#98 Disengage a Toxic Relationship

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#98

Disengage a toxic relationship

Yesterday’s post recommended distancing yourself from negativity and sometimes, that can mean disengaging from a relationship – any relationship – that becomes detrimental to your overall health. Negativity is not the only way in which a relationship can be toxic however.

Toxic refers to any behavior that results in harm – either physical or emotional. We may think it goes without saying that physically abusive behavior is toxic and cannot be tolerated yet there are thousands of people in relationships – still – which, can be identified as physically abusive.  And so, I’ll say it too… if your relationship is – IN ANY WAY PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE – disengage, get out, leave… NOW. Your very life may be in jeopardy.

Emotional Abuse

Perhaps worse, because there are no apparent bruises, is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse also comes in a variety of forms and MUST NOT be tolerated. No one deserves to be the target of emotional abuse. Any form of communication (speech, text messages, email, letters) that is controlling, punishing, manipulative, degrading, or derogatory – is abuse. When people use the silent treatment to coerce, withhold love and support for specific outcomes, and use money to bribe or entice – that is abuse.

Subliminal Abuse

Other people use less apparent tactics to ‘abuse’. Gaslighting is one of the most common – providing false information so frequently and with so much conviction that you begin to doubt the truth; to distrust your own knowledge or instincts.

Isolating and ignoring someone can also be considered abusive – especially if it is a parent/child relationship. It doesn’t ‘look’ inappropriate yet when someone is dependent on our attention and care – to withhold it intentionally is and abuse of power.

Relationships

Relationships are toxic when we no longer can trust, feel safe with, or feel appreciative of – the person with whom we are relating. It can be a romantic relationship, a friendship, a sibling or other family member, a parent… When we continually feel powerless, humiliated, defensive, criticized, belittled, unloved, unappreciated, etc., and our efforts at communicating and resolving those feelings go cold – it is time to GET OUT.

Recognize Normal

Healthy relationships are reciprocal. They are not self-focused. They employ communication – even imperfect – to resolve differences. They are mostly light and easy (every relationship has some level of challenge). They are supportive and compassionate. There is a mutual respect and encouragement.

Disengaging

Disengaging means creating distance. The amount of distance may be determined by circumstances and/or the relationship. At the very least – learning how to set boundaries and demonstrate self-respect is imperative. No one – absolutely no one – deserves or causes abusive behavior. The ‘abuser’ has many, many options when it comes to choosing behavior – many of which are healthy. If they fail to make a healthy choice when they relate to you – make sure you demonstrate self-respect and make the healthy choice to…

Disengage from a toxic relationship.

I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. Please share in the comments below.

A Letter to Myself – Age 40

“40 is when your body gives your brain a list of things its not going to do anymore.” – unknown

My forties were a time of freedom; emancipation from worries about what other people were thinking about me. I often wonder why it took forty years for that to happen. Once I experienced the pleasure of this peace, I encouraged my younger friends to let go of their need to please and yet it was as if there was an automatic release valve… a disintegrating dam that was locked into place until the fortieth year unfolded. Inevitably, someone would call and share their own ah-ha acknowledgment of the ‘pleaser’ independence. Needless to say, it isn’t that automatic but there is relief as we mature and center our perspective.

My forties, the first decade of the twenty-first century, was filled with tremendous grief and personal development/growth that I had never could have forecasted. It is a true testament to the idea that it is impossible to predict the future and that anything is possible. It was a decade of self-discovery and reinvention; a decade of loss and exploration.

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What surprises me the most is how young I continued to feel… it wasn’t anything like I imagined when I was younger. In my head – I wasn’t aging – I was learning. Everything in my life seemed to be highlighted and slightly more enjoyed. Well, except for alcohol… drinking a lot wasn’t much fun anymore.

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I’m not sure I would change anything but if I am ever able to offer some compassion to myself, some words of encouragement or a gentle warning… here it is; just in case I am willing to listen.

