It’s Just Lunch – Polite but Firm

Twelfth in a series [gs *]

So, we had the lunch, we had the hand-holding. There was the christ in christine (plus boner) email a day later, then four days after that there was the ‘did i scare you, missing you’ missive.

He’d crossed the line from unfounded expectations to serious pest. Whether I’d found the perfect message or not, it seemed time to react.

The entire morning of the day after the ‘missing you’ email was consumed by writing my response. It took several hours because I had to sort through what needed to be said & didn’t. In testing what needed to be said, I’d go off into tirade after tirade, spelling out bluntly why this or that act or word revealed everything there was to know about him, and how what it revealed was not pretty. Once each tirade was complete, I’d rein it back in, take out the labels, replace the insults with what they meant to me (invaded or put in positions I didn’t want to be in, etc.), examine the slew of words for what essential piece needed to be said and remove all the rest.

That done, I scaled it back even further. Sharing my feelings with him was not necessary (or even appropriate) because the bottom line was, I was closing the door. For his sake and for my own. I did explain why I was closing the door, but in the language of my boundaries, (and that, in part just to prove to myself and the universe that I do too know what those things are and can navigate them) not my feelings. And within the realm of what I’d allowed myself to look at consciously up to that point, which I later found was not enough. 

First, I apologized for not stopping him on this path sooner. I explained a bit about how that happened, and promised to learn from that and do a better job next time. I acknowledged that there was a kind of power inherent in me telling my story, which is easy to get swept away by. I admitted that it was my responsibility to learn how to wield that power as compassionately as possible, and that I was learning that in this exchange with him.

Then, I explained how I didn’t want to be involved in sneaky things, especially behind a spouse’s back. I said I didn’t think it was good for a man’s marriage to put energy into another woman when he’s not happy with his wife. I told him that if he wants to pour cosmic love into women (an intention he’d shared at lunch), he wouldn’t learn how to do that by turning away from his wife toward some easy-to-love-in-the-moment new woman.

I told him that, aside from the sneakiness I was not bothered by the actual interactions at lunch. The problem was in the interpretation and the expectations.

I explained that although I’m comfortable jumping into a very deep and open exchange in a moment, that’s not the same for me as a long-term, trusting, intimate relationship – and those I grow into very slowly. I explained that before you can be a part of my life, I have to trust you, and that the way he’d handled our exchange so far had made me not trust him.

I told him I would need to sense a lot more sophistication in him around feminine boundaries, both his wife’s and my own, before he could be my friend. I told him I never, never, never (at least not in the past 15 years) become personally friendly outside a work context with men whose marriages have not matured, who are struggling matrimonially. (I can meet over coffee once in a while, and offer advice if asked – but getting close – that’s a recipe for a full-fledged-disaster. People’s unmet needs get projected, expectations & hopes get weird. I have my own disasters to create and survive, I don’t need to borrow anyone else’s.)

As I was writing, I started to get some clarity about myself – about why I find it so hard to be close to people, about how I get myself into these mucky situations. I realized that under no circumstances (not with this guy, but also not with anyone in any situation) are my expectations or interpretations similar to others. Decades ago I chose a perspective on the world that made me irrevocably different from the kinds of people I subsequently meet. All my work/school/public time is spent fitting myself into an alien perspective, I’m not up for doing it in my personal time as well. Not without a lot of careful, measured, clear communication.

This is a problem I’ve had for a long time. My husband tries to remind me when he sees me doing it – he calls it the sucker punch. People like me. I don’t know why, I don’t really deserve it. But very often people like me alot. Fast.

I don’t mean I hook people sexually – I cleaned that one up a long time ago. Sexually-interested men are never allowed close enough for the sucker-punch – that’s a glaring disaster-in-the-making that’s easy to avoid (but then, what’s with this lunch-guy thing?). But part of managing that better included putting the P-word in the closet. Having painted it on my forehead again, obviously calls for a new strategy. 

