The Bitter Sting of Betrayal in Three Acts...
I have been pretty lucky. I have not had a lot of betrayals in my life but the ones that I have had, have knocked me on my ass! And oddly enough, the most painful two of the three were not romantic in nature...
The Ex-law partner:
I started my own law firm right out of law school. I was doing a bang up job and had made a nice career for myself. But I was bored and wanted more trial experience but was afraid to more fully engage without some back up. I met Chris working on a pro bono project. He was an ex-public defender. Loads of trial experience. He seemed the natural counter part - we got along, were politically aligned and seemed like a good match. I brought him in as a full partner (I was an idiot) without any buy in. I thought it would be no time at all before he was raking in cases and the attendant dough said cases brought. But that was not the case. He brought few clients and even less knowledge about law practice management. But I was doing great and for some ridiculous reason, I was willing to partner myself up with him despite the lack of contribution from him (story of my life!).
So it came as a brutal shock to me when one day a year or so into our venture that he told me that he had rented office space and was moving out and on his own. I was floored (ironically his last name was Flohr). I was shocked. I was pissed. When I asked why, he gave me some bullshit about finances and his commute. The bullshit answer set off a critical look at the client list and gross revenues...the conclusion? I was struggling financially but it wasn’t because I was overspending - it was because Chris had brought in just two clients and accounted for less than 10% of the gross revenues...I was struggling financially because I was not only supporting myself but also his family of 4! FUCK! Now I was super pissed but also relieved. I could see that this was never a good deal for me and I was grateful that it was over. However, it took me much, much longer to get over the fact that he sat next to me for a couple of months plotting his departure and didn’t feel like he owed me anything. I was not pissed that I had so over committed - I was pissed that despite all I had done for him, he didn’t appreciate it and in fact had no compunction about just walking out on me with little to no notice. If I think about it too hard, still makes me want to throat punch him.
What hurt the most was that I didn’t see it coming. I knew that the finances were out of step - I knew that I was not carving out a good deal for myself - but I was wiling to take that hit - because I was creating something better - a partnership. Except that, he just walked out on what we were creating. I began at that point in time to realize how many, if not all, of my clients might feel about their cheating spouses.
In the end, Chris walking out was the best thing for me. I suddenly had a lot more money now that I was freed up to not have to contribute to helping him support his wife and two kids. I was able to see that I wanted to leave DC which I don’t think that I ever would have done because I was committed (no matter how stupidly) to that partnership. I believed in it, invested in it and was all in. This is why his betrayal hurt so much. I was all in. As a girl, who has historically had one foot in and one foot out of pretty much everything in her life, this was growth for me. Painful growth but that is pretty much the only kind of growth that I do.
I met Lee in 2006 when I was a new mother and living in an RV with my husband, newborn, dog and 4 cats. My husband was active duty military and we were on a short assignment. We hit it off right from the start and I asked her to be my sponsor. We maintained that relationship for a number of years long distance until I relocated back to Southern California. When her husband’s health took a turn for the worse, she was left with a man to care for as he slowly lost his faculties while having little to no experience managing the finances or taking care of basic life stuff because he had always done that for her. I was requested to step into his role and take over his tasks. I did that for almost 6 years until she recently fired me. I didn’t do anything wrong - but it didn’t matter. She was not capable of telling me the truth about how she felt and was in desperate need of attention so she began triangulating with others to the point where those new relationships with people interfered with ours. I am not saying that I did a perfect job - I did not. But I did not steal from her and I took care of all her needs in due time. You would think that a 13 year relationship would rise to the level of a conversation when she decided to substitute someone else in. Nope. I was told to talk to the attorney - which meant that I could no longer speak to her directly. Pretty convenient. Without an explanation, I was requested to step down from my duties.
I noticed her slipping over the past year becoming more and more insecure about her mental health. Forgetting things more frequently and generally being scared about her life and her increasing lack of mobility. I tried to get her to move in to my guest house but that was not seen as a gesture of love - it was scene as me trying to assert my will. I just gave it as an option. I did not press or demand. I just tried to give her an option to be a part of my family life.
Her actions hurt me. I do feel betrayed. I am relieved that I am not responsible for her anymore. I am relieved that I am not doing my best and having it not be good enough. I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with all her friends telling her all the time that I was trying to screw her. I am relieved to be unburdened.
However, how it all went down hurt. She didn’t even tell me herself. Her attorney, who is also an acquaintance of mine, told me she did it to preserve the relationship...that is the biggest bunch of BS I have ever heard. If that were true, she would have told me herself instead of coldly directly me to counsel. But as has always been the case in our professional relationship, my feeling didn’t matter and were secondary to hers. I don’t know why, in the end, I was surprised.
