When does it start?

I’m at that age now (39) (older, have more insurance, long live Fried Green Tomatoes) where I not only know but accept and sometimes even bless the universal truth that no one really knows what they’re doing, even when they’re supposed to be an adult.  I find that truth freeing, because it lets me laugh (internally) at the poser assholes who pretend that they do know it all (and inevitably get knocked off the pedestals they built for themselves), feel less insecure generally about my own talents, and get on with the general figuring out of what I think I should do in any particular situation/problem/whatever.  It also lets me feel Zen enough about things that I don’t feel the need to get up in poser assholes’ faces just because anymore– now, I only do it when there’s a reason like– they’re fucking over one of my employees, or me, or someone in my family.  Some random jerk being a jerk otherwise mostly garners an inner laugh with a side of compassion tinged with a soupcon of you poor miserable bastard.

However, I’m also at that age where I’m sort of in between lots of other age groups– the people born when I was graduating from high school, to whom I’m an authority or even a maternal-type (hah, hah, hah, hah) figure, the people 5-10 years younger than me who for some reason think my no-bullshit crankiness is actually cool (?) and seek out my advice, the people my own age who are also in the hohshit, all these people think we’re adult boat, the people slightly older than us who really don’t know that much more but whom we’re supposed to respect but really, sometimes we want to punch in the face because they’re just being a dumbass– and then, then there are the people who’ve known us over the whole course of our lives, be they siblings, spouses, parents, old friends, who refuse to let you be the person you are now that you don’t give a shit what anyone thinks, and they still insist and get really upset when you don’t care what they think– not because you don’t love them, but because you finally, finally, really love you, even to the point of letting yourself make mistakes and being willing to forgive yourself for them, because making mistakes at least betokens action, not stasis.

The looming precautions these long acquaintances wave over our heads are too claustrophobic– the feeling that you can never really be free of criticism for trying to find and be whomever your real self is– at least not until your loved ones are dead or you cut them the hell out of your life. It’s not unlike college or the first time you move out of the house and you have that chance to be just as you present yourself, except now, at this certain age, certain is what you’re finally beginning to be, and everyone’s calling that into question, saying you’re wrong to think, act, feel as you do.

It’s depressing to repeat same arguments over and over again, when family and old friends treat you like you are 9, not 39– and you can see all the behavioral patterns you’ve discussed in therapy so that now you’re aware of your triggers.

I’m not triggered, precisely– but I am tired of fighting with people for the right to be someone other than who they think it’s safe for me to be, based on their own fears and projections, and I am tired of not fighting with people for the sake of harmony, too, because, for the moment, affection outweighs my need for personal freedom.  The definition of psychopathy and masochism tend to intertwine here, because I can’t possibly expect anything different to come out of allowing the same behaviors over and over, and I’m definitely putting up with bullshit that hurts my feelings and makes me defensive and sometimes more than a little bit crazy.

It’s why I cut off my mother for good this time.  I was tired of fighting for attention I’m never going to get, tired of holding up both ends of a conversation and then being betrayed by her need for attention.  I was tired of having to be nice to her so she could reassure herself that she was a good mother, when really, her self-absorption and mental illness are so exclusive that I only register as a mirror, not as an entity in my own right.  It doesn’t matter if she’s not a bad person or if she doesn’t mean it.  It does matter that she can’t stop, and that she hurts me, a lot, every time I see her.  That’s the stop to that interaction.

It’s why I left my husband, because he didn’t want anything other than a fully functional wife who didn’t complain or ask for emotional support (and who made dinner and did the shopping and did the driving and didn’t nag him about anything unpleasant, whatever X=unpleasant that week.)  I wanted the freedom to be intermittently crazy, to ask for help, to complain without being told I was wrong to complain, to vent without being stopped mid-rant to be told I had no “right” to be angry because my situation was my fault when I never asked for advice, I only wanted someone to listen, to have emotional reactions to things without being told I was either wrong because of some intellectual reason or because I was crazy.  You don’t get to have it both ways– either you make an effort to understand and partner with me in my anxiety and depression and listen to me, or you shut the hell up and keep your thoughts to yourself when I need to vent, because your refusal to help denies you any right to interpret my actions as sane, “right,” or anything else.

It’s why I shut off needy friends who couldn’t see that they’d crossed boundaries again and again. There wasn’t a fight, I just let things lapse.   It’s why I shut off apathetic friends, who didn’t hold up their end of the communication, friendship, socializing, BFF bargain(s).

It’s why I try to keep reaching out to those friends who make an effort, even if we’re all busy & crazy at times.  Trying’s the thing, even when they have kids or I have a workaholic job or they have opposite hours from me or etc., etc.  Trying’s important.

It’s why I limit, now, my interactions with my brother, who doesn’t ever want to engage on an emotional level, because he is the king of denial, and he will not help out.  Ever.  I engage with his wife and his daughter instead, and if he wants to change it, he can make the first step to remove that iceberg I’ve put on my desire to have a real bond with him.

It’s why I am going to have a conversation with my Dad, though I cringe in advance about it, to remind him about the way he and his mother interacted the last few years of her life, and the way she would drive him batty with her constant questions and paranoia and interruptions.  It’s why he needs to understand that he can either treat me like I’m 39 and stop projecting his own fears for his own health onto me and stop being controlling and stupid about things like how I am getting to work and whether I’m going to be out socializing with friends during the week.  Because his having a shitfit about my riding the bus and calling me crazy at the top of my lungs is crazy, and I told him so last week.  I said it very, very, calmly, when I asked him to listen to himself and his tone of voice, then asked him again– who was the one acting crazy?  It did shut him right up.

I won’t be infantilized or controlled, because he’s scared about getting old or because I’m doing something he’s afraid of.  But I’m tired of feeling like I have to wait until he’s dead to finally be free of the last person insisting I be someone I’m not– because I don’t want him to be dead, I just want him to either like me for who I am now, or learn to keep his goddamned mouth shut.  I wish he was less of an asshole, because I find it hard to be compassionate to him as a poor, miserable bastard. For the first time in his life, he’s got a stable job, a decent income, and he doesn’t have to do all the work in the house.  It’d be nice if he’d try to start to find a way to be happy– and act 71, instead of 17.

It’d be nice to start over.  To start at all.


3 thoughts on “When does it start?

  1. Dawn

    I commend you for having the strength not only to make these decisions, but go through with them. Parents are hard (as Lackey is fond of saying, they know what strings to pull because they put them there), and you feel as though you should always love them and put up with their BS because, well, it’s Mom, right? I have a friend whose mother is a piece of work–probably some mental illness, but she’ll never go talk to a doctor–and people have been telling her for ages to separate, but she can’t quite do it. The daughter is one of the most wonderful people you could meet, no thanks to her parents. I hear an echo of everything Janet’s had to deal with when you talk about your family, right up to and including “how come you’re not dancing attendance on me?” Your candor helps me see and hopefully understand a little more of her life and vice-versa.

    Not to mention that Rob & I think you also turned out wonderfully, despite the family strangle-hold!

  2. Kari

    Finding the courage to make relationship changes is HUGE. I know you don’t take those decisions lightly, but once you decide, you have to dig deep and find every ounce of courage to give you strength to either ask for what you need or to cut the strings. Sending tons of strength your way for the big discussion with your Dad.


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