Forgiveness Without Remorse

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships and forgiveness. This past week was an anniversary of sorts for me, marking a year since I decided to stop drinking. Although I’d already started to make other changes like running more and eating better, the decision to stop drinking was when everything started to click. But it didn’t come without a cost. I stopped drinking because I didn’t like who I was when I drank. I stopped because I needed to prove to myself and to others around me that I could. I stopped because I never again wanted someone I loved to use alcohol as an excuse (and it was an excuse, not a reason) for turning their back on me.

An important part of changing my life in 2012 was learning to forgive myself: for drinking too much, for not being richer or prettier, more successful or married or finished with my Ph.D. But forgiving myself wasn’t really that hard, because I had felt so awful about my faults and misdeeds (real and imagined) for so long that, looking at myself with compassion, I understood it was time to let go of that suffering. What do you do when it comes to forgiving someone who isn’t sorry?

Visual aid

The other thing that made me think of forgiveness tonight is that I learned this week that my former fiance has moved to Algeria. It’s been nearly nine years since we met, just over six since we broke up, and about that long since we’ve had any form of communication. We still had a mutual friend, and I would occasionally get pointed feedback from her about how he was living in the same apartment, working the same job as when we broke up. My reaction to these reports was something like Schadenfreude mixed with validation. He broke up with me in a cruel way. He took his time doing it, and in the meantime he spent nearly three months verbally and emotionally abusing me. I was called fat, told that I was unattractive, and he told me he was embarrassed to go to nice places with me because I didn’t dress well enough or have good table manners. He disappeared on me for days when it was convenient. He made me believe that my plans to get a Ph.D. would ruin him financially, and made it clear that he thought I was keeping him from some better future. These things would be terrible to say to anyone, but to say them to someone who had just been through a rape and a trial less than a year earlier–events he knew full well of–were ruinous to me. When it was finally over, I was suicidal. A friend literally drove me to a therapist on my lunch hour because I believed I would kill myself. I believed that I was totally beyond redemption, damaged to a point where I would never be loved by anyone. It has taken me years and many other bad relationships where I put up with bad treatment to get past some of these statements… And even now I still believe some of it might be true, in my darkest hours.

He never apologized to me for what he did. He never showed any remorse, not even to mutual friends. In fact, I found out months later that he’d led his friends to believe that had been the one to break up with him. Years later, I don’t know how to forgive that. I had a lot of emotions when I found out he’d left the country. While he was still living in my hometown, there was always a chance our paths would cross again. I’ve long since left behind any feelings I had for him, but I always had the hope that maybe some day I would see him on the street or at a party, and he’d apologize. I wanted to believe that a person I once loved was capable of empathy and remorse for what he had done to me. But it seems our paths are unlikely to ever cross that way again. In some sense, I was happy that he was gone. I regained some respect for him knowing that he finally did take a leap and do something with his life. But can I forgive him? Sometimes, in life, actually saying the words “I’m sorry” is the only form of justice we get. It’s the only thing that truly heals a wound. Sometimes, forgiveness just can’t be given without being asked for.

One year ago, something else was broken. It was broken by both sides. I apologized for what I did wrong because I knew it was the right thing to do, and I changed. But, once again, I never heard the words that I wanted to hear. I always want someone I loved to redeem themselves. I want to take that cloud off the memory of our time together. I want to know I wasn’t wrong to believe that the other person had a heart, or that it hurt them to break mine.

Perhaps I should just give forgiveness freely. I reflect on my resentments every time I meditate. But some resentments are as hard as stone, and wear away just as slowly.

Football Sunday (and Spending it Without Alcohol)

Well, it’s Week 1 Sunday of the football season. I have some mixed feelings about this… and not just because I’m a Bills fan. Football Sundays for the past few years have been marked by weekly trips to my favorite local bar for snacks and beers and hanging out with the football regulars. Today was different.

I decided to stop drinking waaay back in January and, although I have given myself a few exceptions (such as a beer on my birthday and wine at my friend’s wedding), I haven’t had a drink in months. Not drinking is not particularly hard anymore, but I did feel wistful for the “old me” today. The roommate and I did, in fact, go to the bar because he wanted to watch the Packers play and I wanted to eat a gigantic pizza after running 9.5 miles this morning. I saw all the old regulars there and got a few hugs; two people told me they almost didn’t recognize me because I’d lost so much weight. But socializing wasn’t the same as it used to be.

