Tuesday, August 14, 2007

you are here

I'm looking to tap the collective wisdom of the internets, because, though I don't like to admit it, I am totally, completely stuck, frozen in place with regret and doubt.

Suppose you knew someone who had something bad happen to her. Something that happened a long time ago, but something that she just couldn't seem to get over. Now, this person had had other bad things happen to her. In fact, most people would say that the other bad things were lots worse than this bad thing that she couldn't get over. And even she herself couldn't explain why this particular bad thing was so difficult for her or why she couldn't move beyond it. But it was. And she couldn't. I know you've all heard this story before, but let me run through it again very quickly.

I used to have a best friend named, let's say, Sarah. Sarah had been a very close friend of mine for years and years, since we were in school together. Sarah was -- is, I suppose -- beautiful and brilliant and charming. Sarah always thought carefully before she acted and always did what she thought was right, no matter what the personal cost. Sarah was a wonderful listener and generous and thoughtful and caring. We talked on the phone pretty much every day and once or twice a week we got together and went out for dinner or for a walk or just sat at my house or her house and talked.

Then, out of the blue, Sarah did something that hurt me deeply, something unforgivable, something that made me more unhappy than I can ever remember being. And ever since then, I've never really felt that I could trust anyone. Because if Sarah, who I knew so well, could betray me, it was clear that I couldn't rely on my judgment about people. And ever since then, I've had an almost impossible time letting anyone one else get anywhere close to me. As I've said over and over again, I miss Sarah. But even more, I miss what Sarah represented -- a friend I could truly trust.

What do you think? I can't talk to Sarah -- she honestly doesn't think she did anything wrong and a discussion with her would leave me even more miserable than I am. But how can I come to terms with this betrayal? How can I learn to use the word "friend" without hearing quotation marks around it? How can I trust someone? How can I get back to something a little more like the person I used to be?

Oh, and the photo is of a mannequin I saw in an otherwise empty store window as we were on our way to see the museum of modern art at Beaubourg.


Katie W said...

I'm going to be thoroughly useless here and say I'm not sure there's anything you can actively do. Like so many things time could well be the only healer.
I can relate to where you're coming from, while I have friends, everyone who I have ever thought was the one person I could completely trust has let me down, even if only in a minor way, I still have friends, but I am a very private person.

The Oneliner (Christina) said...

not being able to trust anyone is horrible.
i suggest changing your thoughts. i forget the exact terminology, but when you think "i can never trust anyone," you should correct yourself with, "i couldn't trust sara, but not everyone is sara. some people are trust worthy."

i used the same process for a different thought process, and it worked for me.

missing_one said...

I think if I were stuck in this cycle, I'd have to start thinking about it in a different way.
"To err is human, to forgive, devine"
"We forgive, but not forget"
In other words, I too, used to keep people at arms-length because my best childhood friend betrayed me so deeply. For years, I never really trusted anyone. This affected ALL of my relationships. Then I finally figured out that there are only few who are trustworthy, but if you keep those few at arms length, then you will never experience the richness of that feeling of trust.
And my new mantra I am working on is control..I cannot control other people. Some people may hurt me, even unintentionally, but they have no more control over my feelings than I have over their actions. I take responsibility for my own feelings. Many people are untrustworthy, but some people ARE trustworthy.
I agree with christina that it is a thought process change. At least this works for me.
there is a great book title (I say title because I never actually read the book) but the title is "what to say when you talk to yourself"
I try and remember this.

missedconceptions said...

I have an ex-best friend, too. It is very painful, but you have to remember that not everyone is Sarah and that there are people you can trust. You trust L., correct?

I know there is a special bond between women, but know that while you may never get over the betrayal you will eventually be able to trust again. It does take time, but eventually you will stop caring about her and move on.

thirtysomething said...

Take back your power, Niobe. It is yours and you have given it away to what if's and maybe's...it is your Power, not anyone else's unless you give it away. You experience what you create.

slouching mom said...

I'd say to you that you have to try again, that by not doing so the cost to you will in the end be so much greater than would the cost of trying again and being hurt again.

We only have one life to live. We should LIVE it. Living it means taking risks. Objectively it's not likely that the next person you let in will hurt you. It's just not. You're no longer in high school, where there was a lot of hurting and exclusion and cattiness.

I'm sure that what Sarah did was awful, but she is just one person in a world of people waiting to prove you wrong.

DD said...

I agree very much with Thirtysomething: why are you letting Sarah have this power over your life? Whether she slept with your boyfriend or she took a peek in your medicine cabinet, it was HER error, not yours for trusting her. People will disappoint you because they are not perfect.

