Crisis tends to bring out the essentials of what it means to be human and what it means to be the specific human being you are. The communication of crisis, the urge to share the crisis and the urge to grant empathy and gain are one of those things that define us as a species with consciousness.
So you get dumped, you have to tell people and people want to help. The telling for me came in stages and the people fell roughly into these categories.
- Those in the Blast Zone: These are the people who have an aggregated intimacy with you because of both how close you are emotionally and routine physical proximity. They are your best friends, your family confidants the people who you want to turn to for immediate help. The ones who have a reason to be nearby. But there are also the people who just happen to be there. They are in the blast zone by happenstance but otherwise are innocent bystanders. The explosion as much the attempt can be made to make it controlled and orderly and all claim in hindsight that it was “expected” — it isn’t. It never goes as planned and the energy it releases is intrinsically volatile.
- Those in the Inner Contamination Zone: A lot of this is your family. For me, I love my mom and dad but we don’t have the sort of relationship where I go to them for emotional support. I was telling them because I had to, because it affects their lives. Some friends might also fall into this category but for me Contamination Zone A were specific family members.
- The Kids — (see Worst Conversation of my Life) and if it’s helpful to keep the conceit going, I’d say they’re the ones evacuated to the shelter. They got the warning that the disaster is coming so we got them underground in time. It was stinky in there, cramped, tempers were frayed but they were protected. Then we had to take them out of the shelter and they had to face the devastation, their changed world.
- Outer Contamination Zone: All the folks with whom you have commitments that will have to change because of your new situation: work is the obvious one but there’s school, volunteer groups, people you hang with as a couple. Some may have already heard, or had an idea that “something was up.” But you have to clarify how your destruction will affect their lives.
- The Rest of the World: The personal equivalent of the press conference. A week or two ago I did the email list. Convenience of the modern age or cop-out? At least I haven’t resorted to a Facebook page. Well not exactly. I did change my marital status to “separated” which was wee bit cathartic. I was tempted for the past 3 months to select “it’s complicated” — a nice balance of apt, absurd and utterly useless turn of phrase.
The various media — the dedicated dinner date, the blurt over the phone, planned over-the-phone, skype, close-the-office-door, and now email — still created commonalities .
There was the urge to get there first. I’ve discovered that not only to err is human but to spin is too. And the chief rule about spin is get your message out first.
Me, I was pretty lousy at that. Even with my own close family, I tended to get there second. This not only bugged me but actually frightened me. People do chose sides, at least initially. They can’t help it. Even if it’s just a perspective thing, a certain skew to how they look and react to things because of that first message. There’s also an intimacy in the telling that pulls in the other person — it can be a bit seductive.
“Chosing sides” is a dreadfully unfair way to frame the decisions that our friends have to make at this time. I’ve made a lot of female friends over the years and they have at various times, had a closer connection with the Leaver than me. I could even say that about members of my immediate family, especially the women in my family — hardly surprising really. However, if you impose the metaphor of “choosing sides” inevitably words like “betrayal” follow and that’s something you just can’t afford thinking about.
“I (or we) love you both,” has been the most common response. And people do and one can of course. The spin seemed to matter so much at first but things seem to sort themselves out as they should. Some friends are able to stay connected to both of you, some not and some will shift and probably some will shift back.
Nowadays most people move several times, as we have, the shift in communities marking out eras in their lives: from grade school to grad school, from one career to another, (and the various jobs in those careers) from starter home to retirement home and everything in between including churches and kids schools and sewing circles and whatever else.
My experience has been that if you find one or two genuine connections that you can keep over the long haul out of each experience — and I mean a real connection, that lasts decades and distance and long periods of disconnection — that’s pretty damn good.
The email has brought out those folks in spades.
And if to err and spin are human, then it has been wonderful to see that balanced out by the urge to help. No matter which of the aforementioned 5 zones folks are in or which time zone they’re in.
It was terribly difficult for me to muster the courage to tell people in the first place. Because in the telling you are extending the disaster and the zones. And of course the disaster is not natural, it is your own.
And it’s shit. You’re own shit.
There’s just so much shit. These people are my friends — they don’t need this shit. They have their own shit. And the shit generated by the Leaver and I is, after all, super potent, toxic, complicated shit. Who needs that shit?
But by some spectacular alchemy of the human heart, they do. It is a need to be needed.
Like with a natural disaster a million miles away, people do what they can to help and welcome the opportunity.
“We love you both”
“What can I do to help.”