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June 28, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


The Grudge Fudge:

Well, I guess I'll have to forgive our Chris -- and his stellar brand-new world-premiere Breakup Girl ANIMATION!!! -- for the fact that I haven't been able to do anything around here but sit and watch it over and over. And you all will have to forgive me for that shameless plug.

But other than that, the issue of forgiveness is currently -- like that excellent flying Breakup Girl -- way up in the air. Who is to blame, as it were? Jeanne Safer, Ph.D., author of the forthcoming Forgiving & Not Forgiving: A New Approach to Resolving Intimate Betrayal (sneak-preview it in this month's Psychology Today ... source of these quotes). Yes, Safer writes, "The capacity to forgive is an essential part of an examined life." But do talk-show hugs and over-the-counter Inner Peace count as "examining?" Not so much. "Enshrining universal forgiveness as a panacea, a requirement or the only moral choice, is rigid, simplistic, and even pernicious. Yet ... today we demonize not forgiving as much as we idealize forgiving," writes Safer.

The key: "Not forgiving needs to be reconceived. It is ... a legitimate action in itself, with its own progression, motivation, and justification." It's a conscious choice; it's not just, like, procrastination. Also not working an active grudge. "Vengeance is holding onto rage and bitterness, letting a sense of victimization rule your life; choosing not to forgive involves profound self-examination, just like forgiveness -- only with a different conclusion."

To waaaay simplify Safer's discussion, Not Forgiving is what allows you to say: "They were bad. I am mad. And that's that." It is what allows you to end a futile, self-defeating, circular search for pretty pink strawberry shortcake feelings that just aren't there. Or a vain mad-scientist mission to conjure them out of sticks and slugs. Or your false, guilt-inducing, lip-servicious insistence that you have forgiven in the first place. All of which should also let you off that big sharp pointy Should hook and get on with your life.

So. Should you forgive Him/Her for What S/He Did? It's up to you. Really. Safer: "When it is genuine, forgiveness is a capacity not a compulsion; this is why the same person can grant it or withhold it, depending on the circumstances. The ability to discriminate signifies maturity and freedom."

This week's candidate for Forgiveness Diva:

Dear Breakup Diva,

I'm 22 years old and I fell in love for the very first time in December 1997. The relationship was wonderful and I was sure I had found my soul-mate. But in February (1998) my boyfriend's younger sister was murdered by her jealous/abusive boyfriend who then killed himself. She was his only sister and the focus of his world. Inevitably, after the funeral, my boyfriend transformed into something awful, hurtful, and self-absorbed. He lashed out at me constantly and after a few months I knew that it was time to step back. (I should have stepped back sooner, but it took me a while to make sense of it all. I was in love with him. We talked marriage, we talked children, and we talked love...I fell hard BG). As the months went on, he never called. I found myself making the effort to contact him and every time I got a hold of him I felt like a burden. He wasn't trying to hear me.

So I battled with myself...I battled for strength and went through phases where I said the heck with him and phases where I sobbed myself into deep depression. I could not imagine being without him. In summer 1998, I was still miserable, enraged, humiliated, and depressed, BUT I continued to make random efforts to contact him. I only called once a month. Maybe he had changed his mind and couldn't live without me? Maybe he needed to see me showing effort in order to reciprocate? Maybe he couldn't afford to give me a call? I had millions of these! Throughout the summer, during our conversations he promised to come visit me. In one conversation he even gave me a specific date and said he would call later on to confirm. I waited and waited and waited...he didn't call.

By September I resolved to leave him alone and move forward. I was doing pretty good too, until October came (his Birthday!) and I couldn't get him out of my head. It had been two months since I spoke with him. I thought, Wouldn't it be a wonderful idea to buy him a $50 dollar train ticket so that he could come up to visit? That way there would be no excuses and no ways of him getting around it. (yup...just wonderful) AND I did. He of course called immediately and said he appreciated the gift and was planning on coming up his birthday weekend. He said he would call to confirm that week. I was excited, nervous, and proud of myself for taking the initiative-again. Most of all though, I was terrified. Would he bail again? I tried to prepare myself mentally repeating over and over that it didn't matter. I didn't really want him to visit. If he did, fine. If not, the heck with him. When the big weekend came up, do I even have to tell you what happened? He bailed...no phone call, no apology, nothing. I collapsed. My heart was completely broken.

