Randy and Matt, or: The cycle of guilt and cowardice
Not all that long ago I was asked what I wanted in my connections with people. Well, J.C., I have an answer for you, and before I even write this (and I’m not so worried about whether or not I keep it to 500 words today) I sense it will end up in my Favorites list. This is one of those diamonds I sometimes birth after some painful struggle and terrifying introspection.
First, some background information. When I lived in Los Angeles from 1998 – 2002, I lived within a profoundly dysfunctional relationship with a man named Randy. Randy is wonderful in that he is financially generous and politically honest; however, he is one of the single most emotionally selfish, socially inept, intellectually insensitive, and grossly manipulative people I have ever met. His qualities cannot, for me, EVER counterbalance his negative attributes. And I have been tormented by his presence in my life for OVER TEN FUCKING YEARS… He drives me absolutely ape shit…
And last night he called me at 4:00 am to bitch me out.
I left my phone on, because Matt (whose story unfolds in “Honesty: It fucking sucks,” part 1, part 2, and part 3) reappeared 24 hours after I sent him a “good bye” text. He texted to let me know his phone had been dead for two days (which, for a variety of reasons I don’t care to explain here, I know to be a lie), and that he didn’t mean to come across as “shady.” He then immediately disappeared back into the mysterious labyrinth of his restaurant where time and communication skills are forever lost…
At any rate, I left my phone on in case Matt finally decided to call after all. He did not. But, lo and behold, rather than the person I most wanted a call from, I got a call from the person I least wanted a call from. I remember the phone ringing at 4:00 am, and I rolled over and I actually cursed outloud in indignation. I let it go to voicemail. I checked that voicemail a few hours later, unable to sleep.
And the diamond was forged from within me.
Randy WENT OFF on me. “I’m so disappointed in you as a person! You didn’t call for Thanksgiving or Christmas. You never answer when I call. You always let me go to voicemail, and you never call me back. How busy can you fucking be? This is a bunch of bullshit! I’m getting the message that you don’t want to talk to me or something, and I’m not going to call you anymore.”
Here is what I was yelling in response to him: “I don’t care if you’re disappointed, asshole! I didn’t even THINK to call you, and why would I?? Of course I don’t answer: You’re an asshole! And I don’t call back, because I don’t fucking want to! Too busy to talk TO YOU! What’s bullshit is that it’s taken you 10 years to figure all this out. Don’t do me any favors! GOD!” And I deleted his voicemail, feeling triumphant that I was FINALLY, after more than a decade, not going to allow him to guilt me into talking to him. I am finally rid of this person!
And then… well… the moment his voicemail blinked out of existence, I realized something:
It is distinctly possible that I am Randy/Matt. Actually, I’m far worse than Randy/Matt. I have been sick with fretting over not hearing from Matt with any consistency for +10 days, but I have been doing this to Randy for +10 years. Why? Because I can’t bear the thought of the confrontation. I am heaped with guilt at the thought of telling Randy to leave me alone, and to keep his manipulative insanity to himself.
And here I am, sitting by with the audacity to cry over Matt? Oh, my fucking GOD! I don’t know that it’s true, but what if it is?? What if the only reason Matt responds to me (at all) is because he feels, from time to time, enough guilt or exasperation to text or call me just to shut me up, or to give me a dose of attention and leave me to my misery for a while? That’s the attitude I’ve taken with Randy for years and years: “Okay, I will talk to Randy for an hour today, since I’ve ignored him for months, and that’s good enough to get me through for a few more months.”
I’m a horrible person. And I’m a hypocrite. I don’t believe that Karma is a punishment: It is a lesson. And just when I was beginning to wallow in self-pity about how horrible Matt is treating me… the phone rings. That message from Randy was a message from the Universe. I have been accusing Matt of being too chicken shit to just tell me that he doesn’t want to talk to me, but I’m a thousand times more guilty of the same exact cowardice.
Now, the question is this: Do I break this cycle of cowardice, call Randy back, and FINALLY say “I got your message, and I prefer that you not contact me anymore?” Or do I break the cycle of guilt, avoiding the horrible argument Randy will try to start, in an attempt to not respond to yet another ploy?
Randy CONSCIOUSLY uses guilt to coerce people to talk to him. That is the only distinction between how he has treated me over the years, and how I have interacted with Matt over the weeks. Was I, in a more subtle manner, trying to guilt Matt into calling me or seeing me???
I don’t know.
But to answer C.J.’s question once and for all: What I want in my connections with people (friends, family, lovers, clients, and otherwise) is for people to keep their expectations of each other’s capacities reasonable; to consider both sides of a situation before deciding who, if anyone, is right/wrong or good/bad; and to allow everyone in a relationship the ability to evolve constantly, and to come/leave peacefully when needed. Whether honesty fucking sucks or not, THAT is what I want to give and get from my connections.