Hey Lady!
Welcome to middle age. It’s really not bad, in fact – it’s great overall. In retrospect, your 20’s were for exploring, your 30’s for creating, and now your 40’s are for growing. You will be growing your family – hey, by the way – those kids, all four of them – wow. You did good. And… you will be growing. Yes, there will be some growing pains but it will be OK.
Some of your growing pains will be because you didn’t take my advice in your 30’s. (see my raised eyebrows?) I don’t want to say “I told you so”, but since we are one in the same… I did try to tell you.
Stand in front of the mirror. Where are YOU? Where did you go? While it’s a little sad that you disappeared for awhile, I know it was for your protection. Your kids are more self-sufficient these days and so you get to pay more attention to yourself – thankfully, you discover the benefit  of balance. I know you can’t imagine it but guess what? By the end of the decade you will have a graduate degree… yes ma’am, you go back to school, finally! Way to go! Don’t worry about it now – the details work out perfectly and you’ll do great.
Your marriage is a mess. It’s good that you are trying counseling, that ends up being a great decision and will impact you far beyond what you can now imagine. You need to ask yourself an important question… why are you allowing yourself to be so disrespected? You, at the very least, deserve respect! Everyone does. The behavior you are allowing in your life does not respect you as a woman or a wife. Get smart. Respect is at the very core of your need as a human… pay attention. Also, while you are looking – what is it exactly that you love about the man you are sharing your life with? Is it the man he is showing you he is? Or the man you ‘want’ him to be? Listen. Watch. Learn. The man you want him to me may not be the man he is… Be present.
Your mom is going to need you for a few years and then she will leave you. I’m only telling you so that you remember to take time with her. Ask her everything you want to know – don’t leave anything unsaid. She ends up in an impossible position and does the very best she knows how to do. She’s only human too… you may have to forgive her.
Speaking of motherhood… think about what you want your children to know. What do you want them to learn about the world, about themselves? You are largely responsible for setting the example – both to your son about how women should be treated and to your daughters… how will you teach them self-respect? You are going to make a ton of mistakes… some of them will seem huge and irreparable but like your own mother… you are doing the best you can – based on what you know – in that moment. That’s all you can expect of yourself. Ever.
When you know better – well, as the saying goes, you’ll do better. In the meantime – give yourself a break and keep doing what you know to do day by day – that’s it. That’s as good as it gets. Your intentions are good and you demonstrate respect in most everything – that makes the difference. Get up in the morning and be grateful for a new day. Go to bed every night and count the day’s blessings – every day has a few. Hug your children. Keep your family close. Be kind to yourself. Keep learning to let go.
Even when you don’t think so or don’t feel like it, there is a core of strength in your spirit and you are going to be using every fiber of it. Stay strong and remember that true strength is feeling even when you don’t want to.
I’m here.
Me.

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Dear. Mr. President… I have some questions.

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on your achievement. I am an American Citizen who believes in democracy and therefore I respect that you now sit in the Oval Office and can make decisions that will affect the rest of my life and potentially the lives of my children and theirs. I should tell you that I did not vote for you but I did respectfully listen to your Inaugural address to soften some of the angst I feel about your Presidency. You see, I ‘want’ to support my democratic beliefs… the ones that state I should honor the People’s voice and thereby… support you.

I liked many of the things you said but I have a LOT of questions. May I address them with you?

I love that you are expressing concern for American citizens but I would like more information about your statement “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.”

  1. DOES THIS ALSO MEAN THE PEOPLE WHO DID NOT VOTE FOR YOU?

“Everyone is listening to you now.”

  1. DOES THAT INCLUDE ME? WILL YOU LISTEN TO MY QUESTIONS?

“Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.”

Yes we do!! Thank you!

“But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

Sadly, that is also terribly true but shouldn’t we be asking the question WHY??

  1. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY RUSTED OUT FACTORIES?

Isn’t it because those companies found cheaper labor overseas?

Isn’t that because the American worker demanded higher wages and better working conditions which put too much pressure on the profit margins of those companies?

Isn’t that because the American investors demanded more dividends and higher stock prices?

Isn’t that because if we actually priced American goods with the same profit margin requirements we couldn’t afford to buy American products?

“The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.”

This is GREAT!

“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry;”

  1. NOT TO POINT ANY FINGERS, BUT WILL YOU AND YOUR COMPANIES DEMAND THAT ANYTHING WITH YOUR NAME ON IT BE PRODUCED IN AMERICA BY AMERICANS?

“subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own”

  1. ARE WE GOING TO SIT BY AND WATCH OTHER COUNTRIES MUTILATE ONE ANOTHER, WAITING FOR THEM TO COME AFTER US?

“and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.” 

Yay!… some of our roads are deplorable!

