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Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Counterfeit

It was as though we had been on a trip and all come back to tell each other where we’d been. A bunch of 50-somethings in a constant state of astonishment that we had become our parents. I mean, when I was a kid watching American Bandstand, I’d watch the line of kids (“Jim Smith, 17,” Peggy Sue Jones, 18″) and think “Eight-TEEN???” It seemed beyond comprehension that anyone could be that old. My parents didn’t count because they were a different species.

So here we were on Facebook. The mistake I made was thinking of these people as “friends,” but in my own defense (that would be me defending me against me), there were a few things pushing me in that direction. One was the fact that we used to be friends. Okay, maybe it was before we knew who we were, had been molded into anything at all, or had any life experience; but hey. To the extent that you can be friends in that condition, we were friends. Next was Facebook’s use of the word “Friend.” This wouldn’t be the first time I had used a word differently than anyone else in the universe uses it, but because of the temptation to relive some moments in my past, I was sucked in. Now I think that if I’d wanted to do that, I should have just devoured a pack of pink Sno-Balls and have done with it. thI would have been way less disappointed.

Fairly soon it turned into grandma- and grandpa-ville. Which I found nauseating. Posting sonograms, the whole 9 yards. I told one grandma-to-be  who had posted a sono-pic of her not-yet-grandson that thought I should post a photo of my pancreas & she went away all hurt. But really. Then there were the Positive Thinkers and the Rabid Born-Again Christians and the one who was gobbling up “Friends,” at a rate of about 50 per day, like it was some sort of contest, or the one who routinely cheats on her taxes and told me (not a joke) “I don’t have enough money to have integrity,” which left me feeling like I was looking at an Escher print. Who on earth were these people? Was it worth being called a baby murderer because I’m pro-choice just because the person saying it used to sit behind me in geometry class? If I had been meeting all these people for the first time at a party, there were only a couple that I would have wanted to engage in even a single conversation, let alone meet for coffee.

Everyone loves to “like” you. When I told people about the photo calendars I make  & sell every Christmas, the oohs and aaahs led me to believe sales would be up, if for no other reason than that, well, these were my friends. They love my photos. The calendar costs less than a dessert from one of the expensive lunches they keep posting about. This year it was especially important because at the time it was pretty nearly my only source of income. So when I posted a link to purchase one, imagine my surprise when only one person bought one, and she was not even someone I’d known in high school (see “Is There Anything I Can Do to Help?”). I was feeling quite desperate and actually pleaded with people to buy one, which post, to my horror, one person “Liked.”

That was it. It sent me right over the edge. This was right after someone who said she thought of me as a “sister” asked “How Much?” when I asked if she wanted to buy one of my calendars. I told her my real sister would have asked “How many?” not “How much. I got off Facebook in a hurry and have no interest in seeing or hearing from those people again, and I’m only sorry I didn’t just leave most of them in the realm of “fond memory.” I started un-friending for all I was worth until my page was a rubble & finally just deleted my account. Good riddance.

But there is still the problem of the definition of “Friend.” Now that there’s Facebook, you have to qualify what you mean by “Friend.” And sister. You have to qualify that, too. I think it boils down to “The regular definition of [fill in] minus all responsibility, caring or concern expressed in a tangible way, or loyalty.”  Now I ask you: What is the point?

The problem with Facebook’s having chosen the word “friend” to represent this shallow bastardization thereof is that people have actually started believing it. That this is what real friends are and do. Do we now have to come up with a different word for “Real Friend,” or do we have to qualify everything that exists in the non-virtual world? You don’t need to bring a sick friend (Real Friend) a cup of soup, because there is some app that sends a virtual cup of soup for you. The work of friendship is gone, and the feelings of support and care, and the taste of chicken soup, are gone as well.