You might ask yourself why I put up with all of this. I'm an intelligent and attractive woman. Trust me, I have spent most of my time asking myself the same question. It was my first experience with love. I thought the circumstances which ended our relationship wasn't complete. I lacked closure and had lots of questions. We loved each other and his nastiness was clearly a way of grieving over the death of his sister. I was loyal. I wanted to make it work...or at least have a clear understanding of where I stood. Did he need time? Did he not love me? I wanted closure. I won't deny I made lots of mistakes. Looking back on it now I realize how much I compromised myself in order to please him. I realize I was selling myself short...that I deserved more. But at the time I was helplessly caught in the myth of self-sacrifice. So where and how do I need help from you, Miss Diva?

Well, believe it or not 1999 arrived and I managed to make it through the 1 year anniversary of his sister's death without calling him. I didn't feel 100% refreshed, but I was certainly ready to tackle the new year with a healthier attitude. I was tired of thinking about him. I was tired of being hurt, in tears, or upset over a person who obviously wasn't any good for me. But then April hit and for some reason the thoughts of him that had escaped me resurfaced. The Sunday before Easter I couldn't take it anymore and I called. I convinced myself that I had called only to say hello...to see how he was doing -- nothing more. But to my surprise I had the conversation I had been waiting for all of this time. He told me he loved me, that he couldn't stop thinking about me, that he was sorry for missing my graduation, being nasty to me, and pushing me out of his life. He said he missed me and wanted me as his wife. He said everything I had ever wanted and I sat on my bed stunned. I was terrified by all of this given our history, but completely relieved. It felt so good to know that I hadn't made it up! I wasn't crazy! He did care for me...see? I just needed to be patient and loving and whatever else prompted his unexpected flow of emotions. In the back of mind I wondered, if he felt so strongly about me, why did I have to call to find out? No worries, I convinced myself that I just beat him to the phone call.

I had big Easter weekend plans, but he said he was definitely coming to visit. I told him not to waste my time and he said, "No...really." And though I knew I'd regret later, I said YES. I canceled all of my plans and waited...and waited some more...Once again he never called. No apology, no call, nothing. I was beside myself! I couldn't believe that he had done it again. Even worse, I couldn't believe that I let him do it again.

Soooo, that's the end. I never called him again and he has never called me. Although I am grateful for having gone through this experience and LEARNED what not to do in a relationship, I'm having a hard time closing the book. Not in the way you might think. I don't want him anymore. I just don't know what to do with my rage. I don't hate him. I made as many mistakes as he did and it was probably a higher force preventing we meet again (I can't imagine what my life would be like if he had actually made the visit). I just can't get over my anger with him and ME. I want him to hurt, though the reality is that he'll be hurting for a long time, not just over me, but his sister. I find myself wanting answers to questions that don't seem to matter now. But how do I move forward? How do I let go of all that I went through without dumping my baggage on some other guy? (I started doing a little therapy, but it doesn't seem to be helping much.) I just want to get on with my life without thinking of him. He still enters my mind as much as I hate it and I can't seem to let go of the "what if" questions. I know this might be a pathetic story, but how do I tackle this situation in a way that allows me to feel empowered? Thanks for listening...

-- Elise

Fur Elise,

Dr. Safer, above, talks about not-forgiveness of, frankly, much more unforgivable transgressions. Nonetheless, your"what to do with the rage" question made me think of you in her terms. As in: maybe you don't have to do anything with it. At least maybe you don't have to make it go away. Maybe just specify, label, and contain it.

I mean, look: his sister was murdered. By her boyfriend. Your boyfriend's world fell apart. Thus, at some level, all bets -- especially those that involve (a) his girlfriend, and (b) the common courtesies, like calling and/or doing what you say you're going to do, that hold the world together -- were off. You absolutely do have to cut him some slack here (and do I sense that you're trying to).

But still. Of course you were mad. Of course. And maybe you're mad at yourself for that, as in, "How can I be mad that he didn't have his act together when his sister was murdered?" And maybe the feelings get even funkier...? Like, are you twistedly mad at his sister for taking him from you when she left? I don't know; I don't mean to infer that, necessarily. I'm just saying that untangling who's mad at whom and for what might help you figure out what subset of rage you can allow yourself to keep ... without letting the parts you feel icky about get in the way. Then, as far as "baggage" goes, well, when you've stepped forward and claimed it as yours -- "Yes. I was sad and mad in that other situation. 'Cause I'm human. That's mine." -- why would you hand it over to the next guy?

Breakup Girl



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