People often don’t seem to realize that a big, bold, shitty move (or a series of small, bold, shitty moves) in a relationship needs to be corrected by a big, bold good one (or ongoing good, smaller ones) of equal or greater value. Offering a weak “My bad” or “Oh, sorry” don’t cut it. Worse is saying and doing nothing, forcing the wronged party to try to prompt or cajole appropriate amends. It’s almost a subtle form of gas lighting, acting as if nothing egregious occurred.
The neighbors live in chaos. I grew up in chaos.
I’ve had two years to think about this. A lot.
In a way, that adage about not ever really getting away from your past is true. You don’t. It shows up in other people, in other situations. This time I’m a witness. No – that’s not right to say “this time.” The FIRST time I was a witness too. Not a participant.
(I see grown children who continue their parents’ legacy all the time; participating in the chaos they learned on the home front. That is, they never rejected it in the first place. It was normal and it stayed normal. That was never me. I rejected it very young.)
I am the kind of person who has to find meaning in my experiences. I am compelled. In the neighbors I see what I rejected as toxic in my own family a long time ago. Oh, it’s not exactly the same and the differences initially kept me from seeing the parallels. But – people who live in chaos, who thrive on drama, who have shitty coping skills – they’re more or less the same. The specific details are usually interchangeable and not all that significant.
It might be all well and good to just say “So what, go ahead and live like that, who cares; just stay in your four walls and ‘kill’ each other.” But it doesn’t work that way does it? Other people, bystanders, invariably get dragged in, by choice and not. Other people are affected. Toxicity has tentacles.
Also, people who live in chaos recruit new cast members for their ongoing dramas because old ones get burnt out or move on, and besides, a big dramatic production can always use more players and audience members. And again, even if they don’t actively recruit, the mess such people make is not tidy and contained in those metaphorical four walls. It seeps out and contaminates whatever it touches.
People choose drama and chaos to fill emptiness in their lives. It keeps them busy. It keeps them from thinking too much, from real reflection and introspection. Nothing like a good scene, a knock-down-drag-out fight, shallow distractions, an addictive habit or three, or constantly “helping” somebody else with their “problems” to keep a person busy, no? It’s so transparent to me now.
I wholesally reject everything about this. Decency can trump toxicity. It has too. Decency springs of a better place, it has deeper roots. I chose a long time ago to live in decency not in chaos. It is a choice. It’s one I made with my own original family and it’s one that I continue to make throughout my life.
People whose lives are filled with meaningful pursuits and positive activities to occupy their waking hours are not attracted to and do not thrive on toxic chaos. That is the challenge isn’t it? For everybody. Everybody who gives a damn about how they conduct their lives.
I heard that an actor who had a part on a well-known TV show was moving into the neighborhood. I was curious. It was close enough that I could actually see the move-in but as it turned out it was the day the man I knew killed himself so I no longer cared or paid any attention. I had other problems to deal with as well last year and trying to get the scoop on a neighbor-on-TV was a low priority.
Time passed. He instead became “the guy who habitually runs stop signs.”
Without any particular probing on my part, the first time we talked he revealed a lot of personal things about himself, more than you’d normally expect, the sort of things you’d tell if you were building trust and confidence with a new acquaintance. Yet he didn’t seem interested in talking again.
When that happens I think either a) the person is rather forthcoming with lots of people (so there’s nothing special about it) or b) they feel they have over shared and need to back away. In any case what I know for sure is I let it go, I don’t pursue it. It wasn’t always that way but I learned.
I was in a store yesterday and heard a woman talking on her phone to another woman, probably a friend. I hear people yammering on phones everywhere I go so this sure wasn’t an unusual situation. However, the woman was clearly audible and came closer to me so I couldn’t miss what she was saying. They were talking about men and their relationships with them. The woman in the store was suggesting her friend’s practice and error, was “making men husbands”. She said it twice. Her friend must have fired back or bristled in some way because the woman replied memorably. In fact I stopped right there (she was out of eyesight) and got out a pen and paper – something I think about doing and never do – and wrote it down.
I been married once honey. And truthfully had I known him a little longer it would have been zero. He slid in there. He got lucky.
Those of you who either aren’t single or don’t live near or in an urban area may not be familar (I am just guessing here so correct me nicely if I’m wrong) with the “poly” lifestyle that has become more prevalent or at least more out in the open. Basically, it means having sexual/romantic attachments with two or more people at the same time – or being open to it – where everybody involved is supposed to know (differentiating it from cheating or affairs).
Before you think I’m going to tell you some juicy secret about me, let me assure you I am not! It’s on my mind though, and is from time to time because I’m curious about relationships and how people live, as well as how social mores change. When I was a child I never heard of any such thing and would not have understood if I had. I mean even sex without marriage was a foreign idea to child-me and shocking even. (I was both sheltered and naive.)