Don’t Believe Your Therapist

I spent a lot of time being pissed off at my mother’s funeral. At all those people who showed up but who could never find the time to visit her when she was alive, but so sick, in those last months. The entire time I felt like screaming at almost everyone there. You fucking assholes, you don’t deserve to be here. You don’t deserve to call yourself her friend. Don’t tell yourself you’re doing it for the bereaved family (that would be me), because I couldn’t care less about you or your fake, self-serving show of concern. You’re going to go away from this funeral feeling good about yourself, when in fact you should be ashamed. You can’t imagine how happy it would have made my mother to see all her friends together, showing their love & caring to her in person. Paying their respects–but to her, not me. But no, you were too busy and you hoped she would understand. Well, she didn’t. She died incredibly lonely because her “friends” couldn’t get away at a time when it actually would have meant something, would actually have done some good. But now that she’s dead and won’t know and it won’t make any difference, here you are. Now that there is something you can get out of it. Free food and the smug, self-righteous feeling of having “done your best,” when in fact you did nothing at all. Well done you.

News flash: You know how, when someone you know commits suicide, everyone loves to say “There was nothing you could have done”? Well they are wrong. There was a lot you could have done. If you believe there wasn’t you’re just following the lead of your therapist, who loves to tell you nothing is your fault. But that is just New-Age Wacked, spoken by someone who, at the root of it, is a business person who has a lot hinging on your success at their brand of yak; the word-of-mouth that will issue from their success at generating language that lets you, the patient, off the hook. But it’s completely untrue; it’s a fabrication, a construct. Not to mention, s/he is also (like you) probably one of those people who never puts put anything in a street-singer’s case because it “isn’t enough” (see Oh That Magic Feeling). I suppose something can be said for trying to stave off pain, but not the pain of missed or abandoned or avoided responsibility. Not the pain of remorse because there were things you could have done, moments you could have spent, offers you could have made–but didn’t. A generation full of people who are Teflon to responsibility has led to this absurd truism. But as someone who spent a lot of last year hanging on by a thread, I am here to tell you: You could have called. You could have written. You could have come. You could have asked. & don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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All My Dead Are at Costco 4/6, 5/6, 6/6

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All My Dead Are at Costco 1/6, 2/6, 3/6

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Oh That Magic Feeling

Years ago I was a street singer. It was more for political/philosophical reasons that simply to earn a living. My friend Mark and I just hitchhiked around the country playing folk songs on banjo (Mark) and dulcimer (me). Ostensibly this was to reach that year’s Rainbow Gathering, but that was just a label slapped on to make it look like we had some sort of direction.

Once we were in Sparks, Nevada, singing in front of a Safeway. A kid was walking by with his mom. He couldn’t take his eyes off us. You could see he wanted to stop & listen. We couldn’t have been more attractive to a little kid than if we had been a couple of dogs playing live music (we sort of were). His mom kept her hand locked on his head while they were walking by. Like a vise grip, forcing him to look straight ahead & not at us. I remember thinking That Poor Woman. I wondered, while she was steering her kid away from us, “What happened to her that she perceives a couple of hippies singing Wildwood Flower to be such a threat?”  Of course I felt sorry for the kid, but as I saw it at the time, he was being bullied  (by his mom) and because I was a practicing Quaker back then, I felt that my sympathy belonged with the perp. The kid was definitely a victim, but the mom, as the bully, needed on some spiritual level to have the reasons for her bullying acknowledged, because she had no comfort in victim-hood (more on this in Review of Inheritance), and ultimately she was going to suffer the loss of her kid’s love because of it. As an aside, please note that my acknowledgment of the reasons for her, or any perp’s, perp-hood is emotional and metaphysical but does not extend to legal. I think it’s okay to say, for example, “That rapist got a really raw deal. Now fry the maggot.”

But I digress.

We usually made enough money to buy bread & cheese & to have enough left over for donuts & coffee in the morning & once in awhile a room in a downtown hotel. “Oh That Magic Feeling, Nowhere to Go” used to run through my mind all the time. Sing, then just sit around eating bread & cheese & drinking a beer. Not having to set an alarm clock. The whole thing, notwithstanding the challenges of living on the road, was delicious.

Once on an on-ramp on the way into Denver a guy on his way to work flipped me off with such violence, with such a look of malice on his face & in his eyes, I felt like I’d been shot at point-blank range. I chalked it up to his being on the way to work at some shitty job in a shitty car and feeling trapped on every imaginable level in a shitty life, which made me both the symbol of his cage and the person in himself that he was trying to kill for trapping him, although at 20, I didn’t realize any of that at the time. I just thought he was just an asshole. Which he was. And after all those Jungian explanations of that guy to myself, that’s probably the best one, for all kinds of reasons.

