I find it difficult to pose as a “relationship expert” whenever I am feeling uncomfortable about how I am handling one or more of my own intimate relationships, or when too many other people's relationships seem to be going really badly, or when I'm pessimistic about the likelihood of human beings ever learning how to get along with each other for long enough to build anything worthwhile.
All three of those are operative right now. (It's Super Tuesday here in the U.S., and our country was desperately in need of therapy before this divisive primary election.)
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might have noticed that I haven't written a real post since early December 2015. I'm pretty sure that's due, in large part, to the fact that on December 11, one of my most dysfunctional relationships came back to bite me in the ass. That day, the friend I wrote about in my post The End of a Relationship surprised me by sending me a long string of texts. She had read the post, and she thought I had not represented her fairly or accurately. She was hurt. I was thinking about responding with an apology, but wasn't sure it would be wise to re-engage. I decided to sleep on it. I woke up to another volley from her, sent in the middle of the night while my sound was off, which began thus:
“You throw fucking quotation marks around whatever you want as if you are expressing another verbatim. How would you like to be treated like that? Do you think you are the only person who can create a public space in which such liberties exist? How about I create a blog in which I quote you however the fuck I want? Would you like that, [Viny]? Let's find out. You took the step. You created the challenge. I accept.”
Although I seriously doubt that she has made good on this threat – since I assume she has better things to do with her time than post vitriol on whatever VinySux platform she might have been envisioning – it did take the wind out of my sails.
So, since then I've been focusing on showing up for my friends, and friends-of-friends, either in private emails, or over the phone, or in person. Most of my Dear Viny questions come from people I know, or from people who know people I know, anyway, so not showing up on my blog hasn't made much of a difference in terms of what I do.
Then yesterday I got a message from one of my cousins, who doesn't know I write (or used to write?) an advice column, and who may not even know that I'm not monogamous. He was just writing to me as his cousin, filling me in on the last three years of his twenty-year marriage, because I had noticed a strange first-person singular in a Facebook post about him moving to a new house, and had written him a private message to inquire about his relationship status. He thanked me for checking in, and told me he was “tired of pretending” and had decided to “acknowledge reality” – namely that his wife, after “multiple affairs with multiple men in multiple parts of the world” had chosen “freedom over relationships.”
There are only a few things one can do to help people who are in emotional pain: distract them (with amusing prattle or interesting stories, or by engaging their senses in some way, or by giving them an activity that shifts their focus); listen to them; remind them of the temporary nature of all experience (“this too shall pass”); help them breathe through it, moment to moment; and just be there with them, so they know they aren't alone.
I'm grateful to my cousin for inadvertently reminding me that my real goal for Dear Viny is to help people, and that I can't help people if I'm pretending to be better than I am – if I'm so wrapped up in my persona that I forget to be a person. The fact is, no one gets to be a relationship expert by getting things right all the time. I've made a lot of mistakes, and I'm going to keep making mistakes.
I'm still not sure what I'm going to be doing with Dear Viny in the future. But do feel free to write me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you've got a relationship problem that's been puzzling you. Chances are, it has puzzled me, too.