Todd and I somehow got involved in a conversation about a year ago, and I have no idea what precipitated it or why, but it was one of those somebody-turned-the-light-on-in-the-closet moments. We’ve known each other a long time, though there were years we spent apart, and now only reunited for roughly 4 years.
A conversation segued into things that are triggers for him, like being accused of lying. Nobody I have ever known is more honest than he is. Sometimes he says things perhaps better left unsaid, but one can never accuse him of deceit. It is simply not in his blood. He spent a number of years with a woman who didn’t deserve him, who herself needed her own healing – not a punching bag. I do not know her, but exchanged a few words with her in the past. He has told me that she could be cold and cruel, accusing and mistrustful. She carried baggage from a failed marriage, and soon enough would transfer her ex’s misdeeds to Todd. It seems he would be positioned to answer for “John’s” bad behaviors and she projected this expectation that he would be (or was) the same man. NOT a nice place to be.
There was more to his side of the conversation, and it would have made this post so much more profound had I written about it a year ago when it happened. Therefore, a great deal of his side is lost to memory now.
Something happened one night over a year ago, while I was working at the restaurant, while Todd was there. I was bartending. He was hanging at the bar with me, having some food and wine, chatting with our many friends and guests. He would of course leave the bar occasionally, for whatever reason. However, at some point I started to notice that one of our waitresses seemed to always be missing at the same time he was. At first it was just one of those, oh – where is Jane? And eventually became, where is Todd? AND where is Jane? It was odd because there was this uneasy feeling growing in my gut I knew was wrong but couldn’t shake. My baggage.
Cheaters and liars. I’ve had more than my share. Guys who didn’t mind the (inappropriate) attention from other girls. The guy who collected phone numbers and did a pitifully poor job of hiding them. The same guy who cheated, both with strangers and with women I knew (who, btw, had the audacity to face me afterward), and who lied so much I don’t think even he knew the truth. Guys who couldn’t seem to shake the old girlfriend. And girls who didn’t respect the boundaries of others’ relationships, or me.
And then – the man who had clearly lost his marbles for a moment and actually slept with a waitress whom I had known a very long time, who was inappropriately touchy-feely with him in my absence. She had crossed a line, but it was him who did the damage. Whoever would suspect someone of cheating on their significant other with someone right under their nose? Because, who in their right mind would do that in her mother’s restaurant? Right. And that’s exactly how it happened.
I have never, ever projected mistrustful behavior on anyone I’ve dated. But I am acutely aware of the behaviors that introduce doubt. It has always been instinctive for me. I would stake my entire life on Todd never being that kind of man, because I know he’s not.
Yesterday morning I asked him what his triggers were. In his words: if someone puts you down, makes derogatory statements, or doubts the ability of their partner. Bad JUJU. Lacks trust in me... thinks for a second that I would hurt them or do anything intentional to hurt them. Make me feel like a bad person…. or inconsiderate because I was running later than expected…
The baggage of exes should be left behind, but we can’t help but take it with us. The baggage of simply living will go with us, wherever we go. The trick is to be grown up enough to recognize it when it’s happening and not allow it to be destructive. I think sometimes, no matter how much time has passed, those sneaky pieces of carry-on fall out of the overhead compartment. The triggers are more subtle today. Consider bad experiences in school – perhaps there were people who didn’t like me, and today I am careful to avoid people who make me uneasy. Consider being forever interrupted by the grownups, until I stopped talking in large social situations, or seethed every time someone turned their attention away from me. Consider being criticized for being too verbose, or repetitive, and learning the value (or detriment) of silence.
I should clarify that those triggers don’t come from Todd. But sometimes I find myself rethinking what I will say or do, based on what my perceived reaction from Todd will be. But again, it is not Todd’s reaction that really elicits this from me. It is from learned behaviors, from experiences that shaped me, and then I react. And sometimes it aint pretty.
My son, who is just days away from 14 and a good 5 inches taller than I, raised his voice to me this morning. I snapped. I made it clear that he is not to do that, but I went over the top with it because it triggered the splinter in me that had been building since last night, when his reaction to something his sister said was textbook “dad.” The sins of the fathers. It is hard for me to see or hear those things. My daughter can be rude and disrespectful, but more disturbing is her constant interrogation of me – as if I answer to her. That is also a trigger.
This time, it was Todd who reminded me that it is hard to accept those unwelcome behaviors, because I don’t love the man they come from. I am still healing from the damage of my first marriage. But I do love my children, and so I must reconcile those triggers by remembering who they are, knowing I hold some degree of power to forestall what would otherwise become lifelong habits. That is an ongoing process.
Meanwhile, I am so grateful we have each other, that this is one chapter in a book we can safely close, and go on with life. I am thankful that after all this time, our expectations match – to love and be loved, to have honesty and trust, to be treated fairly and with respect, to have laughter, consideration, understanding.