I did that a lot for a long time: Provided myself with an explanation of other people’s negative behavior as a way to “understand” it. I can’t tell you how fucked up that is. I mean, it looks great on the surface. Makes me this “understanding” person who, because of that, can forgive everyone for any infraction. But you know, all it is is veiled masochism. It’s this way of substituting “understanding” (which I provide myself) for whatever it is I’m not getting from the other person (that I should be getting) or trying to ease the pain of what I’m getting from the other person (that I shouldn’t be). Or who knows, maybe it just makes me someone who can almost instantaneously find a noble-looking reason to sidestep responsibility. Slippery. I guess it’s a talent that’s like a gun. Protective in the right hands, dangerous in the wrong ones.

It’s almost a reflex. I did it for years with someone I was in love with but who just didn’t love me. This person was quite broken (see, there she goes again). But really, because of his brokenness he was never going to be able to respond to me or (I now see 30 years later) to anyone, and ultimately he was completely safe for me. But during that entire time I provided myself with little explanations–he can’t do this because of his isolation, he can’t do that because he was an orphan, he does this because he didn’t get adopted for a long time, yadda yadda–as a way to (I guess) make myself feel better about what I wasn’t getting. Reaching into my pocket & coming up with a couple of stale saltines at the Thanksgiving table of which I could have partaken by just moving on, but couldn’t.

But back to street singing. We made money but weren’t great show-people. I remember being fascinated by the number of people who looked like they wanted to stop & throw some money in the case but wouldn’t. We had endless conversations about this. The fear of being the first–Mark used to start every session with some paper money in the case so people wouldn’t have to be afraid of being the only one to like us enough to pay. We contemplated how rich we’d be if every single person who walked by threw in a penny but how most people would feel that “wasn’t enough” and so wouldn’t throw in anything at all. We thought about how many people avoided eye contact, which for a long time I thought was their attempt to make us invisible. It wasn’t until many years later, when I was doing a documentary-style portrait series of some street people living on Santa Monica Mall that one of them told me during a conversation that it wasn’t he those people were trying to make invisible, it was themselves. That made total sense.

I thought of all this while writing the post “Is there anything I can do to help?” I guess I was trying to figure out why so few of my friends had offered to help me when I needed it. When I’ve offered to help so many people in so many ways so much of the time. Not that that makes me Mother Theresa. This is easy, normal behavior. It’s natural, it’s What You Do. You see someone in need and you say “Can I help.” I can’t fathom the person who knew, for example, that the only thing keeping me off food stamps was pride rather than lack of eligibility and who not only did not offer to help me but who made a point of giving me a blow-by-blow of everything they had for Thanksgiving dinner. This is the same guy from whom unsolicited advice rains down like manna every time you talk to him, but when actual help was required, the kind that would have had, I don’t know, some kind of effort-related price tag, that well suddenly ran dry. My next thought was to wonder if I was doing my old trick of trying to figure out “Why they did it” as a substitute for “That they did it” and to stave off for as long as possible the pain of betrayal.

So that guy who flipped me off on the on-ramp? What an asshole.

Is There Anything I Can Do to Help?

Funny phrase, that. Until my recent bout of unemployment (which I’m still fending off, sort of), I took it entirely for granted. After reaching fairly dire straits, almost no income at all for over a year; no income at all for many months & running out of credit, only a few people uttered those words to me.

I’d like to be able to say they were my longest-time & dearest friends. They weren’t. I mean, one was, and two were people I hadn’t known very long at all. So there’s no real generalization I can make about who offered and who didn’t.

Right after I lost my job, the daughter of some neighbors stuck four $20 bills in an envelope and mailed them to me. And things hadn’t even gotten very bad yet–at the time she did that, I’d had no idea how bad they were going to get or how long I would stay unemployed. But what an amazing kindness. Another friend was someone I’d known a very long time. She came to see me with her family, over-paid me for some photo calendars I was selling at Christmas, refused to take any of the money back. Another old friend bought some of my calendars just to support me; I don’t think she knew how difficult a time I was having, but it meant a lot anyway. Finally, one very old friend was in the same boat I was (loss of job, etc.) and told me he’d help if he could. Which is the same thing–the exact same thing–as helping.

