Show Me Who You Are

Once I was in a relationship with someone who essentially started out our relationship by lying to me and someone else.

She had "good reasons" for lying (or so she convinced me), and the original lie was fairly harmless (or so I convinced myself) -- partly a lie of omission, and partly a "white lie", ostensibly created to "protect" the other person. I justified it in my mind with "that other person is fragile", and I was not, so my girlfriend would never need to lie to me in the same way.

Which I think was stupid of me, really, and not a little arrogant, as well -- because I watched her telling lies (small and large) to other people over the course of three years, and thought that somehow, I was the Special One who she would not lie to. Oh, the Specialness of me!

When our relationship fell apart amidst a whirlwind of dishonesties and betrayal, someone who I think is very wise said two things to me which I have attempted to keep in mind ever since:

  1. If you watch someone do something to someone else, or to many someone elses -- it is a virtual certainty that they will, one day, do the same thing to you, given the right circumstances.
  2. When what people say and what people do don't match -- trust what they do, not what they say. People can tell you all sorts of stories about themselves, prop up personal mythologies with words -- but their actions will show you who they are.
I realized that this particular person had started showing me who she was from the beginning, with that "little", "benign" lie. She was a person who would lie to someone she said she cared about, if it got her what she wanted.

In truth, I believe that every day I did not confront her about that first lie (and all the others), I ratified by behavior an agreement that I would participate with her in falsehood.

That relationship taught me a lot, even though the lesson was hard-won.

Today, I witnessed a conversation in which several of participants admitted directly that they knew that what they were doing was probably "wrong", even in their own estimation -- but they kept on doing it.

I've run into this a lot in my tiny little town, where gossip is something of a municipal sport -- it usually starts with something like: "OK -- now, I know this is gossip, but . . . ". (This usually comes from someone who says that they hate gossip, by the way -- at least, they hate to be gossiped about.) There's something extra-special fucked-up about starting an activity with a statement that indicates that you already know that what you're about to do is fucked-up -- as if saying it somehow will absolve you from what you know is an intentional fuck-up.

I've been steadily weaning myself off of gossip in recent years. The first step was recognizing when I was engaging in it, which actually wasn't that hard. Note: I believe that there is a difference between talking about someone I know from a place of concern and care when they are not present, and gossiping about them.

The "Warning! You Are About to Gossip!" signs are pretty clear for me.

If I'm about to engage in gossip, I'll notice that I tend to lean in in a conspiratorial manner and lower my voice ever so slightly, even though the subject of my gossip is nowhere in the vicinity. One of the key checks I give myself in order to stop gossiping is to ask myself the question: "Would I say this if the person I'm about to talk about in this way were in the room?"

If the answer to that question is "No", I do my very best to rein myself in.

Lately, I've been getting very clear mirrors in the external world that reveal stuff about my own internal processes.

Today I got to see why I don't want to gossip -- because it breaks trust.

I got to witness a conversation where someone I once thought of as an ally said things about someone else who I have heard them say they claim is an ally -- things that I know they had not, and probably would never, say to that person directly -- at least, certainly, not in the way they were saying it in their absence. This wasn't just that sort of "I'm bored and here's something to fill my time" kind of gossip, either -- it was that awful "gloating over someone else's trouble" kind of gossip.

A little while later, I witnessed that person's interaction with the "someone else" in question, which seemed completely different in tone and word from the conversation I'd witnessed earlier, and I noticed that there was this little *click* that went off in my gut -- a queasiness that I couldn't quite define, yet which was unmistakably present.

I sat down to think about that, and I realized: I no longer trust that person.

This realization didn't feel at all personal or even judgmental -- just factual and real.

They were showing me who they are, and, unless I cling to some kind of illusion that I'm the Special One to whom they would never do such a thing, I have to assume that, given the right circumstance, they would do it to me in the future.

I felt sad, because I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe they're just having a bad day when they do stuff like this -- but I can't deny that *click*, nor do I think it would be wise for me to ignore it.

For the past ten years, I've been working hard on a personal principle -- pledging not to say things about people behind their backs that I wouldn't say to their faces. It's a tough nut to crack sometimes, but it has vastly improved the quality of my internal environment and my external relationships.

I'm a pretty flexible person. I've worked out a lot of shit with friends and loved ones over the years, but one of the consistent deal-breakers for me in relationship has been what some people refer to as being two-faced. I have found it incredibly erosive to relationship (not to mention ineffective), both when I did it or when the other person did it.

I think that's what that *click* was -- a clear indicator that this person had shown me something that I absolutely do not want to be connected to. I want to be open, and trusting, and give people the benefit of the doubt, but I also want to be sensible about my expectations, and not ignore something that's right in front of me.

That click was some opening in me snapping shut, I suspect. I feel a bit sad about that, and a bit disappointed -- but I recognize that any expectation I had of the other person was my own -- they never agreed with me that they wouldn't do this, and obviously, they haven't agreed with themselves not to do it, either (which is probably the more important agreement in the end).

The good news is that I don't hammer myself anymore about having trusted them in the first place, which used to be my default. I wasn't stupid to give them the benefit of the doubt, or to risk disappointment -- and I'm glad that my internal self-care reflexes seem to be operating better than they used to be. I think that's a sign of health.

Obviously, I haven't kept up with my blog commitment (so, believe what I do, not what I say, right?) -- partly that has had to do with the stuff I talked about in my last post -- I've been dealing with a shitload of internal process. My blog may have been silent, but my mind and my life certainly hasn't been. Add a new roommate (which is a huge relief, as we've been carrying a large rent for nearly a year now with just the two of us), major events at a blog community that is near and dear to my heart, my upcoming birthday, taking on a new website-build, creating a short film for a non-profit I volunteer for (Yay, empowering kids!), and generally managing the accelerating energy of Summer -- and it's kind of a miracle that I'm finally posting at all.

That said, I suspect that the experience that I had today is somehow important to my next abuse-onion-peeling -- there's something about the whole "two-faced" thing that really pushes my buttons, and I suspect that it is tied up with the duplicity in the life of my perpetrator. I watched him present one way to the community we both lived in, and quite another way to me.

It's a miracle I trust anyone at all, really, when I think of that -- or that I can hope for a better world, and end this day, feeling my sadness and disappointed, but not feeling shattered by it.

I will celebrate that miracle.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 4:49 PM  

1 comments:

aevenanil said... June 13, 2009 at 6:26 AM  

Unlurking here. Thanks for sharing, first of all.

What you said here really struck something with me. I've always (and that always is a pretty short time, granted) believed in being honest and open to people I care about, but I've found that I very rarely get that in return.

(Now I'm going on a bit of a personal tangent, but this comment box does tell me not to hold back. :P ) Years ago, my relationship with my best friend (and crush, not a good combination) slowly but rather dramatically fell apart, and I found out how much she'd been holding back from me, how much she'd been talking about me behind my back, and that she firmly believed it had been for my own good. When she contacted me again at th start of this year, I realised I didn't trust her anymore. She didn't understand why. The whole drama sort of haunts me, and I can't talk to her without anxiety if I talk to her at all. The relationship with her has had effects on other friendships too, it's taken me a lot of time to convince myself not everone's like that and not everyone is, openly or secretly, going to judge every little thing I do, like she did. But it's strengthened my belief in honesty.

Oof, block of text. So, what I'm trying to say, I agree. That's it, really. Here's to daily miracles!

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