Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Demise of a Relationship ≠ A Personal Failure

...not necessarily, anyway.
This is mostly a rant, but maybe there's an implicit question in here somewhere.

While in my early 20's, I met a friend who was in her early-to-mid 30's. We went to the same university and even lived and worked in the same on-campus apartment complex. She was a single mother raising her 3- or 4-year-old daughter while juggling bills and classes. It seemed challenging, but she was strong-willed and seemed all but impervious to injury.

One day, I stopped by to see my friend and there was a man there - the same man she said abandoned her and their baby girl years before. He wasn't just visiting. He was there to stay. I was pretty surprised and disgusted by his presence and her acceptance of him, but it wasn't really my business. She won't like all the decisions I make and I don't have to like all of the decisions she makes for us to remain friends. So, I welcomed him into the fold.

Fast-forward x-number of weeks and I was stopping by to see my friend, again. When I asked about her husband (they'd never divorced) she told me he was gone. He'd left them, again - without a word. He packed his belongings and left without even leaving a note, if I remember correctly. The little girl who'd started getting used to having a daddy had to be told that Daddy wasn't around, anymore. I'm glad I wasn't the one who had to deliver that message, but I feel sorry for the one who did - and the one who had to hear it.

Fast-forward several years and, after periods of no communication, my friend and I re-established contact. There had been plenty of changes in our lives and I was in MY early 30's while her daughter was a teenager. During our discussions, it became clear that she'd been encouraging her (now-) ex-husband to get his life together by coming to town and staying with her. After a bit of prodding, she admitted that she'd sleep with him, but that she wouldn't be interested in a relationship. I knew her well enough to insist that the former was true, but to deny the latter.

Somewhere between the lines, she'd met a man with a questionable past, an abusive present, and an incarcerated future. Despite the many times he mistreated her, she kept going back to him. She kept giving him second, third, and nth chances to "act right."

This story probably sounds familiar enough not to surprise too many of you. Either you've seen or experienced this in your own lifetime or you've seen it on the Lifetime television network. It's not that familiar "It's my fault he mistreats me" or even the "better to have a man than an empty bed" way of thinking that concerns me most, right now (although I don't doubt those things factored in). No, it's an idea she repeated various times during the many years I've known this person:

She believes that if you are in a relationship and that relationship fails to endure, then you have failed.

I don't think she's alone in believing this, unfortunately. That's what bothers me so much. Sure, she's got her faults, just like the rest of us. And maybe those faults factored into the demise of her relationships, but a lost relationship is not necessarily a sign that you are not a "real man" or "woman." It bugs the hell out of me, sometimes, that so many people seem to think otherwise. It leads to people staying in unhealthy or unfulfilling relationships simply because they think that's what they're supposed to do.

This ain't the 50's and I, for one, am glad of it. Life is for the living. Get enjoyment. Share enjoyment. Accomplish something. Or not. Just don't think you've always got to make lemonade. Sometimes the lemon's just plain ol' rotten.

I just hate the idea that there are so many people out there, particularly and primarily women (in my opinion), who are putting so much pressure on themselves to prove their worth by finding ANY old relationship to be in - any ol' man-project or project man to "fix up." As a result, too many are lowering their standards to sub-atomic levels.

* Props to all the men and women out there who have the guts to recognize incompatibility when they see it.

* Kudos to those who have the bravery to put an end to something they love and are invested in because it's the right thing to do.

* Points to anybody who respects themselves and their significant others enough to express their needs, listen to the needs of others, and admit when the two are mutually exclusive.

I guess that's all I have to say about that.

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

As requested by the man himself, here is a cut and paste of my reply to his post on only, you know, with less typos, lol.

I do have something to add to that come to think of it: your friend's self esteem is clearly extremely low, and she may well be doing one of the classic 21st Century Woman re-enactments of the past, very possibly the "I couldn't make Daddy love me but I might be able to change this one!!!"

Essex, the part of England where I live, is replete with women who want to get with crappy men and change them into good men. This inevitably fails of course as true change comes from within, but it's still an epidemic out here.

I once asked a girl I know who is an exponent of the "I can change him" school of relationships; "Why don't you just decide what kind of man you are trying to change these guys INTO, and find someone who's already like that?"

I was rewarded with a veeeery blank expression, followed eventually by "well, that's just boring!"

The lesson here is simple: People protect their beliefs and their world view like they protect nothing and no one else in the world.

Women who believe men will treat them that way will relentlessly seek out men who prove them right, because otherwise the change has to happen inside the women herself. And changing a guy and failing is a lot less scary that admitting you might have been wrong all along and that you might need to change your whole world view.

asdf said...

I've only ever had one "real" breakup, and be "real" I mean I wasn't in Jr. High.

I was 20 and she got rid of me. At the time it was hard for me to get. I thought it was me. But now that I look back on it, we just didn't have all the puzzle pieces needed to keep going. We are still friends now to an extent, and I learned it wasn't really me that she didn't like, it was just that our time was up, she couldn't deal with me anymore for whatever reason and that's about it.

It wasn't because I was a bad guy, just not "the" guy for her.

DramaFree said...

Great post. If you don't mind, I'm emailing this a couple of my friends who need to read this!!

West said...

I didn't know about your comment, livingsingle, until just now.

Of course I don't mind and am honored. Welcome.