Most of us have those people in our lives that, at one point or another, we have to let go of having a relationship with. This is not done to fit an echo chamber standard, mind you, but rather for self-preservation. This happens regardless of how close they are to us or how much we love them or want the relationship to work. But for those of us who find ourselves having to cull people we also have to face the hurdles of that strict excommunication. Here I want to outline why there is reason to cut and run; not out of spite or even anger, but out of self-preservation for our own welfare. These people are not just manipulative, they are actually dangerous.
Now, I have a strange menagerie of friends – from the posh born-and/or-created wealthy, to business folk, to professionals, to blue collar workers, to retirees, and to my functional collection of outcasts/oddballs/assholes in the fringe — they are ALL the spice of life in variety and, oddly enough, similarity. What I find interesting is that for all these people, who live in the functional world in some way and don’t spend time contemplating their navel, most of them don’t still run around branding themselves to make attention getting statements about how ostracized they are or incessant ‘woe is me’ reflections. These people – even those battling mental illness, and/or physical sickness, and/or personal hardship – are not looking to rot in the foamy discharges of other people’s empathy. They certainly aren’t out bilking people they love for attention and material shit. These are functional people who live their lives the best they can. And, yes, they have angst and outburst like all of us in some ways. They have life ups and downs and frustrations. But they aren’t out with the intent to carve out entitled pieces of other people and they appreciate the help they get and when they ask for help they are also willing to help in return at some point.
This is important because all of the people I’ve let go of label their constant victimization and prolonged bitching about their situation and how it is the fault and responsibility of everyone but themselves to fix it. These people I speak of are manipulators, filled to the brim with conceit and constantly need affirmations as to how important they are to us. Those affirmations come at a price for those who give them, one that is not repaid in kindness or reciprocity but in vindictive statements like, ‘It is not enough’ because it never, to them, is. These are the takers that absorb our money or goods and time, as they reflect on other people’s successes like jealous, hungry pigs. They are devoid of any detail and extrapolate even minor successes of yours or others as grandiose things that displace them from a relationship. Your success should mean their success so it is ‘fair’ – at least in their narrative. In reality, they’re trying to slit-purse you, or anyone they can really, for a taste of hard earned labors they had no investment in. They feel entitled and, if you say that you love them, that means they should be allowed to feed from that — they will leverage all that guilt onto you to make it so. These are the dangerous feelings of the entitled undeserved that shelter in your good graces and love. They entrap people to provide aid whenever a person will fall prey to their tales of miseries and siren song of guilt and responsibility.
This is why mothers will feed addicts money until left with nothing.
This is why fathers will tolerate abuse after abuse in their own home, against the people he harbors and has self-sworn to protect, even from themselves.
This is why siblings will forgive and forget a thousand times to keep the peace for the sake of others.
This is why family reunions turn into cesspools of drama we involve ourselves with when we otherwise would not tolerate such behavior, except to satisfy the status quo orchestrated by manipulators and their leverage over us.
This is why friendships turn into games of chance, exploitation, and thievery.
This is why lovers become mortal enemies when the partnership becomes indentured servitude demanded from someone who is outwardly neglectful.
And for all the power these manipulators have in our personal lives, their strategies are usually poorly shaped by the nature of their flaky mentality. This lends itself to plausible deniability and also to an obvious pattern from the outside looking in, but that perspective is hard to have when you’re in the thick of it. It often orchestrates into repetitive states of a roller coaster ride towards what they want. This is the see-saw motion meant to wear into people, wearing them down. In the real world, where people respect each other, our altruism should end when we see a threat to our well-being or to the wellbeing of others we love, who actually deserve time, attention, and empathy. But that’s not how it goes.
And I want to say — flat out — that if you are facing this kind of thing you need to not keep second guessing yourself. Stop and look. Think. Feel the situation and it’s parameters.
Families and friends should certainly share and feel welcoming, but we should also have legitimate boundaries that shape and form the relationship.
No greater example I’ll flaunt is that between my sister and I. We were both born to the owners of a business, one that had rocky points outsiders could never imagine in stress and strife but it certainly provided for us. Yes, there were and are relative satisfying lifestyle pieces attached to that business and what it provided, but the details are always less comely than the pretty picture from outsiders who have never toiled in it. Outsiders often never felt what it’s like on the knife’s edge of make-or-break job where every day counts — you run the show and your lack of gusto or knowledge or even a simple mistake can cost everything. For years I thought I’d be the one with the burden of helping take on the business, as I was the eldest daughter. Then I realized I did not want it and I could not handle it. I would be a burden and strife to that business and I didn’t deserve it if I was going to resent it, let alone if I wouldn’t toss myself into the fires for it.
