He wrote other things in his text that felt the way a superficial cut across my forearm might feel. They hurt and stung, fast slices that surprised me. But they were easy to accept.
Then he wrote these words:
“I appreciate your concern for what you think I might be…”
And those were the ones that sunk the knife into my gut and turned the blade. Those words cut me and killed me. Because they were the absolute truth and hit the wound of an old habit I have for seeing the potential, and not the reality, of people I care for.
In that moment, it was my ego that was cut down. I that moment, I realized how much I had deluded myself about what was going on, what was really going on, in my head. And what was going on in my head was not the truth. What was going on in my head was all desire and ego. And it was a delusion.
And his words brought the delusion to a quick and painful end.
::: ::: ::: :::
It was almost always mixed messages between us.
He said one thing but his actions were the exact opposite. [I can’t tell you what he was thinking, but the two things were never in sync.] Even as he said goodbye he asked me look at something from his life- to go, but also stay and listen one last time.
I asked him for coffee on my twentieth wedding anniversary. [To be truthful, I had gotten a new tattoo that day, and my dress was fabulous, and the heels made me feel super confident. I tried to tell myself it was just companionship I was after, but really…the daydream of tracing his collar bones with my fingers while we were wrapped in a tumble of white sheets in the afternoon sun (and a 1000 permutations of that*) was regularly on my mind. My actions weren’t 100% innocent, either.]
And we were from two different universes. Mine well over a decade older than his.*
We barely spoke the same language. I am long letters. [I will always be long letters.] I’m not sure that was his style.
Which is all to say: there was a lot of potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication. And that left plenty of room for me to fill in the blanks with whatever I dreamed. However much I hoped those things might be the truth, they were not.
And the reconciliation of truth and reality was that night and that text.
The thing about having your ego slain is that it hurts. It hurts psychologically. Because the view we generally have of a situation is tied to our identity, it is tied to our ability to perceive things correctly. And when we realize we’ve perceived them so incorrectly, it makes our ego very uncomfortable.
Most people run from this discomfort. They hide or deny or try to ‘fix’ it.
“It didn’t happen like that.”
“I always thought it was that way, anyway.”
“You don’t understand what I meant.”
Accusations. Defensiveness. Passionate retorts and explanations.
There is a difference between ‘fixing’ and ‘learning,’ though. When we rush to ‘fix’ a bad situation, to explain away a delusion or poor behavior, we are not learning from it. We are simply trying to make the pain go away by moving on as quickly as possible, by apologizing without true remorse, by painting over the mistake and pretending it’s new. Learning from a bad situation takes time.
You can understand a lot if you watch people and what they do when they make huge mistakes or are forced out of delusion. I once watched an ‘up and coming’ feminist marketer make a big fucking mistake with her foundational cohort. This woman claimed to be ‘woke’ in terms of racism, but actually did some really racist, sexist, immoral shit to other women, and especially other women of color. And when her delusion came to an end, I watched her try to ‘fix’ it. And how do I know she was fixing instead of learning? Because it took her 36 hours to start her comeback. You don’t learn shit in 36 hours. Learning takes at least three days. You gotta sit with it like Lazarus. Three days in the cave is the only way you’re going to even begin to learn. If you’re back at it in 36 hours, you’re just cleaning up a mess so you can keep your ego intact.
The pain of having our ego slain is a call to learning, though. It is a good thing. It is worth investigating and sitting with. The pain will point us towards the truth if we let it.
::: ::: ::: :::
It’s been a day and a month since he sent that text. And for the first five days I couldn’t even read it again, it hurt my psyche and my ego that much. (Which is a lot, because I can put up with a shit ton of pain, psychological and otherwise.) It hurt because I had fucked up so very much. I fucked up my perception of him, my perception of myself and my actions, and my perception of the situation. Many levels of fucked up.
So, first I sat with the pain it caused me. And that’s helpful but the next step is to go sit with the pain of what happened- to purposefully look at it and drink the pain like medicine. Because if we can do that we’re on our way to learning.
Learning comes when we look at our part in the situation. Learning comes when we examine our desires and wishes and hopes and falsities in the context of the situation. Learning comes when we see what we did wrong, in thought + action + intention, and decide we won’t do that again. Learning comes when we heal whatever it was that made deluding ourselves a reasonable choice and begin to act differently.
::: ::: ::: :::
That is what I’ve been doing the last two weeks. Having sat with the pain, over and over until it was tolerable, I am now beginning to behave differently. I question myself and my actions and intentions more. I do not immediately default to my intuition for insight about a situation. I admit to my dreams and fantasies if that is what the situation entails (it doesn’t always). I do not abandon myself in the search for connection. I think more critically about what data I’m using to guide my actions and to gain insight into others’ actions as well. I validate before I act more than I used to. I try not to have too much pride about my intuition or how ‘right’ it is (yes, it’s true: pride goeth before the fall). I am learning.
I am grateful for the fact that I haven’t heard a peep from this guy since our interaction. Nothing to see or read or deal with as I find my way forward. That’s a gift when you’re in the dark, knowing you’ve made a big mistake and likely hurt other people in the process.
I wish things had ended more smoothly between us, but I would not have learned as much as I did if it had been that way. I needed to be clearly and cleanly broken so I could heal and learn more deeply. Clean out the wound; reset the bone. I’ll never be ‘like new’ again. Instead I will be stronger at the broken place.
The pain of having our ego killed is actually one of the greatest gifts we can get because, if we let it, we can find truth inside the broken delusion. And if we can truly learn from our mistakes, we can become better people. That’s how it’s been in the past, I’m hoping it’s the same now.
I’ll be sitting here at Broken Delusions Ranch for a while yet. Come and join me if you need a friend on your journey.
Big love from the mistakes on the trail,
Joanna :: xoxo
* He was too young to be a great lover (in five years, though? mmmm…yeah), which is why daydreams are awesome. God, I love my imagination.