Monday, July 17, 2017

How Low Can You Go?!

It didn’t even begin to sink in until the morning after.
“Did that really happen?” I thought…
….street lights flashing down a desert highway kept flashing through my memory…
 “…” I kept saying in denial.
“…so I have a question…” sigh “…I’m just gonna ask…”
I kept replaying the scene in my mind; I kept trying to wrap my head around it; and I couldn’t 
“…ummmm…have you ever…”
I couldn’t escape it; I couldn’t shake it!
“…ummm, do you want to…”
“How could he?!” I thought.
“…the offer still stands if ya wanna…”
“I thought he was my friend!!!” I screamed in my mind.

Later that night I stood in the kitchen making small talk with my roommate before unpacking the scene from the previous night with her. I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and it was the first time I was saying it out loud. As I unfolded the scenario to her, the look of disgust on her face confirmed my instincts and feelings.
“Barbs, NO!  Are you serious?! What did you do?!”
“I mean, I was so thrown off; it caught me off guard! I was tired from the day; and he’s my friend; I just kinda laughed it off and changed the subject; I wasn’t expecting him to ask me that kind of favor. Part of me wants to legitimately punch him; like uh! I literally confided to him about my breakup from just two weeks ago and he asked me to do what? TWICE?! And Kelli, the other part of me wants to hug him and ask him what is going on that he would think that’s okay behavior to ask of me! I’m so torn Kelli!  What do I do?!  Do I address it with him? Do I let it slide; and if it comes up again, then do I say something?”
“I don’t know Barbs. It’s tough, because you two share some common friends. This is going to complicate things; it’s a tough position you’re in. I don’t envy you at all right now.” 
At that point my feelings and thoughts were confirmed: what happened in that car ride wasn’t okay. The dilemma I faced was: what do I do about it? At the very least, I knew I needed more perspective and advice - and advice from friends that don't have ties to him. I needed objective perspective. 

Days later I rehashed the situation over the phone with my adopted big brother, Jason. His male perspective aligned consistent with my roommate.
“Nah, B; that’s pretty low level shit! He’s an asshole! It would have been less fucked up if he had suggested something that offered you BOTH some benefit – I mean, it still would’ve been low considering you’re fresh from a breakup! But at the very least there would have been a sliver of a redeeming factor – something! Make no mistake, it still would’ve been low level douche baggery - but this…nah! He literally would have been the only one getting any kind of satisfaction! And in a time where you’re vulnerable – that’s pretty deplorable! I know it’s tough because you two have been friends for a while and share a core group of friends, but no! What I might do is keep your distance from him.”
“Yea Jason, but I’m a forgiving person, maybe if I just talk to him, mayb….”
“No Barbs, no! Yes you’re a forgiving person, but he’s not even coming to you and asking for your for forgiveness! Don’t go chasing him to give him your forgiveness!” 
And that line hit me: “Don’t go chasing him to give him your forgiveness.” He hadn’t acknowledged how out of line he was. The situation was sinking in further.

On yet another night I found myself in the apartment of my married friends, who will remain nameless. “Hey _____ can I tell you something?”
“Of course, what’s up?”
And as I echoed the scene from that late night drive that I couldn’t shake, her face told me how appalled and livid she was with this guy.
“Barbara! Are you serious?! He asked you to do what?! Twice?!  WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! That is can’t! You need to cut him out!”
As I talked it out and sifted through the situation, and a bit of bias due to friendship, her husband chimed in from his computer.
“Barbs, do not, under any circumstance try to ‘talk to him’ about it. Don’t be that woman who thinks you can change a man by rationally talking to him! He needs to be punished; guys learn through punishment.  So here are your options. Option one: ya physically beat him! Option two: humiliate him and publicly call him out on it! And option three: leave, just walk away, and don’t look back.”
“But, I care about him, he’s my friend, what if there’s something deeper going on?”
“Barbs, if you really care about him, you’ll leave. Because, if you stick around, he’ll simply look at you as an option, a toy, and it’ll happen again.  You’ll be enabling him. What if my daughter came to you with this situation, what would you tell her to do?”
As I thought of his daughter - my goddaughter - it really started to sink in. I had my clarity as I said with a sigh, “I’d tell her to leave.”