The rest of my “friends,” well, they were all nowhere to be found. An ex with big bucks wanted to buy one of my photos, which I couldn’t sell for reasons I won’t get into in this post, but suffice to say it would have violated my integrity to sell that photo, so I said No, I couldn’t. I think in his mind it would have been a way of helping me, but when I couldn’t sell the photo, it became clear that he was just “Giving to Get Something,” as Joni used to sing. He would help, but only if he could get some kind of return on his investment: No photo, no help. And this is someone I’ve known for over 30 years. By contrast, a friend I’d known for only a couple of years offered to help me the moment he heard I’d lost my job. First thing he did was offer to help me financially, Did I need a loan? Did I have enough food? And he wasn’t even that well off. I didn’t take it, but I will never forget it.

During this time every notion I had about friendship, what constitutes a friend, has been turned on its head. Except for a small (very small) handful of people, everyone I thought was my friend couldn’t have cared less about me, and people I barely knew were right there. Asking if there was something they could do. I didn’t take anyone up on it, but it certainly kept me from slipping off the deep end to know that there was somewhere I could turn.

I wonder if it’s part of this bubble society we have become. Drive-through friendships, facebook “friends” (now there’s a non sequitur); that sort of thing. People don’t get out of their cars, they just take whatever is flung at them through the window while they tap the brakes enough for the lights to go on but not enough to actually slow down. I don’t know. I get tired thinking about it.

I used to use the words “good friend” more or less synonymously with “longtime friend.” I’m not sure how I arrived at that. Maybe coincidentally it was true for awhile in my life, I don’t know. But this experience has pointed up how a truly good friend can be someone you just met, and a longtime friend might be just, well, something you’ve had long time, like a bad habit or an ugly sweater that doesn’t fit anymore and that you never wear but keep around because you are too lazy or sentimental to throw it out. You just get into the habit of calling people things & it doesn’t occur to you to reevaluate the friendship or even revise the title. But you know how your insurance company is always telling you to reevaluate your insurance coverage? I really think something like that is required of friendships; a little editing is called for. If you keep thinking of someone as your friend but when you get to the point where you are close to not having enough food and that person doesn’t ask “Is there anything I can do?” then what is the point of keeping that person around? of continuing to call that person your friend?  I guess we are all reluctant to “edit” our social lives because it seems so important to have as many friends as possible, woe to the poor soul who has just joined Facebook and has only 10 or 20 or 50. There’s a little voice that ticks off a tiny excuse for that person: “S/he hasn’t been on FB very long.” As if the idea of having too few friends is something you have to excuse, like a big nose or bad breath, even if the person doesn’t know you are doing it.

So I’m editing my friendships. To the people who said “Is there anything I can do?” I’d take a bullet for you. The rest of you can kiss my ass.

Big Dogs Need Not Apply

I’m thinking of selling my house & moving. My neighborhood has become unworkable (subject of another rant). I’ve been out of the rental market for awhile, and man. Things sure have changed. I’ve been spendingtime on Craigslist looking for a rental & seen that the landlords who will even consider dogs specify that you have to pay an exorbitant non-refundable deposit, or the dog has to stay outside all the time, or it has to weigh less than some amount of weight that makes the creature barely qualify as a dog. One landlord actually posted that the dog had to weigh “less than 10 pounds.” I fired off an email: “Did you mean to say ‘hamster’?”

So I posted this on email: Subject: “BIG DOGS ARE BETTER THAN OKAY–WOOF!

“Small dogs only????? As in those yappy, snarling, vicious, aggressive, destructive, pissy little yappers? These are the ones you allow into your rental properties? You obviously don’t know dogs very well. If you did, you’d either specify “NO SMALL DOGS,” or “NO DOGS UNDER 20 POUNDS” or at least “DOGS ALLOWED ON A CASE-BY-CASE BASIS,” since of course there are some nice little dogs too.

