I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a familiar avatar go by. My heart rolled and then sank a bit. I miss being friends, I thought. More than that, I wish I knew why we weren’t really friends anymore.
Maybe it’s normal, I thought to myself. Relationships change, they ebb and flow. People grow together and grow apart. Remember when you and Faiqa went through this back when you were both dealing with a lot of change? And you love each other still.
This has happened before, the voice said.
It keeps happening to you.
They all leave.
Images from the past hit me like a flashback scene from a movie. I was crying to my stepdad after he’d asked me if I wanted him to be my dad. “Everyone leaves,” I was telling him. I was 12 years old and this would be the third man I’d call dad. “They say they love me and then they get tired of being my dad. They get tired of me.”
“I promise I will always love you,”
And he did. Of course, he didn’t always stick around to be my dad, but somehow I always knew that was about him and not about me. He always loved me, at least.
But so many others changed their mind. Their faces rolled through my mind. The boyfriend, the girlfriends, the ones who just stopped calling, and the ones who hate me now.
The common denominator is you, the voice said.
This is my go-to don’t-be-oblivious test. I’m terrified of being oblivious, and so I’m quick to look to myself for reasons for other people’s behavior. Because if everyone leaves, it has to be you.
I’m unlovable, I conclude.
But I’ve been through enough therapy to recognize that statement as completely and totally wrong. None of us is unlovable or unworthy of love. That’s bullshit, and always a cover for something else.
I’m connecting the dots, I tell myself. I’m linking people and places that don’t go together, and only because of that very old button that’s been hit.
Maybe there is a pattern. Maybe I do or say things that push people away or make people get tired of me. But even if that’s true, that doesn’t make me unlovable.
I remember Emma crying on the sidewalk after she’d come home too late to attend a play date. I’d told her that her irresponsible choice had left her friend at home wondering where she was, and I’d asked her to imagine how she would have felt.
“I’m a horrible person,” Emma wailed.
“No, you’re not a horrible person,” I told her. “You made a poor choice that hurt someone’s feelings, but you are not a bad person.”
I’m trying to tell myself that, that maybe I’ve made poor choices, but that doesn’t equate to being a bad person.
Of course that doesn’t quite fit right either, because I don’t even know exactly what choices I’ve made in each case, and in the early stories I was a child. A child cannot behave a parent away.
I’m trying to disconnect the dots, but I’m afraid of missing important patterns. I’m afraid of being oblivious.
And I’m hurt. I’m little girl hurt about not being enough to love forever. The button’s been tripped, and it’s harder to unlink the heart than it is to mentally untie the knots that bind the stories together.
Self-help books and therapy lovers like to say that how someone treats you is a reflection of them and not you. It’s sound advice for someone who is being bullied or abused. But the same mouths will testify that we teach people how to treat us, which suggests that we do carry at least some of the responsibility for other people’s actions.
Finding the balance is tricky. I suppose it can only be figured out on a case by case basis. I suspect that carrying thirty-year-old abandonment issues into the room will make it impossible to see where their reflection stops and my responsibility begins.
I don’t have any wisdom to offer here, except to know that seeing the string makes it a little bit easier to untangle it. Recognizing why the hurt is so big helps me temper my response to it. And knowing the lie helps me remember the truth. I am lovable, at least.