As the severity of what happened that night in March hit me even heavier after talking to my married friends, I realized: this is going to change everything! And three and half years of friendship with this guy was weighing on my chest, as it was all about to come to an end. 

Now, at the risk of exposing myself, please let me be completely transparent – there is an important piece to this situation. And if I am to write with integrity, honesty is important. I’m not that innocent. Growing up in a fairly sheltered and conservative Catholic household; retaining my innocence was something my parents emphasized - as well as my church community. And while I’ve been able to retain most of it as a 31 year old woman, I have fallen short; I have walked the line; and I have crossed and re-crossed that line multiple times. It’s not something I'm necessarily proud of, yet it’s something I also don’t regret. It’s a part of my life I have struggled with; evaluated; and reevaluated. I’ve had in depth conversations with friends, family members, and even a priest and my former spiritual director - who's a nun – about this line I’ve crossed. During this time of exploration (for lack of better words) this former friend made a move on me, and we crossed into the realm of past “just friends.” Now while we didn’t work out romantically it was through the mediation of a mutual friend that we were able to “smooth things over,” or so I thought! Nevertheless that was a decent time ago; it wasn't one-sided; and I wasn’t fresh from a breakup either.

Regardless of our “history,” the demeaning request he asked of me was just that: demeaning, degrading, disrespectful and unacceptable. Two weeks after a breakup, with the combined fact that I had confided with him that morning the circumstances of the breakup: add a layer of insensitivity and disregard! The fact that his request would benefit him only: toss in a layer of selfishness! And while some might tell me: “well, I can see where you’re coming from, but that’s kind of normal in today's’ society.” You know what else is “normal?” Shootings, racism, corruption and lack of manners - but like these examples, it doesn’t make the behavior any more permissible; it doesn't make it right; or least of all – okay!  Bottom line: no woman deserves to be preyed on with such degrading requests; particularly when she’s vulnerable; least of all from a “friend.” Bottom BOTTOM line: it’s disrespectful!   

It’s true what they say: when it rains it pours. And my storm certainly was clouding my judgement. Perhaps it was the three and a half years of friendship that was clouding my judgement; or maybe it’s the fact that we do in fact have history; possibly it’s the fact we share a handful of common friends (which exponentially complicated the situation); I don’t know if it was the fact I was fresh from a breakup and simultaneously dealing with those emotions; or the stressful push of preparing for a 4 hour exam for my master’s program; or the hectic grind of day to day teaching and grad school midterms; or a car accident I faced; maybe it was an argument I had with my mom and the frustration I felt from that; as all this was happening all at once I was sufficiently overwhelmed! My cup runneth over! Yet after talking to Kelli, Jason and my married friends, I had the clarity I needed as everything was confirmed as they each helped me to realize what I already knew and felt to be true.  

Despite the clarity, advice and counsel they happily gave me, the severity of that car ride truly did not hit me till about a month after the fact. One afternoon, as I’m running errands on a Saturday, driving down the 57 freeway with the Angels Stadium to my right as I’m exiting, a common phrase that’s used as an insult pops in my head out of nowhere, and my mind goes right back to that late night car ride with him in the driver’s seat as he asked a favor of me, not once, but twice. And the connotation of the common insult rushes to my mind! It hit me: I was resorted to an insult – a vile, vile insult! Like a ton of bricks, rage takes over and I erupt in a fit of whaling and sobbing tears! The slow dripping bucket of severity finally tipped over and drenched my consciousness! And the rage of tears continued for several minutes in my car! Amidst the slow tedious process of wrestling with the severity of the situation certain hard and painful realizations occurred to me.

...The sight of his name popping up on my phone from a group chat caused my blood pressure to increase tenfold. I can’t stay in the chat. I had to remove myself from the chat.

...This is going to make the others in the group question me – what do I tell them?

...After leaving this group chat, how will this affect my friendship with the others in the group?

...Will my friendship with the others be able to stay resilient?

...Do I even disclose what happened with the others? Will they justify his actions?

