The Strains On My Friendships

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Well, well, well. Here we are. I’ve been saving friendships as pretty much the last-ish thing that I plan to talk about in the sexual assault chapter of this blog. And here we are.

I feel like my feelings on my friendships, and how they’ve been affected over the last year and a half or so, are sort of complex. So, I’m not going to be able to fit this into one post. I’m breaking up my feelings over the next 4 or so days. It’s gonna be this one (which is gonna cover weirdness and some anger (which takes up tomorrow too)), then after that we’ll have embarrassment, then there’s going to be an apology post from me. And lastly, a thank you.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it with this one.

I’ll admit, I don’t think that I would’ve really known how to be a good friend to someone going through this stuff. I think I would’ve fallen into doing a number of the things my friends did. So, I am not above them. I don’t know what I’m doing… But I think potentially there are maybe some lessons here. So, I’m gonna talk about how I feel about various things that happened with my friends over this past year and a half.

(I would open this with thank you (Well, first! Let me say people were great because…). But as I said, we’ll get to that post! So, for now, I’ll just say…)

I love my friends. I think they always have the best intentions at heart. But there were some things that were hard for me:

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Attitudes that were hard to deal with:

(1 & 2 have sort of been covered on the blog before, in case you want to skip to number 3.)

  • 1) “Yeah. Well, you know how men are.”(Or any such version of that sentence.) I’ve talked about this before. So, I’ll try not to drill this point into the ground. But, please. I don’t want to hear any version (from men or women) about how “men are just abusive” (even if those aren’t the exact words you use). That’s hurtful. Not just to me, but also to great men (whom apparently we should expect more of).
  • 2) “One of these days another women is going to come along, and she’s gonna know how to deal with them. What these men need is good women to shape them up.”I heard some version of this more than once (and from more than one person).

    I’ve also talked about this before. But I’m mentioning again, but it really hurt and felt really pretty harmful. I really never want to hear another woman be blamed for her own abuse/mistreatment. It’s not about a “good woman” changing an abusive man. The culture needs to shift. The man needs to shift. I’m sure the woman is not a perfect person, and has things she needs to work on – but trying to figure out how to magically make a man not abusive toward her is not one of them.

    (p.s. random thought/side note – I only hear this thought from (mainly) New Yorkers (or, I guess maybe a coupe of midwesterners). Never from people in Southern California. So, I don’t know if parts of America have different views on what relationships are, or how men treat women, or what. But in SoCal – or at least in my circles – we didn’t expect the men to be like that, and nobody even insinuated that if only I’d “put him in his place,” or “put my foot down,” or “reigned him in” or whatever that he would’ve stopped abusing me.

  • 3) This is one I don’t think I’ve talked about a whole lot. But one thing that felt really really hard was the frustration my friends would express along the lines of “You’re Aurora! You’re not gonna just melt down because of a guy! That’s not you! Stop it. Why are you being like this?! I’ve known you for [some people can fill in this thing with like a decade]. And I’ve never seen you act like this! Get over it! Snap out of it!”And it’s like, “Okay, if this is the first time you’ve seen my act like this in a decade, then maybe instead of being annoyed, take that to mean something is really (really!) wrong, and let’s figure out what to do about that. If you need a break from me, okay. But telling me how frustrated you isn’t helping. Don’t you understand I’m frustrated too, and that if I could “snap out of it,” I would? (This one was the hardest one to deal with, for me.)

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Stories of good friendship:

Some people got it so right – which is how I know it can be done. So, here are some stories of my friends who got it right

  • 1) Stand firm in your position.For me, I was making a billion excuses for my rapist all the time. “Maybe he didn’t mean to.” (Even after he point-blank told me he meant it, I still questioned that!) “Oh, maybe I misheard him (even though every piece of evidence I have about his character leads me to think I didn’t mishear him – or that even if I did mishear him that one time, he still assaulted me, so what would that matter?).
    So, when I would sort of re-litigate all that with my friends, it was the ones who stood really firm in their position that “it was sexual assault, he overstepped your clear boundaries” who were the most helpful.