For someone who is commitment averse, I really committed to these two relationships. I was all in. I didn’t ever look for the exit sign and did my best in each of these relationships to be a good partner in whatever capacity I was supposed to be serving. In the end, I was tossed aside like trash, my feelings and work completely ignored sacrificed on their alters of ego, pride and, most basically, fear.
The Ex-Law Partner was afraid of his wife and the Ex-Sponsor afraid of her own judgment. Both people allowing other people to not only make decisions for them but to fundamentally alter a significant relationship in their lives, completely void of any real sentiment that should have been present for the level of commitment expressed.
But that is their part...of which I can do nothing about. What is my part? The Ex-Sponsor is going to be a harder evaluation but with the Ex-Law Partner, I can see clearly, (it happened many years ago and I have inventoried that particular disaster many times) I allowed my need to be a part of something larger than myself to take precedence over my being true to myself. I wanted a law partner and I sacrificed my own financial wellbeing to make that possible. I could have set more stringent parameters...but I wanted him to join with me, so I accommodated and acquiesced many times that I should not have done. I spent my money on things that I did not believe in and I took care of a man that should have not needed care taking...well, at least not from me.
The Ex-Law Partner is a metaphorical example of my lack of self worth. I had worked hard and built a successful practice...when the time came, I just gave me and my success away and turned it over to someone who was clearly not worthy. Jesus, how many times have I done that in my life!? WAY TOO MANY! In the end, what I gained was the ability to see this fact and how it played out in my life. I saw what I did and I committed to watching for this in the future. I still did it in the future but because of him I was aware of it much sooner than before. I also gained the experience of really committing. I was not someone really capable of making a commitment in a relationship and sticking with it. I did with him and while it was not a sexual commitment, I did commit with my whole self. That was new and while maybe a weird first example of a commitment, it was mine.
Untangling my relations with the Ex-Sponsor will take more time. It is still fresh and still hurts. I do not like admitting that an 82 year old woman has wounded me on such a deep level but to say anything else would be a lie. I did commit to her and I promised to take care of her. I did my best to honor the promise I made to her dying husband, to never abandon her. I did not ever think that she would abandon me but in my brief review of how this all went so south, I can see now that it was never really about me. It was always about her. She didn’t fully appreciate the things that I did: going to visit her dying husband in the memory care unit while going through a divorce, becoming a single parent, starting a law firm from the ground up and working my ass off for 12 hour days. I did not have the time to drive over there and sit with him for an hour during lunch or after work, but I did because it was the right thing to do. I didn’t bill for my time though I supposed I could have. I just went and sat with him in the sunshine and tried to give him some peace. Could I have gone more, probably but then I would have been neglecting others that I made a commitment to: my children, my parents and my job. In the end, I didn’t matter enough to even tell the truth to - she just erased me from her life. Years of a relationship down the drain, hours and hours of time spent caring for someone and poof...over.
The Ex-Love Of My Life:
I had just returned to my home after being evacuated all week from the Thomas Fire. I had fled the week prior in the middle of the night with my two children, a dog, 4 cats, 2 rabbits, 2 guinea pigs, an African Grey Parrot and my parents and their cat to a hotel in Santa Barbara. I spent a week, trying to keep my dad with dementia from wandering off (we only lost him once a day), trying to keep up with work while being displaced, sharing a hotel room with 14 other beings and praying that I would have a home and town to return to. I was just back in my home (I was lucky and did not lose it to the fire) and juggling the return of all those beings to our house when he called me and ended our two year relationship. Yep, he called me. He FUCKING called me! It was a brief conversation - he couldn’t do this anymore, he wasn’t what I needed, he couldn’t be there, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.
I was, of course, devastated. I was seriously tired and wrung the fuck out and what I really wanted more than anything was for him to hold me and tell me it would all be ok. Instead, I got dumped. At first, I thought he was joking. Thought he was kidding. But, no, to my shock and horror - he was not, in fact, kidding - he was, in fact, breaking up with me. Two years down the drain. A time when I needed him most - he left. I can still feel that loss in the pit of my stomach, it still brings tears to my eyes and hurts on a level that I did not know that I could hurt on. It still hurts 18 months later. After my rage subsided, I cried. I cried a lot. I spent a lot of time hiking and crying (I call this particular grief expression - cryking) trying to figure out what I had done to be so worthless to him that he would leave me when I needed him most. 18 months, lots of hikes and therapy sessions later, I still have no idea what happened. He just left me. No real explanation - nothing that made sense. He told me he loved me so much that he could not be with me. I am not taking creative license here, he really fucking said that. The most unsettling and fucked up thing is that he meant it. He so loved the idea of me/us that he didn’t want to take the chance of ruining it by staying with me because he knew that he would fuck it up. Now, this sounded like complete bullshit to me, sounded like a really fucking convenient way to exit and then date someone else. But no, there was no one else - just him choosing to be alone instead of with someone who loved him despite of his complete fuckedupedness (yes, that is a word because I just used it!)
