I heard on the radio today that the breakup of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie actually broke the internet. I’m not sure if that’s exactly accurate, but when I heard the report I was immediately struck by it. I mean, it would take a lot of people to actually break the internet, right?
True statement or not, I have no doubt about people’s curiosity to read the gossip. What I do wonder about, however, is their motivation for being so interested. It’s not like Brad Pitt is some hot handyman in the neighborhood and now all the single women have a shot with him (and yes, I’m assuming that most news seekers in this case are women. Terrible how I’m perpetuating a stereotype, I know). But as I think about it, I believe there are probably two reasons for people’s curiosity: people are either saddened or shocked by the celebrity breakup; or people find some kind of relief in being able to relate to it.
Relationships end all the time. We’ve all known seemingly perfect couples who have called it quits for one reason or another. After all, it is so easy to judge a relationship from the outside with statements like, “Oh, they seemed so happy,” or “They were so good together.” The truth is that we never really know the secrets of a relationship; the things that happen – or don’t happen – in private. It may even be true that in some cases, one of the people in the actual relationship is struggling to understand the breakup, not sure why the person they held closest to them decided to disengage or call it quits.
While Brad and Angelina appeared to the world to be the perfect power couple – blessed with fame and fortune, and enough love to adopt children from all over the world – the media is now in the business of citing blame for the breakup. And as more and more people speculate about what happened to cause such an upheaval, more and more reasons for the split are revealed. I guess I don’t understand why there has to be a victim; why there always has to be someone blamed. I’m stuck on the basics of the story: two people who loved each other have decided that it’s not in their best interest to be together, and in the wake of their relationship stand six children of a broken home. Celebrities or not, these are still people. This is a story full of disappointment and loss. Somewhere in the middle of “happily ever after” and divorce, I bet there was also a lot of turmoil and difficult decisions. Perhaps people pay attention to the story because what looked like a strong and good partnership turned into something very ordinary and disappointing.
In addition to those who might see the sadness in the Brangelina breakup are also those who, I think, find some comfort in it. How many of us experience a breakup and are left wondering, “What could I have done differently?” Even more often, I think people begin to question themselves, making “what if” statements about losing weight, being more patient, having more sex, etc. But to witness the breakup of a couple that was so celebrated seems to say, “Look, even Brad and Angelina aren’t perfect.” And in that statement, there’s an opportunity for all of us to be just a little kinder to ourselves. I mean if they couldn’t make it with all their money and privilege, how will we? Right?
When this story’s 15 minutes of fame are over, the truth is that there will still be a family affected. With a divorce rate in the United States somewhere around 50%, a break-up like this – along with Taylor Swift songs and country music – remind those of us who have had failed relationships that we are not alone. And once again we are reminded that while money is great to have, it can’t buy us happiness and it sure as hell doesn’t buy love.
Since this is a blog about relationships, I thought I’d talk a little bit about friendship. Friendship, I think, is the foundation of any solid relationship. Whether that friendship turns into a romance or if it remains platonic, it requires attention. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the friendships in my life. Admittedly, I realized that there are a few very important relationships I have been unintentionally ignoring; but there are also others that I think I’ve been maybe nurturing too much.
To the dear friends who I’ve left feeling ignored, I apologize. Chances are good that if you haven’t noticed my lack of contact, you’re not one of the people for whom that apology was intended. But if you read that first sentence and thought, “Yeah. I haven’t heard from her in a while and I wonder why,” or if you’ve been feeling like I’m distant (maybe that distance has even annoyed you)? Yep. That was for you. There are a handful of you that I could absolutely do a better job of keeping in touch with. I’m sorry. I will try harder. And I mean that sincerely.
Conversely, there are a handful of people who get entirely too much of my energy. I think about those people, I make time for those people, I reach out to those people to see how they are. Some of them deserve that attention; some do not.
In a meditation class I recently took, we spent a lot of time on living in the moment. The goal was to learn how to focus energy on the present, to let go of the energy of other people, and to become more self-aware. Through a series of exercises, I was asked to visualize things outside the present, to release the energy associated with them, and to picture blowing them up. And when I say “blowing them up,” I literally mean visualizing them in the distance and then blowing them up – with TNT, with a shotgun, as fireworks. We were told to use whatever worked for us to make those visualizations completely disappear. I think the whole point was to help us release any energy we were carrying from those people and experiences and to learn to live more fully in the present, but for me that exercise of blowing things up was very stressful. I never really mastered it.
As I think now about letting something go, I realize that we rarely do that with people and relationships in an active way. Instead, we begin to ignore someone or we change the parameters of the relationship in such a way that it simply begins to fade. And, as it is slowly and passively dying, we make excuses for why that’s happening: I’m busy, he moved, we had an argument, I work so much, etc., etc. etc. Often, this process of delay and excuses causes us a lot of undue stress and guilt.
Are there relationships in your life that are dying a slow death? If you can identify one or some, I think the most important question you can ask yourself is whether or not the loss of that relationship truly matters to you. If that person with whom you were once close disappeared completely from your life, would it make you sad? And, if you knew there was something you could do to hold onto that relationship, would you? If the answer to those questions was “yes,” I think you know what you need to do.
