My mother had an affair and left my father for my former best friend and coworker, whom she met thru me and my job. This happened over a year ago, and I’m past the initial shock.. I came to realize I cannot change what happened, and that I can either stay angry about it forever or accept and try to help my self and the rest of my family by incorporating this new unwelcome person into my life.
My parents marriage had been unhappy for over a decade (not an excuse for her behavior), so them finally breaking up was a relief. I had been raised/trained to be the one that kept the arguments diffused, that kept us all laughing, that would try and keep a semblance of a happy family. I know now that was really unhealthy, but I did it since I was a pre-teen.
So it wasn’t the splitting up that hurt- It was the way it happened and the fact my mother asked me to cover it up when I found out (I did not). With the support of my wonderful husband, friends, and family, I became less angry. I have put up firm boundaries with mom. I’ve become a stronger person for it.
So I’m ok with it…For the most part.
But sometimes, when I’m out with her, and she starts to talk about wonderful X is to her, or he calls and gets all stupid sappy over him, I have this…massive two part rage towards them and her.
1) She hurt my family and he hurt his and they hurt each others so deeply, How can I just idly hang out with these people who hurt us all so much, never mind go to their house and eat dinner at their table?
2) I was my moms best friend (in an unhealthy way, I know that). If I suggest a girls day, she will suggest he comes along. She only invites me to lunch if he is out of town. Sometimes I just want time with my mom, and I can’t seem to make her understand that.
But then the rage simmers back down (Or i beat it with big stick, whichever) because I’m so tired of being angry. I’m so tired of feeling hurt over the whole fucking mess.
Am I a weak coward for this?
Retired Family Ref
Elodie Under Glass here.
Retired Family Ref, you’ve got a case of a Rageasaurus. And that is perfectly okay. Rageasaruses, like border collies, are high-energy, high-maintenance pets that can absolutely wear you out. And this Rageasaurus of yours is very badly trained. It will run circles around you and destroy your furniture and distract you from your work, which is to say, your life. It will color your interactions with others. But you are not – NOT – a weak coward for having it in your life. Ref, this is an understandable creature. I don’t want you to beat it with a big stick any more. There’s a reason for this Rageasaurus. I would like you to understand that.
I think this is a legitimate creature, this rage of yours, and it may be unreasonable to expect it to just drain away. I don’t know if you’ll ever be in a place to forgive your mother, or to make nice and eat dinner with your former friend. (Making nice is not always a good thing.) But you can’t live like this, so I think you should take this Rageasaurus to obedience classes.
This ‘saurus was formed from a big soup of emotions and fuckery, and it carries your feelings around in its mouth like an old chew toy. You are not a weak coward for having those human feelings and emotions. You’re fine. You’re good. It’s THIS shit that’s fucked. You don’t have to be okay with it! You are not going to get cookies and rewards for being the Cool Daughter Who is Okay with It! You aren’t going to get a big gold star for Being Your Mummy’s Best Friend While Covering Her Two-Timin’ Bum. There is no prize money that you get for Being the Nicest to People Who Hurt You.
It is okay to feel weird about this. This is weird shit. Nothing in your upbringing, your culture, or your stories prepared you for “how to smile at your mother’s lover, your former best friend and colleague, across a chasm of smashed trust and terrible actions and ask them nicely to pass the potatoes, without setting the whole goddamn tableau on fire.” You probably have a better idea of how you would, say, defeat a dark wizard/keep a boy for ten days/stay alive during the zombie apocalypse than how to handle this. This is fucked-up territory. It’s hard to deal with. That’s okay.
You’re learning some big, scary things, Ref. You’re learning the deeply frightening lesson that you are often more mature than your parents. You’re learning that sometimes your loving parents can hurt you, and smile while they’re doing it, and expect you to smile too. You’re learning that adults are imperfect and unreliable, with jagged edges, and those jagged edges can cut you when they hug. You may want to be friends with your mother, but you’re learning that your mother can be a very bad friend. You’re learning that “I love my mom and want to spend time with her” and “I hate my mom and never want to speak to her again” are two feelings that can live in the same heart. These are scary things to learn, and they will wear you out. I can tell you that this part of your hurt is something that will pass with time, and it’s part of growing up.
