In 1989, I was a twenty-year-old college junior. I’d stayed in contact with an old high school friend through the years and one day he asked to borrow my car. I said yes, and then he stole it. As the kind police officer explained, it’s called larceny after trust. The gas cards that he also stole told us that he, my car, my cassette tapes, a Members Only jacket and my credit cards were on their way to California. He also charged a rental car to my credit card and then wrecked that rental car leaving me financially responsible. Then, thirty years later, he sent a message through Facebook – apologizing.
While I appreciate the face value of the gesture, it brought up many bad memories. I had forgiven him a long time ago, realizing he was a stupid kid and I was apparently very naive. However, it is right up there with the worst times of my life. I was by myself on campus. My parents had moved out of state, my roommate and best friend had just attempted suicide and my fiance was six hours away. It really messed up that year for me and it took a lot to get back on track and graduate on time. Despite all that, I accepted the apology. I said I had forgiven him a long time ago and realized he was not in a good place back then. And that is truly how I felt.
Then he sent me a few paragraphs all about his wife and children, again through messenger. I ignored the message and went on with life. I’m not willing to tell this person anything personal thirty years after he caused a major life disruption. Then, he sent me a happy birthday message. We share a birthday so, okay. I guess I can see that. I returned the sentiment. Then he sent a Merry Christmas message. Okaaayyyy… Then he sent a message about an award his daughter had earned and a link to an article about her.
Wait! What? Why? Why in the world does this guy think I give a shit? We are not friends, I still don’t trust him, I don’t even like him…WTF??? The confusion wore off and then I got mad. Who in the hell does he think he is? That he thinks he can just stroll back into my life all these years later with an, “I’m sorry” and expect everything to be just fine and we are somehow BFFs? Does he think I’m still that naive little girl who was just waiting to be taken advantage of? Is this some type of long con? Does he want to steal my precious Hyundai Santa Fe that’s sitting in the driveway.
I decided to tell him off in Facebook messenger. I spent time thinking about how I would explain to him just how this was inappropriate and that I really didn’t want to be in contact. I would share in explicit detail all the damage he had caused and how it made me feel. I would express that I had no room in my life for him right now and there is no way in hell he’s getting his hands on my Santa Fe. I had it all planned out and perfectly worded.
Then I stopped. Already I had spent way too much time and energy on him. (And yes, I get the irony of this post but stay with me – it all ends happily). I decided that I would just block him. Easy, simple and a time-saver. I searched how to block someone on Messenger, followed the directions and was all ready, then my finger froze above the ‘block’ button. And I have to ask why…
While I admit the satisfaction of telling him off was going to be lost, that isn’t what actually stopped me. Believe it or not, I felt bad. I felt bad just ending it without explaining what I was thinking. I felt bad just dropping off the radar with no official word. Now how screwed up is that? What made me think I owed him anything at all? And I think most people would agree that I had already taken the high road and he was pushing it. So why did I pause and most importantly, why did I feel guilty?
Ultimately I had to remember that I am not responsible for anyone else’s feelings. Other people feel what they feel and I can’t control it. Just as others can’t control me and what I feel. So I have no responsibility for how blocking him might make him feel. He can either accept it as Lynn doesn’t want to be Facebook pals and go on with his life, or he can stew about it and worry over it and get his feelings hurt. I can’t control which he does. All I can do is control my choices and the actions they bring about. And I did. I chose to block him and end contact and so I did so. I don’t owe him anything else.
I suspect that most of this great confession and attempt to be friends again centers around his need to relieve his guilt. As we all grow up and become adults in our communities, we sure don’t want the bad decisions of our youth popping up. Maybe he is looking at his own children and thinking how it would be if someone did something like that to one of them. But instead of just sitting with his guilt and then getting over it, he felt the need to drag me back through the years and back into that period of fear and confusion. And he reminded me why I have trust issues. But his guilt is not my responsibility. It’s his. And he doesn’t get to use me to remove his guilt as if what happened wasn’t a big deal.
Don’t Be a Deer
Those of us who are intuitive or sensitive types seem to default to this state of being where we are willing to take the hit rather than have someone else be even slightly uncomfortable. We are so in tune with the emotions of others that we blur the line between what they feel, which we can’t know, and what we think they feel based on how we would feel. And while that is an admirable quality, I want to be a caring person who is concerned about others’ feelings, there is a limit to what we can and should do with that. Empathy becomes damaging when we ignore our own well being in the name of “not hurting” someone else. At the least we might become bitter and resentful and at the worst, we can suffer health issues stemming from our own self-inflicted wounds.
Always ignoring our own needs in order to accommodate others gives off a vibe that says “use me.” Predators always seem to find the ones who they can easily manipulate. It’s like an innocent deer wandering through the forest with a sign saying, “Here I am! Shoot me! See, I’m going very slowly so I can make it easier for you!” Don’t be a deer and for pete’s sake, don’t wear a sign.
As uncomfortable as it can be at times, we have to learn not to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. We must have the self respect to stand up for ourselves when someone has harmed us. And maybe our nature allows it to happen once, but if we continue to allow it because we are afraid of hurting some asshole’s feelings, well, then that’s on us. It all goes back to those good old boundaries. Where do I stop and where does someone else begin? And how much am I willing to let someone else leak all over me? Especially someone who has shown that they don’t care much about me.
So maybe my car thief had good intentions and was trying to mend a thirty year wound. Maybe he felt so guilty he had to reach out to make himself feel better. Maybe he has his eye on my Santa Fe. Regardless, he said what he wanted to say, I listened and I responded in the way I wanted to respond. Yes, I did hit that block button. And while I did spend time on this issue in writing this post, I did it for my readers and for myself. It’s a reminder for all of us to stop and think through our actions. While we have plenty of empathy it can be damaging if we ignore our own well being. We must pause and make sure the person receiving our empathy is worthy of that gift.