Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Five deadly words you never want to hear

“I love you."

"Thank you!”

I heard this deadly five-word conversation on The Big Bang Theory not long ago, as part of Leonard and Penny’s six-year-long dance around each other. They sleep together; they don’t sleep together. They date; they don’t date. They see other people for a while, sometimes quite a while, and then. . .

And then poor, vulnerable Leonard drops the l-bomb.

Penny, completely disconcerted, reacts with a stunned silence, almost as if she's been slapped. Then blurts out the response that makes Leonard's heart sink into the floor.

"Thank you."

To lay oneself open in what may be the most vulnerable statement that exists, only to have it politely dismissed, indicates that the person you had all those tender, passionate feelings for dwells on a separate planet, and probably always will.

People assume this disastrous emotional misfire only happens in "relationships", which has somehow come to mean "boy-girl with sex". But it used to apply more broadly. I know about the l-bomb because it happened to me a few years ago, and though it wasn't BGWS, the script was almost exactly the same. The other person, someone I knew as a close friend through a 12-step program, probably believed they were responding appropriately and even kindly. Fairly. Isn’t that the right thing to say when you receive a compliment?

Of course. "Thank you" is a perfectly good response. 

Is "love" always seen as "romantic love" now and nothing else? I am beginning to wonder. Or do those three little words just cause certain people to turn tail and run?

In my case, it seems to me I’ve lived my life on the dark side of the moon, meaning I give much more than I receive. Oddly enough, I am often seen as selfish because what I give isn’t understood, or else isn’t the “right” thing and does not exactly fit the slot of what is required. What I have to give is suspect or too different, even if it represents an avalanche of love.

In fact, I think that’s the whole problem.

When love is doled out with an eyedropper, it does not exactly match an avalanche of love. When do things match in life? Never. But being on another planet, a very lonely one, is a whole different thing.

When, after years and years of dissatisfaction and pain, you finally break and begin to explain to the other person what you think is really going on, they are completely confused. Not only do they expect you to stick to the script (i. e. accept them exactly the way they are, even if they have had multiple drug slips and are going down for the third time), they are shocked and baffled and even offended when you deviate from it and don’t seem to care if you are finally expressing what you really feel.

But that’s not the purpose of the relationship. Not any more. It has become a chess game: your move; my move. If anyone deviates, it’s wrong and spoils the rhythm, requiring an immediate correction.

This has happened to me too many times, and not just in the perilous waters of 12-step groups where, in spite of a lot of smoke-blowing, emotional dishonesty and manipulation is practically the norm. I don’t know why I am always at the bottom end of the seesaw. I suppose the self-help gurus would say that I engineer it that way, that I make it happen myself (neatly letting all those abusive jerks off the hook: how they must love this theory!) in order to shortchange myself. And when you have grown up with alcoholism and sexual abuse as daily fare (completely denied by the family as nasty lies), perhaps it’s not hard to see why.

Any love I have seems to hang  by a spider’s thread. I’m an emotional sharecropper: “yes, massuh!” What’s the matter with me? I should be more grateful. Or so it seems. When your best intentions to help are met with an offended silence, when you risk being gutted by opening your soul ONE MORE TIME, when you make the ultimate statement and receive a handshake in return, it devastates in a way I cannot really describe.

I love you. Thanks! I’m dying inside. That's too bad!  I’m going to commit suicide now. Here, I’ll show you to the bridge!

It’s not quite like that, but when the other person is completely puzzled and thinks you’re being unreasonable and even mean when you somehow hope for more, you get that ice floe feeling. A nice pan of ice; a good hard shove.