But please, every person you have ever met since her that you have held back from is b/c you have let her have a power she doesn't deserve.

Anonymous said...

Trust has always been an issue with me. I am not a good one to give advice on this because it is something I need to work on myself.

Whatever Sarah did wasn't your fault. Maybe remembering that will help.

Jitters said...

I am sorry you were betrayed and it hurt you so.

I am equally sorry that it has prevented you from, well, living. I see little value in talking to Sarah, but also little value in not having friends again. People will always error and friends will ebb and flow in their, for lack of a better word, value.

I lost a very good friend when she became pg quickly and told me that she could not be around me because it was too depressing and this was one of the happiest moments of her life. I was crushed and needed a friend more than ever, but she was not able to be that person. I miss who she used to be, but people change and our lives took different directions. Yes, she hurt me, but I have since gone on to have more, better friends. It was hard at first, but I think I was stuck mourning what I lost.

Mrs Macgyver said...

Niobe, I could've written this post myself about my own personal "Sarah".
Somebody who went above and beyond as a friend after ~Laurent~ was born/died. I was completely blind-sided when she did the unforgivable.
If you find something that helps you trust people again, or anything that works - please share!

bubandpie said...

I don't think of trust as believing that people cannot/will not hurt me. Most people do let you down at some point - and the closer they are the more that hurts. Maybe there are people who are absolutely trustworthy, who will never, ever lie or gossip or betray. But then there's the problem of identifying those people - something my track record suggests I (at least) am unable to do.

So I think of trust as believing in my ability to survive, and my choosing to live in intimacy, knowing that my trust will sometimes be misplaced.

mkv said...

Been there and it is oh so hard to trust again.

rachel said...

My advice would be to get some professional help if this is really bothering you. It's a thorny, long-growing problem, and nothing that we well-meaning amateurs can say is going to make a dent in it.

And my pathetic amateur advice: trust is like theory in science. You accumulate evidence of trustworthiness in people. You hypothesize a limit to their trustworthiness (there will always be a limit, in my experience), and you approach that limit slowly. It may be further out than you think it is. You may never reach it. You may fall over the edge right away.

In the latter case, you brush yourself off, mark the data point on your graph, and say, "Huh! That was interesting!"

It probably helps that I am a robot.

painted maypole said...

this is very, very hard. one thing I am working on is that the person who has been hurt can (and sometimes must) take the first step for forgiveness. That the hurter may not now or ever acknowledge the pain caused. but for you to move on you have to forgive. Maybe not trust again, and certainly not forget (that's just crazy) but forgive. if you can forgive Sarah, then you can work to rebuild your trust issues in all your relationships. I also agree with those who have said you need to remember that not everyone is like Sarah, and also that trusting means you open yourself up to be hurt. Is it worse to be hurt, or to never allow yourself the joy you felt before so that you won't hurt again?

Caro said...

I honestly don't have an easy solution to this. But I suspect as with all things the answer is time and someone proving that they are trustworthy whether is Sarah re-earning your trust or someone new.

Patience said...

I echo what better people than me have previously stated - take back your power, your control. I don't think we ever come to terms with a betrayal that hurts us so very deeply, but we learn to live with it and more importantly, we learn from it.

Casey said...

I read this really cheesy book a while back about depression in children. One of the points that really struck me was the assertion that truths rarely make us depressed. They make us grieve, but they don't usually stick with us for years and years.

Which is to say, are you sure that it's Sarah's betrayal that's bothering you, or is there another thought lurking beneath those memories? Yes, lots of people are untrustworthy, but is that thought really strong enough to cause years of grief?

Is it "Sarah betrayed me because I was an unworthy friend?" or "Sarah betrayed me because I was foolish enough to trust her?" or "Sarah betrayed me, and I deserved it."

I don't know. I'm just guessing. At any rate, I hope you find some peace about all of this soon.

Isis said...

I want to pick up on a few things different people have said above, because there was something I noticed in your narrative htat seems important. You describe Sarah as thoughtful, careful, reasonable, always ready to do the right thing even at a cost. From that, I wonder whether you are somehow holding her merits above your own, thinking that maybe you were wrong to be upset, because she (the description suggests) is always right. So maybe at issue is not just your sense of whether someone is or is not trustworthy, but whether your own judgment about right/wrong is accurate.

Maybe part, then, of what is going on is that you worry that you are not to be trusted--not just your judgment of people but of right/wrong, situations, etc. etc.

I would think that if you can regain trust in your own judgment--because fundamentally you do seem certain that what Sarah did was a betrayal--then that might be a place to start.

If this is unhelpful, feel free to ignore it. Mostly I just wish you all good things in reckoning with such a painful situation.

