During my teenage years, I’d read a column in my mother’s Ladies’ Home Journal called “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” I’m not quite sure why it interested me, other than that the notion of marriages – or any relationship, for that matter – being worth saving was a foreign concept to me. By the time it became clear my parents’ marriage was in trouble, it was also apparent nothing short of a restraining order would save much of anything, and even then it would be saving life and limb, not Catholic sacraments or a meaningless piece of paper reminiscent of happier days (should they ever have existed). Perhaps I read the column in hopes that I’d glean some understanding of how a “normal” relationship functioned: this is what the woman does, this is what the man says, this is how they argue, this is how they fix their problems. For an adult child of all sorts of dysfunction – I actually own a book called The Adult Children’s Guide to What’s Normal – it’s not a stretch of a supposition.
While I’m fairly certain it isn’t true, the message I remember from “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” is that marriages can always be saved if the parties involved just tried hard enough. More likely it’s the case that I discarded any stories in which the therapist counseled the couples to go their separate ways and remembered only the happy endings. How else can one explain why it is the dysfunctional and problematic relationships that leave me clinging like a barnacle to every last glimmer of fading hope?
But today is the day that stops. I have simply been pushed to my limit, pushed up against a boundary I made as explicit and clear as humanly possible. The boundary was crossed, and I assumed it would be obvious: Game Over. Relationship Done. You made your choice the minute you decided to do what I said (and you agreed, in advance) was unforgivable. Imagine my surprise, then, to hear the words, “So… let me know if you decide you want to break up.”
Let me know if you decide you want to break up?!?!
If I were a cartoon character, that would have been the moment my head did one of those rattling back-and-forth motions to make sure I’d heard correctly.
Are there really people out there who think that when someone says “this is a deal-breaker; if you do this it means our relationship is over, I will never be able to forgive you, and there will be absolutely no chance for reconciliation” what they really mean is “I’ll be really hurt, but if you try really hard and beg for my forgiveness and cry a lot, I’ll change my mind”? Are there really people who purposefully do something that they know will hurt someone beyond their wildest fears, yet the very next day say, “but I’d still love to see a movie with you this weekend”? Are there really people who all but destroy the emotional stability of people they profess to love… and in the midst of their lover’s sobs say things such as, “I really want us to get back to being the close friends we once were”?
Apparently so, because I was talking to one such person on the phone this morning. And all day I’ve been wondering why I didn’t hang up after the first five minutes of the conversation.
But to make up for it, I’ve started doing what I suppose my therapist would call taking my power back or self-care or something else self-affirming. I changed my Facebook status to Single. I unfriended him. I blocked him on Twitter. And if he violates the newest boundary I’ve set – not to contact me until he has seen a therapist and said therapist has helped him devise a sane and compassionate plan to make amends to me – then he’ll find himself blocked on my phone as well. This is no longer about how I may or may not feel for him – frankly, any love I may have had has been eclipsed by rage, betrayal, vengeance, hurt, and just plain deep and utter sadness – and it is 100% about protecting and taking care of myself.
This is the day to let go of any idea I might have had that he is capable of treating me as I deserve to be treated, or even with a modicum of compassion or kindness. Today is the day to let go of the idea that he will be able to leave me alone without some external barriers placed upon him. But today is also the day to give up any idea I may have had that there was ever any chance that he and I could have had a life together, because for a very long time it has been clear that he was never capable of offering the sort of life that I want, much less the kind that I deserve. And given all of that, and then some, no, this may not have been a marriage, but if this saga were in Ladies’ Home Journal, I bet even experts would agree: this isn’t anything even remotely worth saving. It’s time for me to move on and let him try to figure out why the best he can do is to destroy the people he loves. For his sake, I hope he finds out. For mine, I hope he does it while staying the hell away from me.