I’ve come to accept that a clean break with Steve isn’t one of my options. The marriage is over, but we still have kids together, and the more I stretch out into my new life the more I rely on him to take on a larger share of the parenting while I reconnect with other aspects of myself. He’s fine with this; the kids are old enough to come with him on some of his horeseshoeing rounds, and he seems to sincerely want to strengthen his relationship with them. So for the sake of the kids and general harmony, he and I are trying to be friends.
Being friends with Steve isn’t all that hard if you don’t expect stuff like honesty or reliability. He prefers all of his relationships to be superficial and free of any actual effort on his part, but he’s a personable and easygoing guy to be around. As long as you never mistake the friendship for anything meaningful on any level, he’s perfectly good company.
A while back I was talking to Julie about how easy it would be to be casual friends with Steve, if I could just figure out how to switch off the love that I have always felt for him. She said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said that even though her own ex-husband was an abusive jerk, even though her marriage was destructive and toxic and she can see how much better off she is without him, even though she’s with Josh now and they love each other dearly, a small part of her still clings to the old bond with her ex. She said she believes that something sacred and irreversible happens when you stand before God and speak those holy vows. They bind you. Your souls are inextricably knit together, till death do you part.
It makes sense. The Bible says pretty much the same thing. So, I have been trying to fit Steve into my new life in ways that acknowledge that permanent bond without being too painful for me.
Last Sunday I was feeling comfortable enough with the balancing act to invite him over for a family game of Clue and to toss a few steaks on the grill. (Due to a weird dealer error when the who/what/where cards were placed in the envelope at the start of the Clue game, it turned out that the lead pipe did it with a revolver in the the hall. That was just…odd.) Everything was going great until after dinner when Steve made a comment that brought all my happy thoughts to a screeching halt.
“Don’t think I don’t feel really bad about all this,” he said. “I took a perfectly nice girl and ruined her.”
“I’m not ruined,” I growled. “You’re giving yourself way too much credit. FUCK you. I’m going to be just FINE, thank you very much. I’m not fucking RUINED.”
Obviously, Steve’s comment wouldn’t have made me so angry if part of me didn’t worry that it might be true.
A few years ago I was talking to someone who had just broken up again with her on again/off again boyfriend. “From now on,” she’d declared, “If I ever get into another relationship I’m not going to be the one doing the sacrificing. I’m not going to be the one doing the forgiving and compromising and giving in.”
My thought at the time was, “Then you have absolutely nothing of value to offer a relationship.” Because realistically, that’s what all healthy human interactions boil down to: people compromising and forgiving and occasionally giving in, when the relationship is more important than the issue at hand. That’s ALL relationships, not just the romantic ones.
Steve’s comment upset me so badly because deep down I wonder if I even have it in me anymore to commit that way to anyone again. I’d like to find Mr. Right and remarry someday, but I’m not sure that I’m capable of taking that leap of faith one more time. I knew Steve for fourteen years before the first separation, and it turned out that I didn’t really know him very well at all. The next guy could turn out to be a child molester or something. I have lost faith in my own judgment. I wonder if have permanently lost my ability to give people the benefit of the doubt, to assume that they probably mean well, to shrug off thoughtless comments and actions as unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I wonder if I can still give freely without expecting anything in return.
If I can’t do those things, I’ll never have a healthy, successful relationship. I really will be ruined. And I don’t know how to fix it.
The best part of this story: when Steve saw how his remark had hurt me, he apologized profusely and said it was a poor choice of words and he hadn’t meant ruined and he offered me a comforting hug.
And when I accepted that, he tried to turn it into a make-out session.
It’s like trying to be friends with a five-year-old that has never grasped the concept of impulse control. He just does whatever feels good at the moment and never thinks about the effect it has on others.
I refuse to let myself be “ruined” by this guy.
But I don’t know how to heal the part of me that he damaged. Maybe it just takes time, or maybe I’ll end up sharing an apartment with 47 cats in my old age, boasting emptily that no man ever got the best of me.
There’s a nice comforting image.