Many years back I was seeing a man who, starting early in our dating, “talked” about the polyamorous life. This was rather odd because the man himself seemed ill-suited to it and even pushed me for emotional and other commitments to him that I wasn’t prepared to give. I wasn’t seeing anyone else but did not relinquish the right by promising total loyalty to him. (You must trust that I had my reasons not to and was wisely not rushing anywhere I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go). I never really understood why he ever brought the subject up at all; he seemed theoretically interested in the subject but not at all interested in practicing it (at least at that time when he knew and was seeing me).
While I’m at this topic let me introduce a great word coined by sex writer Dan Savage, “monogamish” which is when two people are mostly monogamous with one another. That is, they have a primary relationship but it is acceptable for each to have other sexual relationships as well. The pair might have certain rules they’re expected to honor; “none of my friends”, or “only when you’re on business trips”, or “I don’t want to know the details” for examples.
And yet again while I’m on this subject, let me introduce – if you don’t know it (I didn’t till a few years ago) – the word for being happy your partner is having sexual/romantic fun with other people, “compersion.” I gotta tell you, even though it doesn’t involve me and isn’t really my business to have an opinion, I don’t like this word or its concept. There’s something about it that strikes me as a bit smug and affected; as if a person is so evolved that they are above petty feelings like jealousy and competitiveness, and can afford to be sexually and emotionally magnanimous. I dunno – it just seems like a bit much. This probably isn’t helped by my introduction to the word by a man who told me he had felt “joyful compersion” when his girlfriend was sleeping with other guys – that is until she and her other guy fell in love and ran off. I don’t think I had the sympathetic response probably sought. I was thinking, “What did you expect??”
Anyway, I did no research to write this post. I don’t feel like it and if you want to learn more, Google awaits! This leads me to a thought that only occurred to me yesterday. I wondered what kind of people would be most inclined toward polyamorous relationships. See, I was specifically thinking they probably didn’t grow up in a big family where you could call little your own and were forced to share all the time or worse, get nothing. Where you rarely got to be the Center of Attention and had to compete for most everything, even kinda crummy stuff. I concluded this must be why I’m a poor candidate for a polyamorous life!
Dear Person with Problems,
I am sorry you’ve had a bad time of it but frankly my interest in your problems ends at the point they begin to make PROBLEMS for me. See, what you don’t grasp is that my compassion, sympathy, and empathy are not endless wells. Oh yeah, once upon a time you might have played those angles and while it’s true my heart was more open then, I look out for myself more now which I think is a pretty good trade-off. You may not but toughening up has served me.
Why you think you are the only person in the world with problems or that your problems are more important – and thus deserve more exceptions and attention – I just don’t know. There’s nothing spectacular about you. You’re not saving the world, feeding the masses, curing diseases, or spreading joy wherever you go. Now somebody like that, they might get exceptions. “He’s a genius! Cut him a little slack already.” You’re not a genius. You. Are. Not. Special. And you know what? Your problems aren’t special either. Oh I know you THINK they are. But really, they are pretty mundane.
Every where you go your problems become other people’s problems. Directly or indirectly. You create a swath of issues in everything you touch. Nothing is easy with you. You make a mess of everything. But you never see your hand in it. It is always somebody’ else’s fault. The boss. The friend. The husband. The judge. The government. Your parents. The co-worker. The random stranger. They all make life so very rough for you. Poor you.
I am so, so very tired of you. Because you never go away. Every time I turn around, think life has quieted down a little and maybe we can all relax and have some peace for a minute, there you are. Making demands, complaining, drawing attention to yourself, barking, agitating, taking, stomping all over other people. It’s just the way you live. You don’t even know it. In fact, your self-awareness is sketchy at best. Yes, once in awhile you might allow that your life is abysmal and you aren’t happy but you soon default to your typical stance. Action without thought. Making your problems other people’s problems.
Most of us have bad days, days we say the wrong thing, take something out on someone, or otherwise chafe against other people. We all have problems and they do sometimes affect other people negatively. But that’s not you. This is how you are all the time. Every day is a bad day.
Now if you’re going to tell me about the miserable circumstances you grew up in, the poverty, the absent parent, the drugs, the rough neighborhood, the abuse or anything like that – and offer them as the excuse for your behavior – I will have little patience. If you’re going to tell me how nothing has ever worked out for you, that your dreams weren’t fulfilled, that your life hasn’t gone the way you’d have hoped – and use that as an excuse for your behavior – again I will have little patience. Do you really think everybody else has it so good? That all or most people are skipping along through life problem-free with jolly childhoods, fulfilled dreams, and constant successes?
I realize you aren’t thinking about the rest of us, you’re thinking about yourself, but I DON’T CARE. I’ve had it with you. Your problems have become such a nuisance and have permeated my existence to such an extent, that I no longer care about ANY of them. I can’t even give you my normal level of concern because I am so burnt out. I’d rather give what energy I have first to myself and then to other people who deserve it, people who are trying to live decently, asking for what they deserve, but generally trying not to make all of their problems someone else’s fault or responsibility. I have nothing for you. You take too much. Your problems don’t interest me.