Why did I stop drinking? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Ultimately, I stopped because I knew I had a problem. I stopped because I felt I had hurt someone I loved, and I stopped because I didn’t want someone I cared about to use alcohol as an excuse for not being with me. Equally important, though, are the things that are not reasons why I stopped drinking. I did not stop because I wanted to win someone back, I did not stop because I believe the drinking is why we were no longer together (I don’t), and I did not stop because I believe I am or was an alcoholic. I do believe that I drank for the wrong reasons, and I do believe that I abused it, but I’ve talked to a number of people about this decision–friends who are recovering alcoholics, friends who still drink, my therapist. It is notable to me that the only person who seems to think “alcoholic” is an appropriate term is the person who had a reason to find fault and who, incidentally, is guilty on his own part of some genuinely shitty behavior that he has yet to acknowledge or apologize for.

This is not totally about bashing someone else or abdicating responsibility for my own actions, but I did take those words seriously enough to seek out the opinions of others and to research the issue. I even went to a support group for a while, but I stopped because I realized I just couldn’t relate to alcoholics. I am not the person who can’t wake up in the morning without a drink, can’t go a day without a drink, skips work or school or shirks responsibilities in favor of drinking, has physical withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink. I never was. Most importantly, I am the person who stopped and changed when someone I loved told me I had a problem, and I am the person who doesn’t pick up a drink day after day because I remember the commitment I made to myself.

I didn’t drink because I was an alcoholic. And I’m not sure whether I even believe that he truly thinks I was an alcoholic. I did, however, drink because I have depression and I am an introvert and I was lonely. When I moved to Arizona and had no friends, department happy hours and football Sundays and Meetup pub crawls were how I met people and how I made friends. I felt popular with the drinking crowd (though I know a few people just came to the conclusion that I was an ass) and alcohol helped me talk to strangers and overcome the social anxiety I’ve had for a very long time. But those are terrible reasons to drink, and years of drinking that way made me act stupid, gain weight, and probably put me into a lot of situations that I was too damn smart to be in.

What is life like after drinking? I guess I look a lot better, because I’ve been told so by two people today and by two others on Friday at happy hour. I’m proud of myself for having willpower. I’m a bit less depressed overall, and I try to use the time I don’t spend drinking productively. But I’m still lonely, I still sometimes feel like I’m punishing myself for no good reason, and I feel like I avoid certain social situations because I don’t want to deal with “the alcohol question.” Life is never perfect. On Friday at happy hour two of my friends asked me why I stopped drinking. I tried to avoid answering at first, but I finally said this: “I stopped drinking after the man I loved called me an alcoholic and moved out-of-state without telling me.” The female friend who had asked me said nothing at first, but she actually had tears in her eyes.

Yeah… just imagine how I’ve felt.

Damage

Eight years ago this month my life changed forever when I was raped. It’s an issue I’ve tried to avoid writing about, because it’s hard for me to look at directly—even though I think about it every day. Lately I feel haunted by it, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m spending too much time alone, or because I’m anxious, or because it just happens to be August.

It turns out, you can’t really talk about rape. It shows up in movies, it’s almost a weekly feature on Law & Order, but you can never really talk about the time that it happened to you. For one thing, it’s painful to discuss… though it is sometimes equally painful to hold it inside. For another, it makes people uncomfortable. In spite of the shockingly widespread nature of the crime—RAINN reports that someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes—it’s something we speak about in hushed tones. It seems generally expected that outside of “appropriate” venues, like a support group, we do not discuss our experience of rape. Break that taboo and you get stared at, or people look at the floor, or some people even get angry that you dared to speak out. Fear of people’s reactions is another reason to be quiet. I learned this early on when, during my rapist’s trial, the prosecutor handing my case (a wonderful woman to whom I am tremendously grateful) told me that the officer to whom I reported my rape would not be testifying at trial. It turns out that officer—who was a woman—told the prosecutor she didn’t initially believe I was raped because the guy who did it was “too good looking.” Since then, I’ve had other people express disbelief at my story. The fact is that I was one of the first victims to go to trial in the state of New York with definitive evidence of a date rape drug. Given how much I still had in my system mid-morning the following day, a toxicologist testified at trial there was no way I could have given consent. But that’s not enough evidence for some people; for some people there is always a question mark.

