Our friends are a good indicators of our relationships. Not each friend, individually, but our friends when taken as a whole can tell you a lot about where you’re at in a relationship.
If you haven’t already, be sure to head over and read part 1 of this series of posts, in particular the Introduction section that puts this into a bit of a larger context, and gives a couple of disclaimers (like, for instance, assuming that I’m talking about a specific person or persons in these posts.) Even if you don’t read the rest of that post, read the Introduction. This isn’t just about a single person in my life, and it’s not about men or women. While it happened to a guy, and it’s being told by a guy, you can change “he” and “she” to any gender you like, and it still fits.
A Little More Mirror
I talked about friends as a mirror to yourself in my previous post. One thing I didn’t talk about was your significant other as a mirror. Just like your friends, who you’re in a relationship also fills the role of being a mirror. It’s an imperfect mirror, of course, and doesn’t cover all the possible angles – they’re a mirror of the things you value most in a partner, which (usually) means a mirror of some of the best parts of yourself. They also end up filling the gaps in yourself at times. A good partner is amazing. Hell, I’m gonna say it: at times, a bad partner is amazing.
Problem is, if you’re talking about an abusive partner, and they’ve started driving people out of your life, it’s the only mirror you have left.
For me, I have a whole list of requirements for a partner. Some of that takes vetting out – that’s part of the process of building a relationship: finding out what parts actually fit, and if some of the parts that don’t fit are incompatibilities that would requiring ending the relationship before it becomes a full partnership (marriage, long term relationship, etc.) These days, even dating requires an amazingly high barrier for entry (and, probably is complicated further by trust issues.) I took “strictly sex” off the table as a motivation for relationships years ago because they’re often incompatible partners, and the entire thing is based on looks and good sex. Some people actually can have a successful relationship based around nothing but those two factors: I can’t. They don’t mirror any part of me, except the desire for sex. Surprisingly, that wasn’t that hard to remove from my requirements, and (mostly) stick to.
I won’t bother putting my list of requirements for someone I’d like to build a relationship up here. It’s just too damned long, and some of it is really hard to put into words. But, to steal a line from an old romcom, “Must Love Dogs” (shut up – I liked the movie. Heck, I like romantic comedies), they are “a unique constellation of attributes.” Hell, at this point in my life, asking someone on a date is basically the ultimate compliment I can bestow upon a woman. (Though, I’m sure some might view it as the ultimate curse, too 😉 ) I so rarely ever happens, because I simply just don’t find anyone interesting that fits all my requirements for a relationship.
But my best – and worst – partners were mirrors in certain areas. I stuck with them because I felt they really did mirror me – but not always as much as they should have. Maybe the mirror changed over time, or maybe I just ignored the flaws. I have, no matter what, thrown my heart into every long term relationship I’ve had, with much commitment and gusto. My significant others are perfect. If it’s the wrong partner, that’s a serious problem.
The Mirror, Warped
See, we need mirrors. They tell us about ourselves. If you injure your finger, you can just look down at it – you can see the cut, you can see how bad it is, you can see if it’s going to need professional help healing, all that good stuff.
But, your head and your heart are a lot harder to see. Somedays, you’re feeling off, and don’t even notice it, until a friend says “So, what’s wrong?” That mirror told you something was wrong on the inside. Our friends do that for us – they look inside, they see it, and more often than not, they tell us. Now, there’s some things they won’t tell us until we’re really, really bad off.
In one relationship, those mirrors – er, friends – were talking to each other, and coming to a conclusion: the person I was with was being abusive to me. Not physically, but emotionally. They could see part of what was going on, and of course, they started to feel like maybe it was time to say something. And they did say something to me: one of them flat out say they felt she was abusive.
This is where it gets a little weird. See, my significant others are perfect. It’s not possible that she could be abusive to me. She approached me about it, and I got fairly angry over it. I distanced myself from them just a bit – but, not completely. Eventually, she told me that one of the people involved (a female) had told her that in reality, she was still in love with me, and that she should have married me when she had the chance. And, for that, I cast her out of my life – not because the person had said those things, but because I felt it necessary to preserve my existing relationship. Which was bad on multiple levels: in a different relationship, there would have been a sit-down discussion with the gal, to find out what was really going on, talk it out, explain that it was inappropriate, and work it out. Over the years, I’ve learned that sort of thing only happens when something is wrong.