I have 2 big dogs. They are calm & well behaved, & when they are in the house they basically lie around most of the time waiting for me to take them out. When they are out in the back yard, they are either loping around quietly or lying in the sun. I can’t understand the mentality that says small dogs, like those snarling little monsters that hit the car glass with their heads like snakes trying to bite you and NEVER stop yapping & scratching & snapping & shivering, are better than this. I mean, really.

Now, if you took a small dog like the one I’ve just described and made it weigh 100 pounds, then you’d really have something to worry about. But that’s just not going to happen. In my experience with dogs (which is considerable), the bigger the dog, the calmer the dog. Why do you think they call the Mastiffs & others that weigh 200 pounds “gentle giants”? If you have a responsible tenant, that person is going to be a responsible dog owner, and vice versa. The size of the dog is secondary. Please, stop discriminating against big dogs.”

You can’t imagine the hate mail that ensued. I actually got into a heated exchange with some guy who had had his one place damaged by one big dog (hardly a basis for generalization). He said it was like paint. The bigger the volume, the more area it covers. My response was to say Except that small dogs shoot out paint like a pressure washer, and with big dogs the paint just dribbles out. I don’t know why the example that popped into my head was one of spray paint rather than cans of paint; maybe it was the last kind of paint I had used. I thought the analogy was accurate, at any rate. He decided that because I had used spray paint as an example, I was probably a huffer or a crackhead. My take was that the dog that had (allegedly) wrecked his place hadn’t really done it at all. The damage was done by an irresponsible dog owner, & the dog had just carried that out like some kind of evil Familiar.

Anyway, the post was flagged for removal. Not sure if that actually happened.

Review of Lake of Fire

Tony Kaye, what an artist. I’m not going to comment on the subject matter of this film other than to say that I’m not sure I agree with the idea that all the pro-life rhetoric was delivered by the 3-toothed faction & all the pro-choice stuff by the likes of Noam Chomsky, who spoke eloquently about the complexity of the issue & the difficulty we are having as a culture coming to terms with this complexity, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as Chomsky delivering a pro-choice message.  Still, I didn’t care all that much because I was so utterly mesmerized by Tony Kaye’s photographic eye for the entire 2-1/2 hours.  I still remember the scenes in American History X that took my breath away with their beauty; the fragile, intimate, shallow-depth-of-field, animated black & white portraits with the camera trained closely on Edward Norton & the planes of his face moving in and out of focus. Images so striking I can still see them in the tiniest detail even though it has been years since I saw that film. LoF is filled with one after another of the most incredibly lit, framed & composed f5.6 or so portraits you are ever going to see in a film.Because of the shallow depth of field, there were times when the subject moved out of focus & I was acutely aware of re-focusing; this was okay with me, because this is a film where the camera is a magical instrument I was not intended to lose awareness of.  The subjects are all far more beautiful in black & white than they ever could be in color, & if there ever was evidence for a B/W photo being something of an x-ray (& I mean this not entirely figuratively) that tells more about the interior of a person than a color photo ever could, this is it.It’s worth noting that in most B/W photos there’s not really all that much pure black or pure white–it’s almost all shades of gray.So it is with the issue of abortion, & Kaye’s choice to shoot B/W is the perfect metaphor for this very complex issue.

Letter to a Mom Who Wants Her Kid to Have ADD

A little background.

L is a fat 30-something evangelist. Every room in her house is a total wreck–that would be her physical house, but the rooms in her psychic house aren’t in great shape, either. I bring up these aspects of who she is because they have some relevance to the conversation below. She also has a kid (E) whom she has trained to be a royal pain in the ass, which she wants to think is ADD and feels can be fixed by taking dairy products out of his diet.

I used to take care of their dogs when she & her huz & kid took weekend trips. One weekend one of the dogs (D) bit me hard on the hand. L decided the dog probably had a brain tumor.

L didn’t even bother to call to find out how my hand was doing. Here’s what I told her I thought of that.