If I was really going to relive this particular shit show, I would tell you that 8 months later, I allowed him back into my life so that he could use me for legal assistance against his ex-wife only to leave me again in much the same manner...except this time I didn’t even get a phone call. He just stopped calling, texting or even responding. Poof! Again, gone. This time I was less angry and more sad. Sad that I was stupid enough to fall for his bullshit again and sad that I only seemed to be able to love someone whose sole mission in life seemed to be to wound me so profoundly that I still can’t date with any kind of success months later.
Of course the common denominator is me. They all left me. The Law Partner, The Sponsor and The Love of My Life. I was committed and dedicated to all of them and none of them, in the end, gave a fuck. My commitment to them mattered not at all when pressed against their own wishes and desires. I still find it hard not to wish them all to get what they deserve. I can taste the bitterness of each betrayal and it still hurts.
But why does it hurt so much? I think it does because them leaving me the way that they did and in the manner that they did, fundamentally and completely undercut what they all knew about me: That I was terribly afraid of ever making a commitment to anyone because I was terrified that I would be left. So each, in their turn, seemed horribly cruel to have left me especially in the manner that they did.
Is it just a fucked up coincidence that the three people I have committed to the most left me? Probably not. None of these relationships were one dimensional in their structure, growth or finally, fractures. I had a part and they had a part. However, where I came completely unravelled was the fact that they all left so abruptly and coldly. All the time, emotion and dedication I gave to them erased with little to no emotion...super painful.
I spent a long, long time asking myself what was it about me that made them leave. Finally, after a lot of internal work, I had the epiphany that while I am sure that I had something to do with their departure (I always have a part) that their manner and decision to leave was theirs. Completely, totally theirs! It really had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t a factor or really even a major consideration. They just needed to move with their lives sans Erin. They needed a present that did not include me. Period.
Fuck me! Really??? They left because of them and not because of me? After a lot of internal work, tears, therapy, long conversations with friends - I really believe that they all left because of them...not me.
Whew! I am off the hook then! Nope! Not even close. I was the common denominator - I was the person in each story who was betrayed and left because I was the person who allowed these people into my life to begin with! I was the one who allowed them into my life, found them worthy of partnering and then made a solid and enduring commitment to them. I was the one who picked them to partner with, love and dedicate myself to. Three people who I didn’t even matter enough to tell the truth to. I won’t lie when I say that it is this fact, more than any other, that makes me fucking terrified to ever partner again. I am not afraid of them (or the potential thems I haven't met yet), I am afraid of me. Afraid that I will once again find worthiness in the unworthy, give chances to those who don’t deserve a chance and partner with someone who is really not capable of ever being a partner. In the end, I am afraid of how much I have not been there for myself.
I wish that I could say that all I have learned about them and about me, makes me feel better. It doesn’t. I wish that I could say that I feel much better that the next person I pick to partner with will be a better choice. I wish that I had that assurance. I wish that I had that confidence in myself. But I can’t shake the three strikes you are out sentiment. What I do know is that I am more cautious today. I feel my own worth in a more rudimentary way. First of all, I can see where my lack of worth caused me to make poor choices in the past. Second, I can see that while I am certainly not the best person on this planet, I am a pretty good one and that it is my job and responsibility as to who I allow access to my life. And finally, I can see that I allowed each of these people to be granted access to me and my life based on the promise of potential that I was never, ever in charge of...it was their potential to realize and I was not really a part of that and had no control over it.
Today, I am mostly over the law partner betrayal - it has been almost 20 years for fuck’s sake so that is good. Maybe not as good as I would like because I would still like to throat punch him. I am not at all over the Sponor and Love of My Life betrayals. I think of each of them daily and do not know if there will ever come a day when I do not feel lost without them, sorry that I met them, miss them, love them and hurt over how our relationship ended. I pray that it doesn’t take me 20 years to get over them and that 20 years later, I don’t want to throat punch them. I pray, right now, to be released from them and to move on being grateful for the painful, yet important, lesson they each provided. The lessons are as follows:
You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.*
Accept that their actions hurt you deeply. Accept that this experience taught you something that you didn’t want to know. Accept that sorrow and strife [betrayal] are part of even a joyful life. Accept that it is going to take a long time for you to get that monster out of your chest. Accept that someday what pains you now will surely pain you less. *
* Quotes are from one of my most favorite authors - Cheryl Strayed.