Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Looking a Fact in the Eye

If I could write only one thing on this blog it would be "Stay rooted in reality."

Now, staying rooted in reality can be very tough, and sometimes it is much easier to hide from reality, when it is unpleasant, than to grapple with it and figure out what is best to do. The Canadian philosopher-theologian Bernard Lonergan, S.J. called this tendency "the flight from understanding."

The greatest example of this from my own life was math class. Although I got through Grade 9 math, thanks to a very good teacher, Grade 10 math was hell. It was hell because I couldn't grasp the concepts from the beginning and instead of turning to other books or teachers for help, I took refuge in daydreams until the teacher started screaming abuse or philosophy from the blackboard. Sadly, some of the messages that she banged into our heads were that boys were better than we were at math, and that her husband was a better math teacher than she was, and that we spent too much time crying over boys, whereas boys didn't care about us.

Today I can't dial my husband's mobile phone number without carefully following it on a sheet of paper. Nothing frightens me more than long strings of numbers. And for a long time I asked male friends if they had, in high school, cared about girls.

It will not be a surprise to you that I failed Grade 10 math. But what is astonishing is that, when I repeated it, I got the same teacher and I made no protest. I didn't even tell my parents the things she said, not even when they furiously scolded me for not doing my math homework, which by then I was as incapable of doing as a four year old child is of translating Thucydides. I took refuge in stories and daydreams, living in a semi-fog it took me a long time to escape. Not once did I go to an adult and say "I have a serious problem. I write A+ papers on Shakespeare, but I can't understand polynomial equations. What is wrong with me? Surely it cannot be, as our teacher seems to think, because I am white/a girl/incurably lazy. Help me."

Why do we not tell our parents these things? This is a serious question. If there are any child psychologists who know why children do not tell their parents about the really messed up things that happen at school, please tell me.

In adult life, we still stay silent on some very messed up things. As Searching Singles, we hear and read all about "red flags" and how to recognize "red flags." So far I haven't read anything about how to recognize a red flag and then force yourself to DO something about it.

I was delighted one day when the man I was then in love with drove me to his hometown to visit his parents. In my private universe, driving a girl home to visit your parents meant that a man was serious about her. (This, of course, is not always true.) In reality, it is certainly a good way to find out if a man comes from a "good family" or if his family is entirely messed up and best avoided.

Well, into the house we went, and it was a nice house, the house of a successful research scientist and his wife, and the one thing I remember clearly is that my boyfriend's parents were both terrified of him. They seemed to walk on eggshells around him. They were amazed to see him. They were amazed to see me. They spoke carefully, almost pleadingly, and hoped we'd stay for dinner, which we didn't, despite the two-hour drive. It was clear there was something very, very wrong going on, but I was in love with this man (absolutely head over heels), so I ignored my insights. Later he told me that his biggest kick in life was hurting those who loved him.

So it is not enough to see the red flags. One must understand that they are red flags and take appropriate action. In my own case, I think my mistake was becoming so completely infatuated before I knew the man at all well. On our first date, he drank and told me he had a drinking problem. I thought he was exaggerating. On a subsequent date, he told me he had attempted to seduce his girlfriend's gay friend because she had always had a crush on him. I thought he had repented and would never do something like that again. Why, I wonder, did I so badly want things to work out with this guy that I ignored so much horror?

"You should try to find a man from church," sighed an elderly man I consulted.

"I met him at church," I said, through gritted teeth.

And that's probably why I shut out reality. I wanted to marry a Nice Catholic Boy so badly that I was willing to sacrifice the "Nice" part. And no doubt this is part of the reason why I blog every day to invite Singles to find the good and the purpose in their Single lives and to stay rooted in reality.

6 comments:

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Hey Auntie, I think this is a really important post. I used to work for a helpline and shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and it is all too typical that women (and sometimes men) accept things that from the outside are clearly off (or even set off every alarm otherwise).

Of course, there are additional elements to an abusive relationship beyond just a bad dating one, but nothing good can come from making one's identity entirely about being in a relationship. I realised working with these folks that I'd rather be single and me than be in one whereby I defined myself. I'd like to be seeing someone, but I want to bring myself to the relationship, not find myself in it; that's totally unhealthy (basically, = codependency).

Too many nice girls (and guys) think they have to be in a relationship to have value/be a girl/know who they are/etc., so they make excuses, look the other way, etc., even when the person himself says he's a 'bad catch' (which is not so rare, as your story shows, Auntie!). And then by the time someone realises they've been duped (or have duped themselves) they feel ashamed, powerless, or like they deserve it for not catching on sooner. It's vicious. The saddest thing about the hotline, and there were many, was that often the victims wouldn't leave, or would leave and return.

