If you write about relationships, and especially if you give advice about relationships, you’d better be ready to admit your own screwups.
And boy, did I screw up.
The reason this column has been very quiet for many months is that I was trying to get my head screwed back on correctly after really blowing a budding relationship. And I mean big. So badly, in fact, that the other person asked that I not be in further contact with them.
Let me hasten to say that this was an error that arose in correspondence, not an issue of physical abuse or physical boundaries. But a boundary violation all the same, and one that was deeply meaningful to the other person.
For my part, it was not any kind of deliberate violation. It was, however, a matter of not recognizing when something being discussed was actually a boundary. And that’s going to look the same to the other person as if I had deliberately stepped over the line.
Without it getting into too many details, the other person wrote to the effect of “I can’t do X, because of Y.” I didn’t know that much about Y, but read it as “I would really like to do X, but Y gets in the way.“ Which sounded like a problem to solve. But in fact, what they were writing was, “I would really like to do X, but Y absolutely means I cannot, and so I am unhappy about not being able to do X, but It. Can’t. Happen. So please, let’s forget about X.”
So when I responded with an idea of how X might still be possible, they decided that I was a boundary pusher. Which is completely understandable, given how the circumstances looked from their end.
(I am not a boundary pusher, by the way; as part of coming to grips with this particular error, I talked to a number of people who know me well, especially in romantic contexts, and they unanimously agreed that my response to boundaries was to run headlong in the other direction. In this case, however, I just didn’t recognize a boundary was being set. I suppose there could be a whole other essay on the importance of seeing correctly, but perhaps this disquisition is lesson enough.)
Compounding the issue was the fact that this was a brand new, three-week or so, potential relationship. It had been carried on entirely in correspondence except for one in-person meeting in which all boundaries were scrupulously observed. Because it was a new relationship, though, we hadn’t dealt with communication errors or issues before, and the first time one arose, it was a doozy. So there wasn’t the experience of trust, built-up relationship credits, or established discussion patterns to fall back on. Again, lots more lessons to write about someday.
A sidenote – I had actually known the other person for a long time, but had not had much interaction. Once the possibility of a different kind of relationship arose, though, I was interested and hopeful, and it is possible that that interest may have helped blind me to the raised boundary. But I’m not going to chalk it off to that, or minimize it in any way. I blew it.
And in fact, having known the person for a long time meant that when they decided I was not a fit kind of person to have as a potential partner or even a correspondent, the impact was much harder. Because having spent a lot of time seeming like one kind of person, I had managed to convince them very quickly that I was a very different kind. Which is another part of why you’re hearing about this many months after the occurrence; it was the catalyst for a pretty heavy-duty emotional tailspin that has only recently settled out.
(And yes, I know that if you’re still reading this — I’m not sure why you are, it’s somebody going on and on about their personal life. I don’t tend to do this, but believe that if I am going to resume writing about relationships, I need to be very plain about reasons you might not want to listen to anything I have to say.)
Anyway, the final frustration is that having gone over and over and over what happened and trying to learn everything I can from it, there is no way to communicate to the other person that I have learned. I have to accept that this is broken and over, with no hope of a fix. Can’t make it better. But knowing that and having to live with it keeps the motivation fresh to always do better the next time. In this case, that won’t be difficult. I have never screwed up a relationship so quickly or so thoroughly, and that’s a record I really don’t care to attempt breaking.
So the writing about relationships may resume. On the other hand, maybe I should just keep it to easy topics like the polyphonic motets of Lassus or chicken soup recipes. We’ll see.
For now, though, it’s sadder and wiser. And, I hope, smart enough not to make the same mistake again. Certainly not when there are so many new mistakes to make.
And, for what it’s worth, I’m learning absolutely everything I can about Y, and donating and raising funds to help prevent it from affecting other people. So perhaps some good, at least, can come of all this.