Beruriah said...

"she honestly doesn't think she did anything wrong"

Don't we know what Sarah did? And isn't it fairly obviously wrong?? But still, she's apparently not ever going to accept that herself. It's not worth your energy to make her see. I can see, honestly, why this would be the worst thing that ever happened. Losing our babies was/is terrible, horrible, but no person that we trusted did that to us. I don't know how I could recover if in addition to this pain, I had lost the ability to trust people when I need so much help. What could be more isolating?

I don't think though that it makes sense for this to be the one event that did it - it seems to me like it was the catalyst in a long list of things that made your trust in people shaky. But what about L? What about your brother? And a friend you talked about a long time ago (Sam??)? Are they not trustworthy?

Goodness knows I'm not the picture of emotional stability right now. But I feel like I've taken an enormous step by forcing myself to open up and depend upon friends who seem willing. Most of the friends I'd made in graduate school were intellectual, meaning usually when we got together the talk was impersonal, very academic. So it was hard to admit how incredibly fragile I am right now, but they've really been there.

I'm not sure where all of this is going. But I think what I'm trying to say is that it is work to trust people, by the time we become adults enough people have shown us their imperfections to ruin any notion that we can just trust easily. This is very trite, but I think you have to try through practice. Meaning, I don't think you can think or write yourself out of this pain. I think you have to force yourself to be open to others now.

Elizabeth said...

I'm just wondering what brought this up now? What is going on in your life now that has you "frozen in place with regret and doubt"?

niobe said...

First of all, I didn't mean to be mysterious about *what Sarah did.* I was dating Steve, someone I was head-over-heels in love with -- a feeling I had never believed I was capable of. It became clear over time that, while Steve was very fond of me, he just didn't love me. Sarah knew all about this. In fact I used to joke that she knew more about my relationship with Steve than Steve did. In any event, Steve and Sarah are now very happily married and they have a beautiful little girl.

Isis, Casey, and Beruriah: You're all making very good points. Of course, this is, in some sense the tip of the iceberg. Several other people who were extremely close to me did things quite similar to *what Sarah did.* That's why it's hard for me to say that Sarah's betrayal was a one-off and not really representative of people in general.

I guess perhaps the underlying thought is: since all of these fundamentally good people betrayed my trust, it must be that, in some way, I deserved to be betrayed, that there's something about me that makes it okay for other people to be disloyal to. And I do wonder if my pain is justified. After all, Sarah and Steve really loved one another -- would it have been fair to let some sense of loyalty to me stand in the way of their happiness?

Bubandpie makes the interesting observation that what she can trust is not other people, but her ability to survive their betrayals. Maybe there's something to that, though, as I said before, sometimes I wonder if I've really survived.

niobe said...

Elizabeth: I think what's bringing this up now is that the pain of the twins' death is starting to wear off a little.

In a few months, it will be a year since they died. I can see very clearly how that hurt is diminishing. I can see that I'm going to get over that, that it's not going to destroy my life.

I'm less certain about my ability to get over the issues of trust that crystallize around *what Sarah did.*

Magpie said...

I think you've gotten a lot of sound and useful advice. I also think that your ability to articulate your hurt, and your desire to put it behind you, and your willingness to accept help (from the internet, from your therapist) are all things that will help you move beyond this painful past betrayal.

Aurelia said...

I'm going out on a limb here, but I think you should forgive Sarah, not for her sake, but for your own.

And I think you should forgive yourself for what you perceive to be your culpability in this. I think you did nothing wrong, but I know that you believe you were at fault in some way.

You weren't.

Human beings have frailties. They make mistakes. Big ones. People will hurt you again, whether or not you trust them, it's life. It has nothing to do with your judgement or lack of judgement. It just is.

Forgive her, write her a letter, talk to her.

And don't assume that she still believes she did nothing wrong. Things change. She may be willing to admit that she and Steve should've been honest with you from the start. Which might be enough.

As for Steve, he's the bigger problem IMO. Why do we as women let men off the hook for their betrayals, yet we make women bear the full brunt? I do it too. I just don't know why.

Furrow said...

Anything I could say here at this point would be redundant, so I'll bore only you in an email rather than the whole group.

vixanne wigg said...

Ooh. I'm glad I read through the whole thread. I think you can make an active decision to try and not be angry over what she did to you. I think that anger is very debilitating (and I speak from experience because I have too much of it) and that if you let that go, you end up better off. But I don't see how you could really have a friendship again with someone who did that to you. Even if he didn't love you and he did love her and it wasn't really anybody's "fault" and that heart wants what it wants bullshit...I just think any friendship would be very awkward.