For a long time I wanted to speak about what happened to me, because I think that people don’t speak enough about it. Since all this happened, I’ve had friends tell me in hushed tones about how it happened to them too, and how they never told anyone. Or how they never went to police. These days, I understand the value in silence. For me, I went to police because I knew I could never live with myself if my rapist remained free and went on to hurt someone else. But it came at a very high cost. It took over a year from the rape to the end of the trial. In that time, I was terrified he would find me or try to do something to me. I feel tremendous guilt about what it did to my parents, knowing I was raped and having to sit through a trial, and I wonder if I would have been better off not telling them. I have still never told other members of my family. At the time of the rape I had a boyfriend, who later became my fiancé. We split the year after the trial. I know in my heart there were other things wrong with the relationship, but I always wonder if the rape is what ultimately doomed us.

I have not been in another serious relationship since. I was always an introvert and a workaholic; I’ve never had great luck with men. But I wonder all the time if I’m too damaged now to be loved. Who can blame anyone for not loving a woman who constantly has her defenses up, who scrutinizes her clothing choices before walking the dog because she doesn’t want attention? Who could blame someone for not loving a woman who gets irrationally angry when guys on the street honk at her or when she feels threatened? Who would want to stand by someone who used alcohol over and over to get past anxiety and to make friends? I’ve been criticized for being depressed and sad and insecure. I’ve also been criticized for pushing myself too hard. I know I get anxious and over-defensive. No one knows my shortcomings better than me. But I sometimes just want someone to understand. There is no way to understand what this all does to you if you haven’t been through it.

When I was raped, I didn’t want it to change me. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be the girl who had a happy ending. I am angry at myself constantly for not being there yet… but I’m trying to be forgiving. I’ve stopped drinking, something that required tremendous willpower. In the next year I’ll be done with my Ph.D., I’ll (hopefully) have a new job, and I’ll finish my third half marathon. I also study sexual violence as part of my research and I discuss it in classes because I still want it to be talked about. I still hope I can make a difference in someone’s life. There’s a zen saying that I think about often: “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.” I spend a lot of time trying to understand what happened to me and a lot of time trying to see the future. I will probably never do either. My life is what it is, and I’m trying to be grateful just to have the chance to move forward. I’m at least doing a better job of it than I used to do.

Dealing with Loneliness

Expo

The desert is like a metaphor for my social life. OMG

In case you haven’t guessed from my previous posts, or from the fact that I spend such an inordinate amount of time on my blog, my life here in Tucson is pretty lonely. I’ve lived here about four years now and I do have friends, but I feel like I haven’t established the kind of friendships I had back in New York–the kind where you know you have a handful of people you can text on any given weekend and someone is going to want to hang out with you and have a good conversation. I also don’t have any family here, and in four years exactly one person I knew from back home has come to visit. Especially during the summer, Tucson is kind of a wasteland. Roommate is gone, calls and e-mails go unreturned while people are on vacation or have better things to do, and no one–I mean no one–takes the initiative to call and ask me to hang out.

Reading the New York Times’ recent discussion on the troubles of making friends in your 30s and 40s comforted me a bit. At least I’m not the only one who’s noticed that their peers run off and hibernate as soon as they’re paired off. I’m also doing the right things to try and make friends: I’m active in a local Meetup group, I’ll be volunteering in a community program starting next month, and I participate in graduate student groups on campus. During the semester, I do a great job of staying busy. But, man, sometimes when you get home after a vacation or conference and there is no one to pick you up at the airport, it’s crushing.

Lester Holt and I are going steady.

One of the things I miss most about being in a couple is that, when you’re paired off, you have someone you can count on. If you don’t make plans for your Saturday night, the default is that you stay in… but you have someone to talk to. These days, my Saturday nights are spent at home watching Dateline, usually following the mystery of some lonely single woman who got murdered in her home on a Saturday night. Eeek!

I’m rambling a bit here, but I’d love to hear any tips or experiences you’ve had with loneliness that can get me through the next month before I go back to work (where people are forced to socialize with me… ha ha). I also started taking Lexapro this week, which my doctor thinks will help me some with my depression and my “why-bother-no-one-ever-wants-to-hang-out-with-me-anyway” attitude toward social relationships. If you know about that, I’d also be curious to hear about your experience. So far it mostly just seems to be keeping me up between 3 and 4AM, which is not actually a prime hanging-out time.

Onward and upward, I hope!

