My vision is slowly clearing up from the frosted glasses I wore in my last relationship. For me, three months is a long time to snap out of it. I am used to feeling freedom and joy almost the instant I get away from whatever man I’ve leeched myself onto.

What explains the gradual drift away from him, rather than a sudden snap to consciousness? I’d like to believe it’s a sign that I have grown as a person enough to leave a relationship before I am on the edge of despair. In the past, I have left relationships as a last-ditch effort to survive. My grieving the betrayal and loss of most relationships occurs while still officially in them. This time I left earlier in the process, and so maybe I continued the grieving once I was gone. Maybe I’m getting wiser.

In any case, my cathartic experience was Monday, when I finally moved the last of my stuff out of the house and over to my new rental place. In the process of hauling stuff out of the basement, I passed a sickening sight. He’s got a bunch of trash and furniture strewed at random along the side of the house. Who knows how long it’s been there – a month? Plastic, wires, broken things, tools, and painfully- furniture. For example, a pine hutch for the kitchen with cupboards and a drawer. It was in perfect condition when I left. It is now beyond salvage; warped and bleached from rain and weather. One of the pieces was a large oak entertainment center that I had come to get. He had at least laid a piece of plastic on top, but the base was in three inches of standing water. The bottom trim is warped and blackened with mold.

“Just like common white trash,” I thought to myself. “Leaving a bunch of stuff outside in the yard to get ruined.” I wondered: Who is this person who is so thoughtless and careless?

And it hit me: there is no difference in this behavior than anything I knew about him in our six years together. This is how he has always been. He has carelessly smashed half our dishes over the years. When we moved he piled everything in a jumble in the moving van so nearly all our wooden furniture is damaged now (that is, the stuff that wasn’t totally ruined). He stacked spare tires on a rocking chair, so that when we unpacked the chair the fabric cushions had ground-in black rubber. Ruined. It doesn’t occur to him to place any extra value on things that are expensive or of quality construction: to him, no things are valuable. In one way, it could be said that he is not beholden to material objects, but on the other hand – since we have often struggled for money – he was thoughtless and careless not to consider that everything he ruined had to be replaced. For a price. Sometimes the things he ruined had nostalgic value to me and can never be replaced.

The difference is that I am no longer there to walk behind him and clean up his messes.

My transformative thought was that the whole damn relationship was probably me! The catharsis is that I am relieved to know that I was correct to leave him. He isn’t only careless with furniture; he is careless with his life. He does not cherish his friends, and he does not cherish his family. I thought back over all the catastrophes he helped create and maintain, and I thought back over the lies that I told to my family and my friends to protect and support him, and to protect myself from my embarrassment and shame. Like when he was unemployed for 14 months and I helped him maintain all his excuses and lies about why he wasn’t employed. Yes, the economy was bad – a perfect alibi. But I didn’t tell anyone the truth. Such as the time he got a job offer, and let it go.

I am angry at myself (No, not at him; I feel sorry for him.) for not learning this lesson yet. I am a world-class enabler and after forty years and hundreds of relationships (well, it SEEMS like it!), I just cannot seem to learn to stop it.

I need to stop valuing people according to their potential, and begin placing value on what they actually do with their potential. I glom onto a man believing that with support and encouragement, he could be the man he truly is inside! I give, and give, and give until I am sucked dry, and there is nothing to show for my investment. And my bonus gift is that they always (Always.) find a way to spin it so that I am the one who betrayed. I am the one who let it fall apart. I am the evil trickster.

He said to me recently that he has watched me fall into deep depression in the past two years (actually, I have indeed been depressed a lot). He said I am the most depressed person he knows. “I am truly worried about you without me there to look out for you,” he says. “Now that you’re gone you will withdraw from life and sink more deeply into your depression. It drives me crazy because everything you want, I give you, but you can’t be satisfied with anything. You think leaving me will solve all your problems, but you had all you ever needed with me, and refused to see it.”

For the last year I’ve believed him when he told me what a dark soul I was, dragging him down when otherwise he would be happy. Today I say back to him as Eowyn said to Wormtongue, “Your words are poison.” I will no longer listen.

I am now free to try again to live up to my own potential. It is a beautiful, limitless path with brilliant possibility.

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