So, that person got cast out of my life in exchange for trying to keep my relationship going. I never spoke to her again. OK, I’ve never spoken directly to her again – I did end up sending an “I’m sorry, you were right” message through a friend recently. That comes much later in this story. Truth is, I have no idea what the context of that was. In fact, I have no idea if it was true – see, the problem with being manipulated by someone is that later, when you start piecing together what the hell happened, everything that ever happened gets cast into doubt. My friend may have never said that – it may have all be a lie, one calculated to get a certain response (and I delivered it.)
Slowly, the number of friends I had dwindled to next to nothing. No one really saw me anymore, unless it was at work. That left only one mirror: my significant other.
At this point if I needed to make sure I was OK, the only person I could ask was my significant other. If they’re true, honest, and caring, that’s an imperfect solution. It’s workable, but imperfect. But, if that person is manipulative and abusive? “Honey, am I OK?” can only be answered with “Yes, of course you are – why would you think there’s something wrong with you?”
There’s no input from others. There’s no check and balances. I always maintained that NO ONE would step in between me and my relationships. Period, end of story, all that good stuff. And, for someone who’s an abuser, that’s a perfect place to be in: there’s no one to tell the person you’re beating on (emotionally or physically) that they’ve got bruises from that last go round. Literally, they now control a good chunk of your reality. You have no way of seeing that something is wrong: you might feel something is wrong, but they’ll be there to reassure you that nothing is wrong. For someone on the receiving end of abuse, it’s a worst case scenario.
Now, you might think I’m talking about some seriously evil woman who hated my very being, and felt the need to make me pay. Far from it. As far as I know, she loved me dearly. In fact, it would have been easy to leave if I didn’t love her, and she didn’t love me. There’s no way I would have put up with that shit from someone random. But, a partner that I picked? Someone who, by my attitude, is perfect? Of course they wouldn’t lie to me about my reality, or well being, or what others are saying. They couldn’t possibly abuse or manipulate me.
I have always loved completely. If I fell in love tomorrow, I’d still do the same thing. I know no other way, and for me, it’s not not right to fail to give myself completely to my partner. I’ll have to be more selective in the future, I’m sure (and, even how we got to the point I was in an abusive relationship had some twists and turns). But, one of my biggest ways of telling if it’s all going wrong in the future? My friends.
If I look around, and there’s no friends to talk to about my relationship? I need to get the fuck out RIGHT NOW. No hesitating. I need to go find someone who’s adult relationship-ing better than I am, and talk to them. Tell them what’s going on, and get some input. It’s possible the problem is me, and I’ve just shrank my social circle (it’s happened before, without external involvement: it was me being embarrassed by my life, and depressed.) But, I better damned well find out.
The other possibility is when friends tell me something like “Nope, she’s a bad person.” or “I get a really bad vibe from her.” There’s plenty of ways it could be said. Now, if ONE person tells me that, I’m not going to get too concerned, but I might want to start asking around. Our friends are mirrors, sure, but they aren’t complete mirrors. Taking Bob the party animal from my previous post, well, he might not like me because I decided to quit drinking so much because she enjoys me sober. That has actually happened to me, slightly: one female in my life sat down with some friends, and point blank told me “I’m worried about your drinking.” I drank like a fish. I didn’t get drunk often, but two or three or four days a week, I’d be downing Long Island Iced Teas or some other heavy hitter drink (beer wasn’t really my thing.) I cut down on my drinking radically. I felt she was probably right – I drank a lot. And, she was honestly worried about me. She didn’t nag me, she didn’t drop ultimatums, and she didn’t try to manipulate me into doing something I didn’t want to do: she was just honest with me.
And, of course, because I changed something about my life, there was a person who complained, saying “I wasn’t as much fun.”
A friend of mine has another great example: when her and her husband started dating, he was a geek who was part of a group of gamers who all hung out together. When she entered the picture, they hung out less. They decided she was bad for her husband, because they got to spend less time with him. They wanted the “old him” back.
In this case, I count those two people that objected as if they were one vote in the situation: they both represented exactly the same social circle, with exactly the same motivations. Having a wider range of friends from different areas helps that a bit: it allows you to eliminate the possibility they’re telling you that your significant other is bad just because they’re jealous.
If you’ve got more than one person from different circles raising concerns? That’s a bad sign. And, I’ve had multiple long term relationships now that have had that happen.