“The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.”

  1. WILL WE BE PENALIZED FOR BUYING PRODUCTS MADE OUTSIDE THE USA? Generally, they are less expensive and my budget is slim. I think most things sold at Walmart and the Dollar Store are manufactured overseas. I do some shopping there. And in the winter, I still like to buy strawberries from Chile.

“From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.”

Ok, that sounds great!!

“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

Mr. President…  I know that some of my neighbors are immigrants from Mexico who are willing to work in the mushroom industry. They pick mushrooms in closed buildings that smell like manure. They work for cheap – keeping the price of mushrooms low.

  1. HOW WILL YOU ENTICE AMERICAN WORKERS TO TAKE THE LESS DESIRABLE JOBS THAT ARE CURRENTLY AT BEST, MINIMUM WAGE OPPORTUNITIES?

“We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.” Awesome! We need most of that stuff!

  1. WHO PAYS FOR ALL OF THAT?
  2. WILL THEY BE UNION JOBS? WILL THOSE JOBS PROVIDE A LIVABLE INCOME?

“We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.”

  1. PLEASE TELL ME THOSE RULES APPLY TO YOU AS WELL.

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”

Again, this is exciting, good news, awesome, etc…. but….

  1. WHAT IF THEY NEED OUR MILITARY SUPPORT? We can’t simply turn our backs on them, can we? In what way does it serve our interests to do that?

“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”

I love this statement Mr. President.

  1. DOES THAT MEAN ALL AMERICANS? REGARDLESS OF THEIR RACE, SEXUALITY, GENDER, RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, POLITICAL AFFILIATION, SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS, ETC.?

“We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”

  1. DOES THAT MEAN WE CAN DISAGREE WITH YOU?

When America is united, America is totally unstoppable”.

I totally agree!! This excites me!!

“The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”

  1. WHAT ACTION WILL YOU TAKE, MR. PRESIDENT?

I have concerns, true concerns, that your vision is Nirvana. It sounds incredible… much like the founding father’s vision of a new world. I like the way it sounds but there are so many holes. Our economy is built on supply and demand. As Americans, we have demanded lower prices because we have been taught to focus on profit. Not just corporate profit but personal profit. We have been taught to have more; make it bigger and better. We have been taught that merchandise is disposable and so it needs to be cheap.

Simultaneously, we have been taught to do it ourselves. We all but eliminated the job of travel agents by using the internet to plan our own trips. Ditto for investing … Charles Schwab made it possible for us to save fees and do it ourselves. We are a NATION of DIY’ers – people who look for getting the most for less!!

  1. HOW WILL YOU CONVINCE US TO PAY MORE FOR PRODUCTS AND ACCEPT LESS PROFIT or DO YOU SEE THAT HAPPENING ANOTHER WAY?

Mr. President, these are but a few of the questions I have because while I really connected with a lot of your speech it doesn’t feel possible or realistic based on what I know about people and their behavior. As a mental health practitioner, it is my job to understand how people think and what behaviors are changeable.

Our problem is not that our health care premiums are too high or that there is no wall on the Mexican border. As I see it, our problems start with GREED. The simple desire to have more than we need. Greed has a negative connotation Mr. President – at least to those of us who don’t have as much as we need.

  1. PLEASE TELL ME MR. PRESIDENT, WHEN YOU QUITE LITERALLY SIT ON A GOLD THRONE, HOW DO YOU ADDRESS OUR GREED?

 

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The ‘Right’ Trap

“Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open.” ~ Ralph Marston

I come from a long line of smart people who for one reason or another make it a habit of defending their point of view to the death. It is a habit I picked up early in life. I learned to debate and enjoyed the bantering with my father and brothers when the opportunity presented. I joined the debate club in school and excelled. It became a way of engaging that was familiar and comfortable. The whole point of a debate is to woo listeners to your point of view (POV) – based on facts and evidence of course. Often, the evidence presented is heavily weighted to justify the point of view you’ve taken, which – doesn’t necessarily make it ‘right’ but a solid perspective.

I was often accused of the offense of needing to be ‘right’ – of arguing my point until the listener acquiesced.  In reality, I wasn’t concerned with whether or not my POV was ‘right’ only that it was defended well. If I had the ‘facts’ wrong – so be it. I’ve always enjoyed learning so if I had a chance to educate myself, I was better for it. Being right was never the objective – just persuasive. I suspect that’s what made me good in sales… another trait that is evident in my family.