Throwing in the Towel

Yesterday my therapist suggested that I quit online dating. In my brief re-experiment with putting myself on the market, I’ve had dates with three guys who were just OK, and corresponded with two other guys who I gave up on after repeated e-mail exchanges that were no more than two sentences long each on their end. The most “success” I had was the guy I went on about five dates with, over the course of a month, who I never even touched. It wasn’t a huge surprise when he stopped calling me after his last business trip, and it didn’t feel like much of a loss on my end either… except that everything feels like a loss or a failure at this point in my life. I passed another birthday this week with no one to share it with. I’m about to go back home to upstate New York where I’ll see one of my close friends get married, meet another’s new baby, and will be the third wheel on innumerable hanging out sessions where husbands, boyfriends, etc. are always present. I, as usual, have nothing new to share about my love life.

My therapist’s advice to quit dating came after I burst into tears when describing myself as “that thing at the store that’s left on the shelf while all the other things get bought, and you just look at it and you know it’s been there forever.” That is truly how I see myself. I have no delusions about who I am–I’m smart, I’m at least moderately attractive, I’ve lost over 30 pounds and don’t drink like a fish anymore. I run half marathons, I almost have a Ph.D., and I’m a good teacher. But that doesn’t seem to be what matters to men. I feel like I’m invisible sometimes; and I’m as bad at meeting people online as I am when I go out in person. As I get older, it doesn’t get any easier.

I think my therapist’s idea was that, by taking myself off the market, I relieve the pressure on myself. I save myself the constant feeling of rejection that I get when online dating–or any kind of dating–just doesn’t pan out. She pointed out that I’m planning to leave Arizona in a year or so anyway and that “it’s probably just not meant to happen here.” But in my heart I’ve started to believe it won’t happen anywhere. My last serious relationship ended almost six years ago back in New York. Before that, I was raped by a guy I met at a bar. The last guy I loved here in Tucson just completely stomped on my heart (as I let him reject me over and over again). At this point, even the thought of going out and meeting new guys who can hurt me again makes me a little sick to my stomach. There’s something called path dependence, and I feel like someone who has been so spectacularly unsuccessful at finding and forming healthy relationships in the past is quite unlikely to do so in the future. The truth is–there’s just not someone out there for everyone, and lots of people go through their whole lives without ever finding a love that lasts.

I just wish I could stop wanting it.

Texts I’d Like to Send

I’m convinced that backsliding is a part of getting over every relationship. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself so that I don’t feel like a total loser. A little over a month ago I hit the dating scene again in an attempt to get over the guy with whom I was in a “non-relationship” for some time. (Recap, more recap) I’ve been out with a few guys, including one who I’ve been seeing for almost a month now. I know, shocking.

I still think about D. daily. I still peek at his Twitter, and I wonder whether he does the same or whether he reads this blog. I’m always thinking of the things I’d like to say to him if I decided to break down and text or e-mail him again. Top of the list:

  • If this wasn’t a relationship, please explain in your own words exactly what you thought it was and what “I love you” meant to you.
  • You started it.
  • An apology would be nice.
  • What the hell were you thinking, anyway?
  • How’s living with your parents working out for you?
  • You are a gutless coward who will never amount to anything and I hope you die alone. (OK, only on my very worst days.)

Yesterday was the first day that felt like real progress in almost four months since my last fight with him. I was thinking about my upcoming date with the person I’m seeing now. The new guy is great in a lot of ways. He’s not magic, I don’t love him, I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen. But he also doesn’t turn me into a clingy basketcase by giving me endless mixed signals, constantly flaking out or showing up late, disappearing for days at a time, or (my personal favorite) letting me spend Thanksgiving alone.

(D.: I’ve talked to several people and it’s pretty unanimously agreed that you deserve a place in the Asshole Hall of Fame for that one. You’re lucky I didn’t decide to throw a turkey at your head.)

Yesterday, I really felt like I wanted to move on. I was sick of feeling stuck, I was sick of giving so much time and attention to someone who didn’t even seem sorry for breaking my heart. I was excited to have another date coming up with the new guy. Today, the progress feels a little less. You see one thing that reminds you of him, you have one bad day, and you just put all that frustration right back in the old places. One step forward, two steps back.

Online Dating: Eight Tips for Guys

If only it were so easy...

