It’s Just Lunch – A Flat Apology

Eighteenth in a series [gs *]

Twenty-four hours after I hoped that he meant to process his hurt feelings in private, I get another email from lunch-guy.

I’m really wondering how he’s dealing with his wife and kids throughout all this – ‘Man!’ I’m thinking ‘this fool needs to slow the fuck down!’

Anyway – he says:

Dear Christine,

A couple of more follow up thoughts, now that I have had time to process this a bit more.

First, I am so incredibly sorry for being inappropriate in a variety of different ways:

1) Mentioning the erection thing in our first conversation – not cool at all.

2) Referring to it again in my follow up email to you

3) Being over-zealous in my affection for you and the experience we had in my follow up emails. I would run away, too, if someone wrote me that after 1 meeting! You were kind enough to give me a very decent response.

4) Failing to apologize sooner

I hope that you can forgive me for these breaches of trust that really have no excuse whatsoever. I completely understand if you never want to see my face again, but I had to tell you with a whole heart that I am very, very sorry.

With Humility and Repentance,

I read that and felt about a split-second of melty forgiveness, oooohhh, the poor little snookums, he feels so sorry. I want to pat him on the head & tell him it’s all ok. Then, in the blink of an eye my blood freezes solid, so I read it again and an icy rage greater than anything I’ve felt toward him so far sets in.

This is bullshit. The hollowest fucking apology I’ve received in years. Did he mean to offend me, or is he really that ignorant?

Have you ever noticed how apologies can sound more like ‘I’m sorry, so shut the fuck up now’ than ‘I realize I hurt or insulted you and I will strive mightily not to do that again’?

No, his isn’t that overtly hostile, but still, it feels to me like someone whose been forced to apologize before he’s ready to so many times that he no longer knows (or he never did) what a true apology feels like. This is just an incomplete list of the misdemeanors he’s willing, at the moment, to admit to. With a couple of dog-eared abstractions tagged on at the end.

He’s apologizing for not behaving according to convention, utterly ignorant of what it was, in this context, that made those aspects of convention relevant.

I’m not a rule follower, you don’t apologize to me for breaking rules. He overstepped boundaries, and misread the evidence given about those boundaries – those were simple mistakes. But then when I called out his missteps, he tried to blame me for his misreadings and offended my dignity – that’s what he should be apologizing for. Instead, he’s insulting me further by implying that my concerns were about silly conventional rules that are only necessary or relevant when a person is so childish they can’t figure out interpersonally appropriate behavior on their own.

His list there isn’t even what makes me mad – the apology I wanted would address what came after he violated convention.

‘Failing to apologize sooner’ is a misrepresentation – that boy-noise wasn’t mere tardiness.

In an apology, I’m not looking for abjectness. I’m looking for an understanding of what caused pain or insult – an insight I find glaringly absent from this email.

The real insult was the patronizing lecture about love (the lecture was one thing, but using it to discredit my insight into the dynamics between us – that was another), the attempt to turn the tables on me about who introduced sexual confusion into the mix, and the absurd belief that he was big enough to frighten me. Those were what warranted an apology.

We all make mistakes. But he just keeps digging his shit-hole deeper. I get no sense here of him examining his own cognitive & behavioral patterns, and only a very superficial grasp of the truth of what happened between us. If he, is also trying to move toward something new, as he professes – if he does actually want to ‘pour love into women’ as he told me, he needs a far greater understanding about how his behavior impacts women, what his presence feels like. He needs, and it seems to me he is asking for a wake-up call – a greater degree of consciousness around sexual polarity and his own habits of interacting with it.

To apologize for the minor early transgressions, overlooking the larger, more personal insults and the ugliness that came from the initial defensiveness, and framing it all as a mere violation against convention (oh, and a little over-zealousness), with no insight. That’s just flat out inadequate to me at this point.

