It was after one more incomprehensible interaction with a longstanding male friend that I finally (via chat) threw up my hands at Ari and said, without knowing what was going to come out,
WHAT THE HELL IS IT WITH ME AND ANGRY, TRAPPED MEN?????????????????
It's almost never women. My issues with female friends are few, but the ones I do have revolve around helplessness, playing the victim and neediness. The overwhelming majority of my female friendships are strong, vibrant, healthy - ja, we're all wounded but we're having heart-to-hearts, talking things through, cheering each other on as we move forward.
That's not to say that my relationships with men are all unhealthy. I've got some of the best guys in the world amongst my male friends, and I challenge anyone to say otherwise: they've manned up, take responsibility for their lives, care for others, live and love as best they can. They rock.
But Christ almighty, do I have a pattern amongst the men. There is a not inconsiderable swath amongst my male friends and acquaintances who fall under the 'angry, trapped men living unlived lives'.
Now, I get it. I get that it reflects something in me that feels trapped and is living an unlived life - that it's a mirror. That it's about my father and my brother - that these are men I know how to relate to; men who feel deeply familiar - who are the substrate to my enzyme, creating the perfect induced fit; men, at some level, I'm desperate to save.
But I can't.
Just like I couldn't save my father. Just like I couldn't save my brother - and the latter, God, I've harboured that guilt for years. When I left, why didn't I go back and get him once he was of age? Why didn't I help him GET OUT? Why did I fight with him on his brief visit here, and write him off as my parents' Stepford son? And yes, I've often thought he paid the price for my leaving, and the guilt over that is immense.
But it's NOT MY FAULT. They're both big boys, they could have made choices. Might I have mentored my brother differently? Maybe. But I DID THE BEST I KNEW HOW AT THE TIME, and the rest was UP TO HIM. TO THEM.
The guilt? The need for redemption and forgiveness for not having saved the first, most important, men in my life?
It ends now.
To those in that space, here's what's going to happen/stop happening:
1. I am not your whipping post, the person you get angry at (rather than share anger WITH, which I can do till the cows come home) because you can't get angry at your situation. Talk to me about it all you want, let's find a way through, but you don't get to take it out on me.
If you do, I'm calling you on it. If you don't hear me, I'm walking away.
2. I am not going to channel your anger if you can't deal with it yourself. I'm happy to help you admit it, face it, deal with it, accept it if it's legitimately directed at me - but I'm no longer doing it for you because you think I'm 'an angry person' - which, by the way, is usually what you give me a hard time for. You can't have it both ways.
3. If I'm trying to tell you what I see, and particularly about your situation, if we've been discussing it/you asked - which is different from my being provocative where, if I get an argument, I deserve/expect it - listen, as I will try to do for you. If stuff comes up for you around it, let's talk about it. But you don't get to lash out because at some level, you know what I'm saying is true - and that you hate me for questioning your comfortable world.
4. I am happy to try to articulate why I am still in the Catholic Church to those who do not genuinely understand. *I* don't genuinely understand. But give me the space to work it out. I KNOW I'm in a contradictory space, that it doesn't make sense. But please don't push - if and when I'm ready, I'll move. And if I'm not ever? That's ok too.
5. On the other side, I refuse to deal with those questioning whether or not I am really a Catholic or trying to make me a 'real Catholic' - essentially using that as a way to feel better about their own holiness. On FB, this manifests as people who are silent as death through emotional posts, political posts, funny posts, anywhere I need support, positive posts about the Catholic Church - but then suddenly appear, and volubly, when a post that shows my dissent with the Church or that might even SLIGHTLY challenge the Church, to 'set me right'. If you can't be there for the fun, for the positive, for when I need you - but only pop on to tell me what a crap Catholic I am (I do NOT mean authentic discussion/dissent) - Houston, we have a problem.
6. I am going to make you angry. There are no two ways about that, especially if we're close - and you're going to fuck me right off. We deal with anger in our own ways. Need some time to cool off? Fine. But then come back and talk to me. Your feelings, your responsibility. My anger? MY responsibility. I will NOT be frozen out for months on end, expected to know why I upset you and to come grovel. I know it's scary; but cutting off communication for considerable lengths of time increase the likelihood that the relationship won't recover. If our friendship matters, let's talk. I'll try to hold the space - I may not do it well, but I will do it. If, however, freezing people out is about manipulating them and making them chase you? Don't look behind you. Won't be anyone there.
7. Don't expect uncritical adoration. If you need a prop for your ego, find someone else. I will love fiercely, but I will see clearly.
8. The drama llama: if you're on it, I'm going to slap its ass and make it run in a random direction. Away from me. Have fun.
9. The unpredictable moods, usually found in addicts/alcoholics: I got really good at walking on eggshells - but now I like the crunch under my feet. Feel like trying the unpredictable snaps of anger for no reason that used to make me chase my alcoholic ex to make him feel better? I'm just going to be pouring myself another drink and looking at you over my glass.
10. Oh, and the mockery that one can back away from, claiming, 'I was just kidding'? That's not about me and I know that. So I'm holding up that mirror to you. Genuinely angry with me? Man up and talk to me about it. Way to make yourself feel better? Find a more authentic one.
Trust me, I recognise these things because I DO them in more variations than I care to admit to and because I know how to chase them, how to fix them, how to placate them. Doing all those things feels comfortable, familiar.
But comfortable isn't where I want to be. It's too small; too deadening.
So what will happen is that I will try to hold the space, however imperfectly and humanly I do it. I will try to listen, however imperfectly. I'm learning.
I don't promise you the perfect friend. I don't promise to always get it right. I don't promise I'll never push your buttons. I don't promise you a rose garden.
What I DO promise you is that I will be real. That I will be here through darkness and light. That I care, passionately - which is why you'll get the full range of emotions. And that if you're angry, trapped and want to find your way out, I will stand right by you, though I may tell you things in ways you don't want to hear them: "Look at yourself! In the mirror, in pictures! What are you trying to tell yourself? Clue phone, babe, emergency ring tone. IT'S FOR YOU."
But I can't, and won't try to, do it for you.
I can't save you, just like I couldn't save my father or my brother. The only person I can save is myself - though I'll need a little help from my friends.
That's my promise; that's what my friendship will look like.
Whether or not you choose to accept it is up to you.