Ref, you don’t have to swallow your pain and choke on it to sit at somebody’s dinner table. Some of the strain that you’re feeling comes from the fact that you took it upon yourself to keep this family together, and someone close to you came in and smashed that to pieces. Release yourself from the obligation to Make Everything Okay for these adults. This will be hard, because families like to have a Glue that Keeps the Family Together, so that they don’t have to take on all the emotional work of a family. (And this is work, which most people don’t recognize; no wonder you’re tired out.) You’re starting to do it. Keep doing it. Talk to people, your husband and friends and family, and professionals. This part of your hurt is something that you are dealing with pretty well.
And I also hereby declare it Okay to Walk Away From This. You are an adult, with friends, family, and a husband who are outside the love triangle of mother/father/formerbestfriend. You stand in your own shoes. You will be okay. You can go a few months without speaking to your mom, if you want to. You can walk out of the room when Mom’s Lover walks in. You can tell them that you can’t handle this right now, and you’ll be in touch when you can. You can stop talking to them altogether. It really is okay to hang up on your mother! It really is okay to exit a conversation when it’s too much for you! You get to choose. You get to say no. You get to decide when, where, and how often, and in what situations you would like to spend time with your still-beloved mother. You don’t have to put yourself in situations where you’re going feel this drained. You’ve done a good job, Ref. Keep going.
There are some scripts you can use to get the things you want. If your mother expresses an interest in bringing her beau along on a girly-date, you can say “No, Mom. I want to spend quality time with you. I’m picturing mother-daughter time.”
If she brings him along anyway (“Surprise!”) you can smile at him graciously and say “X, what a surprise. What will you be doing while Mom and I get our manicures? Meet us back here in two hours.”
When she starts gushing about X, you can tell her, graciously and calmly, “Mom, I cannot talk about X right now. Tell me about your new carpet.”
This Rageasaurus that you’ve created? It is wearing you out, but it also wants to protect you. The reason that you’re feeling hurt is not because your mother has a new lover or because your imperfect family has become even less perfect; it’s because these people lied to you, because they consistently cross your boundaries, because they expect you not to be hurt by their behavior while doing little to make amends, because they behave poorly and unreliably, because they expect you to take on too much of a burden, because these two people who are supposed to care for you are making it clear that you have little priority in their shared life. Because they expect you to smile and eat potatoes when they want to play happy families, and because you are not in a place where you can do that yet. Because they drain you, Ref. They take an awful lot of your sparkle away, and they don’t give you much back.
And your Rageasaurus stands up and roars when this happens. Like any other pet, when you telegraph your tension, it picks up on that. Of course you’re tired by all of these feelings! They’re exhausting. And they are coming from the places where your boundaries are being crossed.
In its awkward, clumsy, saurus-y way, your Rageasaurus is standing up for you. When your mother breaks a date, you, the Glue of the Family, accept it. This makes the Rageasaurus roar even more, and you beat it with a big stick, because you think This Is How To Be Good. Then you feel worn out and cowardly. I’d like you to listen to it next time, and accept what it has to say: “No, Ref, this is not okay! I don’t like it when people treat you like this! RAWR!”
The Rageasaurus does not understand why you insist on returning to people who have wounded you, and who poke the wounds with a stick, and deny the hurt they caused you. That’s why you may find your emotions becoming uncontrollable around this situation, and why you’re interpreting that as self-betrayal. (Those bottled choky tears you might be getting after hanging up the phone, and you maybe don’t know why? Your Rageasaurus knows.)
It’s really, really good for you to recognize the two parts of your Rageasaurus. This is the first step to taking control of it. You can take your Rageasaurus to the trainer, which is to say, the therapist, if the rage is that bad. You can let it stomp and snarl and say what it needs to. Depending on how much it has taken over your life, maybe you should.
Becoming a stronger person does not mean that you beat your feelings with a stick when you have them. It means that you stop, and hug your Ragesaurus, looking into its eyes and stroking its feathers until they go smooth, and tell it, “We were violated. We are angry. And you know what, baby? We are going to be okay.”
And then you and your saurus? You should hold hands, pour yourself some extremely Irish hot chocolate, and take yourselves a much-needed break.
What do you think, Awkward Army? How have you made peace with your sauruses?