I had something similar happen to me once (not so dramatic...no one ended up getting married). It was very hurtful. I knew the guy didn't love me, but I loved him so much, and it tore me up that my friend (who knew how much I loved him) would do that to me (she didn't love him...it was a fling). I don't hate that woman now, but our friendship never recovered from it.

As for trust...I don't trust women very much. Get yourself a good gay boyfriend. If he steals your man, it's a good bet you didn't want him anyway.

Ms. Planner said...

Like everyone, I have had experiences where my trust has been betrayed (along with the resulting sadness and self-doubt that usually follows). I made up my mind that I would not let those experiences define me. This resolve helped me get past them. Eventually.

That being said, I still haven't managed to get past IF yet. (I feel like "life" has betrayed my trust in its goodness.) And I wonder how it might affect my life years from now.

niobe said...

Vixanne: I love the idea of finding some gay male friends. In college, my best friends were two gay men (one of whom had an unrequited crush on the second) and we had so much fun together.

Though I have to say that I'm not at all angry at Sarah. Or, at least any anger I have is so well repressed that I can't feel it. I just feel sad.

Megan said...

I think Casey has a good point – and it's true for me, at least.
My ex-best friend didn't betray me. She just stopped wanting to be my friend. I hadn't seen her in a decade.
Then, when I was hugely pregnant with not-yet-dead baby, I saw her at the grocery store and waddled away as fast as I could.
If I saw her now, I would die. Because deep down I think dead baby is dead for the same reason my ex-best friend didn't want to be my friend anymore.

meg said...

Niobe, I don't really trust any of my friends (the few that didn't high tail it, after my losses). I'm not much help to you on this one, though I think everyone else has left good suggestions. When I read the line where you ask "how can I get back to something a little more like the person I used to be?", I am stumped. But let me know if you figure it out, as I'd sure like that too! Sorry this situation with Sarah hurts so much, I truly would not know what to do.

missing_one said...

I don't know if this will help, but I'm going to go out on a limb.
I WAS sarah in a similar situation. It was high school freshman year and Jo and El were two of my good friends. I knew they had a flirtation going on and that El was head over heels, but somewhere along the line, Jo and I developed an attraction. The reason I continued the flirtation was that Jo had said to me that he could never really date her because of different "beliefs" and although El knew this, she, I think, thought that Jo might change his mind or something. Anyhoo, long story short. I missed my close friendship with El but didn't think I did anything THAT wrong because it would have never worked out in the end for them anyways and to be honest, nothing was really there that was substantial to begin with. Jo and I were very upfront with her. El wanted me to stop seeing Jo and she would always say that given the chance (if not those differences) Jo would much rather be with her. She kind of romanticized what was really there. It turned into a Romeo and Juliet (or some drama) in her head and heart. Years later, we were two of the few that ended up going to the same college. She snubbed me when I tried to be friendly. Even though she had a new boyfriend and all, she still would not talk to me. Now we're even years later and she still is less than friendly. I can't really understand why she can't just get over this? I get that we will never be friends again, but so much time has passed and I can still see she is not over it. I just don't get it. She seems happy with her college boyfriend still...why can't she let this go?
I hope maybe this will give you some insight and in no way is it meant to cause you more pain. And of course, your situation IS different.

Elizabeth said...

love makes us so fucking vulnerable.

vixanne wigg said...

My friends and I used to call them "girl rules." You don't steal your friend's boyfriend. Really any woman's man...but definitely not your friend's.

Another plus for gay men. They don't get pregnant!

niobe said...

Missing One: I know that Sarah is similarly puzzled by my inability to get over it. But for me, it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Far, far worse than my twins' death. For a long time after Sarah and Steve started dating, I was in so much pain that I honestly didn't think I would be able to survive.

When I made it clear that I wasn't going to talk to her anymore, Sarah started calling all my friends and asking them why Niobe was so upset. I heard some of the messages Sarah left on their voicemails. She was shocked and furious at the fact that I didn't want to be her friend any more.

I understand why she started seeing Steve and I know that, no matter how much I loved Steve, Sarah is a much better match for him than I ever could have been. Still, I am sure the pain of losing both of them will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if something else (possibly more disruptive) was going on in your life. Usually when people hold on to these feelings so tightly, it is because they are coping with other feelings they wish not to feel. Were there other things going on in your life (maybe with your parents, or siblings or job)
It could help to really try and think why, after all this time, you are hanging on to these emotions and maybe they are acting like a dismal cloak to cover something else that you are not wanting to deal with.
Just a thought.
Hope you find peace

Lori said...

