When it comes to human relations and communication, from friendships to romantic relationships, it is said that honesty is the best policy. And while I theoretically believe this to be true in most cases, in practice it has been much harder for me to live by.
With my passive-aggressive and people-pleasing tendencies, I have often found myself responding to situations where I fear there will be negative reactions in anything but the most honest ways.
You don’t mind if we once again do something I most want to do over what you most want to do, do you? Nah, it’s okay, I enjoy doing that too.
You don’t mind if we do enjoyable stuff only when I’m in the mood? Well, I thought that party sounded like fun, [and you said you’d go three times already this week], but I know how much you wanted to get this room of the house painted [that you’ve repainted twice already].
I’m not hurting your feelings by saying you’d look like a super model if you had breast implants, am I? No, I know what you mean.
You’re not uncomfortable if I take you on a drug run through the shadiest neighborhood in one of the shadiest cities in the state? Silence. [He’s known me for more than three years, he should know the answer to that question by now, but apparently he doesn’t or he just doesn’t care.] Well, I guess you really need to get your stuff tonight, right? [I did break up with him for the last time less than a week later]
I’ll be done with my thing by midnight—you should come over. [I’m already in bed, quietly reading and enjoying my solitude. It’s the middle of the week, we both work the next day, but otherwise we won’t get to see each other until the gasp weekend.] Oh, sure, okay.
Now before you get the idea that I am a complete doormat, I am not completely without opinions or unable to say no much of the time. In certain situations, however, I fear the reprisal. Using a Dear John letter to finally get out of the Bulldog relationship was a tactic of self-preservation after years of feeling snuffed out by his dominating personality.
One of the times I had dared to raise my temper to meet his own short fuse, I threw an empty plastic water bottle (the disposable kind that weigh absolutely nothing) at his feet, and a second later, I found myself being lifted up by my jaw, throat constricted.
“You tried to choke me!” I yelled. “If I wanted to choke you,” he said in matter-of-fact voice, “you’d know it.” Wow, that’s totally reassuring to hear from someone you live with and swears to love you.
My end-of-high school/beginning-of- college boyfriend missed so much when I went to school 3000 miles away (a fact he knew when we started dating), that his depression was contagious, and I was unable to enjoy that first trimester of college to the fullest. I found myself withdrawing more and more from my new friends and school as I gradually made the decision that I should probably move back home and attend the local university.
At the time, I had an inkling that I was probably making the decision more for him than for myself, but I felt it was for the health of our relationship, which we saw lasting forever – and I was homesick. Our relationship, by the way, lasted another year and some change.
After a year at home, I moved back out to California and went back to the original school and within a couple months, I met someone full of exuberance and not scared to live life, while also possessing a sweet and kind heart. We were together for four (mostly) great years.
But back to my pattern of passive-aggressiveness…I come from a family that never argued, never raised voices. I once thought this was healthy. We were thought of as a perfect family. Friends constantly spoke enviously about our family and our parents’ great relationship. My parents were still married to each other and seemed to actually like each other. My dad played bass guitar in my brother’s rock band. All the kids were well-rounded and successful. And then…
One day after school when I was maybe 12 or 13, I found a rolled-up wad of papers in our garage door. There are no pretty words to paint this…I found out that my parents did not have the ideal marriage, that they had in fact divorced in the past, that my dad had another family and I had younger siblings after all.
To say this was a shock to the system is putting it very lightly. You would think I would have confronted my dad. Or my mom. Asked, “What the heck is this? What does this mean? Are you guys even married now?” But nope, I kept their dirty, little secret quiet, just as they apparently wanted to until a few years later when my dad just dropped the bomb on me one summer afternoon.
As an adult, I went through therapy, unable to grasp how my mom had put up with my father’s multiple affairs and multiple families and taken him back both times. I wondered why I never heard the screaming. Why there were no plates thrown and broken like a emotion-fueled Hollywood movie. And most of all, I wondered how my mother could have let me think she had been in a perfect marriage and a perfect relationship. I questioned if being mild, sweet, loving and constantly forgiving was the way to get the kind of relationship of which most people dreamed. Because now, they are like two lovebirds, holding hands in their 60s, more in love than ever before.
I wondered if I was evil or ungrateful to want to question the guys I was dating. I wondered if it was bad for me to stick up for myself, to raise my voice, to tell a guy off when he treated me poorly or said something demeaning or just plain stupid. Was I too picky? Was I just finding fault with everyone? Was I picking the wrong guys or wrong relationships or was I the common denominator for all these long-term relationships going south?
So this leads us to the more recent times. After the emotionally unhealthy relationship with the Bulldog, I dated V-Man, the Peter Pan, who for whatever reasons, was too afraid to grow up in many respects of adult relationships. He was afraid to talk about our feelings, so when I brought them up, turned things into a joke or made me feel silly for having questions or wanting to know where this was headed. I started writing letters. He hated to read and asked why I couldn’t just talk to him. Round and around we went.
Every time we’d break up, he chalked it up to my just needing a “cool down,” give it a few weeks, then try to reach out again as if nothing’s wrong, and I was just going through PMS before. Most recently, he attributed my claiming my needs to, ha ha, being high maintenance. Um, no, I am just expressing my wants and needs being in an adult romantic relationship, what most women would want and need in a healthy, loving, adult romantic relationship at our ages. He is only starting to realize that this PMS is for some reason not going away.
Mr. Etiquette psychoanalyzed everything I said and did, imagining layers upon layers of things that were truly innocent or simply did not exist, so my honesty fell on deaf ears. Having to defend yourself for things you haven’t done, for things other people have done before me, wasn’t fair to either of us. I finally had the courage to walk away. Happily, he has found a young woman who makes him very happy who he says he totally trusts. I sincerely wish them the best.
My most recent troubles with dating honesty started off innocently enough. I went on two dates with a nice enough guy who by the second hour of date two reminded me too much of other relationships I had ended for legitimate reasons. So as he kept talking about relationships (prematurely) through and after date two, I honestly brought up my concerns, realizing he wasn’t going to change certain lifestyle choices, and I wasn’t going to change my mind about not wanting them in my partner…again.
Figuring I was as clear as Poland Spring, despite his understandable defensiveness (it wasn’t like he hadn’t heard any of this before), I thought okay, it’s over…next. But he called several times the next day and texted several times.
Then I had to do the brush off. Again, multiple calls and texts. “Are you okay? If this event I am covering is cancelled, I’d still like to see you.” Honesty clearly didn’t work with this guy. Brush off didn’t. Fade away hasn’t. And I’m not changing my damn number for this guy. Being bipolar doesn’t make you stupid, and I’d recognized the desperate-to-find-someone-anyone-to-spend-time-with with many others before him.
So I’m trying not to feel guilty as I ignore his second or third phone call of the day. I just can’t do it anymore. I have no tolerance anymore for people who drain me, romantically or otherwise, especially not now when I have physical illness and medication doing plenty of that to me already. Enough is enough. Even when honesty hurts me, imagining what other people might be feeling, knowing how others are feeling, I have to look out for my own spirit and make sure that strong, beautiful me has room and space to bounce back in full glory once again.