My friend was away for two weeks, visiting her mother. It was a nice break. The dynamic with her is very intense, and the dynamic between her and her daughter is also tense.
She came back the night before last, I suppose. This morning, she messaged me from her study upstairs about needing to talk to me. We worked out I was free at that moment After about 10 minutes, I get this:
OK. It’s hard to know how to phrase this at all, but I will try. You have lived here for 7 months totally free etc. and it has worked out fairly well–you have been helpful with the dogs and many many dishes and dog hair and have been good company, but things have changed. I don’t know whether you have noticed but there is a lot of tension in the house. The main thing, though is that I need to have space, both literal and psychologically, to be with Daughter and Daughter’s Husband while they are here. I am finding it hard to have the kind of family time with them that I’d like to have and also, separate but related, I want Daughter and Daughter’s Husband to stay here until Daughter knows better what kind of job she is going to have, and where. I would like to provide them with more space so that they don’t leave before she works out what she’s doing. This is of the utmost importance. They have already begun to look at places, but I am adamantly opposed. You see where this is going and I know this is a shock, and we could talk about this part later.. I have tentatively found another place for you, a guest house behind CT’s house (he’s a math professor whom you may know) [aside: I haven’t the faintest idea who he is] a couple of blocks north of here. I haven’t seen it and I don’t know the terms, but I would help out to make it possible. I’d really like it if you could absorb this a bit and then we could talk. I very much want this not to destroy our friendship and I actually feel that it would be better for our friendship in the long run because I’m having a lot of trouble right now. Daughter says I’m not being very nice to you…I just need the space to be with them.
Me: ok we can talk about this later
Her: OK, maybe not too much later.
Lots of thoughts. Maybe I can share them with you.
I mean, there is this obvious: don’t have feelings about this, I won’t be able to cope with them. I can’t even stand feeling guilty about this, so please allow me to control where you live even when you aren’t in my house.
And there is also the obvious: this is her house. She get to decide what to do with it.
I tried to get a little bit settled with what she had said and then went to talk to her. I did not say much. She had already made it clear my feelings of hurt weren’t going to be okay. I went up and let her talk, thinking as I did that, being quiet lets me off the hook. I don’t have to risk rejection or vulnerability or try to make myself understood. I knew I was being a little bit of a coward, but I’ve also been letting myself do this, and choosing not to share things that feel too vulnerable to me, choosing more consciously when to take emotional risks and when to backpedal, who to trust with my truth and who not to.
She talked more about how we had had different understandings of the terms to begin with which might have been the case. There is this odd thing that people do, I have found, when you come back from a long trip abroad, where they expect you to settle back into your old life and old way of being, never realizing that you aren’t going to. You have changed, and things aren’t going to go back to the way they were. So she was seeing this as helping me out while I settle back into my life in the United States. I don’t know how it did not get communicated to her that I don’t intend to do that. This is an interlude. It’s one of those things that was so obvious to me, I may never have mentioned it.
For quite a few reasons, my life is permanently different now.
To me, it worked out to: this is why I am right and you can’t get mad at me. But it was still interesting to talk about. It was interesting to reflect on people’s assumptions about what you will do after a long absence, but also that people (me included) don’t articulate their strongest assumptions. I made a note to myself out loud to her: when people are puzzling, ask them.
I didn’t bring up her attitude before I left–that she made a point of telling me she wanted me to be in her house–nor did I bring up how she has said a few times that I am “one of the family.”
What’s painful about this for me is that this has happened a few times in my life, and it turns out people don’t mean this. I am not. In the end, there are always certain lines between relatives and non-relatives, priorities and non-priorities, and this always comes to the fore in the end.
I did tell her I was grateful for what she had done for me, but I did not tell her that some of this gratitude was based on a sincerity I now assume she doesn’t have, and what I feel now is more a reinscription that people cannot be trusted and don’t mean what they say.
I felt like a pawn. First of all, it made me think her attitude when I was leaving had more to do with not wanting to experience feelings of loss than any real wish to be involved in my life. Maybe it’s ungrateful to me to think that, but it did put it in a sensible context: she might not have thought much about saying the things she said. They may have been said impulsively–I don’t want you to go.
And now I feel like a pawn in her wish to control her daughter. I don’t want my daughter to leave, and she seems to need more physical space, so maybe if I do that, she won’t leave.
The unwritten contract, don’t you think?
All of it is about her interacting with herself and not much about me, and I felt very much like an object, being moved around to make someone else feel better.
I talked to her daughter later, and she explained to me how her parents had essentially controlled her mom’s life: choosing whom she would marry, even, deciding for her where to go to college. Those things make sense to me, considering how much my friend seems to be trying to follow invisible rules.
I had also been thinking how loss, when there is a childhood laced with abuse or neglect, can feel intimately tied to shame: I am losing something, because I am bad. And then the loss feels impossible to engage with. How do I engage with being unable to gain the love or acceptance of my parents? How do I engage with the reminder that they found my wishes and desires, my goals and hopes and dreams, my very being unacceptable and, in her case, something which needed to be replaced by the more acceptable desires of the parent? The child does not know this has been, in most cases, done to the parent, and the parent is in their turn trying to avoid being rejected by the child so that the parent need not engage with the memory of their own rejection. Not wanting to risk rejection can look like total control or it can look like not setting appropriate boundaries and limits and leaving your child to guess about what is okay and not okay, what is expected and what isn’t.
I am writing this, and I’ll tell you the take-away from these musings is always somewhat the same: it wasn’t about me. What I experienced as a child–the rejection, the loneliness, the lack of support or nurturing–none of that was about me. I didn’t cause those things to happen or to be done to me. I might feel the absence of those thing in my life, but I don’t need to interpret them as proof as my defectiveness. I was born and my parents did the best they could with me, and that turned out to be pretty horrific.
I was not actually bad in the way I experienced myself to be. I was a child, like any child, but I missed out on the experience of having anyone enter into my experience and feel a sense of wonder in doing that. My parents felt too threatened to wonder.
This might be something which only happens between parents and children. That might be the only relationship so intense that you do take someone else’s perspective so thoroughly and so well.
Still trying to get my head around everything.