This is going to be somewhat personal, and contain an apology to someone I love very much. I am making it a post in the hope that someone who needs it, will be prevented from making the same mistakes as me. And because any apology done in public or semi-public (hi, Internet!) is somehow more powerful than one done quietly behind closed doors.
Names are omitted, or abbreviated, for obvious reasons.
My best friend in the world, D, who I love and respect like a mad thing, has been going through a rough time. Her ex is not a nice guy. I won’t go into details, but he was physically, sexually, emotionally, and mentally abusive to her throughout their marriage, and, since leaving him, he has continued to stalk, threaten, harass, and scare her and those around her.
She recently moved states to have a fresh start.
He found her address online and followed her there.
She has been terrified, and I, living far away, have felt useless. She is intelligent, capable, kind, and brave. She is working towards her independence from him. And I have been providing as much support as I can.
Though, very recently, I realized that my own beliefs and fears are marring that support, and twisting it around in a way I haven’t intended. See, I have had my own troubled relationship past like a lot of people – and I dealt with it in the best way I could. I would like to pretend that I’m some sort of super-enlightened, baggage free Sassy Buddha (patent pending), and say my own past affects nothing in the conversations I have with my friend. But I’m not, and probably very few can make that claim honestly.
I had a violent boyfriend a few years back. When I finally got the courage to end things, after four years of misery and fear, he stalked me for a year, and threatened (once even attacked) anyone who tried to help me. I at first gathered male friends around me, feeling inadequate to protect myself on my own and believing my situation would not warrant help (foolishly) from the police or women’s support groups.
It only stopped when I realized I was making male friends for the wrong reasons (seeking a male protector/approval, instead of becoming friends with these people just based on how much I liked their personality) and started taking steps to protect myself – I let my family, neighbors, and true friends know the full situation so I would have a support system, and so if they saw him skulking about to call the police, and ask questions later. I researched online to learn my legal rights, and the steps I would need to take to legally bar him from my presence. I talked to my landlord, about changing my locks and to remove my ex from the lease. I switched bank accounts, phone numbers, jobs even. And when he still came by? Or called? I left him outside, yelling through the door I was calling the police. His phone calls, or any call from an unknown number, I let ring. Emails from him, full of seemingly-important but actually-irrelevant reason why I needed to talk to him, got deleted, or saved for possible legal action if they threatened violence. Pepper spray and stun guns are a little hard to come buy where I live, but I kept a giant baseball bat by the door, and a knife in my bedroom.
In the end, I didn’t need legal action. He stopped.
Now my best friend is going through her stalker hell. I suggested she investigate getting a stun gun, pepper spray, or a taser, as the law allows in her state. I suggested upgrading her locks, and speaking to a local women’s shelter or support group who could probably help her with added resources and support; she has called the police once in the past and they were less than helpful, but many women’s shelters/groups today have liaisons within local police forces that could help her understand her legal rights. I also advocated the same silent treatment I gave my ex; cut him off completely, no matter what.
Her goal, in response – she wants to have a male friend, to meet a male friend, to have around to make her feel safe. She complained she was meeting too many women.
And I could see from the shocked look on her face over Skype that none of my suggestions had occurred to her. She did say that she’s tried to ignore him in the past, but it’s never worked. He always bothers her again. All this tells me is that some point she started communicating with him again, as she has been until recently. Why would him bothering her not just be ignored too?
Well, It’s embarrassing him standing outside yelling, it’s scary…it’s also irrelevant. It’s scarier to feed into his obsession by communicating with him. It’s more embarrassing, and painful, to end up in the hospital when you go outside to calm him down and he attacks you.
Since I first suggested these steps to her, I’ve been bringing them up daily in the hope of hearing some progress; finally yesterday she told me she found out tasers are illegal where she is, but she will get some pepper spray sometime. No word on…anything else.
But she was happy to tell me that she finally made a male friend! Yay! It’ll be nice to have a man around!
…I want to say at this point, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having guy friends; most of my friends are dudes, still. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out to friends you do have when you’re feeling scared or lonely or whatever.
There is something, in my opinion, that is a little unhealthy, not to mention unfair, in becoming friends with someone specifically because they’re a dude and that means they can perform the traditionally male task of protecting you. Or because you feel incapable of feeling safe otherwise.
If you’re a woman reading this, and not getting what the big deal is, ask yourself how YOU would feel if you found out how a guy only became friends with you so you could perform the traditionally female tasks of making him sandwiches and performing sewing repairs on his socks, because God damn it he’s a dude, he can’t learn to do that himself!
…if that’s acceptable to you I’m sorry. You, and feel free to ignore this if you like, have a self esteem problem.
If you’re a guy reading this not getting what the big deal is, keep in mind that those male friends I made years ago, for protection? At the end of the day, I didn’t like them all that much. I liked what they represented. I am ashamed of that now. It wasn’t fair to them, and I’m not longer friends with any of them. You deserve female friends who like you for YOU; your personality, your hobbies, your bizarre-yet-awesome character traits. Not some old outdated symbol of masculinity that you represent to them. Value yourself more.