My sister was different. She stepped up to that plate with want, savvy, and – for lack of a better term — balls. I wish her great fortune, happiness, and all the comforts she can peel from it. I do not ever wish to receive a red cent that comes from that place unearned or out of some sense of unfairness needing equalization. I do not need the business to ever affirm anything – it’s between her and my parents. She is the kingpin in that domain and I’ve not a single fucking right to it and I respect that, unlike a lot of people would in my station. My lot in life will be different and I want it to be different. I will do anything I can to help her, but I will never look at the work she has put in for what she gets as something I am ever entitled to, because I am simply not. People are actually shocked about this and I have had several ask what ‘went down’ that I’m not involved… and the reality is that it isn’t for me.
You know what I value most? I value having a sister. I value having a friend who I get along with and who I enjoy when I see or when there’s good fat-to-chew or wine to gulp on holidays or the occasional night of delightful debauchery.
THAT is how relationships are built. On love. On respect.
I say all this because it is so desperately important that we share an understanding about how to handle our relationships, our love, and our choice in people we surround ourselves with. This world is not ‘fair’ and we don’t strive for that. We strive for our own happiness and equal rights to make our bones over such things – win or lose. We don’t want to disassociate due to minor differences of opinion or our personal take in this game, and we don’t want to succumb to our own liking of personal homogenization and agreement. But we do want to keep ourselves safe from people who leverage our relationship against us for malicious gain, using our differences or what is supposed to be mutually respectable ‘love’ as ammunition.
I want my kids to grow up realizing productivity and positive behavior is what brings happiness and self-worth. It’s not every success being a notch on your belt but every learning experience being one – even if that learning experience comes at the expense of a mistake. I want my kids to recognize they are worth a lot, to themselves if no one else, and they have a personal responsibility to work towards that if they truly want to be happy. I want them to cherish the love they do receive and understand it is not something you can abuse – there is, ultimately, no such thing as all-encompassing unconditional love in this world or in our relationships. That is utterly foolish romanticism and it is useless entitlement that lays to waste what good we can do for ourselves and our counterparts we hold dear.
“Woah, Adriana, there is such a thing as Unconditional Love so what are you talking about?”
What I’m saying is that people’s perception of unconditional love is often literally holistic. This is wrong AND a serious problem. It means that you expect and are entitled to receive love and preserve a relationship full of that love no matter the situations, your behavior, your attitude, your lot in life or any other context. Unconditional love is the love that can embrace the Adolf Hitler’s of the world and disregard all trespasses, no matter how deeply heinous and terrible, to embrace that love in action and association. That is a deeply dangerous way to hold onto any other principles in our lives because it gives people unlimited power and impunity over our own reactions. This type of misconception about what ‘unconditional love’ is does a terrible disservice to the idea of functional love and relationships that do have respectable boundaries and it makes us ripe for being abused if we begin to accept this definition. It also can make us abusers if we misuse this concept on other people.
In our little lives it is like loving your own rapist during the rape. It is both the ultimate submission and , I would project, an unhealthy form of such action. It is not noble. It is not reasonable. It serves merely to perpetuate self-entitled behaviors in people that saturate and erode relationships – consciously or unconsciously. The takers in this extrapolate from each expectation where they are rewarded that they could get away with whatever and someone will love them and act grateful as they stick the knife in and twist. This is what builds a path to hell on good intentions.
But we can fix this, at least in our own way. Our relationships are not pitted together on the basis of a carte blanche of ‘unconditional love’; we are not blank slates full of feelings and devoid of choices. We choose to be in relationships and we choose when and how to love. We choose and establish our boundaries and our right to self-preservation in the face of someone demanding we love them or see things through their narrative. Our relationships and interactions are not pre-scripted – we can and should walk away when people ask too much. Anything less, at least when our eyes are open to the facts at hand, we need to walk away or we are literally doing a disservice to ourselves.
And this isn’t an excuse to walk away when the going gets tough it’s about knowing when enough is enough. When you can’t have the flesh carved out of you anymore for your own sake or when you see things aren’t straight up. There is probably more going on than meets the eye and I put nothing past anyone.
But there can still be unconditional love, can’t there?