The whole idea of right versus wrong is a human one… it is born of morality and therefore does not have a definitive origin or definition. The same is said of the words good and bad. We ascertain definitions of these four words via our culture, our religion, our feelings, our relationships, and interests to name a few of the origins. Therefore, from person to person, the parameters of what constitute those words can vary; and consequently… cause interpretation problems.

H and I went to see Rogue One today and during one of the intense fight scenes toward the end of the movie, I thought I saw Chewbacca in one of the fighters. It was a nanosecond shot and of course, I couldn’t rewind to make sure I saw it. Continue reading

Growing & Going Deeper

Continued from Choosing Love

“If you want to have the kind of relationship that your heart yearns for, you have to create it. You can’t depend on somebody else creating it for you.” ― Gary Zukav

I found it fascinating how easy it was to have a man in the house again. Harlan was there a lot because as a single mom, it wasn’t all that easy for me to just leave. Sara was not yet driving and so I was generally required to take someone, somewhere. Harlan lived about fifteen miles away from me and had a different sleeping schedule so the hours we could steal for any alone time to build upon the budding romance were few. Most of the time, we shared our time with my girls.

We did love to take our drives, though. We were both on a Starbucks kick back then and so to sneak in a block of ‘us’ time, we would hop in the car after dinner and run up to where it all started… our local Starbucks and take a long way home while we ran through our days. It was on those drives that we created a vision of our life together. He knew that I couldn’t get married or live with anyone as a restriction of my divorce agreement unless I wanted to forgo a significant amount of alimony and so we talked about how to navigate a close relationship but within stringent boundaries. I wanted him to wait for me but there was still seven years until I had any real freedom without financial strings. It was a lot to ask, I thought. He said he would take it one day at a time.

When I met Harlan he claimed that he was but a minute away from hopping on a sailboat and escaping the town where he had been raised. Some of the memories there were dark and haunting – worthy of burying and escaping. I didn’t want him to go anywhere and meeting me – loving me – put a huge wrench in his long-term plan. I worked diligently to help him renegotiate a vision of his future; one that included me.

His work as a Graphic Artist in a small print shop was just a ‘fill in’ job until his house sold – that was the only thing keeping him local to me. My entrepreneurial energies kicked into high gear when I realized that the community in which I lived was void of the kind of services he currently offered where he was employed. We began to build a blueprint for developing a retail business in the community where I lived so that he would be right around the corner. I figured that if he could make money and build a foundation here, the motivation to stay would be much stronger.

One of the things people say about me is that I am a ‘doer’. When I get a thought in my head, it often leads to manifestation. Sometimes, it gets ‘almost there’ and other times it gets there and fizzles but most of the time, the things I try at least get started; and I’ve started a lot of things! This wasn’t my first array into building a business so I used all of the accumulated acumens to lay out our options.

The Universe heard me and I knew God was helping when the necessary components came perfectly into play. We found a location – it came with an apartment – but it had to be converted into retail space. Harlan had a year of recent experience (and a lifetime before that) of reconstruction and so we bought a building and began our first joint project. In reality, it was the second one… the first construction project we engaged in together was building a shoe rack for the laundry room at my house. It was a shoe cubby actually and held more than twenty pairs of shoes which are nothing when there are four females in one house. It was still early in our relationship and frankly, I was on my best behavior. If the shoe rack wasn’t perfect – no biggie… it was in my laundry room.

This project was a little bigger… we had to gut a residence down to the studs, tear out walls, put in beams, construct a forty foot ramp, include a handicap accessible bathroom and shore the flooring up to fit commercial building codes. It wasn’t an initiative for the faint of heart. All the while, I was still a single mom and a full-time grad student. “No problem,” Harlan says… “I’ve got two months of income set aside and I’ll do all the work”. Our budget was strict and we began the end of June with a deadline of August 25. We were all traveling to Puerto Rico for my little brother’s wedding over Labor Day and needed to open for business – to start making money – as soon as we got back.

This is the kind of thing people who have known and loved one another for decades don’t’ attempt for lack of temperamental discipline. We had only known one another for six months and our naiveté may have been our saving grace. We learned a lot about each other in that two months. We learned that we sometimes speak a different language. We learned that we are both always attempting to help. We learned that we have defenses and triggers.

