Misunderstood…or Complicated?

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about things people have said about us that just doesn’t make sense. In her case, an ex accused her of hating fun! Which was not only strange, but absolutely ridiculous. Who hates fun?! Anyone?

This probably happens to a lot of people. Sometimes it’s laughable and easily dismissed. Other times it’s insulting.

In my case, I’m a pretty calm person. I’m also rarely offended and I have almost NO ego connected to anything. I think most of the people I know would consider me to be a pretty easy-going, agreeable, and nice person. Yes, I have an opinion and I’m not afraid to share it; however, I am ecstatic to hear what other people think about a situation, too. I don’t by any means think my opinion is THE WAY to think, and I don’t try to shove my opinion in anyone’s face.

With that said, there are times when I get accused of being the opposite of what I consider myself to be. And it is absolutely BAFFLING to me. If it’s from someone who doesn’t know me well, I usually just shrug it off. Or laugh because ME? Really?

But sometimes it comes from someone I know. And I wonder what the hell I did wrong and why sometimes the history of our relationship can easily disappear in an instant. How suddenly someone I know and trust can think I am:

  • Judgmental
  • Intimidating
  • Overly feminist
  • Controlling or passive aggressive
  • Paranoid
  • Exaggerating or straight out lying
  • Pessimistic or trying to ruin others’ fun

And if you think I *am* any of the above – why keep me around? Why not drop me like a hot potato? Do yourself a favor and stay away if you think I am (or anyone else is) toxic!

Sometimes my words get twisted. I once stated that I like to live in towns that have malls (to me – that implies a certain size and level of civilization). To my ex-husband, this became “Crystal loves malls and consumer culture.” Nevermind the fact that it was rare for me to step foot in one and shopping has never been on my list of things to do for fun. Ever. Suddenly I grew horns and years of history were erased because I didn’t condemn malls like he did.

Not too long ago I said that I didn’t like the show Mike & Molly, and the response was, “Is it because you don’t like fat people?” Uhhhh, whaaaat? Why in the world would you think that? Actually, I just don’t particularly care for most sitcoms. I wasn’t a Friends fan, either! It’s just not something that tickles my particular funny bone. Do YOU hate fat people? ‘Cause now I have to wonder about you!

And then there was the time that a longtime friend thought I hated homosexuals because I had once said I’m not interested in getting busy with lady parts. Again, what the hell? Somehow my interest and preference for males was viewed as anti-gay just because I didn’t share a passion for lady parts? So if I were to say that I’d much prefer chocolate over vanilla, does that mean I think vanilla is the devil and should be banned and everyone who likes vanilla is the devil?

‘Cause whoa! That’s some deep shit right there. And I should maybe not speak ever again if that’s true.

I’m an introspective kind of gal, so when these things happen I immediately wonder what I’m doing wrong. How is it that people who should know me quite well could even for a moment consider that these things might be my point of view? And if I’m NOT doing something wrong, am I invisible? Am I speaking a different language?

Does that word not mean what I think it means??

I try to think of it from the other person’s point of view. Like, it probably has very little to do with me and more to do with that person – either their own feelings on the subject or a generalization they’ve made. But generally these situations arise around people with whom I mostly communicate just fine. That that doesn’t lead me to a clear answer, either.

I just don’t know why this happens. I just really want everyone to know that my opinion has nothing to do with the validity of yours. It’s okay to disagree – different points of view, different experiences and conclusions, are a huge part what makes life interesting! At least to me. If you want only people who have the same views as you do in your life, I give you a free pass to walk away from me right now – no explanation necessary. I’m not that kind of friend and I know it. I accept the consequences of not being a Yes Man.

Readers, what are your thoughts? Is there something in particular at the heart of misunderstandings? Is it just too common for people to look for the worst in others and mind-read? Am I seriously bad at communication?

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Divorce and Empathy

My friend Becky is in the early stages of divorce, a situation that brings out a lot of empathy in me. It’s not only a divorce – it’s also a complete shift in her life; she is completely starting over from scratch (which is fairly typical with divorces). This, naturally, takes me back to four years ago when I did the same…

I had been married almost nine years to Joe when we called it quits. We’d been together since we were 16 and neither of us had ever lived on our own. We grew up together – and we outgrew one another. We had been trying to avoid the inevitable for years, doing everything we could think of to adjust to one another, including individual AND couples counseling. Divorce came up so often in our relationship that we had already decided “if we ever get divorced, that one is YOUR cat.” He regularly talked about women who would be “next in line” and I tried to escape with friends or travel as often as I could.

