Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about something but I wasn’t sure what it was I was thinking about. That’s not an uncommon situation for me and I wanted a word for this something. For a couple of months I’ve been laden with emotion and a desperate need to lay out the causes and put them into something made of words.
I thought about “unkind”, “thoughtless”, “insensitive”, then wandered down to the concepts of judgementalism, misunderstanding, friendship, betrayal, power. I’ve tried to unpick that old friend “empathy” and had a good wallow in the ins and outs of “compassion”. I’ve come back to the word “misunderstanding” again and again and again but it just wasn’t enough. Sure a misunderstanding can hurt deeply but when you know something is the result of a misunderstanding surely you can eventually pick up the pieces and begin to heal? Forgive and forget, even? Move on? If only…
Now I’ll try to explain myself a little.
Before I discovered social media (outside of my educational forums, that is), I hadn’t fallen out with another person for well over twenty years. And even the falling out I can remember from over 20 years ago was completely one-sided – I wasn’t interested in any kind of spat or animosity. I don’t like bad feeling and I go out of my way to avoid it. But not just that: I genuinely believe that despite all my faults (and there are many and I admit to them repeatedly) I am actually a nice person who likes people. And I really don’t want to fall out with people, ever. It hurts too much for too long, and I seem incapable of stopping caring.
But about a year or so into discovering Twitter and Facebook (2009-2010) I fell out with someone I thought I had become good friends with. After many months of replaying the circumstances in my head, I came to the conclusion that we were in fact incompatible and if we hadn’t fallen out that day, it would have happened one day, and the good old-fashioned trick of avoiding someone socially until the connection fades naturally isn’t so easy in online acquaintances – you actually have to turn off the friendship. It’s that harsh. We hadn’t known each other long and I had misjudged the friendship. But I had learnt a lot from the experience and wouldn’t let it happen again.
But then a couple of years ago, it did happen again. I’m not going to discuss the details publicly but I knew immediately that it was over. I can’t express quite how painful it felt to know I had failed. And I do feel I have failed, still. I had been completely misunderstood and I didn’t have the energy to put it right. I felt it would have been futile and distressing so I walked away, at speed. It hasn’t gone away though. It will never go away but, boy, had I learnt a lot.
More recently I haven’t handled too well the way words have made me feel and I have flared up at occasional mix-ups but I have learned to look out for something and that is the something I couldn’t put into words. I’m looking for this something from both sides. I have ceased contact with one or two people – without a fight – and decided to avoid people who make me feel anxious. This a new and very grown-up side to my online socialising: self-preservation without a battle. You don’t need to be defensive; you can simply turn away.
But my heart is still hurt and aching from every detachment, and I still feel fondness for all involved. If I care about you, I care about you. That doesn’t change. So this is why a very recent detachment is causing me so much angst, and although it’s been a few months now I am searching for that explanation; that description; that word to help me find out why it went wrong.
And today I found that word:
And I have my good, strong, enduring, on and offline friendships to thank for this realisation. You see what I’ve noticed is that people who know me and care about me will not assume any ill intent in my words and actions they don’t believe me capable of. People who assume an intent which wasn’t there and you are not capable of, are judging you and don’t know you. And that assumption of intent is more about them than about you.
Realising this simple concept of intent is crucial in any two-way relationships. It’s about trust: trusting in someone’s goodness; it’s about not judging: not seeing bad where it doesn’t exist, and it’s about holding back your own insecurities: don’t implant your bad experiences into someone who didn’t create them or blame them for your anger.
I’m very very very grateful to a number of people who naturally live by those rules and have never assumed any ill intent on my behalf; who trust my heart, and keep my faith in friendships well and truly alive through times when I might have otherwise wondered if I would be better off in solitude. If you think it might be you, it probably is.
I’m experiencing a real sense of “I won’t lose any more of you” recently, and now all I can give are my own good intentions.