Monday, October 20, 2014

How to Cope When the Status Changes

If it had only been one patient, I would have thought it idiosyncratic. But people are finding out on Facebook that their ex's are married, or engaged to be married, sometimes only months after they broke up. It can be a more than a moment of reckoning.
Marshall and Lily Got Married

Not judging the announcements, especially the videos. Who wouldn't post an incredible engagement/proposal video on Facebook? Isn't that the purpose of the video? These are works of art. A sixty to ninety minute montage entirely composed of five or six How I Asked ___ to Marry Me's couldn't be dull. After all, she might say no if it is.

Hearing that someone you know recently changed relationship status to become engaged or married, can be upsetting, no matter how we find out. Marshall and Lily, the token couple to take the plunge in How I Met Your Mother illustrate that marriage can be intimate and passionate, if you do it right. And it need not herald the end of relationships with single friends. A bar in common below your apartment helps. 


But I'm only on Season 3 and skip through most episodes, and confess to not having even made it past the first few seasons of Orange is the New Black or West Wing, now that Scandal is on the radar and that is getting boring, too. For for all I know, by the end of Season 9, Lily and Marshall are divorced, fighting over who gets to keep the teddy bear, a favorite blanket, or a child. That would be sad, their break-up, so don't tell me, not on Facebook, not here. I may skip to Season 9 one day soon.

It is subtle, the sudden death, the moment a person hears about an ex settling down with someone else. It can be as simple as a "Like" to a comment about something random.  But the Liker has a new name.

Or in a vulnerable moment, you might actually look to see who Facebook suggests as new friends. There she is, your ex, with another name, or an additional name, and it isn't the name her parents gave her.

Or the new profile pic is one of her with another person in a loving embrace, beatific smiles.

And here I thought nobody changed their name anymore, but that's not so.

Discussing this at a kiddish (food and drinks after prayers if you're Jewish), someone who knows these things informed me that it's an in your face thing, bragging about the new status, the new name.  But that's paranoid, I think. The in your face part is paranoid, not the bragging, telling the world. People do tend to want to tell the world, although many use discretion, when they are connecting with another for whole-life, not buying a term policy. This feel good, for many, if not most, is the first real feel good in a long time, and it is often about security, being a couple. Power in numbers.

So when we're faced with being alone again, naturally, as Gilbert O'Sullivan croons so well, and panic ensues. It is the original abandonment anxiety, one that therapists refer to when talking of any loss, especially death. 

The new status marks the death of the relationship. Thoughts escalate, become irrational. A person begins to think that she is the oldest person on earth not attached legally to another, not in an intimate way, one that scores showers and parties, insurance. We begin to think we really are old, in our 30's or 40's, which is not old. We'll let you know when you're old.

You begin to think that you were at fault for the break up. It must have been your fault, because she has found someone who clearly finds her wonderful. Why couldn't you do that, find her wonderful?  She went ahead and took the advice of a rock star.  She made him put a ring on it. She couldn't make you. Yeah, you had issues.


This self-castigation gets worse, becomes an obsession. One begins to self-blame constantly, for what went wrong in the relationship, well beyond not having committed to it. For the first time, perhaps, there is a serious look deep down, not at her, where the blame once rested. And when we look at ourselves, our faults, our personality, our petty ways, for we all have them, we come up short.

You go to therapy and ask, "What is wrong with me?  Why couldn't I commit?  Or in the case of a previous self-initiated divorce, Why couldn't I stay?! Why couldn't I be that guy, or that girl, the one who gives, the one who gets the ring."  And you discuss fears of intimacy ad nauseum perhaps stretched out on one of those safe pieces of furniture, the therapist's sofa, a box of Kleenex to your left or right (we buy in bulk), discuss the fears of exposure, merger, suffocation,and yes, abandonment,all those fears brought to the dim light of day in that office. You don't leave out how badly your parents got along, how much trauma you yourself suffered in relationships in those short thirty or forty years that make you feel so old.

And the rational side comes out and you get your act together to defend yourself and ask the doc: "Why would I risk spending the rest of my life with someone who made me miserable and threatened to do so for the next fifty years? I am perfectly fine as is, now that you mention it, and did I tell you?  I like my space." Amen.

The therapist confirms, probably, and brings things back to affirming that you are on track, thinking systems, staying rational, remembering the times she was so mean. Or the time she ignored what you had agreed upon, or so you thought. . .that was truly horrible. Yet you forgave, swept it to the pile with the rest of the disappointments, until it all got too difficult, too many tears, too little laughter, and you simply had to say: Enough is enough. We're over.

So why be upset when she moves on, right? Because it really is over now, no turning back. And although it feels like rejection, an in your face, and it feels like you'll never find someone now, for sure not, you can bet on it, you really don't wear a sign that shouts out: Damaged. You don't.

She wasn't the first, although now she might be the last to refuse to give you the job, and you are, now, an amazing candidate, better off without her. You knew that in your gut, you know.

So don't say, although you could, that she will probably never stay married, and that this guy is in for more than he bargained for. No sour grapes.

Be happy for her.

therapydoc







3 comments:

Lynette said...

I blocked my ex-husband on FB the minute he moved out and set up a FB page. I trust he will tell me about a serious relationship if one happens for him. I do know how upset I was when he first told me he was seeing someone. And this was despite the fact that one of the reasons for our divorce was sexual, but not romantic, infidelity in his part.

I feel all those other things though. It's been over four years and although I've had a couple of short relationships, nothing seems to stick. I meet a lot of men I just don't see anything happening with. I feel old (I am 51) and my kids are starting to fly the nest. I feel like there is something very wrong with me.

Kudos to those who are finding partners. It's a blessing (or maybe not).

therapydoc said...

I'll tell you when you're old, dear.

It isn't always a blessing, having a partner, and relationships are work in any case. Because, we don't marry ourselves. In a case like yours, if he's in a romantic relationship it is going to be hard for you, and visa versa. So why should he have that and not you? My mother-in-law used to say that if a person wants to get married, (s)he will get married. That may seem ridiculous, because you shouldn't settle for someone uninteresting,or someone who will hurt you. I think my m-i-l feels that we all settle in one way or another, pick your poison, and I agree. Then the job would be to keep looking, if a partner is what you want. My advice would be to find one who is independent and honest , physically and mentally well, certainly, who values friendship and loyalty, above all. Notice there is nothing in there about "chemistry." Chemisstry, inmho, is a verb.

Lynette said...

Thank you for replying. I do agree in fact about chemistry. I think the "chemistry" that grows with getting to know someone you really like or love is the best, most durable kind.

You've given me something to think about. Now to wonder what unavailable signals I am sending out and why. My marriage was abusive in some insidious ways that are hard to screen for. Stuff for therapy! Lol :)