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I think you need to get your act together in a hurry. I don’t see you as a very disciplined person; in the short time I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you follow through on a single thing you have said you were going to do, whether it’s showing up for either of the two lunches I made for you and E, losing the baby weight you gained 10 years ago, following up with me, or having E pay the $3 to have his fish fed even though you made a big deal about teaching him to be responsible with money. In fact, I’ve never seen you follow up on anything you asked E to do, and ultimately he has learned that he can do pretty much whatever he likes with no consequence whatsoever. That walk we went on was so unpleasant. He must have barged into the conversation 20 times, and Every Single Time you gave him your complete and undivided attention, never once suggesting that he wait his turn, be sensitive to breaks in conversation, be respectful of adults’ conversation. Not a single time. It got so irritating that I finally said something, and he looked totally shocked. I could tell it was the first time he’s ever been called on it. But his behavior isn’t his fault. It’s your fault for not giving him better boundaries and social skills. I can’t imagine how unsafe a kid with no boundaries must feel.

Now you’re looking around for some organic cause for this because it’s easier than looking to your own behavior. It’s no surprise to me that D has learned the same thing. In my experience dogs do what they are trained to do. Most of the time this is inadvertent. Somewhere along the line she learned that aggression toward humans was okay, was a way of getting what she wanted, and that there were no negative consequences. You don’t have to be Pavlov or Skinner to see this in action with your dog.  But your first thought was not that there was something wrong with how she was trained but that she had a brain tumor, so I’m not surprised that you think E’s impulsiveness and lack of discipline is a diagnosable disorder. Am I angry? Most definitely, but not at your dog. At you, for not even caring enough about the results of your behavior to see how I was doing. You do the easy thing: Easier for you to get”diagnoses” for the creatures in your care than to implement a program of boundaries and consequences. Now E has to be deprived of dairy products so you can (theoretically) have an easier time of things, and D has to run around freezing her ass off & biting people because you are “too busy being a wife and mother” to get her a sweater or make her stop biting.

Don’t get me wrong: I think a small percentage of kids have a bona fide neurological disorder, and if that’s truly the case, I think it’s ridiculous not to normalize his brain chemistry with medication. But that’s a tiny percentage, and from what I’ve seen, there’s nothing wrong with your kid’s brain that isn’t fixable with tougher and less selfish love than you have been willing to impart or having him make his own bed every morning (right after he makes yours). I hope you fix it before your kid digs his teeth into someone as a result of your new-age training techniques. Don’t worry about my hand. You go back to being a “busy wife and mother.”

[L’s Response: She is going to pray for me.]

Oh Brother. The last resort of all evangelists. It’s easier to  “pray” for me than to accept responsibility. L, I hope your kid isn’t talking about you in therapy in 30 years. You want to exploit western medicine for a diagnosis, but you dismiss the remedies it offers. You take the path of least resistance even if this does your child a disservice. Now go back to being a wife, mother, and oh yeah. Christian.

I think, L, that your time would be better spent meditating on, or praying for, whatever you’d like to call it, your own life. You go thinking you are the “pray-er” and I’m the “pray-ee.” If you don’t see the creepiness of that, no explanation in the world will work. I’m not going to bother “praying” for you, L. My “prayer” is the letter I’ve just written. “God” has nothing to do with it.

L: “I refuse to read anything you wrote, you are wasting your time. If you continue to harass me I will involve the police.”

Mr. Policeman, Help! Someone I could block with a few keystrokes is telling me unpleasant truths about me and my family! Arrest that woman!

Two-Wheeled Car

I want to expand a little on something I wrote in another post. The whole notion of the tacit question that each person asks the other in any relationship.

For years I was involved in some pretty unbalanced relationships. In some cases I was on the short end (i.e., wanted more from the person than s/he could or would give me), but at various other times I’ve been on the other side of that and been the person who was not able or willing to give the person what he or she needed. Being on the short end  opened my eyes to what the dynamic really consists of; the mechanism behind the negotiation that goes on inside every relationship. The “need-ee” never has to look at this stuff, because of course that person is getting everything he or she needs from the relationship, even if it’s frightfully little and always at the expense of the “need-er.”

One of these relationships was with a woman with whom I’d been friends for many years. We ended up living pretty close to one another. I was over there a lot, but I have to say that in 8 years she made it over to my place exactly one time, and even then, she brought her laundry. This was symbolic of the many ways in which I did most of the “work” in the relationship. There was some kind of unspoken arrangement we had made that I would do all the physical and emotional legwork, though I’m not sure how we arrived at this. Anyway, at some point I got sick enough of it to tell her I couldn’t deal with it anymore and thought we should rethink the friendship (I wasn’t that civilized about it, but 8 years of water torture sent me right off the deep end).