Sorry for the length- thought I had something to add -- hearing others' experiences over 12 hour shifts for 2 years gave me a lot of 'surrogate experience' with this. My grandma used to tell me "You can learn the easy way, or the hard way. The easy way is to learn from others' mistakes and experiences. The hard way is to make the mistakes yourself." It struck a nerve I guess.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Hey Auntie, I think this is a really important post. I used to work for a helpline and shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and it is all too typical that women (and sometimes men) accept things that from the outside are clearly off (or even set off every alarm otherwise).

Of course, there are additional elements to an abusive relationship beyond just a bad dating one, but nothing good can come from making one's identity entirely about being in a relationship. I realised working with these folks that I'd rather be single and me than be in one whereby I defined myself. I'd like to be seeing someone, but I want to bring myself to the relationship, not find myself in it; that's totally unhealthy (basically, = codependency).

Too many nice girls (and guys) think they have to be in a relationship to have value/be a girl/know who they are/etc., so they make excuses, look the other way, etc., even when the person himself says he's a 'bad catch' (which is not so rare, as your story shows, Auntie!). And then by the time someone realises they've been duped (or have duped themselves) they feel ashamed, powerless, or like they deserve it for not catching on sooner. It's vicious. The saddest thing about the hotline, and there were many, was that often the victims wouldn't leave, or would leave and return.

Sorry for the length- thought I had something to add -- hearing others' experiences over 12 hour shifts for 2 years gave me a lot of 'surrogate experience' with this. My grandma used to tell me "You can learn the easy way, or the hard way. The easy way is to learn from others' mistakes and experiences. The hard way is to make the mistakes yourself." It struck a nerve I guess.

KimP said...

I agree, this is a very important post. Before I met my BF, I dated a man, let's call him Fred, for about two months. At the 60 day mark I notice the Red Flags and actually broke up with him, even though I liked him quite a bit and found him very attractive. I mention this because I was 45 at the time and it was the first time that I had ever done this. Prior to meeting Fred, I would see the Red Flags, but I couldn't process them properly. Instead of seeing the Red Flags as an indication that the man had Issues, I processed it as an indication that I wasn't lovable. That HE was fine, and his lack of love for me was a commentary on my worth as a human being. So I would just keep hanging around with the guy, hoping he would learn to love me like he should.

With Fred, I finally interpreted the Red Flags as signs that Fred had Issues that had nothing to do with me, and he would never be able to love me properly because of them. So it was time to end it and move on. I had no doubt regarding my decision, and I did it as gracefully as I could.

But again, I was 45 when I finally came to this level of mental health and I attribute my healing in part to an excellent Catholic counselor. So for anyone who continues to wait around with a guy who doesn't love you or doesn't treat you well, find a good counselor and/or spiritual director who will help you not only see the Red Flags, but see them as true indicators that he is just not the right man for you, rather than as a deficiency in yourself.

Urszula said...

I think this post and the comment are both really good wake-up calls.

What really is the answer to problems in the Single Life (or any life, really) can be found in the last sentences: "to find the good and the purpose in their Single lives and to stay rooted in reality." Should be so simple, but we make it complicated!

I have a similar experience as Nzie the Rosy Gardener describes, but not as extreme. It just seems many of my (not necessarily Catholic) friends are involved with v. possessive men (who throw fits of jealousy at everything, make them delete facebook accounts and all photos of past suitors, etc). My question is, is there a way to reach out to these girls and speak to their reason before they get completely engulfed in potentially abusive relationships? One such friend has barely contacted me since I moved from her town, and I know her boyfriend has passwords to her email, communicator and her phone, so I'm even afraid to write to her and ask her how their relationship is doing and how he is treating her. While it's not 'abusive' and she claims to be happy, it's hard to believe that to be the case... can a friend actually do anything in this situation?

Seraphic said...

Urszula, this issue deserves a whole blogpost to itself.

Making a woman give up her Facebook account is absolutely screwed up. It is an isolation technique that control-freak, abusive men use.

The dislike for former boyfriends' photos is, however, perfectly natural, and in ordinary circumstances, I would counsel women to tuck these photos out of sight when suitors come calling. It is also helpful if women have amnesia about whether she and any male friend she still keeps up with were ever a couple.

Overly posessive men, however, are a nightmare, so onto today's post.

Esther said...

Totally agree. Women when infatuated tend to ignore or reason out the flags. I for one was exactly like that. A guy for no reason called me the "b" word, that too on the second call. But I ignored that, thinking he was trying to be cool. It was no surprise that he was a horrid jerk.