Sometimes, my personality causes me all sorts of problems. I tend to put up with little things that are a bit irritating but not really enough of a problem for me to put any effort into changing them until one day, some tiny, teensy little thing that I’ve never mentioned before becomes the trigger for the equivalent of a major tectonic plate movement. It’s as though the entire situation/relationship has been built on the San Andreas fault and everyone thinks everything is hunky dory and fine and look at all the great things we’ve built, then one day… everything changes. Which is okay for me, because I’m the San Andreas fault and when I’ve shifted, I feel much better, everything feels in a much better position. Unfortunately, for anyone else involved in that situation/relationship, they’re left with a major disaster to deal with and all the wreckage that comes along with it. Including the occasional tidal wave.
I went out with a guy for about 3 years while I was at Uni. It was love, it was serious, and everyone, including us, thought we’d end up getting married. One night, he came round to the
house I was staying at and, having had more than one or two pints, drunkenly banged on about me going out with my friends. It was irritating but we didn’t argue or anything, he was just eye-rollingly exasperating. Unfortunately, even though it was a tiny, miniscule, insignificant drunken incident, it was also the final one and, to everyone’s shock, his most of all, I ended the relationship the following day.
The problem everyone had in dealing with it and in trying to work out what had happened was that there was no big argument. There was nothing anyone could point a finger at and say that was the problem. There’d been no inclination to anyone, including my ex, that anything was wrong. Nothing major had happened, nothing earth-shatteringly horrible had happened and there was nothing that I could actually point my own finger at and say “It’s because of this”. What there was were just lots and lots of really, really tiny things that I’d tolerated because they were only minor and not really anything to worry about or put any effort into; they were just slightly ‘off’.
How do I explain that to someone? It’s not reasonable or understandable behaviour when you’re on the receiving end of it, there’s no one big thing that anyone can point a finger at and say “THAT was the trouble. THAT’S what she didn’t like. THAT’S what didn’t work. I understand now”, there’s just lots of little things that don’t really mean much, and I never flagged as a problem because they weren’t really a problem. Well, they kind of were but I couldn’t articulate what was bothering me, just that something was, and if I did try to say something, because I couldn’t explain it, it just didn’t feel quite right, it just felt ‘off’, everyone (including me) would dismiss it as unimportant.
What ends up happening is that over time, I put up with all these minor little irritations, all of these little things that I don’t quite like but aren’t big enough to do anything about, partly because I can’t put my finger on what’s really bothering me or explain what it is, and I tolerate it all until one day, the San Andreas decides to re-align herself, leaving a massive clean-up zone behind her. And, like a tectonic plate movement, once it’s moved, it’s moved. It’s permanent. There’s nothing anyone can do about it and I leave people to wander through the shattered streets, trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of what just happened.
That’s very dramatic imagery; I’m quite proud of that.
In the case of my ex-boyfriend, it was a real, genuine shock for him and everyone else around us. No one understood what the hell had just happened. No one understood why or how it had happened, including me, I might add. There’s no warning, even for me, just a slow, inexorable build up that either ends in a big argument or complete shut down. The argument is better: at least there’s some logical, reasonable explanation for what just happened. My ex was about to do his final exams at Uni and he was a mess. No one was happy about what I’d done. His mum and my landlady had numerous conversations about everything (how does that happen? Really?) and the two of them spent weeks trying to persuade me to go back out with him just till he finished his final exams. There was no doing on that one and my landlady was not happy with me. She’d thought I was a lovely person until now, she said.
It goes back to this whole understanding business: no one could understand why the relationship was over. Why had I just ended it like that? Why hadn’t I said something sooner? Why was I so final in my decision that it was over? What could my ex do to make things better? How could he do things differently? How long had this been building for? Why hadn’t I done something about it? Didn’t he deserve an explanation? Didn’t EVERYONE deserve an explanation? Why don’t I just get over this and get back to the way things were?
I don’t know the answer to any of those things. Even now, thirty years later, I have no clue as to what it was that I changed everything for me. There was no one big thing. There were no two or three big things that I didn’t like. There is no reasonable or logical explanation, no understanding, and it leaves everyone involved in a horrible situation. I think that what happens is that I find myself moving further and further away from my own values and tolerating things that are just not quite ‘right’ because they’re just little, they’re insignificant and not worth worrying about, they’re certainly nothing I’d put an effort into stopping: they’re not a big enough problem. Invariably though, I find myself a long way from where I want to be, and I step back into MY line, the San Andreas shifts. From the outside, I look like I’m being totally unreasonable. I mean, everything was going okay, we had a great time, things looked as though they’re good, everyone thought we were going to get married, I’ll let things continue for so long that everyone (including me because I’m totally in denial while all this is going on) thinks I’m okay with things the way they are, that I’m okay with how things are going and what’s happening, and there’s nothing for me to point a finger at and say “THAT’S what I don’t like”.
My ex, you’ll be glad to know, met the love of his life after we split up; he’s still happily married to her and they have three children. And yes, we’re friends again now, and yes, I still feel guilty about ending the relationship the way that I did and causing the pain that I did. I still sometimes do the same thing even today: keep going, keep tolerating, keep giving no one any clue as to what’s about to happen, keep leaving a trail of disaster in my wake. It doesn’t happen very often, less than a handful of times in my life, but I’m beginning to notice the warning signs, which I suspect will be a massive relief for everyone around me. One such thing happened just recently in a business that I got involved in. I’d met the woman who runs the business at a workshop before she started the business. She was having a massive run of bad luck, there was a lot going on in her life and she was not in a good space. Being me, I tried to be kind to her, support her, cheer her on, and I tried to ignore that niggly little feeling that I need to stay the hell away from her. “She’s a lovely person”, I’d say to people, and she is. That doesn’t mean that I should establish a relationship with her or that her values align with mine. Because they don’t. I’m learning to catch myself so the people around me don’t experience the relationship equivalent of the San Andreas fault having a shoulder shrug. Occasionally, though, I get it wrong and I let things go too far. Apologies to everyone involved if you’ve been on the receiving end of that: I won’t be able to explain to anyone’s satisfaction why it happened or what went wrong or why I cut things off so suddenly and completely.
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Hi! I’m Karen O’Connor, hormonally-challenged, menopausal writer, blogger, self-confessed sarcasm enthusiast, mother of 4, wife of 30 years, destroyer of souls... no, wait, that's just in the mornings...