    Now, that’s a tough thing to do, right? Stand really firm in your position while also listening to your friend. They never shut me down. They never were like, “stop thinking this or that! or saying this or that! That’s dumb!” No. They’d usually soften it with some kind of joke. [*super sarcastically*] Oh sure, the man who just completely ignores you when you’re crying and climbs on top of you, and laughs at you when you say you’re uncomfortable, and tells you that you’re not [etc. etc.] that definitely sounds like a super normal sexual experience to me. It’s happened to you a million times before, right? That’s just what sex is? Everybody cries during sex, right? Just like he says?”

    (I mean, I don’t think I do that sarcasm bit as well as my friends did. But it was the one sarcasm I always welcomed haha.)

    I love the friends who wanted to listen to me, wanted to hear me out, wanted to give me space of “huh, maybe he didn’t really understand.” Of course it’s sweet to have listeners. But you cannot go on that journey with me. I’m already undercutting myself all the time. So, I need you to not help – to not jump on any little piece I pick out of “but he seemed like a good guy!” Sure, yes. He seemed like one. But it’s not our job to take a tiny kernel of niceness and extrapolate it to cover up all the bad things he did. And I need you to stand firm.
    (Random side note: It was usually my male friends who were the super-stand-firmers and my female friends who’d go down the “weeeeeeeeell, maybe he’s not bad. Maybe he was just confused” rabbit hole with me. I have no idea what that means. Just a weird observation.)

  • 2) Know when you don’t know the answers.I had one friend who, when he felt, “I’ve known you for so long, but never seen you act quite like this over anything, no matter how upsetting” (and of course, he’d seen me pretty upset before), he didn’t get frustrated with me or huff and puff and leave. He sat me down and asked if we could really talk about it. I ended in tears. And he was no more equipped than that. So, he encouraged me to call the RAINN hotline, which I did, which got the ball rolling toward therapy and me getting better and everything.

    He knew something was really wrong. He knew enough to ask. And he knew enough to send me to somewhere else for answers, because he knew he didn’t have them. Those were all the right things to do.

    And I don’t know that I would’ve known enough to do those things. I say I wish more people would’ve been like that for me. But I imagine if a great friend of mine seemed really edgy or something. I’m not positive that my first impulse would be “she really needs help.” I could totally imagine thinking, “she seems off, but if something were really wrong, she’d tell me.” Or, “she can take care of herself. I’m not her parent. I don’t want to overstep bounds. She’ll ask if she needs help,” or any other number of things that results in me not being helpful. And I might be good intentioned at heart – as I’m nearly certain every one of my friends were. But the friend who saw something was off and asked to talk about it, and set me on the path toward help… He’s the one I remember the most as being the most helpful. Where would I be without him? So, I dunno. Help. Be helpful. Think to help. Never hurts to ask.

  • 3) “How Are You Feeling/Dealing With This?” (etc.) is the question that comes first, full stop.

    Or, at least, that’s what I think, in my opinion – that’s what felt best.I never knew how much I wanted someone to ask this, until someone did.
    I haven’t been shy about the details. I’ve blogged them for the world to see. It’s not secret. So, it’s fine when someone asks me about them. I’ve answered the questions of if I went to the police, if I went to a lawyer. Now, I can even answer if I went back to school (because I did). So, I don’t mind answering all those questions that come up. And especially at the beginning, when I was still processing everything, I did want to talk about the details sometimes.

    But of all the many times that I have told someone in a one-on-one conversation what was happening/what happened in my life, one that really stuck out to me was the person who asked, “How are you doing? Are you okay?” in a sea of people asking, “Did you report him? What exactly happened?” and on and on. (Just because I’m comfortable sharing my details doesn’t mean everyone is. And even of those who are, not everyone wants to share them/relive them at a moment’s notice.)

    I mean, it’s awesome that people want to take an interest in what happened to me. It’s awesome that they want me to get “justice,” and for him to see consequences. But it was so much more awesome, under the weight of a million questions that I’d been dealing with, to have someone ask about me. Yes, the perpetrator should get the shame, but the survivor should get the support. And that felt very supportive and nice. So, my best advice would be to ask about the survivor – how are they doing? What do they need?

