Once upon a time, I had a girlfriend at law school. I became concerned that she was not really interested in hanging out with me for all the reasons I outlined in my previous post. Cancelling with lame excuses? Check (hers was that she was busy due to studying, which I didn’t buy because I was also at law school). Upset that I had deleted her from Facebook before? Check. Going back out with me afterwards but acting uncomfortable? Check. Restricting non-face-to-face communication to texts and instant messages and never answering calls? Check. Me making all of the effort? Check. Due to a combination of fancying her a lot and wanting to believe her, I couldn’t quite bring myself to pull the plug at that time. But she was aware that I had suspicions.
One night, we were supposed to go out on a date. At the last minute, she asked if I would mind doing more of a joint social evening with her best friend who she hadn’t seen for ages. From behind my phone screen, I grimaced at the thought, particularly because this would inevitably mean tolerating the presence of her other friend who she lived with, as this was a guy who fancied her like mad and would always turn up joined to her at the hip in any social event that wasn’t explicitly a one-on-one date so that he could hover and buy her drinks all night. But I gritted my teeth and said “yeah sure”. So we went out with her friends.
But then something interesting happened. She messaged me after she got home. She told me she was so grateful that I had cut her a bit of slack and let her see her friend that evening. And for a short while, the roles reversed and she was the one initiating contact and generally making effort. Though we broke up in the end as I just couldn’t believe her.
Years later, I came across a female friend with whom I fell madly in love. Truly, madly, deeply, as Darren Hayes would say. I knew she had a boyfriend (whom she later married) so I didn’t make a move. However, a mutual friend went and blabbed my crush to her anyway. She said I should have been honest with her and told her how I felt, but I told her that I hadn’t wanted to jeopardise our friendship by making her feel uncomfortable when there was no chance she would leave her (then) boyfriend. She said she understood and insisted that there was no way she would stop wanting to see me.
While we were officially just friends, and there were certain physical lines I never overstepped, she was obviously aware of how I felt and she even claimed to feel the same way towards me. Her other half was, from what she told me, violent, controlling, immature and as thick as two short planks. What he was doing with such an amazing, intelligent, beautiful lawyer was beyond me and I told her as much because he upset her. At this point, I felt less guilty about openly asking her out or at least to leave him.
Once again, this friend kept making excuses to cancel at the last minute and it became a source of tension between us. If she got the slightest whiff of an idea that I didn’t believe her she became very defensive and angry, saying she wished I knew what a day in her life looked like. Supposedly it was because she had an Asian family so there were always these big events like weddings that she totally forgot about and couldn’t get out of. Now, on those times when we were together, it certainly felt like she was having a good time too and she said as much… and some of the occasions when we arranged to meet were her idea… but I found it hard to believe that anyone had to cancel as frequently as she did. So my usual suspicions were in play.
The last time I saw her was when she had this conference in London. The idea was that she would have a small window after the conference finished to at least have a coffee or perhaps a meal before heading back. And it was her idea.
I waited and waited for her in the coffee shop at the train station. She told me she had been held up at the conference and she wasn’t sure what time she was going to get out. I became worried that she was simply laying the groundwork so that she could cancel again. But I chose to trust her. I got her her favourite coffee – a mocha – for her to have when she arrived.
When she finally arrived, she gave me a huge hug. She couldn’t stop talking and asking me questions about what I’d been up to. She had so much she wanted to talk to me about that I could barely get a word in – but she managed to laugh at my jokes regardless. She checked the train times on her phone to see if she could simply get a later train so that she could spend time with me – even sacrificing her pre-paid tickets to do so – but ultimately concluded that she really had to go so that she could work on this big case for tomorrow. I said that was fine and we would catch up again some other time. As she was leaving, she planted the biggest kiss ever on my cheek.
In the days that followed, once again, the roles reversed. She was texting me multiple times a day to tell me she was so grateful that I hadn’t been angry with her for being late to meet me, that she missed me or even to just send a random “X”. I confessed the full extent of my feelings for her. She said she felt guilty about how much she missed me when I wasn’t around, which was strange because we met in person relatively infrequently, and while she didn’t use the exact phrase “I love you”, she said things that insinuated that and kept saying that we really needed to meet soon. Ultimately this line of conversation had to stop because she became worried about her abusive husband would do if he saw the messages we had exchanged.
The point I’m driving at is… maybe some people really do just find it hard to cope with situations in life. What sounds like a lame excuse to me is genuine and heartfelt for them. And when I’ve shown compassion and understanding, despite my cynical instinct, they have been very grateful for my cutting them slack. Perhaps I’m really not this dull, tiresome guy that they needed to make excuses to avoid – at least in some cases. Perhaps I really have been harsh and cut people out of my life unnecessarily. Perhaps I have tarred too many people with the same brush.
I look back over the last few years and I think about all the arguing that’s resulted from my obsession with this issue and all the suffering I’ve inflicted upon myself as a result. The exams I couldn’t concentrate on because I was too hurt. The martial arts and fitness routines I never made significant gains with because I kept assuming there was no point and I would never be happy. The junk food I’ve wasted money on as a source of comfort that only made me fat. The worry I’ve put my friends and family through by constantly beating myself up.
I once read that resentment was like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. When you’ve been mistreated by people who took advantage of your better nature you can be tempted to take a very harsh, critical line to protect yourself from history repeating itself. But I’ve had enough poison. It’s left me fat, bitter and less likeable.
It’s time to stop. It’s time to let go. It’s time to move on. It’s time to forgive.