I’ve been actively online dating over the past month but, more importantly (or shamefully) I’ve been on and off of various online dating sites for years. While I’ve met a few decent guys this time around, it seems that guys change very little over the years. I’ve been seeing/experiencing the same annoying behaviors for a long time and I’d like to share some tips. This isn’t to say that women don’t make mistakes too, and I may make my own “lessons learned” the subject of a future posting, but I’m sharing things from my perspective–and I hear these complaints from a lot of other women, too!

  1. Cell Phone Self-Portraits Are Soooooo 2003. Back in the days of MySpace, I understand that holding your cellphone at arm’s length or using it to snap your pic in the mirror might have been your best chance at a good shot. But there are options now. Look at your laptop. It probably has a camera. If you have an iPhone, the front-facing camera will let you take a picture of yourself without being obvious. Or, here’s a novel idea–find a friend and actually have them take a picture of you doing something. It appeals to women when you look like you have a job, or a hobby, or friends and you don’t spend all your time trying to make your best Jersey face for the ladies on OK Cupid. A plus if the picture is well-lit enough for me to: a) be able to pick you out of a line-up and b) determine definitively that the photo wasn’t taken inside of a jail cell.
  2. Shirtless Pics–Also a Bad Move. Women are not men. I’m sure some of us are looking for a casual connection, but those ladies are probably in the minority. If you’re taking your shirt off for me before we’ve even met, it makes me wary that you’ll be expecting me to do the same on our first date. Not into it.
  3. Read My Profile Before You Contact Me. There’s a reason we have a profile and not just a picture. Though it may seem unfair at times, photos are undoubtedly important on a personals site–that goes for all genders and preferences. However, they’re not the only thing. Even if you picked me out because I’m a pretty face and have a nice body, I don’t want to know about it. Take the time to learn something about me. This will also help both of us not to waste our time if one of us violates a deal breaker. If I’m not interested in guys over 40 and you’re 55, if you only want a Christian girl, if I don’t want to date a guy with kids and you have seven, know that I’m not going to write you back if you message me. Save us both some time and move on.
  4. Give Me Something to Read, Too. In case it’s not clear from items 1-3, women are not purely visual. A great photo might grab our attention but it’s often not the only reason we’ll write to you or write back. Say something, anything on your profile. And try to do so in relatively clear English. A profile with one or two typos can be overlooked. A profile with seventeen is a hot mess. Also, one-word answers imply poor first-date conversations down the road.
  5. You’re Not Looking For a Girl From Your Past, So Don’t Put Her in Your Profile. This is one women are definitely guilty of, too. It’s likely anyone over 25 has had a bad relationship and carries some baggage, but no one likes to be reminded of that. No reference to or bitterness about past relationships should appear anywhere on your profile. If you’re talking about women who aren’t “real,” your painful divorce, etc., it tells me that at best that you’re not fully over someone else and worst you have some potentially dangerous feelings about women and relationships. As I said, women often complain about men, too, but women are especially on-guard about who they meet online and about the potential for violence. Any woman with sense will see this and run, not walk, in the other direction.
  6. Be Prepared to Convince Me. Let’s be honest. Any woman on a dating site who is even moderately attractive is going to get a lot of visitors and a lot of messages from guys. That means you need to stand out. This isn’t as hard as it sounds–since at least 80% of guys who contact a girl are probably making one of the mistakes listed here. You significantly up your chances of a girl writing you back by doing a few simple things. In addition to heeding notes 1-4, when you message me you should tell me why we’re a good match. Why are you contacting me in the first place? Is there a hobby we share? Did something on my profile make you smile? What do you want to know more about? If you can’t talk to me in your first message, I’m going to wonder what we’ll talk about on our first date. Fill me in. And, unless you’re under 18 (in which case, why are you writing me anyway?), don’t message me and tell me “let’s text.”
  7. Never, Ever Send a Form Letter. This should go without saying, but a lot of guys do this and the vast majority are not smart enough to pull it off. Form letters have a distinct and unsavory flavor, and they will end up where the rest of my spam goes.
  8. Understand That I Received Your Message and if I Don’t Write Back, Just Move On. As the saying goes, there’s a lot of fish in the sea. If you take the time to follow these steps, odds are you’ll stand out from the crowd. But if a girl who strikes your fancy doesn’t write you back, cut your losses and move on. This practice may seem unfair or rude, but think about it: Do you respond to every unsolicited piece of e-mail or junk mail you receive? The guy who sends me a rapid-fire string of increasingly insistent/hostile messages gets blocked. Then the party’s really over.