This is going to be another set of posts because I started to write it as one and it became too big! It’s maybe not right to call it a saga, but it is a continuation of the posts surrounding the saga that I’ve mentioned many times in the past few months.
In Removing The Fog Around Decisions, I spoke about being depressed because of losing a friend for a whole list of reasons that she provided. I said how I’d been speaking to people, professional or otherwise. As always, when you start something it’s useful to know why you’re doing it and what you want to get out of it.
At the start, I wanted someone to help me make sense of the reasons that changed a few times. I was looking for an understanding to try to save what I had, and I wanted someone to suggest next steps and possibilities. Recently I’ve been looking for help and advice about situations to understand whether the things I did instinctively were as destructive as I’d been told generally, or whether it was just the recipient of my gestures that had an issue with them.
This was the first time I’d been in many of these situations, and the first time I’d had certain accusations levelled at me. While some of them were general and unique (if using those two words together even makes sense), some of them were absolutely fundamental to the way I go about things in my life. I wanted someone to help me work through how I felt about them and how she said she felt about them, because the way things were said made me feel like I’d completely misunderstood or misread Life’s Instruction Book.
There’s something called “gaslighting”. It’s where someone is manipulated in to doubting their own memory, perception and sanity (according to Wikipedia). I don’t know enough about it to know whether I’ve been gaslighted (why not “gaslit”?!), but it’s that principle that I’m talking about.
Let me try to explain.
One of the reasons (there were others, just to be clear) that I was dumped was that I was once looking after my friend’s cat while she was on holiday. No big deal, right? To put it into perspective, this was a 90 mile round trip for me, every other day for the duration of the holiday. My car has a range of about 350 miles on a full tank of fuel which cost around £65 at the time. It would take me about an hour to get there after work in rush hour and about 50 minutes to get home, and I’d spend about an hour with the cat.
So a one week holiday would be sometimes 4 trips and would cost me around £70 and 12 hours of my time. One year of cat sitting with the number of holidays / breaks that were gone on would account for about 20% of my annual mileage. And I didn’t mind, I even enjoyed it because I thought I was helping out and enjoyed playing with a cat who is a bit more tactile than Moo. At weekends I would try to fit my duties in with other things, so the cost wasn’t exclusive to the cat.
However, one time when I was there I had the temerity, the sheer audacity, to pack my friend’s dirty dishes in to a box and bring them home for a trip round my dishwasher. I took them back on my next visit, clean and sparkling, and neatly put them away in the cupboards.
In the e-mail in which she dumped me, my friend cited my dish washing as a reason why we couldn’t be friends. Something that I thought was an act of kindness that might have been appreciated, was actually interpreted as me telling her that she was “a bad housekeeper” and was “an invasion”. No offence, but much of what was left was moldy; it’s not a sign of being a great housekeeper!
I obviously misinterpreted the act, because when I washed the odd plate or mug when she was there, that was fine. It was also fine to be given a list of chores to do to prepare for her birthday. It was also fine to not only go to feed the cat, but to go and buy the food to feed the cat because none was left. None of that was an invasion. Maybe there were lots of secrets lurking in that mould.
(As an aside, do you want to know the real story behind those dishes? They were really f*cking minging. Like, *really* f*cking minging. They were disgusting. I thought I’d do them because it would make you happy that you didn’t have to do them. I also did them because I kinda guessed that you were seeing someone at the time and it crossed my mind that if he got out your bed one morning after not seeing you for a week and went to make the brews and stumbled across that, I didn’t want him to think less of you and that you really are a bad housekeeper, disorganised and that you’re prepared to share your house with more living organisms than just the cat. I didn’t want him to be disgusted by it and that reflecting badly on you because I thought he was making you happy. I’m not saying you wouldn’t have done the dishes before you did him, but if I could save you an hour I thought that would be a nice thing to do, especially because you had no hot water. Because I think you like to come across as confident but secretly like someone holding your hand and having your back, I told you that I did it for my benefit for the very reason so as to *not* call you a bad housekeeper or that you were in any way not in control. I had an alibi, because the story of the oven was true. It was the perfect cover story. That backfired on me on two counts though, didn’t it? You think I’m f*cked up and I made you feel bad. I wonder why it is that you get paranoid by people being nice to you.)
Other things were cited. Other favours I did at my friend’s request were a burden on her despite the fact that she wanted me to do them and asked me to do them. She called me a doormat because of me doing these acts of kindness that she asked for.
She also suggested that when we were spending time together, she was doing it out of sympathy because she provided my self-worth (partly by asking me to do things). Ignoring how completely full of herself that made her and how belittling it is to me, I then started to wonder whether everyone only wanted to spend time with me because I was useful or because they felt that they had to. At this juncture we also need to ignore the fact that I only mentioned anything around self-worth at the end of our relationship because I said how much I enjoy being able to help and that I was gutted that in her dumping me I could no longer be that person for her. She then took it like a dog with a bone, and she applied it retrospectively to our entire 2 years because it was a useful bit of information to help her story.
I had all these questions in my head because I couldn’t see anything that I’d done that wasn’t normal, and everything was a fault in me. It wasn’t the reaction to the washing up that was wrong, it was me actually doing it that was wrong. There wasn’t a fault in her using me to do things and her reaction to me doing it, the fault was in me agreeing to do it. In other words, they were all things that I could also get “wrong” in the future. But they didn’t feel wrong.
This wasn’t a situation of two people in a “proper” relationship where one would work for 12 hours everyday and then go out with their friends at the weekend and they never saw each other. There wasn’t an abusive partner. This wasn’t cheating. This wasn’t people growing apart gradually so they decided to break it off altogether. There wasn’t anything I could think of that I needed to change, except not doing people favours, being nice and doing things that friends do. I couldn’t see anything detrimental attached to these actions so I needed to gauge opinion about whether I’ve spent the last 32 years completely misunderstanding what it meant to be a decent human being.
Part of me speaking to people was trying to find out whether I should no longer try to be nice. Someone recommended once that I should say “no” to people, just for the sake of it even if I was willing and able. It feels stupid even needing to ask that question about kindness because no-one should be doubting whether they should help someone or not.
My friend didn’t say “most people would love the kindness and generosity you demonstrated towards me, but I have issues accepting that sort of thing unless it’s on my own terms and, even then, it’s touch and go whether I really want it or whether the benefit was just a little bit greater than the detriment, so I could make do. But you know what? Let’s work through it because I think what we had is worth that effort”.
She phrased everything as if to say they were my faults and not just that she struggled with some of the things I did for whatever reason, but that everyone would. Because everything I did was so bad, the only option is to abandon me and hurt me because that’s what I deserve.
I wanted to know what Life’s Instruction Book said about acts of kindness and where it set the boundaries of that kindness. I thought it might have rules about when it was OK to give and when it became overbearing. I thought it might say something about when you should say no “just because”.
There would be another unread section of the book that details how you should be a good friend, because I don’t know any other way to do it than the way that hurts people.
I hoped it might say something about what reasonable expectations were about the kindness that could be expected to be given and received because, before she suggested I had mental health issues beyond the manageable depression she has now put me in, I didn’t think I asked for anything out the ordinary.
I wondered if maybe part of the book says that your only focus should be on you – screw everybody else. What a sad way to live.
Or maybe I was doing everything right and the issue wasn’t actually with me. Now there’s a thought.
(For those expecting a song at the bottom of this post, it’s at the bottom of the last part of these posts!)