She ended up really angry at me, and I realized later that I had given her that option by making such a dramatic exit. I mean, she got to focus on how hurt she was by my “ending the friendship” (even though I had tried to talk to her about my difficulties with it many times before). She never really acknowledged how stressful the whole thing had been for me for almost a decade. She told other friends of ours and I got a reputation for being quite the jerk.

But after thinking about it for awhile, I realized what had really happened. That the entire time we had been friends, she had been posing a question. By her very involvement and by being the one who needed less from the relationship than I did, her presence took the form of an enormous question mark that hung in the air during every moment of our friendship. The question was “Can we have this relationship where you do everything and I do nothing?” And for many years, my answer to that question was “Yes.” My continued participation in the friendship was my unspoken answer.

The moment I decided I’d had enough, the moment I decided to end the friendship, my answer to that question that had hung in the air changed to “No.”

That’s it. That’s everything. The person who needs less is asking a question. Whether or not it ever comes out in actual words. This is quite a different way of looking at things: When you have been cast as the “needy” one in the relationship, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the huge demands that have been made upon you by the other person, the one who supposedly needs nothing at all, for what might have been a very long time, & this turns your perception of who has really been the needy one in the relationship on its head. Because that person, the one you thought needed so little? wants to know if s/he can continue to get something for nothing, can get an incredibly good deal that keeps being “your treat,” can get the benefits of friendship and loving support without contributing doodly-squat. As long as you are stupid or addicted enough to keep going along with this (as I was), everything is fine. They keep getting their shoulder, and you keep getting fucked in the ass. When you finally decide to go cold-turkey and change your answer to “no,” you are saying to that person No, you can’t keep getting this great deal. You can’t keep taking from me and not giving anything, and you can’t try to sell me your bill of goods anymore, because I’m not buying it. Don’t try to sell me this car with two wheels by telling me how great it is, because I’d rather walk.

Expect a lot of anger from the need-ee at that point. He or she is going to be jolted out of a cushy  little comfort zone and is going to feel “ripped off,” even though of course you are the one who has been getting ripped off emotionally for however long. But the need-ee is going to couch everything in a lot of language that makes you look like a perpetrator because only the events of the last 24 hours are going to be in his or her mind at this point, not the events of the last 5 or 10 or 30 years. You are going to be framed as a thief for taking away what “rightfully belongs” to that person, even though this is akin to having someone steal your newspaper every day for 20 years and then accuse you of stealing when you finally go over and take it back. There is no logic to it, because the person has been in this open-mouthed, infantile state thinking getting burped & patted & fed was the relationship (and s/he was right), and What right do you have to suddenly make me change my own diapers?

There’s nothing you can do about this. It’s possible that the other person is never going to see what has really gone down; that they have been getting something for free, been taking something from you bit by bit for year after year, something you have never really been able to afford. S/he is just going to be focused  on the immediate pain of losing his/her security blanket, and you are going to be the Bad Guy. Don’t worry about it. It is what it is. Just be glad you made it out with what’s left of your dignity, even though it might be in shreds.

I’ve been on the other side of this, too; been the “need-ee” myself, and been just as pissed off when my need-er decided to level things. Although since laying all this out to myself, I’ve been able to get out from under the anger by substituting the small amount of understanding I got from being on the short end. By not letting it go on for so long. Seeing that from moment one, as long as I allow that situation to exist, I am a perpetrator of sorts. So I make it crystal clear  to the other person early on that you involve yourself with me at your own risk, because whatever you want is not forthcoming and isn’t going to be. If that’s the hit I’m getting. If the person has the sense to walk, great. If it’s someone  who wants to be romantically involved but I know it isn’t going to happen and the person says he’s okay with just being friends, I take that with great suspicion. But I don’t suck the other person dry or take advantage of his addiction or devotion or love (can’t really say if there is a difference, even at this late stage) when I know that whatever I have to offer is not even close to what he requires from me. It’s the only decent thing.

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