Surely, yes. You can unconditionally love a person, but you can also remove them from your life for your own safety. That is not a paradox. You can love people in all sorts of ways without being forced to involve yourself with them. I love humankind unconditionally as a general statement, with the realization there are bad and good people in the world of all shade of nuance. I love the people who I have told to leave in some way-shape or form; I don’t wish them ill and I love them in my own unconditional way as human beings who have a chance, still, to be good people. Just not within my social sphere.
I realize we all have the potential to be incredibly great and despicably terrible depending on the choices we make and the lot we are handed in life. And none of us are perfect. I also realize people change. But in no way does my love for humanity mean I will sacrifice myself on the alter of ‘love’ for when my patience has been exhausted or once someone has been a threat to me or my family as a whole — for money, time, things, or malicious involvement. This isn’t about hate or vengeance or getting back for bad things done. Its self-preservation, and self-love, in action.
“So what about your kids? Are you going to tell them you unconditionally love them with caveats?”
The same goes for my children – my love for my children will infinitely be unconditional. But the way our relationship stands in the future will depend on how we respect each other. I will always love them; I just won’t tolerate cruelty or heinous crimes. I won’t tolerate pilfering us as parents because it’s bullshit. Maybe it’ll work over on your grandparents but not on me, kiddos. We worked to bring them into this world and they will work to get what they want out of this world. They will respect us for that and we will respect in return, graciously. Besides, they will have many delights they will never have to worry about because we do love them (and their respect in us), but I am also not a damn Djinn stuck in an oil lamp. You can’t just rub my back and tell you that you love me and expect me to shit rainbows for you — child of mine or not.
Those are, indeed, standards and conditions of any relationship I have. While my love is there, the fact is my hind-brain and ‘feelz’ don’t run this show. That love does not somehow make me responsible for another person’s happiness in this world. This is a relationship. Unconditional love doesn’t need mutual respect and, frankly, we all need mutual respect.
Love is not the whole relationship.
A relationship, on its own, does not mean there is love.
Great working relationships unto themselves are about respect, boundaries, and attention to detail. They function so well because of that even when things get rocky. We support each other or we enjoy each other in whatever facet we have set forth. Even if unspoken our friendships and families have a desperate need for that respect and the defining outline of limits and a way to communicate those things — even when there is friction or a miscommunication.
Those things shape how we show love to each other – by respecting privacy, by not being cruel, by not taking or leveraging for things, and by being there when we do need a shoulder to cry on but not merely to abuse that gift of empathy. This is a reciprocal format that we never escape while conscious and if there are any cracks in trusting that respect then there is room to worry it’s not even there.
“So what are you saying?”
I am saying you need to be brave, for yourself and your loved ones, and set boundaries. You can be flexible but you have to also keep it real — look at it objectively — and separate the drama of living from the really malicious shit that points to a threat. Sometimes the best medicine is letting people go be themselves because they don’t play very well in the sandbox or they can’t see what they’ve done wrong and won’t listen to reason or because they won’t communicate civilly and respect you enough to talk out the differences.
To me a real tell in these situations is where abusers believe themselves innocent—the problem is with everyone else— and they will likely never change. How long do you deal with that before you realize you have to quit that person? It is not about hate, it is not about drama, it is about letting you be free of the insanity. Not a single one of us can claim perfection like that sincerely without it being some form of gaslighting. If you can’t come together and make it work, well, it’s probably a big sign you need to disengage. You have nothing left to offer each other as that is not a relationship. And, yes, you may love them forevermore — but you also love yourself enough to know the difference between an unconditional love and an unconditional relationship.
This is a hard line to draw. But no matter what it is all about, you should never feel an obligation to sacrifice yourself to someone out of ‘love’ just to keep someone complacent. You’re being manipulated if that’s the case. There is nothing noble about self-sacrificing for people who are not in it with you and who do not come to face you when there is turbulence.
Be yourself, protect yourself, and do not feel guilty when you have to say ‘no more’. Love should be about enjoying each other’s presence in life and being considerate. Love is about protecting the people who value and trust you and helping them when they need it so that reciprocity can exist at all. We all have baggage, we all have our sad story, we all have our woes – but we aren’t here to fester, we’re here to endure towards what happiness we can find with the reasonable good we can do for each other, with respect and dignity and a little bit of commiseration when that’s needed too.
To all those I have said goodbye to with silence, I hope they are well. But I don’t ever want to see them again. And I don’t ever feel guilty when we can’t work things out. We’re all important, but we can’t all be successfully intimate with each other and that’s okay too.