cruel to be kind means that I love you
Despite bringing my laptop with me on vacation last week, the only things I wrote with it were tweets. Two pocket-sized notebooks, and one regular-sized notebook, however, were constantly in use.
My week away germinated all sorts of intriguing lines of thought, that occurred in 1 of 3 ways: (a) Spouse is driving through the green countryside, and I’m daydreaming; (b) Spouse and I are hiking amongst waterfalls, but mostly we are not together, so my headspace is free and clear; and (c) I’m physically handwriting into my morning pages notebook late at night, after Spouse has gone to bed.
Method (c) produced the most astonishing insight. Quite unlikely, given how frustrating the setup was. Late night after late night, I traipsed down to our hotel lobby. I loved that there was a tall enough table that I could stand comfortably and write. I didn’t love almost everything else: the TV was required to be on, often uncomfortably loud; the hotel-specific radio station was required to be on; and there were often other people present, and they were usually not quiet. It was quite distracting. And yet, when I fully engaged my mind so I could ignore everything around me, I found myself writing some very interesting things.
On the night of June 21, I recalled Spouse and I had vacationed in this same town 11 months earlier, staying at the same hotel (whose lobby had since been renovated). I couldn’t remember if I had brought my laptop with me in 2012, nor could I remember if I had written, or even expected to write, any blog posts with it if I had.
In 2013, I wanted to write blog posts, but I was stuck. I knew part of the problem was at least 2 factors: Spouse and I were together almost every waking minute; and, ironically, I was not getting nearly enough sleep.
(To get down to the lobby, dressed and semi-conscious, by 9:30 a.m. — when breakfast ended at 10 a.m. — meant I was woken up every morning around 8:30 a.m., a daily deficit of 70 minutes. But many nights I stayed up quite late, writing, and then sometimes could not quickly fall asleep while abed. So I was probably averaging 6 hours of sleep per night, when I really need to have around 9.)
I started to make a list of things that had changed in the 11 months between our vacations. To my surprise, I ended up with 37 items.
I put pen down to paper to explain why I didn’t like how socially isolated I am, and found myself writing this instead:
“I’m enjoying the oddity of having almost no social contact because, it turns out, I really like the solitude. And time with nonhumans.
Time I can keep my boundaries open, which makes it likelier that I could connect with others (usually nonhumans). Which probably is bringing me closer to a mean between all of us (which would be farther away from human being social standards). Yet, I still get along with Spouse. Maybe because of his quirky/nontypical social skills?
Even though I want to add new people to my life, I’m not desperate to add them. If we don’t click, I’m fine with walking away: R from P; C from G; everyone from all my Meetup groups; pretty much everyone from the W event.”
All this time, until writing those sentences, I imagined I was still pining away for human company. I now believe the baseline I always thought was my natural setpoint was artificially inflated for several reasons. Both of my parents are extroverts. Approximately 90% of my family of origin are extroverts. But beyond that, my mother’s social world is essentially limited to family of origin members, all of whom she is somewhat psychologically entangled with. And she’s also rather neurotic. Being the first child born into this environment, I grew up with her either smothering me with her demands for ‘closeness’, or being completely ignored. I think I unwittingly internalized her desperate need to always be intertwined with others.
There have been times over the years of my marriage to Spouse where I have felt that we were growing apart. And I was panic stricken. I did everything I could think of to re-entangle us.
This week, I realized that those feelings were probably actually signs of emotional health. It wasn’t that our partnership, our marriage, was fracturing; it was that I was disentangling myself from acting (almost) as an appendage of Spouse. (As I had been required to do for my mother.)
It’s now been 7 years 8 months since I last spoke with my parents. And it’s taken me that long to reconfigure even basic things like how much human company I want.
I’m an introvert.
Being around extroverts all the time, especially those like the ones in my family who are exceptionally emotionally needy, was utterly exhausting. But I did feel necessary. I believed all my mother’s propaganda, and honestly thought I was somehow keeping the whole family functional.
When I first stopped talking to my parents, I truly wondered if our entire family would break apart at the seams.
I also thought cousins and aunts would welcome hearing from me. That it would be possible to have relationships with them, separate from relationships with my parents.
I was wrong about all of those things.
All those years I thought I was the linchpin — years I desperately wanted to be doing something else — utterly wasted.
As far as I can tell from the outside, my family of origin is flourishing without me.
Maybe this is the real reason I’ve never been able to imagine going back for a family reunion — what role would I be playing? In fact, now that I think about it, when I did show up at one cousin’s wedding in 2007 . . . everyone else had a place, had roles, belonged. But I felt like fish out of water. I felt utterly alien.
And no one quite knew what to do with me. Not including my mother, who is problematic, there were perhaps 5 people who seemed genuinely happy to see me. But that didn’t mean they had any idea what to talk to me about!
More recently, I’ve re-imagined other family events from the past: what if I’d skipped older-cousin’s wedding in 1986? (Heart-wrenching in 203 ways for me personally.) Family reunion in 2004?
Then I’ve ranged farther afield. What if I’d refused to be my sister’s maid of honor? (My mother insisted; neither of us wanted it.) What if I had refused to have my sister be my matron of honor at my wedding? (My mother’s insistence again.) What if Spouse and I, after unexpectedly encountering the cousin (who’d tried to kill me years earlier) at my brother’s rehearsal dinner, had turned around and left? What if we hadn’t attended my brother’s wedding at all?
What if I had listened to what my bodymind was trying to tell me, my whole life? Every family of origin event is a PTSD gauntlet. And even the people that genuinely like me — now that Gramma’s dead, there are probably still 1 or 2 — won’t dare being seen in public talking to me.
The people who don’t mind being seen in public talking to me are generally completely uninterested in me (but often fascinated by Spouse), or cruel and vicious.
In the entire 47 years of my life, I can count on one hand the meaningful and enjoyable conversations I’ve had with family members. And not one of them occurred in the scrum with everyone present.
Have I kept periodically trying to reconnect when I’ve felt unloved and unappreciated . . . because no one is being cruel to me? And therefore, clearly, no one is thinking of me.
If I’ve become superfluous, I must worm my way back into someone’s ‘good graces’. I usually (try to) do that — I now realize with horror — by telling them something about me that no one else knows.
Let’s guess how that ends.
I have been helping sharks re-victimize me, over and over, and I’ve not realized it until right now. Oh gods.
No wonder I keep finding predators. No wonder my social skills never get better.
I now see why I was strangely attracted to a particular drama llama on Twitter: I kept following and unfollowing, then re-following, in spite of knowing better. His demeanor, by turns dismissive, cruel, and (very occasionally) insightful, fed a craving I didn’t know I had. Until now. UGH.
This is the missing puzzle piece for my toxic-Haku archetype. All this time I’d been thinking it was simply me trying to connect with someone emotionally unavailable. But the missing link is cruelty. Someone who carefully crafts a personalized barb — that they know is gonna inflict serious damage — is someone who does not love you. They may be afraid of you, they may hate you. They may just want you to stop hurting them. (That last reason was my motivation the 2 times I ever in my life used this tactic. Not just seeing the devastation on the person’s face, but actually feeling their agony, is why I’ve never done it again. Not even when my life was in danger.)
The original connection I had with almost all of the members of my family of origin was cruelty. Not love. Not concern or caring. My mother thinks kindness is a 4-letter word.
As an empath, as an artist, as someone whose highest value for gods’ sake is kindness, I finally now realize what the (dream) imagery of the gigantic egg on a hilltop means: I have renounced the values of the people I came from, and I have created myself out of my experiences. I am my own person.
I go forward, alone, to forge my own destiny.
I know who I am.