Anyway, the sucker-punch has mostly been about friends. People who want to know me better, who want to spend time with me.

At first, I’m so moved and honored (and surprised even, because although it happens over and over, I never believe I’m really likable), that I go along with the plan. I engage, I warm up, I let them in. But then, while they’re still cuddling closer in the afterglow of our figurative first kiss, suddenly they find they’ve crashed at full speed  into a plate-glass wall.

I know that this happens, and over the years, I’ve paid close attention to figure out what’s going on. But my first step was to stop seeming so likable, to put up a screen of aloofness that would discourage people from throwing themselves at me in the first place. So that gave me fewer opportunities to learn from.

Anyway, while writing this email in response to the lunch guy, I start to understand that the sucker-punch is all about those damn interpretations and expectations. Either what the other person wants and what I want are wildly different and I don’t know how to wrestle with a discrepancy the other person doesn’t even see, or – more often, I don’t really want anything. I just got caught up in their liking and then suddenly find I’m not interested because we really don’t have anything in common – which really isn’t very nice of me. As I see it at the moment, the problem for me with the lunch guy has little to do with sex, prostitution or gender, and everything to do with heart. There is something in my heart that people want, but giving it to them drains/exhausts/weakens me and pulls me off my path.

I’m starting to get more clearly the how’s and why’s of my always pulling back, but more, I’m beginning to see why it’s necessary.

I’ve spent years believing I’m deficient, dysfunctional. People like me, and in a complex defense mechanism, I give them the sucker punch, they go away hurt, and I feel like a monster. The ookiness happens when I’m trying not to do the sucker punch, but I’ve believed that avoiding the sucker punch meant learning patience, tolerance, constancy – I’ve tried to force myself to stay where it didn’t feel right. Using my whore’s metaphors I’d say – I’m holding my legs open when I don’t want him in there. Forcing myself to be violated. Until the whole charade backfires. And this, my husband exclaims as he reads it, is the consequence of casting one’s pearls before swine.

And now, I’ve magnified the problem, by increasing my truthfulness and openness, and tattooing the P-word to my forehead, a word so fraught, it seems to eclipse all my nuanced dick-deflecting behaviors.

As I write the lunch-guy’s leave-me-alone email, I’m seeing from another angle that if I’m going to trot around being more open and authentic, then I have to learn to address the misinterpretations and the expectations around what that means sooner. I have to catch on and deal with those expectations and assumptions before they’ve gotten so far out of hand – which can happen in a matter of minutes.

More importantly, I’m also beginning to see how I could do that. Something magic is bubbling up.

However, in this particular instance, my trust is already long gone, there is no redeeming this one – at least not now, not as it stands. There are more knots to unravel than he warrants. Even if I’d stopped the goo at the source, I still wouldn’t want him as a friend.

So, I spend way longer than a ‘go away’ email deserves, but I start to get some clarity around long-standing problems, which makes it time well spent.

After I feel like I’ve said just what’s necessary, I go back one last time to make sure I’ve been utterly clear, and that the only door I’m leaving open is the one that says ‘give it a bunch of time and we’ll see what happens in the future’ (I never say never, just not-for-a-very-long-time, and then only-if-things-have-changed-significantly). I ensure that I’ve been as polite and respectful as I’m capable of being right then without dishonoring myself, and that I wouldn’t be ashamed if anyone else in the world read it (that’s always a good test, when writing challenging content).

I’m sure I’ve written a polite but firm – go away, at least for some time, till you’ve grown up some more.

I hit ‘reply’ on his latest email, paste my response into the reply space, re-enter the paragraph spacing that gmail lost, do one last glance for spelling and grammar, put my initials at the bottom (sans closing salutation) and hit ‘send’, feeling like I’ve got about a 70% chance of never being bothered by this turkey again – and wishing I knew how to make that percentage higher, without abdicating my sense of myself as a good person.

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