And while she assures me that she isn’t viewing him that way, she also keeps using phrases like “It’s nice to have a man around now” and “it’ll make me feel safer.” Again, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to friends of any gender for help when you struggle. But this…this is not a friendship coming from a honest place, a place of “Hey, your cool! Your genitalia means nothing!”
And friendships built on something other than that, tend to become uncomfortable over time.
Each day has been building frustration, impotence, and helplessness on my end. I have begged her repeatedly to take more steps to protect herself, especially considering how violent he’s capable of being based on past experience (hint: very); and while the pepper spray thing is indeed a positive (a week after I brought it up, as something she will get sometime), I feel like it’s the last thing on her mind, that her last resort is, bogglingly to me, to do some stuff for this situation on her own.
Why? Why can a woman as smart as you, and as independent as you are in so many ways, not see what you’re doing?!? YOU’RE MAKING MY EYE TWITCH!!! Do you feel that incapable?!?
….well, yes probably. I know I did, way back when.
Oh D, D, I’m sorry. I mean that genuinely; not just for the life circumstances that led you to feel this way deep down (which puts me in a punchy kinda mood), but for my own behavior. I’m so sorry.
For a week I’ve been texting you repeatedly, nagging you, “do this, do that…”, and urging against a friendship that you’ve made that makes you feel safer, no matter what it’s based upon.
It’s not my job to judge you. It’s my job to love you.
If you were comfortable following my advice, ready for it, then you would have followed it already, knowing the fear you’ve felt. Instead, whether intentionally or subconsciously, you put it off, or forget, or move it onto your list of “yeah, I need to do that sometime”. Realizing that, instead of getting frustrated and bombarding you with texts and opinions, I should’ve said to myself “Okay, you’ve given her the best advice you can, and she’s not doing much with it, so she’s got some resistance here. What’s something different I can say or do instead to help?”
No matter how good anyone’s advice may be, how well thought out, or well intentioned, how hard-won or painstakingly researched; it is all useless unless that person wants it, is comfortable with it, and is ready for it. If they’re not, and if you love them, your job isn’t then to brow-beat them into your way.
It’s to help them and love them on their own. There was a time I did exactly what she’s doing now; putting it off, depending on the presence of others to feel secure, and taking the odd chunk of days where my ex was too busy to be a threat as a sign that I didn’t need to do anything to protect myself. And maybe that’s why I’ve been so pushy with you, but that’s no excuse. If anything, that should have made me pause before now and realize what’s I was doing.
Because now? I’m terrified that your ex will do something, and you won’t come to me out of fear of an “I told you so.”
I said in my last post that when I don’t live up to the standards that I hold myself to, I try to be honest with myself and right it.
I have failed to live up to the standards that I hold myself to. D, I am sorry and please know that I am making a conscious effort to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Any friendships you make, and steps you take, I love you and that’s all there is.
For the rest of you, intrepid readers, who have made it this far through my whale of a post, first, Congratulations! You win a gajillion dollars!! (Lies!)
But also, what about you? Is there a situation in your life, in the present, or in the past, where you had the best of intentions, did your best to be helpful (in other words were very, very right), but ended up causing harm to someone you loved in the process (we’re very, very, wrong)?
It’s easy to justify our bad behavior in these situations (“They should do what I’m telling them, I’m right!”) but being very, very, right doesn’t mean you’re doing it in the most loving and helpful way possible, or that you won’t very, very, wrongfully alienating the people who may need you the most.
Don’t beat yourself up for this; I went through a brief phase of that last night and it’s pointless.
Instead, do what I’m doing now (be honest with yourself, apologize if necessary), and then look at is as a chance to improve your own awesome friendship skills – make conscious choices and take conscious steps to ensure you don’t make the same mistake twice.
For me, that means from now on, when D and I talk, and she wants my opinion on something, I will ask myself before responding “Is this my ego talking? My past? Or is this something that, while I may have learned in my past, is genuinely now for her?”
It also means, for me, letting my advice rest once given – it’s out, I said it, it’s done. I may slip up on these along the way, but I won’t give up, because I know she deserves, as I spoke of so glowingly above, a true friendship.
On a spiritual level (and this obviously isn’t for everyone so feel free to ignore this part), I also asked the Goddess to take my pride, ego, and rage over this away. I even made up a little song about it, that I sang quietly to myself over and over last night at work. I won’t post it here, because honestly I’m a blogger, not a songwriter for a reason. Is there a way you can give some of what’s holding you back to the Divine, whatever you conceive it to be, if you believe in such things?
Positive affirmations, meditating on the problem, self help books on the topic, or getting advice from someone you trust could all help as well, if you choose to use them.
I guess what I’m getting at here is to take steps to be your best self, hopefully before you do the same thing as me.
Be your best self. And forgive yourself when you’re not.
*****Like my stuff? Then please consider checking out my blog, femininejourneys.wordpress.com, a work in progress, where you can find such awesomeness as an explanation of why I love men, women, and pretty much everybody (mostly platonically)*****