Harlan and I are well into middle age at this point – each with histories rich in disappointment, rejection, and betrayal of some kind. Each experience having left a scar and a story. The end result is an array of defense mechanisms that become exposed at the most interesting times. We learned that I am a perfectionist (cough, cough, sigh) and we learned that he is too – in a different way and with different things. I could take a shoe and pound in a nail – as long as the nail goes into the wood. He, needed just the right hammer – the one designed for that type of nail – before pounding could begin. And saws… there are so many kinds of saws! Just give me a damn blade!

We sat on the front porch a time or two ironing out a misunderstanding, attempting to reconcile how we each felt and trying desperately hard not to repeat mistakes from relationships past. We mustered respect in our disagreements in a way that had never existed in my man/woman interactions before – it was so refreshing and enlightening to see and experience a difference of opinion that didn’t end up being a confrontation and all out fight. We learned that the way we use common language is sometimes different – our words have different meanings and we learned to navigate the differences.

As we continued to learn from one another – not just construction tidbits but also how to trust one another’s judgement and value our experience, we developed more and more emotional intimacy – our friendship grew in and around the love that we had proclaimed to feel toward one another. We easily laughed with each other and continuously found topics to fill our conversations. At the end of each day we were tired and spent but found energy to cuddle as we drifted off to sleep.

Harlan was a kind of man that was new to me. He was modest, so modest in fact that I didn’t know how to behave. He didn’t seem to have the same kind of ‘expectations’ that others had in my life… going to bed and cuddling didn’t need to lead to anything else. I literally was able to enjoy the experience of feeling his arms wrapped around me and know that I was loved even though we just laid there – drifting off to sleep – we were together and it was nice. My love grew deeper.

Puzzle Pieces

The first half of that year was packed with so many changes that we all simply existed in them. It was not a time of reflection or personal growth. We were attempting to define how this new family would exist in the world. People who become parents to a child beyond a certain age have not yet grown into patience and tolerance. I think much of that comes day by day and is reinforced by infant smiles, tummy naps, and the series of ‘firsts’ that are shared together; an insight that was absent from the backdrop of my future husband as Francis was now a sprouting first grader.

Additionally, our completely nontraditional courtship was practically nonexistent and was limited to the time we were able to squeeze away from my responsibility as a parent. I often felt pulled and overextended as I moved from boy to man – giving each of them more of myself than was frequently there. The concept of self-care was unknown to me and my energy poured into these two people I loved as if nothing else in the world had any importance. In the brief time we had been together, I had learned that the way to keep a happy man was to be available in the bedroom. It sounds like such a cliché but the amount of discord in our day to day lives appeared to correlate directly to the amount and quality of sex that occurred in our night to night lives. It wasn’t long before I discovered that for us, peace and contentment was dependent on sex.

The problematic piece here was my relatively limited scope of knowledge. I had no concept of what was ‘normal’ or about setting personal boundaries. I was again being taught but without the same level of respect that had once been afforded to me. I was oblivious. I allowed myself to be guided in part because I had an embedded value that a ‘wife should submit to her husband’ and while that was barely a whisper in my mind, the greater element was fear. As long as he was content and satisfied, my interpretation was that ‘I was enough’, that keeping him was a certainty.

He worked a lot of nights. He made house calls and often entertained clients in a neighboring city. We didn’t know people yet so babysitters were unavailable and I was typically home – waiting. On many evenings, I couldn’t wait up and so I went to bed, never knowing exactly how late he would return home. A few times it was in the wee morning hours and there was always a plausible explanation. Again, my naiveté was solidly entrenched. I trusted. The warning bells were inaudible.

Our wedding day began with rain and all I could think about was the old Irish superstition that posited hardship for marriages that started in the rain. There were a few minor hiccups just before the ceremony but quite quickly the doors opened and the wedding party began their stroll up the aisle. I was escorted by my best guy – Francis very stoically arched is elbow high enough for me to hold on and stepped in tandem with my abbreviated stride – making our way up to the alter. For the majority of the ceremony he stood with my brother and took it all in. Just after we were pronounced man and wife, we asked Francis to join us and presented him with a unity medallion. It was symbolic of the three of us joining together to become one family and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Francis also said, “I do”.