Not long after moving back from the isolated northern coast of California to the Bay Area and starting a new job, I started having a serious mental breakdown. I had an incident where I could not get out of bed – I felt entirely zapped of energy and I had to be guided to the car because I was so disoriented and dizzy. The stress had built up so much that my own willpower was no match for it.

I started therapy again and got some anti-depressants. In talking with my psychiatrist (who reminded me exactly of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Stranger Than Fiction), I realized I had some serious personal issues I needed to work on that just could not get resolved while I was in that relationship with Joe. I had to start from scratch if I was going to fix anything about myself. I had to separate completely from unhealthy patterns, behaviors, and people. I had been trying to live a life that just wasn’t me for too long and I was no longer able to stuff myself in that box.

The conversation about separating took about two minutes. Joe and I both new where we stood with one another and knew it’d be a relief to not be together anymore. Everything else aside, we were a bad match – nearly complete opposites when it came to goals, personality, and values. This was not difficult to see. The only reason our relationship had been ‘working’ was because I’d been suppressing so much of myself for so long, trying to mold myself into a good wife for Joe. I might have continued to do this if my own psyche hadn’t put a stop to it. Even Joe had told me, “You aren’t the person I fell in love with at 16.” He was right.

Almost all the difficulty in the separation came out of the reactions of family and friends (not everyone, mind you – we had support, as well). Someone made the comment that because Joe and I had been together so long, had seemed so comfortable in the way things were, that they had placed us in the category of “not breaking up ever.”

Reactions varied – some took sides (although we both maintained that it was a mutual decision) and others felt scared about their own relationships. People argued that we hadn’t tried hard enough, hadn’t done enough to save the relationship. As hard as my depressed and scattered brain tried to make sense of it all for others, I was not able to coherently explain that the relationship was a fraud – that I was a fraud – that I had buried myself for a decade. The relationship was an illusion and there were some fundamental problems with me (and Joe, as well) that needed to be fixed. Guessing at the people we would likely be once these issues were addressed, it was blatantly obvious we wouldn’t choose to be together (if even friends) once healthy.

We both grieved the end of the relationship and the major upheaval in our lives. Joe did so openly, as he is a very outgoing person. I, on the other hand, am more private – it’s only through writing that I am able to share most of what I’m thinking and feeling. My therapists have always had to PULL information from me.

Unfortunately, my lack of demonstrativeness was seen by others as coldness. I didn’t seem to be upset enough. I seemed to be carrying on just fine. (Meanwhile, I was taking bathroom breaks often to deal with my panic attacks in private. The idea that my personal life would affect things like work was appalling to me – I needed to work and I needed to take care of my child and I needed to start all over. I didn’t have time for grief.) A number of people were MAD at me – felt that my seeming indifference was aimed at Joe. The things that were said about me hurt deeply, especially since I was struggling with my long-ignored mental health in addition to this huge life change.

Some of the relationships I had before the split were never quite mended. I still haven’t yet figured out my place with my family-by-marriage. I was fully entrenched in that family for over a decade and loved them as my own. But somehow when Joe and I split, I lost my place with them. I still feel most conflicted about that.

I write all of this not because I want sympathy after the fact but because I would like to implore everyone out there to have empathy for those going through divorce – for BOTH people. Joe did horrible things to me during our marriage and I did horrible things to him, but in the end – even if those things had never occurred – we were wrong for one another and we both knew it. Neither of us wanted our child to grow up thinking that he should force himself to stay in a bad situation that was leaching him of happiness. We wanted to show him how to go out and seek what he needed, to find those things that feed his soul.

I’m proud of myself for walking away from the marriage. I’m proud of myself for sending the message to my son that love and happiness are important. I’m proud of deciding that *I* was important.

Divorce is hellish, no matter how amicable it is. Starting over SUCKS and everyone makes mistakes while doing it – they are, after all, making extremely important decisions about life while under a ton of stress. But sometimes, even as painful as it is, it’s the right thing to do. Without happiness, how is life worth living?

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What Love Is

I’m still in awe of the wedding.  It was perfect.  Everything came together better than David and I had even imagined.  We worked hard to make it what it was, but the icing on the cake came from our family and friends.  From my friend Beth chasing flowers down with FedEx (major failure on FedEx’s part!) to others running errands and assisting with putting it all together and tearing it all down again, I was continually amazed at the generosity of those surrounding us.  At some point in time I just had to shut off that inner voice that felt undeserving of all the help, otherwise I surely would have melted into the floorboards when GUESTS started cleaning our house at the end of the reception.  We even came home from our honeymoon to find that our friend Sarah had made our bed.  !!!