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The weird feeling of weird rifts and shifts in our dynamic:

  • I am finding it sometimes hard to differentiate “what comments are worth saying something about” vs “what do I just need to let go?”

    I firmly believe that every one of my friends is a good friend, and really, is a feminist. I think everyone was trying the best they could with the knowledge they have. And I also believe I owe them way more of an apology than they owe me (which is why I’ve been doing a mini-sort-of-apology tour, as I will get into).

    So, if I’m the one who was agitated a lot, didn’t want to leave the apartment a lot, was bad at keeping in touch, was sort of grouchy and hard to talk to often, couldn’t concentrate on anything (anything – not work, not life stuff, so not my friends’ lives), etc…. If I was a bad friend, how can I possibly think it’s okay to nit pick and be like, “Listen. What you said felt sort of insensitive to survivors because of [blah], and it hurt my feelings” or, “you said something that really sounded like the myths some people believe about domestic violence, and I just want to make sure you know that when you say [blah blah blah] it can hurt,” or whatever…

    On the one hand, when people hurt each other, they should both have an opportunity to express that to each other and keep their relationship open and communicative, and it can grow. And if we’re ever gonna actually grow as a country, that means every single one of us needs to grow (including me!). We all need to keep looking at our internalized biases, and ingrained misogyny (even many, many of the “feminists” among us (again, super including me!). We need to keep listening, learning, and growing. So, if my friends want the culture to change (and I think they do), they would want to know the stuff they said that may be hurtful.

    On the other hand, a couple of things.
    A) I’m tired. (This is a huge, giant part of it.)

    I am tired. (So, so, tired.) I have fought enough battles this year. (You can skip this paragraph if you don’t want the list.) I have talked to the police and a lawyer. I’ve navigated going back to my writing program, where I’d met the man who assaulted me (who thankfully is gone from there, finally). I dealt with trying to successfully keep my day job while I could barely get out of bed. I toed the line at a bunch of races when I was not feeling it (and have not gotten my full health back after a bunch of crying breakdowns). I’ve dealt with my own brain feeling like it’s gonna melt away when I can’t do anything but be stuck in the time of the incident and cry, cry, cry, cry, cry. I’ve tried to navigate staying in the new city I’d just recently moved to after it all happened. And on and on and on and on. I feel like I have been constantly fighting. I am exhausted. The last thing I want to do is fight with my friends – especially if there is already sort of a rift. Which brings me to B –

    B) I don’t want to tear our friendship any more apart, if it’s already fraying!

    How much can people reasonably take? “Oh, yeah, I wasn’t a great friend for a while. Also, while you were trying to be nice, you actually said this thing that upset me.” Are they living in a world of landmines now, where they can’t do anything right? That wouldn’t be a fun position to be in.

    C) As I said before, I know in healthy relationships, you can both share grievances. But there is something about this all that feels at least vaguely reminiscent-ish of my time with sexual assault guy. He’d do something awful, but then zero in on something tiny I did, so we could focus on that instead. I don’t want that to start being a pattern of my life in the other direction where it’s like, “Sure. I need to apologize for barely talking to you for like a 6-month span. But also, you should’ve have said this or that.” Like, what? So, I don’t want to be him. And I think there’s a way to accomplish it all – to talk about things that hurt my feelings and take responsibility for being a bad friend for a while (while trying to actively change and start to be a better friend now that I’m more capable). But to me, it feels like at least a semi-sort-of hard line to walk and I definitely don’t want to turn into sexual assault guy. I don’t think I’m him. I don’t think I’ll be him. But I definitely don’t want to accidentally become him. But I also don’t want to get stuck in relationships (of any kind) where I can’t say how I feel because I’m too afraid – either of becoming him, or of upsetting the other person. So, I don’t know… I’m rambling. Anyway…

This post is long. So, I’m gonna sort of do a much smaller version of it tomorrow with the conclusion, but if you stuck through the long version, well there you go. You reached the end of this post, my friend!

I'd love to hear from you! So whaddya say?