When you think about it, personal relationships aren’t all that different from working relationships.
Perhaps the stakes are higher -– so much higher- – but the dynamics are so very much the same.
Imagine a work life that goes something like this: You work for a company for many years –- over a decade, even -- and while you sometimes bemoan you aren’t getting the recognition or promotions or raises you deserve, you are pretty sure you are a valued employee.
Why else would you still be working there? Right?
Sometimes you get frustrated –- you want to feel more loved and appreciated, but just when you begin to look at job ads there’ll be this holiday party (or lunch or meeting or email, whatever) where your boss will tell you how you are great, and he's so grateful to have you. And then you feel great about the job again, and stick it out. And a few more years go by.
Until one day, when out of nowhere, you are fired via email with absolutely no warning and for no reason whatsoever, and from that moment on, you are dead to them and you can't even get severance or use them as a reference.
Along the way, you saw other co-workers treated badly, but you never thought it would happen to you. And then it did. And it was so much worse than you could have ever imagined.
Except, the reality of this situation was it wasn’t an employer. (Though the relentless fear of such a situation is the reason I work for myself.) Rather, it was someone I’ve loved and supported for the past decade.
From the day we met, I think maybe I cared too much. There were many times I put his career and needs before my own. It was a support that was never fully reciprocated. Friends told me I was crazy -– and many of them turned their backs on me when I stayed by his side, often at their expense.
We had our down times over the years -- extremely dark points that make me shudder in memory to this day. Like the time I shared some painful confidences with him, and he used that conversation as a lead-in to how I’m such a downer that he dreads hearing from me. Or the time I confessed I sometimes woke up feeling ugly and he yelled at me for being superficial and shallow.
Last year, I nearly died and he didn’t visit me in the hospital. When I expressed my hurt over it, he accused me of “playing the death card” to manipulate him and we didn’t talk for weeks.
Then I forgave him. I could never stay angry with him for long, and he knew it. It allowed him to pull all the strings in our relationship -– holding the potential of losing him over my head. It always worked.
But when you’ve invested so long, you don’t want to walk away. You hold on to the good times, his good sides -- even when they surface with increasing rarity. You never imagine it would eventually be him to drop you. It couldn’t be, after all this time, when you were so good to him, always. It just wouldn’t be fair.
Except that’s exactly what happened. One day, after over a decade –- you get an email –- the day after a dear friend of yours dies, no less. And it’s just …over. His choice.
It’s cold and finite and you go a little crazy. You are blindsided. You can’t believe you were so wrong about this person for so long -– that in reality, he didn’t care about you at all. That you gave him so much –- and he took even more, that you can’t ever get back. And you just feel like your soul has left your body. Like everything you ever believed was a crazy cruel lie and you have no idea what to do with any of it anymore.
And, no, he wasn’t your soul. But he’s just destroyed everything you believed about yourself -– maybe even the greater compass of the power of good winning over evil -– and, yes, even your now blighted delusional beliefs in the inherent goodness of him. And you want to tell him all this so badly. But you can’t. And that’s possibly the worst part of all.
This happened three months ago. I still can’t really understand why he did what he did, and I still have all these feelings I have no idea what to do with. I’m filled with hurt and anger -– but also, a sense of loss.
I understand now it’s not him I miss, but the idea of him -– a him that never actually existed in the first place. And I have no idea what to do with any of it. Mostly, I just feel a sense of emptiness and betrayal. I honestly don’t know how I’ll ever trust again at this point -– and worst of all, I know the penultimate blame goes to myself.