I remember this story from about ten years ago.
A young college girl decided to track down her long-lost cousin. Their families hadn’t spoken to one another for over a decade, so she hadn’t seen or spoken to him since he was six years old. When she got him on the phone, she began the conversation by telling him that whatever his mother had told him about her family wasn’t true. She defended her family and told him he could visit them anytime.
All the guy wanted to do was shut her down. The assumptions she’d made infuriated him—that he didn’t know the truth, that he hadn’t witnessed any of what happened for himself, and that he’d be open to hearing someone trash the mother he loved.
She didn’t understand his anger. Instead, she blathered on, offending him more and more with every word. She was like I was once, rushing headlong into a minefield she didn’t have a clue how to navigate. The result was he never spoke to her again. That’s sad because they might have become friends.
While someone discussed this story with me, they called the situation between the cousins “loaded.” It came to mind recently when I thought about other loaded predicaments between people.
Sometimes the relationships are precarious for simple and obvious reasons, and one of you had to set boundaries. Maybe it’s an intolerable but understandable behavior issue or substantial differences of opinion. Maybe one of you is married and the other single. Perhaps one of you wants something the other can’t provide. Or you’re at odds with a friend of theirs or a family member and can’t defend yourself or your position without talking trash about the other person.
I once worked with someone recommended by a woman I admired tremendously. He was her partner. When he and I spoke on the phone, he eventually divulged very intimate details about their romantic relationship. He seemed to adore her, which was beautiful, but I didn’t think she’d like me knowing what he was telling me. It made me uncomfortable, so I suppose I put up some barriers, which made him uncomfortable. Suddenly, he used the withholding punishment—not keeping me updated about the project, dragging his feet on it, and ultimately not delivering quite what I’d expected. I used someone else for the next project, but there’s now a barrier between the woman who referred him and me. I have no idea what he told her, but the additional weight hampers any interaction with her, and I hate that.
It gets heavier than that. There are situations where people grow up with devastating trauma. Family members have different outlooks about what happened, maybe different experiences. One may still feel the agony of the hurt they or someone else caused in doing what felt right in their heart. Things said may remind you of the pain they caused you or the pain you caused them. There’s a lot of re-traumatization within the same dynamics or dealing with the family.
I believe it’s crucial to become fully aware of all this because situations aren’t loaded when you don’t care about the other person. You could easily blow them off and never have anything to do with them.
To this day, there are people I’d love to drop a line to and ask how they’re doing or just to say, “I miss you.”
You can have so much love for a person and at the same time have to handle your interaction with them like you’re holding a piece of glass.
There are no-fly zones.
And sure, it’s painful. You wish things were different. We grieve relationships like that. It saddens us that there was so much good, and we cherish the memories to the point of tears. We may wonder, can we ever get it back? If we did, would it ever be the same? Both parties have to come to the table with an open mind. There must be a willingness to walk hand in hand through that mine together. It’s hard because quite often, the trust isn’t there any longer. And you have to be willing to trust someone to do that.
Plenty of people out there can discern these situations, I’m sure, but many of us had to learn that. As I alluded to at the beginning of this post, there was a time I’d have flown my plane right into that restricted zone and not for a moment realize the potential damage I’d cause. I’d gotten used to a cycle of being hurt and fighting back. These days, I think of what I might say in these circumstances and recognize how it could go wrong.
Often, I decide I can say nothing. Or I wonder how to rectify a situation, resolve a conflict, and every way I might think to approach it, I see a flashing red light, and it’s just no. Don’t. You can’t. There’s a need to tread gently, take care.
One might ask themselves:
What are safe topics we can discuss? Should we stick to a public forum in responding to one another rather than talk on the phone or text? Can we support one another in ways that don’t involve us in their lives?
I find these things helpful in dealing with others where the cautions may apply:
It’s often the difference between reacting and responding. Realize you’re communicating with another vulnerable human being who likely has had their own trauma. They are not bulletproof. Sometimes we are blinded by rage, and we keep firing at someone, but we don’t realize they’re bleeding.
There’s a difference between reaching out and setting a trap. We can’t be condescending. We may feel we’re in a better place or farther along in our healing, and it may or may not be accurate, but it doesn’t matter. We all have our paths to walk and on our timetable. It goes in that “Not all who wander are lost” category..
It helps to be genuine and sincere under these circumstances, to let go of any bitterness or resentment, and respond only from a place of caring and love. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s tragic, but we can accept it and be grateful these individuals are still in our lives in whatever capacity. We can still love them with all our hearts and send that love to them whenever possible.