My ex-boyfriend was really into rules, giving detailed, proper instructions, and had several “systems” in place for living his life. Things were great when I could fit into his system, and when that proved challenging, he almost immediately found someone else who could. While we probably were never a great fit, I sense he was definitely somewhere on the spectrum, and while not an impossible situation, it certainly proved challenging for both of us.
Things were often explained to me in excruciating detail, instructions delivered like a drill sergeant, and I was more often than not the audience for long-winded, one sided conversations about various topics such as a Abraham Lincoln biography he was reading, the importance of watering basil close to the root, the venomous snake population in the area, or how the lever and fulcrum operate. The lever and fulcrum lecture came prior to going to the park to throw a softball, as I was instructed to throw using the same mechanics, and asked if I understood why that was important. I usually resisted the urge to say, “NO, and I don’t fucking care,” because I loved him and found him smart and interesting and believe he was mostly oblivious to the fact that many times I tuned him out after about 30 seconds, I have no doubt he did the same when I dared approach the topic of anything emotional or serious. Naturally, as he wasn’t usually able to understand my point of view, my exasperation and annoyance with the instruction giving and being lectured to as if I was a disobedient child was perceived as me being “sensitive,” “over-emotional,” or “crazy.”
I’d foolishly try to explain, “See, no, I’m not really crazy for being upset, it’s just that nobody has ever shouted vegetable chopping instructions to me while I was cooking…”
“I mean, I’m trying not to be upset, it’s just that nobody has ever scolded me with “Sometimes, I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU INSTRUCTIONS, IT DOESN’T MEAN I’M BEING A DICK, IT JUST MEANS I’M TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO!” This actually happened once and I resisted the urge to laugh out loud.
Perhaps my favorite story about following the rules happened on a Sunday when we went to the beach. We were going to enjoy the day and go throw a flying ring (like a Frisbee). As we left my apartment, it began…”Now, it’s very important, if you miss it, and it lands in the water, it’s going to sink, so you really have to pay attention to see where it went to retrieve it.” “Right, of course,” I thought. I understood the implications of not littering the ocean with plastic and not losing your belongings, but it was a $9 piece of plastic and I thought perhaps we could just GO FUCKING THROW IT AND HAVE FUN. Exasperated, but knowing full well he wouldn’t understand why, I said, “Okay.”
So we went, we tossed, and then inevitably, I missed, sending the disc flying into the unsafe waters. It’s important to note here I was wearing water shoes, but not beach clothes; I had on regular capri pants and a T-shirt. When the disc went plunging into the ocean, I did as I was instructed, and by that, I mean, I dove in wearing my clothes, got soaked, jumped down, retrieved it, and waved it over my head, yelling out triumphantly, “GOT IT!” I, of course, was being facetious. I thought for sure he’d understand the absurdity of diving into the ocean fully clothed to retrieve it. Instead, he looked at me, nodded, and said, “Good job,” as if I was a dog that had just retrieved a ball. I told my therapist this story at one point and she laughed out loud. “Oh, there’s more where that came from,” I told her.
I hesitated for a long time to start writing about this and my experience, we have several mutual friends, and for a long time I was bitter, angry about the way things ended, and resentful, and I knew I couldn’t start then. I didn’t want it to be retaliatory, or mean, or hurtful, and so I waited. I waited until I knew that this experience taught me what I needed to know, waited until I could forgive, and waited until the pain no longer felt like it would suffocate me. And in the years when it did, I found connecting with people, sharing similar experiences and being brave enough to tell many of my difficult life stories cathartic, like a weight being lifted. I no longer felt the need to conceal, or hide behind circumstances that weren’t my choosing. I realized what a gift it has been to find the courage and strength to keep going among some painful and incredibly challenging experiences, the gift of always being able to find the humor among the pain, and the gift of being brave enough to talk about it. Stories connect us, allow us to share experiences; they have the power to teach, persuade, and allow for insight and understanding. And so, at a time in my life when I needed connectivity and clarity, I started writing…