I wanted to tell him – you were very arrogant, I expect more than a convention-forced six-year-old thumbsucking snivelling imsooowwrry…

Now he’s adding insult to injury. Before I was angry, now I’m ready for a fight.

I fire off an angry email, which I don’t actually send, but which gets enough of the burning off my chest that I can at least set the issue aside, again, to settle. Again, I wait to decide how to proceed.

I want to forgive him. I want to take what I’ve learned and let this whole little fiasco go. I’m tired of being angry at him, he’s not that important, nor has he ever intended the slightest offense. I’ve been working, and working, and working on this, and I’d like my work to be done.

Technically, he actually is innocent. But you know that they say about the road to hell. . .

Anyway, my experience of anger is that it’s like the hook on the end of an old fishing line, snagged somewhere upstream. You don’t know it’s there until something gets caught, pulls the line tight, and snagged, bobs on the surface, rippling up a new disturbance in the water’s flow. When that happens, you can cut the line at the most obvious point, right behind the snaggy disturbance, or you can follow the line upstream and to it’s source. The first option is easiest, but I find when I do that, the anger really isn’t gone, just temporarily forgotten, and something new gets snagged again before too long. But if I do the arduous work of diving below the surface and following, under slippery boulders, and around branches, to the beginning of the line, the whole mess comes loose and floats off, of it’s own, downstream.

Then forgiveness bubbles up instantaneous and unasked for. Anything else is as flat as lunch-guy’s apology, just formal forgiveness with no life in it.

In Bohmian Dialog, there’s a practice of ‘following the disruption’. When in dialog, you’re listening to the other person(s), yourself (including bodily awareness), and the ‘field’ that contains everyone – the space between and around that we are each a part of. Of course such listening is hard, and part of the practice is to notice when something disrupts your ability to do so – like standing in line & wanting to turn my eyes away. Now, when this happens, our usual response is to try to control the disruption, to repress whatever is arising, to decide unilaterally what’s best – like how in that lunch line, I repressed my need to hold more space between us and look away for a moment. I shut down me, which shut down the whole and from then forward, I didn’t attend properly to him, me, or the field. When you are aware of having done that enough times, you realize it doesn’t work. So, instead of trying to control the disruption (the trigger – the anger, the grasping, the judgement, the neediness) you follow it. You voice it. You try to understand what’s beneath it.

In that moment at the lunch counter following the disruption would have meant either of two things that I can see at the moment – when he commented that others would begin to think we were crazy, rather than quipping ‘they already are’ like I did (which just shut down an opening he was attempting to make – his own inquiry about what was happening between us) I could have inquired further. We could have inquired together about the current dynamics. “Yes, they might. What do you think is going on here?”. . . . . ” I’m usually not uncomfortable with eye contact, but I felt a strong need, a moment ago, to look away and shut you out for a moment. It felt like you were either challenging me or being invasive, how were you feeling?” . . . . “What does all this deep eye contact imply to you?”. . . “Why do you think it means that, I feel very differently about it?” Something along those lines.

When I said, in the TK session that as soon as I imagined looking away at that moment, all the options flooded into me, I could see how if I had remained in inquiry with myself instead of getting dictatorial (toward my own instincts), I’d have remained in inquiry with the whole dialog. You can shut off the flow from either side of the equation.

And if it felt too abruptly confrontational to dig into it verbally while we were standing there, I could have simply looked away when I felt like it, noted to myself that I’d struggled to do that, maintained a bit more distance until inspired to open more again, kept that disturbance in mind as we proceeded, remained curious about what it meant and watched for other signs of related energetics. I could have remained in a spirit of inquiry and attend fully to whatever else arose further along. Maybe he wouldn’t even have pronounced that he wanted to be one with me if I’d looked away. Or maybe I would have inquired even more deeply than I did when he said it, nipping a certain confusion in the bud without violating either of us in the process.

