I walked past my abusive former friend several times last night, inexplicably while I was talking about him to a another friend. It was a weird convergence, because I almost never see him, and I almost never speak of him (unless E. is telling me AGAIN how she could never understand why we were friends, which, dude, I KNOW).
I have the same reaction every time I see him. It is never emotional at all. I do not miss him. I am not sad. If anything, I tend to smirk to myself, because I am like, oh right - it's that asshole (I often forget he exists in the universe, honestly). But I have this overwhelming physical response to seeing him, a response that has barely lessened over time: a warm gush of what feels like liquid panic flows from my gut and then travels down my legs, making my muscles feel like they cannot work and my legs cannot hold me and I am going to collapse. Then my whole body begins to shake, and I have to go sit alone, and take a deep breath, and work on calming myself until it passes. It takes a while. It takes forever.
Seeing him, that is not unnerving. My fear response, that is unnerving. As my brain has begun scrubbing away everything that is painful, I have to work hard to recall how every time I saw him last semester, I was coiled tight with anxiety that the encounter would turn horrible. By the end, in every interaction we had, I was primed for self-defense. I expected him to be mean or vicious; I expected to bleed. I know my physical reaction is a holdover from that, a coping mechanism developed to warn me, keep me safe, force me to get to away from something dangerous.
But even more unnerving is that the response hasn't gone away. Granted, I've only seen him a handful of times. But still: I am in a much healthier, safer space now. Why do I continue to react so?
I am puzzling through that, but today I started thinking about all the men in my life. Because, let's face it: I have been hurt by men. And I have been hurt by men that I had trusted, that I had loved, that I had respected and I had thought would never, ever hurt me. Now I am going through the men in my life, one by one, and I am trying to get a hold on those relationships.
And sorry to single you out, gentlemen, well no, ok, I'm not sorry, I lied, but anyway: I don't really like what I see much.
I don't see myself getting an awful lot out of many of those relationships. I am put in the role of educator, often. I am the impetus and then tool for someone else to improve some aspect of his life. I am something to lean on, something to keep someone else steady, a comfort and a reassurance. I am a habit. I am something interesting, something fun, something entertaining. But rarely do I feel a whole human being.
Basically, I am utterly aware of the gender dynamics at play, and they suck.
This isn't true for all men. For some of the men in my life, I am their friend. They are my friend. It is wonderful and sweet. We discuss a new puppy! We debate politics! We laugh at the all stupid things! We care very much for each other. We enjoy each other. It is swell. But there are so many relationships with men in my life that give me reason to pause. I am trying to determine the shape and color of them. Because there is something off about them, some imbalance, some element to them that doesn't feel quite grounded in reality, some dynamic that makes me uncomfortable, some way I don't feel whole with them. And so I am taking a step back, and reassessing the role that some of these relationships play in my life. Whatever makes that liquid dread rush through my body whenever I see that former friend, it is has also become a loud voice in my head that is counseling me to stop, and think, and take stock of the state of things. Is there a reason to be wary of any of these relationships? Are there warning signs? Could this become another abusive and scary situation? Or is it yet another relationship where I am giving far more than I am receiving (the patriarchy raised me well - I am stellar at these type of relationships)?
I genuinely wonder what these men would say if we sat down together and told the other what we thought we brought to the table. I am pretty solid on what I am bringing to the table. I am wondering what they would say. Or if they would know. Or if they would think it was an equal exchange. Or if what they thought I was getting from them matched what I thought I was receiving. I haven't a clue. I suspect that the color and shape of my relationships are renderings that exist only in my head, that the dude in question, he is maybe looking at a Maxfield Parish, while I am thinking of a Robert Frank photograph. I think perhaps we couldn't even get the tangible productions of our relationship into the same fucking gallery.
But like I said, I don't know. And I am fully aware that I have been pretty stressed lately, and I have been feeling kinda sad and lonely, and so I may be looking at my life with whatever the opposite of rose-colored glasses are. I am concurrently reminding myself that I need to take what I am seeing here with a grain of salt. But I don't think it is wrong to do a feminism check, a safety check, look for patterns of bad behavior, make sure I am safe and protected. I've never felt the need to stop and assess - I've always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. But I guess that has changed.
So here's me, taking stock. We'll see what comes of it.