...With my graduation around the corner, I could not justify sending him a graduation announcement or invitation – hell no! If I’m just an object to him, how could I expect him to respect the level of education I worked so hard to achieve?!

And as these things all unfolded I was questioned by our shared friends. Had it not been for the others’ questioning about the situation, and their push, I would have been content NOT telling him why I was removing myself from his life. And as much as I wished he had simply owned up to his behavior and been humble and apologetic about his actions – he wasn’t!

Doesn't remember that part of the car ride? That’s convenient! I call bullshit! He seemed to remember everything else from the day. Even as he approached my house and woke me up (as a car ride nap was the only thing I could think to do, to escape the uncomfortable situation), his mannerisms in waking me up were so rude and so cold. Was his ego and confidence bruised; is that why he subtly lashed out at me? Oh, but he remembers that; and simply says I was passed out cold, and thought smacking my leg would do the trick in waking me from my nap. Be a little kinder, and think a little harder next time. Regardless I wish I could also block that out of my memory – but I can’t. As a woman, getting a degrading request like that – twice – while being trapped in a car won’t be something I forget easily. But truly, I wish I could block it out as easily as he did. Perhaps my refusal made it easy to block out; perhaps and just maybe.

And while his feelings are hurt and ego bruised from hearing through the grapevine that he didn’t get an invitation to my graduation and felt like I treated him like a stranger, my response is layered. My understanding side says: okay, perhaps I could have told him directly rather than him hearing through the grapevine. On that note, he had an opportunity to hear it from me directly, but dropping the ball on talking face to face is on him; and following up four days later (close to midnight) with a half-baked apology and passive aggressive line to follow isn’t exactly my idea of keeping your word; much less showing me any level of consideration or respect. My self-respecting side says: oh well, then treat me at a level that’s worthy of a graduate level graduate. Treat me like a lady – not a street walker! And at the very least, own up to the behavior and try not to hide behind selective memory, or use pride as a shield. Lastly, don't try and bruise me with blame as a means to defect and escape the guilt of those actions. Simply put – man up!

After a very abrupt ending to the conversation I showed him the door, as the deafening silence of our tense footsteps echoed the hall of my place before I locked the door behind him without a word of goodbye. I stood utterly dumbfounded! He coped out with selective memory, and hid behind his pride; he tried to turn it around on me and make himself out to be the victim; he couldn’t even man up…damn!

As time and space has allowed me to reflect further on this fallout, I’m left with a few thoughts. First, is (God forbid) this ever happen again with another male friend I’ll know better how to react in the moment: “pull over; I’ll call a damn Lyft or Uber to take me home!” Through experience comes wisdom; and through wisdom comes prudence in how to react in situations. In this case, I am grateful for four individuals who helped me respond with the proper prudence. Second thought is despite the inevitable change in dynamics of that group of friends, and my change in friendship with each of them, I am grateful that there is some resilience with them. Undoubtedly it won’t be the same with my absence from the group. Yet, all the same I am glad to still have them in my life in some capacity. Third is – be it divine intervention or timing or life – I am grateful for new friendships; and friendships of people who share my Catholic faith. Short tangent: it was after the new year I made a New Year’s resolution to become more active in my faith and thus started exploring Catholic young adult groups in Orange County. Through that – and right before all this transpired – I had started to make and develop new friendships that share my faith, and my place in life as a single 30 something year old women with a healthy level of sarcastic humor. Amid the emotional chaos, it’s been refreshing and quite a blessing when I consider the timing of these new friendships that came about. God truly has impeccable timing, and it has been a source of refreshing hope! But I digress. Lastly, I hope this guy never does anything like this again - to any other woman. I hope he thinks of his sister and his mother, if they were to face a similar situation, and how he might feel if they were ever treated the way he treated me. And at the risk of letting go of his pride - and even though he couldn’t admit it to me (and likely nobody else) - I hope he can at least admit to himself at night when he goes to sleep that he does in fact remember his actions, and that he was out of line, on so many levels. For at the end of the day, pride is a lonely companion to lie to. And while I can forgive him for his actions, I won’t ever forget. And thus he has lost my respect and my trust; and without these two elements there is no reason to continue. To him I say take care but I won’t be there to see him through!

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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