But I didn’t follow the disruption in the moment, which leaves me with following its after-effects on my own – following the triggers all the way to what lies far below that moment, far in the past, and far beyond he and I. Which is where we are now. And without being impinged upon by a live person in front of me, I know how to do this.

The combination of content elements is trickier than I’d anticipated, but the process is intimately familiar to me. I know how to follow my rage to the gold. I know how not to give up too soon. It takes a sincere deep dive, which has taught me that compassion is my heart’s natural state. It doesn’t require me to tell it what it’s supposed to feel.

So I know that, until that sense of release and forgiveness bubble up spontaneously, my deep dive is not done, no matter how much my brain thinks it should be. I just have to give it more attentive time.

I realize that I’m not really fighting with him now, and I’m not really fighting for myself. I’m pissed at all men who behave so pathetically, and I’m pissed for every woman ever repressed or used by such pathetic behavior (and if you think I overestimate the prevalence of such behavior – take a look at all the guru sex scandals that have occurred in the US since we started to dabble in Eastern religions, on top of all the garden-variety examples). I realize this fight is more public than private, more collective than personal. I know that if we don’t, collectively, learn to deal far better with that desperately missing, desperately needed feminine essence when it shows up in public, then, at the very least, we’re doing all of ourselves (men and women) a disservice.

What I hear from women all over is that they want to be more whole, to show up with their complete selves present. And if we do that, men will be forced to interact with us more consciously – but probably not without a lot of muck.

My husband and a couple of good friends had been suggesting throughout this little mis-adventure that I should write about it for my blog. I disagreed, because it felt like too great an invasion of the lunch-guy’s privacy. He would know, and even if I protect his identity, it would be harsh treatment to make his emails public and tell the world how I felt about it all. But without those stupid emails, I couldn’t do the whole episode justice.

It’s funny, I consider myself such a non-caretaker, and most people who know me would strongly agree. But, put a fragile male ego in front of me, and look what happens. I must have a really deep-seated contempt for fragile-ego’d men, the way I go out of my way not to crush them. But then of course, they go out of their way to convince me that’s necessary.

So anyway, in the pause, I decide my husband and friends are right. I should write about it. Not to be vengeful, nor just to let off my own steam.

But because I don’t think there’s anything unique going on here. Most women who let their erotic aspects be present in public have experienced these things, and most men have made lunch-man’s mistakes. And if I, who really, really, really ought to know how to do this better am having such a tough time managing one boy’s erotic triggers as I try to show up more authentically, I’m guessing others may as well. I realize that sometimes my hostility toward the masculine may be a little hard for a man to bear, but if any men read this through, it may give them insight into where they make their own mistakes – the kind women generally won’t bother to spell out for them.

This kind of feedback, and my own man’s courage in the face of it, has transformed our marriage – maybe someone else might find transformational clues in it as well.

What’s interesting here is the patterns. The way these thought-forms keep us trapped in smallness.

If I write it in a way that could be comprehensible to others, maybe some man will recognize triggers he has accidentally tripped himself. Maybe some woman will see where I went wrong and be able to avoid making the same mistakes. Maybe we can all get some vicarious closure, and gain some more courage for our journey of becoming whole women & whole men again. Maybe we can all learn together how to be more fully ourselves, and at the same time, avoid getting caught in the goo.

I didn’t respond to his flat apology email. He wasn’t asking me to, and from now on, whatever I had left in me was no longer his. I decided to write some blog posts first, see if that impacted my ability to forgive, and then decide how he fit into the picture, if at all.

I thought it would be a brief detour from my book, but the more I wrote, the more complex the story became. Our lunch became, for me, a sort of microcosm of public male-female dynamics.

So here we are, getting closer to closure, but not quite there yet.

To be continued . . . .

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"For a woman to explore and express the fullness of her sexuality, her emotional and intellectual capacities, would entail who knows what risks and who knows what truly revolutionary alteration of the social conditions that demean and constrain her."

-Louise J. Kaplan - Female Perversions