But if you answered “no” to those questions, I pose another: Why are you holding onto something that means so little to you? Is obligation or guilt the reason? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t someone to be my friend for those reasons. And you probably don’t either.
Today’s social media world has transformed the word “friend” into a verb. You can now “friend” someone and instantly access their life, their families, their everyday. In that way, the word “friend” has lost so much of its meaning and significance. And then we are left dumbfounded to understand why people feel lonely. The truth is that there is a significant difference between being a friend and being an acquaintance.
I guess my point is this: It is important to decide what role people really play in our lives so that we can spend our energy wisely. Investing too much energy in someone who is not really a friend is like waiting for a ship at the airport.
“I gave it all … But you can’t stop taking from me…And way down I know…You know where to cut me with your eyes closed.”
I’ve been thinking recently about loss. Not loss as in the sudden and dramatic kind; more the kind of loss that happens over time. In relationships, this kind of loss happens when one person decides they no longer value a connection as they once did, when life situations pull people apart, or when one friend or partner has made a mistake and the other refuses to budge toward forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s the most painful kind of loss. Why? Because you feel it happening every single second and, despite any effort to close the gap, it continues to deepen and widen. In this way, it is not the loss we experience with death. Rather, it is a living loss. Where a loving and thriving relationship used to be, there is now a gaping hole; a monster that instead of just killing us with mercy, simply tears a limb off every day.
How many of us experience this kind of loss? Perhaps we hold onto something too long, hoping something will change. We bury hurt feelings, look away from indiscretions, and make excuses for times when another person hurt us (and maybe deeply) because the idea of just tearing off the band aid is too much to bear. It’s as if we think we might just bleed out uncontrollably if separation happens too quickly. So, instead, we bleed out gradually. How many of us are in a relationship like this? And while we hold on, hoping to preserve some part of what made us happy, how much of ourselves is bleeding out as well?
There are many reasons we allow this kind of slow death to happen in a relationship. If you’ve been there, you have your own reasons. And they are YOUR reasons; no one should judge them. I suppose we all walk away in the time and manner we are ready. Or, in less often circumstances, perhaps we find a way to mold the relationship into some new form that suits our needs. In any case, there is a grief associated with the loss of something that once was. And that grief can be deep and significant. But the pain associated with loss doesn’t mean that letting go is always the wrong thing to do.
More than 15 years ago, I let go of a marriage. We were married young, were too different, and despite our best intentions, just couldn’t make it work. We tried. For eight years, we tried. Then one day in the car on a Sunday afternoon, I was finally able to let go. I don’t know where that strength came from and I’m not sure I’ve seen it since. But during a perfectly normal moment of silence, I was able to say, “I’m done.”
I had a conversation last night with a woman who recently lost her son to a drug overdose. What struck me is that for years, this woman suffered that gradual loss of her son. I’m sure that in moments of hope and optimism, she believed he might someday get clean and rebuild his life. But in her words, she “knew this was coming.” The only peace she now finds is in the fact that the slow bleeding has stopped and her son is at peace. She no longer has to worry. Now, she just has to heal (easier said than done).
I write this with no good words of advice and no real “a-ha” moment of revelation. Instead, I just wonder how many of us are in relationships that are gradually causing us to bleed out. And, I guess I hope that when the bleeding stops – for whatever reason or in whatever way – that we are left able to heal and empowered to grow even stronger than we once were.
(Opening quote is from the song, “Bleed Out,” by Blue October. Hear the song and see all lyrics here.)
When asked what I would do if I hit the lottery, my answer has always been the same: I would be a perpetual student. I would enroll in school and thoroughly study every area that interests me; not because I want a list of degrees nor out of a desire to make money with those degrees, but because I find knowledge empowering and intoxicating.
Lately, however, I’ve been learning that knowledge can be dangerous. It can cause personal conflict and complicate situations that, on the surface, are simple or easy or fun. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that knowing the whole truth can be a real bummer. And so, I wrote this statement on my Facebook page about two weeks ago and have been thinking about it ever since:
Don’t look for what you don’t want to find.
I suppose my statement is similar to the notion that ignorance is bliss, a concept I’ve always had a hard time embracing. Ignorance, to me, has always been the mechanism for producing fools. But on a personal level, I’m beginning to believe that there’s something to be said for the face value. It’s simple. If you like what you see, great! If you don’t, move on. There’s no misunderstanding, no complexity, no need to prove worth or value. A situation or relationship is always just as it appears.
Here’s the problem with all of that: I can’t do it.
So, what to do? I went back and reread my statement. Suddenly, an answer came…right in the actual words. The statement doesn’t say “don’t look.” It says not to look for what we don’t want to find. So, instead of looking for negative things, maybe the answer is to look for the good things in other people; those qualities that draw us closer and help to build a relationship based on true admiration. Remember that on the surface, a block of coal is just a dirty, dark lump of rock. But if we break open the coal looking to find something worthwhile, a diamond might be revealed. Instead of focusing on the way people fall short, maybe the happiness in a relationship comes from honoring the talents and assets of a person and celebrating those. There’s nothing foolish about that.