We are still flabbergasted.  There are not enough words, gifts, or thanks that can be said to convey our appreciation.  We feel loved, humbled, lucky and blessed.  I remember feeling this when I had Jack.  I recall when it all clicked that people love and want the best for me and my growing family.  The people in my life knew they couldn’t help with the really hard stuff, couldn’t take my place in the trench when things get really hard…so they did what they could to be a buffer.  They probably feel it is only a token, but to me it is an enormous gift.

David’s sister Laurie officiated our wedding.  It was her first time officiating a wedding but she did an amazing job.  I doubt she even knows how much her words will stay with me, and how well she captured the spirit of our wedding:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and in each other.
May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content with yourselves just the way you are.

Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, laugh and love.  It is there for each and every one of us.  And today, surrounded by friends and family, it is there for the two of you.

Image by M. Hardina

We are loved.

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Ducks in a Row

Image by jcoterhals via Flickr

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that as of last week (May 18 to be exact) I am an officially divorced woman!  For those of you who aren’t over there, now you know, as well!  After 19 months of paperwork hell, it is finally DONE.  Joe and I exchanged congratulations via text afterward and all was well with the world!

So, what’s next?  If you had asked me two years ago, I would have told you I would never get married again.  My first marriage did not go as expected and frankly left me with little trust in relationships.  It was very freeing to move out on my own, though, and being out of that relationship has done wonders for my state of mind.

David and I knew very early on that we had met our soul mates in one another.  I was still a bit surprised, though, when I realized that I was certain that I wanted David to be my husband.  We waited for the divorce to go through but when it became apparent that the process was going to take longer than expected, we gave up on being politically correct and got engaged anyway.  It’s rare that a day goes by that one of us doesn’t propose to the other all over again.  (Awwww…)

We’ve gone through several iterations of wedding plans but we are set now for September 5.  My dress has been purchased, the invitations are addressed, and the cake has been tasted and ordered.  It will be a small, intimate wedding with a backyard reception before we fly off to Italy for our honeymoon.  I’m so happy to be leaving the angst of a failed marriage behind.  I am so thankful that I feel healed now and ready for my life as Mrs. T.

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The ending

It’s been over a year since Joe and I split up.  I was chatting with him recently and we agreed that it seems like a lifetime ago that we were married.  So much has happened in the past year that our previous life together seems unreal.  I can’t speak for his experience in all this, but I thought I would write a bit about my perspective.

The hardest part about a divorce, especially after 9 years of marriage, is figuring out the relationship with in-laws.  Being married at 18 means that I grew up with these people.  I spent every Christmas of the last decade with them.  I’m godmother to my niece Emily.  Joe’s mom was there for Jack’s birth and I work with Joe’s brother (which was a little awkward at first but is totally fine now).  I have struggled a lot with the question of whether divorce means that I lose these connections, if I give up the right to know what they are doing.  I am still hopeful that that is not the case.  How does one divorce a person without making their whole family feel divorced?  I still have no answer.

Another difficult aspect of a divorce, at least one with a child involved, is the part where you still have to deal with many of the issues that were there in the marriage.  A procrastinator spouse may be (endearingly) annoying, but when that person becomes your ex and you are suddenly dealing with waiting to hear back about a custody schedule change or something, it becomes a giant bone of contention.  After divorcing someone you end up dealing with the bad stuff without enough of the good stuff to balance it out.  That came as a bit of a surprise to me.  I did not realize that separation and divorce are not all that separate.

All in all I think our split has turned out better than anyone could have expected.  Jack is still the well-adjusted funny little kid he was before but now he gets dedicated time with each parent.  Both Joe and I have met wonderful people who make us fantastically happy.  Jack has four parents now to teach him and care for him, and we all bring different strengths to the equation.  When Joe and his girlfriend moved last month, David helped them.  It was surreal for me, having my boyfriend help out my ex-husband, but it is how I hoped things would be.  I feel very lucky be surrounded with people who want everything to go as smoothly as possible and recognize the importance of one another’s roles.  I feel lucky that everyone is moving on and finding happiness instead of continuing to struggle with a marriage that just wasn’t working.

Our divorce paperwork is in the final stages.  The papers are all filled out and in proper order but the courts are not making it easy on us.  The papers have been rejected twice and the second time was completely unexplained.  This last technicality lingers before I can have a final resolution to that story in my life.  I’m very much looking forward to the future.

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