Hubby (what I will now call this man I married) and I went to Spain for the honeymoon and recuperated from the intense energy that the last several months had stolen from us. My new husband was energized about discovering Spain’s famous ‘nude beaches’ so I learned the only Spanish sentence I’ve ever known … donde esta playa para nudista? The concierge directed us and I was delighted to discover the Mediterranean coast in the buff. It was a time when I felt good about my body. I wasn’t skinny by any measure but I felt my features were proportionate and for the first time in my adult life I wasn’t obsessing about my size. That sense of comfort allowed me to relax and have fun in a bikini although for the most part, everywhere we went in Spain was at least topless if not simply nude. A tremendously large part of my comfort level was knowing that I didn’t know any of these people. I would never see them again and frankly, everyone was topless so boobs were everywhere – all shapes and sizes. I fit right in.

One afternoon as I was laying on my stomach sunbathing, my husband came over with another man to introduce me. I looked up into the face of a tall Italian looking man who promptly began talking to us in an explicit New York accent. He was an American living in Scarsdale and all I could think of is what if I saw him again?? I wouldn’t stand up as my bathing suit top was in my bag at the bottom of my lounger as was the only towel we had brought down from the room. That man sat there for more than an hour as the Spanish Rivera sun beat down and blistered my back. I was unable to communicate clearly how disappointed I had been that he was there so long- rendering me incapable of moving without exposing my nudity to him. “What’s the big deal?” says Hubby, “there were tits everywhere”. Somehow in my mind, the idea that another American would see me was inappropriate and unacceptable. I thought it was information that had been very clear. I believed that I had made my feelings about the entire ‘nude’ thing unmistakably transparent. There, on my honeymoon for the first time – inside the first year of our relationship – I felt abandoned. Why wasn’t he honoring the way I felt? This was personal and beyond that type of compromise one might typically require. It was about my body, about my comfort. I felt belittled and chastened because I was attempting to make my point – to stand my ground; to no avail. Eventually I conceded to the argument in an effort to save emotional energy and enjoy the rest of our honeymoon. I dismissed my concerns with the flick of a thought.

We went home and settled into married life. There was a metaphorical pea in my mattress every time I remembered the afternoon of the ‘stranger’ incident at the pool. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew something  was off. I tried to talk about it with Hubby but he just didn’t see my grievance. I chatted with a friend or two and was unable to find any validation so I filed the mishap away into the file that I ultimately came to call ‘Leslyn’s faults’.

I turned 30.

The Walk of Shame

“A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect!” ~Unknown author

My intention was to ask him to dance but when I eventually found him in the nightclub he had his arm around a little blonde and I figured once again, this guy was out of my league.  I enjoyed the rest of the night with my friends and woke up in time for the Saturday morning meeting. It was a little bit like a cattle call as we all headed into the conference hall, a bit hung over coveting the coffee we were lucky enough to grab from the massive urns outside the ballroom. We had to sign in so the line slowed just before the doors.

Just as I was getting close to entering, I saw him – the guy who winked. He was tall, just a couple of people ahead of me and he had curly dark hair. I elbowed my bestie, pointing him out – attempting to be totally nonchalant. I dropped my head just long enough to provide my signature and as I walked through the doorway he was there, literally by my side with an outstretched hand “Hi, glad to see you made it through the night. I’m Bill.” I stammered some kind of hello and then quickly moved along in the flow of my friends to find a place to sit all the while chiding myself with the notion of ‘geez, what are you – in 2nd grade or something’????? Again, the idea of dating, of meeting a new person was so entirely awkward… it was almost painful.

As if I was in a high school cafeteria noticing the new boy in school, I sat at that morning conference table asking my friends to scour the audience in an effort to find where he was sitting. He seemingly disappeared, blending into the crowd as if he was a chameleon in a tropical forest. No one could find him. With a deep sigh and another notch in the belt of tough luck that I constantly wore, we forged through the day.

Later, at poolside, I saw him again. He was sitting with a large group, drink in hand, engaged in doing what all of us were attempting… having fun and relaxing. My BFF was AWOL – she didn’t come down by the pool with me and hadn’t shown up all afternoon. I was behaving like an idiot. Yes, I am being grossly self-critical but seriously, that was me… diving into the pool rather boldly, right in front of that group of people where curly haired Bill sat with his cocktail. I’m pretty sure no one payed me one moment of attention. I was experiencing humiliation that was completely and totally self-inflicted. Where were besties when you needed them? She could have saved me from deprecating behavior.