I have thought a lot about this, and have read through all the comments, but still find myself at a loss for anything helpful to say. Our life experiences are all so unique, as are our personalities, so I wouldn't even begin to know how to tell you to work through this pain. All I know is I hope that you can. I want you to be able to live your life able to embrace all that comes at you, knowing some of it will be hard, but some of it will be very, very good. Living with open arms makes us vulnerable, but it can also fill us up in ways we never imagined.

Julia said...

You know, one of my very best friends from college, G, is a guy. He had this girlfriend, and they seemed very happy. And then, she broke up with him. Not entirely unreasonable, I have to say-- he did behave in not the most thoughtful way for about six months by that point. So then, he decided to get her back-- moved, tried very hard, and in general was hopeful. It also seemed like she was at least somewhat interested again. But there was this other guy, B, who joined our little group later than most of us became friends. He really wanted to be like the closest friend with G, and was kinda annoying about it. But that summer, about 4 months after that breakup B started going out with G's ex. G was very hurt, and most of his friends took his side. But B and the ex were pissed and tried throwing tantrums about how G won't be friends with them any more. I was actually the one who ended up going to talk to B to tell him to cut that out. He tried telling me that they did nothing wrong and he didn't understand why G won't talk to them. I told him that they can't have everything, and that they have to respect that G is hurt and to stop asking so much of him. Or us-- most of us didn't want to hang with these two either.

I actually remember that I couldn't believe they didn't understand why they were being shunned. But I guess it's much more common than I thought.

Manda said...

I've been the Sarah in a similar situation, and honestly I can see her point of view, as well as your own.

I am disappointed that my friend put her right to love ahead of mine. I honestly believe that my partner is my soul mate and that we were meant to be together. She knew that he didnt love her the way she loved him, and when we came together she pushed us both away.

I understand there is pain and grief at the end of a relationship, but why should she begrudge me happiness? I thought she was my friend :(

She too, like you, is now married and doesnt speak to me anymore. I wonder if she carries around the memories as you do, and if how that effects her marriage. Is she still thinking about the past rather than loving every minute of her present?

You cant steal a heart and you cant control who you fall in love with, or who falls in love with you.

I'm sorry you had to go through it, but on the bright side, you can take pride in the fact that you brought together 2 people who might not otherwise have met. It would be a shame not to share in the happiness you helped create.

Trust isnt the issue though is it? Perhaps its more jealousy or resentment or maybe I'm totally wrong. Wouldnt be the first time :P

niobe said...

Manda: That's an very interesting point of view and I wouldn't be surprised if Sarah shares it. Yes, it's true that I brought them together and (I think) that they're very happy together. But, on the other side of the scale, I lost the two people I cared about most.

I think we're all selfish to some extent, and I feel my pain much more deeply than I feel their happiness. Or than I feel Sarah's pain, for that matter, because I know that she's very unhappy that we're no longer friends.

Did I feel jealousy and resentment? Absolutely. I was crushed that Steve didn't love me the way he loved Sarah.

I hope your ex-friend has been able to move on in a way that I haven't been. Because, honestly, missing Steve and Sarah so much and worrying whether it will happen to me again sucks a great deal of the joy out of my life.

Marcelle Proust said...

I think it's a question of values. One of my sibs betrayed my trust in a way that means I can never trust family members again. But nobody else in my family would get this, because their values are not mine. They think I'm too sensitive. At least I can leave it as family members, and be okay with friends I have chosen. I'd say some sort of category fence like that is helpful. Maybe you can't trust people who have Sarah's values, but could trust people who share your beliefs about what friendship is. Then you just have to figure out how to check on their beliefs, because what people say isn't always what they do.

frumiousb said...

I've got a Sarah in my past, although (obviously) it was different. I contributed to the situation a great deal with a combination of sadness & madness. (My mother had just died-- suddenly & with great cruelty)

I'm sure that my reaction and behaviour astonished my lover & the woman involved. It still astonishes them to this day, no doubt. They're married. I don't know if they have children-- I refuse to let anyone tell me.

At the end of the day, I don't understand why people think that True Luv means that other people have not been betrayed.

If you accept that you have done something that causes great pain for others, then you accept that they will not want to see you as a result. The fact that *you* consider the price worth paying does not mean that the other ever will.

And that doesn't make you a bad person. Why would it ever be worth it to you to be in their lives?

Trusting again is a difficult equation. To be honest, it sounds as though you are creating a mythology out of Sarah and her goodness a little bit. If you want to get past it, ask yourself what you get out of putting her on a pedestal. Her happiness mattered more to her than yours did. Normal enough, but not someone that I would want around ever again.