July 21, 2009

Getting Out

I've got two close friends who are currently struggling through divorces, a friend who is in the middle of leaving his partner of 10 years, and my brother who has been dealing with the acceptance of his role as a father in the face of his daughter's mother's new love and their baby, his daughter's half-sister (and he's handling it beautifully--I'm so proud!).

When I talk to these folks, their experiences make it clear that it is always difficult to extricate yourself from close relationships, and that the difficulties are both public and private.

My mom walked away from a few relationships that were bad for her during my life. Watching it happen, I'm certain I learned some very important lessons about standing up for myself. And yet, when it comes up, I get the sense that she may be embarrassed that she didn't leave as early as she wishes she would have, or that she wishes she hadn't gotten involved at all. I can't help but wonder if we all don't feel this way about some of the relationships in our lives?

Also, I recently found myself at a party where I learned from the mother of a close family friend (but an acquaintance of mine) that he was getting divorced too. Weird, right? To learn intimate relationship details about someone you have spoken to on a monthly basis, when he hasn't mentioned anything? To realize your last, "say hi to the wife" adieu when you hung up the most recent call was probably horrific to him, since at the time she'd moved out, was living with her parents several states away, and he was dating again?

All of these people taking formal steps to exit and/or formally modify the public treatment of their relationships result in quite a bit of pain and awkwardness, not just for themselves, but for others who thought they understood the nature of their relationship too.

When I imagine if E was to take these types of actions towards me or vice versa, it is very painful. But, when I can back up from the empathetic pain, it's also been very inspiring. The courage to make those choices is not easy to come by and I'm proud of each of these people for finally making the difficult decisions (and dealing with the necessarily awkward explanations) so that they can redirect the course of their lives.

One of the things that is healthy about *not* being in a committed monogamous sexual relationship is that life is fluid. When you are trying on potential life-partners for size, you are constantly re-evaluating the healthiness of your most committed physical/emotional relationship(s), and thus, at least for me, I think it was easier to evaluate every other relationship as well. But, once a person commits to the largest emotional relationship in their life and, potentially, children that are supported by that relationship, most people probably let up on the constant relationship re-evaluation (which is a good thing).

The tricky thing is -- if you are in this situation, many of the other relationships in your life are not committed at the same level and probably should continually be reevaluated. Some will naturally evolve and dissolve. But some may actually need you to take some sort of action to force the evolution or dissolution.

So, for me, Penelope's most recent post was perfectly timed.

Before taking multiple gasps of Holy Shit! while reading it, I'd been having floating thoughts about getting out of or putting space into relationships and how it seems to be something that is happening to many people in my life (myself included), but I had no cohesive idea of my current belief system.

I knew it was important to know when to get out of unhealthy relationships. I knew it was important to be able to draw your own lines to try to heal an unhealthy relationship. I knew that you were never really in a relationship unless you were actually in it, and thus, you couldn't really ever say, fully, whether someone else needed out of theirs.

But, I also knew that after a while, if its been unhealthy for some time, outsiders see enough that they can often make observations and judgment calls about the relationship that turn out to be right more often than not.

For me, today's lesson, is that sometimes people (like me) are so tied up in the image of who they want to convey themselves as, or how they don't want to inconvenience, embarrass, confuse, or make others feel awkward, that they perpetuate relationships, or the facade of relationships, long after the relationships are probably best abandoned. And, further, that when people are in the "perpetuate for the sake of perpetuation mode", it can be very clear to outsiders that the relationship is most likely very unhealthy.

So, in my ever-changing quest to become a more present person, I'm going to try to pay more attention to the day-to-day *reality* of my relationships as opposed to my ideal of what they have been, or, could, should, or would be.

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