That night found us in the ballroom again for a presentation of awards to the top 10 in a bunch of different categories; sales reps, sales offices, etc. My friend group was associated with a top 10 office so we were decked out in our finest fashions with perfect hair and makeup. Again, we scoured the room on foot to find Mr. Curly Hair and again, we didn’t see him. While moving onto dessert, someone at my table asked me what the guy’s name was again, I replied with what I remembered and then looking at the evening’s program, we saw his name. He was a Top 10 rep. Shit again. That was just one more thing that pushed him out of my league. Deep breath – move on.

As is customary, these conference events went on, and on, and on. After the awards ceremony, there was a cocktail hour and then dancing with a DJ until last call. We were all drinking, dancing, and having fun. It was approaching midnight, meaning my birthday was about to begin. I was ready to bring 29 in with furor. The last year in this tortuous decade needed to be great in order for equilibrium to exist and persevere. I was dancing the night away when a gal from my home office showed up – Curly Hair in tow – and introduced us right there – mid dance – as she declared how shy I am.

It wasn’t long before we tired of dancing and trying to scream at each other over the music so we stepped out of the nightclub with our cocktails and found a place to chat. I was crazy nervous as we started to orchestrate getting to know one another. I was surprised to find that the conversation flowed smoothly and was rather effortless; time flew by. Our drinks empty and the bar closed, we headed to my room to raid the bar.

My roomie wasn’t there but there were three gifts, wrapped in birthday paper waiting on my bed. Yay! I love presents! I opened the smallest box first. It was a container of scented, edible, massage oil. O.K., next – a flat package. It was an annual edition of a male nude pictorial (later we realized it was geared toward gay men; depicting men intimately touching). The last box was about 12 inches long and 4 inches’ square. Um… everything in my body screamed – leave now; put the box down and exit the room. DANGER… DANGER.  I attempted to act on my intuition and moved toward the door, blushing and fumbling for a rational reason to find friends – any friends. “Let’s open it” he says. “That’s ok, let’s go.” “No, really – what do you think is in in?” as he picked up the box and began peeling the paper from its edges. I grabbed the box and as I did, the top corner ripped off the box to identify the contents.

Ok, kill me now. Please, God – strike me or at least give me disappearing ability, immediately. The box contained, as you have undoubtedly guessed, a dildo. All I know is that he began to smile broadly until his entire face was engulfed and with a deadly, serious voice stated “we are going to have fun, you and I”. Oh my god, can we just leave – get me out of this room. It took all of my energy to gather any remaining dignity and exit quickly. What I didn’t know is that a tone had been established right then, a seed of expectation had been planted.

We eventually ended up in his room and the make out session of all make out sessions ensued. For the first time in more than 4 years, my mind wasn’t on Rocky and my body was on fire. He played me like a violin and reminded me of JG, the man of my early years who taught me about pleasure. All of my reserves melted and I rejected every ounce of self-respect I possessed in order to satisfy the calling of my primal voice. I woke up in the morning feeling embarrassed and somewhat ashamed of myself. I didn’t want to be a one-night-stand girl. In fact, I had resisted that temptation on so many other occasions, I was pissed at myself. Since I was completely unaware of the principle of self-compassion, I beat myself up, grabbed my clothing, and proceeded to embark on a very long walk-of-shame. I had watered the seed of expectation.

It turns out that my BFF was reacting to a prank birthday gift she had received back home and wanted to share the undignified excitement with me. If she was going to get a dildo for her birthday, then so was I. We discussed the details of the prior evening and laughed until we were breathless over the absurdity of it all while we packed and prepped to leave.

Sunday was going home day. Curly hair guy and I connected and were awkwardly conversing over lunch as several people stopped by our table to say goodbye on their way back to where they belonged. My BFF was patient but strong willed as she packed us some roast beef sandwiches for the drive home (and as it turned out with WAY too much horseradish) and gave me the ‘come on’ eyes more than a few times. I was trying to save my dignity by engaging this guy in small talk and pretending that I wasn’t morbidly embarrassed from my lusting lack of self-control. I obligingly provided my phone number to Mr. Hot Stuff and left Lancaster. I secretly hoped that I would never return.

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