask. Substance and character beats charm every time. Unless you are a sociopath, in which case, charm might be all you’ve got.

Act right

A while back, I wrote a post about just about any jackass who was dating any number of my female friends was named Steve. And acting like a jackass. Today while visiting with one of my female friends about her current situation, I got to hear about more douche-lagoonery. Combine that with some other tidbits I’ve heard lately for other friends, I decided it was time to talk about what is wrong with this picture. Just like Highlights magazine for children. Only this if for anyone struggling with dating.

Know when to say When

Her scenario: It’s Sunday afternoon. Do you know where your boyfriend is? Yes you do! He’s at the bar, off his face drunk and texting you to come get him. No, don’t, he says. No, wait, you’d better. Gibberish gibberish self-loathing gibberish. I LOVE YOU!!!

She is going to see this as a red flag. And for the love of Mike, don’t tell your girlfriend you love her for the first time in a drunken text. This is not the story she wants to share with anyone on your silver anniversary. Odds are you won’t make it that far.

Some of the other problems I have seen involve alcohol. I mean these days, people are drinking more, but compared to just about any other illicit, mood-altering substance out there, adding alcohol has almost never made a situation better.

Space and time aren’t just for Neil DeGrasse Tyson

When there are moments in a woman’s life that are surrounded by doubt, sometimes she needs some time to think. Usually (from my experience) this isn’t good for her guy if she says this, but if that is the case he doesn’t need to pour gasoline on that campfire. Any dick pics will be deleted, or probably just forwarded on to her other friends (men and women) with the eyeroll emoji.

When she says, “I just need some space” this is not the opportunity to send her texts illustrating specifics as to what you want to do to her sexually. Leave her alone. She might actually think of charming things you have done (don’t worry, guys, you won’t even know what she is thinking about that will save your ass. It won’t be the moments you were deliberately doing anything that charmed her.)

Read a room

If she breaks up with you, don’t do the same damned thing, being especially crude and nasty. You are just showing how tone deaf you are to the situation. Not to mention disrespectful. You aren’t getting points. You are losing even more points if you do this while you’ve been drinking. Eventually she will come to terms with the fact that you have no intention of respecting her. Her friends will hate you in time and anytime they hear your name mentioned, they will all spit simultaneously to get the undesirable taste of the thought of you out of their mouths.

Rough starts

Beginnings can be difficult as well, even though they represent newness and discovery and mystery. As you progress you will start to notice little things that make you go, “Erm? Huh?” Guys, you aren’t being mysterious by saying “I’ve done bad things in my past. You should probably break up with me.” You are actually giving her some insight as to how she needs to respond to whatever the hell it is you think is so heinous you need to be written off.

On the obverse side, if either of you is just learning about the other, full-disclosure should be appreciated and encouraged about any sexually transmitted diseases you might be carrying. With great Herp comes greater responsibility. I think Spiderman said that. Hiding that shit until either of you has an outbreak is not how you win someone’s trust.

If you have been married several times, that information should also be disclosed upfront. It might even be first date conversation. It should probably be included on your driver’s license right along with whether or not your are of consenting age or if you are an organ donor. Better yet, just have a face tattoo that indicates how broken you are as a person. Saves time! Especially if you are still legally married to at least one of them!

Miscellaneous is the largest category

If you meet an old flame and things get heated, and you wind up sleeping with each other again, it is a douche-lagoon move to ghost them afterwards. What might be worse is trying to smooth things over with lines such as “Just a friend helping out another friend” or “can you send me your half for the hotel room?” These are NOT ways to respond. These kinds of words hurt people.

If you are dating someone you just aren’t all about, don’t tell them a list of names of people you would jump at the chance to date again. For God’s sake, don’t marry that person, because they will always, always remember that list of names. If you have a list like that, don’t break someone’s heart until that list is no longer a thing, or the person you are spending time with makes you forget there ever even was a list.

A friend of mine recently told me that dating in your thirties is like shopping in a thrift store. Believe me, it is much worse in your forties. The sheer amount of damage any of us carry around at any given time should earn us a closer parking spot at the store. Try to be kind to each other, and respect others. Most of all, respect yourself.

Learn to act right.