Betrayal and revisiting the past

October 7, 2013

I came across the piece in the NYTimes on betrayals and lying late in the game yesterday, after the comments had closed.  (It’s called “Great Betrayals” and is written by Anna Fels.)  Which maybe is a good thing, because my experience of having to consider a revisit to the past, in order to revise it in light of later information, was not really about lying.  It was about an abrupt change in a very close relationship on account of our having adopted children with African heritage — a close relative of the person in question insisted that they break with me and my family because of them.

In addition to having feelings of incredulity and hurt to process, I found myself wondering how to look at the twenty-five years of history I had had with this person (from the time I was a child, until well into my thirties).  Did I know them?  Had I ever really known them?  All those long conversations over so many years, over so many cups of tea, I think I thought I did know them and had known them.   But clearly there were other aspects to them which I hadn’t known.  Had I known about them, I don’t think we would have been so close, and certainly I would have been more prepared for the relationship to end over the adoptions, and would have tried for it not to have been so abrupt.

Intimacy premised on incomplete or inaccurate understanding — the flaw in the understanding certainly explains why the intimacy ends.  Does it somehow invalidate the intimacy as it happened?  No, I think the intimacy was real, it was just that the person was an illusion.  Kind of like the concept of “Mama’s Bank Account” (by Kathryn Forbes), you rely on something that is not really there but it benefits you to think it is.

(I know, some people think this is what God is, too, but I actually find God a whole lot more reliable than human beings — if we’re going to use reliability as a measure of existence, for me, humans wouldn’t “exist” first.)

Anyway, I do think the intimacy is real, and in the case in question, that the relationship allowed me to experience a love which I am sure helped me grow into a healthier person than I otherwise would have been.  That, in turn, allowed me to handle my life more easily, including when this relationship ended.

To me, the hard part are the transitions, the beginnings of “moving on,” when there is no obvious next such relationship.  I think I’ve actually tried to replicate this past relationship a number of times since it ended.  They all end similarly, with the person’s commitment to me being much more vulnerable to being sacrificed to other needs than either the person or I realize.

What’s the lesson I’m not learning?  Maybe, as my friend Kelley from high school used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful,”  maybe not to expect relationships to last indefinitely, and maybe to try not to give more than I can comfortably give as a gift.

As to what people might learn from reevaluating a relationship after a lie has been revealed, maybe it’s similar to what I’ve described for this other pattern of surprise and hurt.  And maybe both such kinds of experiences serve as ways of breaking the ties that bind, so that we can move on to new relationships or move on to a life oriented towards something else.

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