by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
November 22, 2006
LEARNING TO UNLOVE
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- For every relationship there is a season; a time to stay and a time to go; a time for loving and, sometimes, a time to unlove.
"It's just that he would like to spend more time with you," she heard her mother say ... and the woman mumbled "I have a lot of things on my mind."
The woman lied. She was in the processing of unloving - a word she used that didn't mean "to cease loving" but meant instead that pain-filled untangling of the self from a relationship grown oppressive. Like untwining the roots of a bramble bush from the heart. Like shadow-boxing with an ancient, no-longer-necessary god.
Her father had a drinking problem. Time spent with him meant bracing oneself against irrational arguments, verbal cruelties, crude jokes and the ever-present reminder of wasted human potential.
The years had taught the woman a sense of self-preservation, a recognition of the limits of her time and energy, and also an insightful awareness of the games people play.
She remembered a morning years ago when she had first discovered the meaningless misuse of her time.
She had gone sullenly to get more donuts and coffee cream for the group of neighborhood women clustered around the dirty breakfast dishes on her kitchen table. The women would get their husbands off to work and the older children off to school, and then head for her house, where they rarely ever departed before lunchtime.
"Won't they ever go home?" she thought as she drove to the supermarket on the corner. "Don't they have to plan dinner, or do laundry, or spring-clean a closet or something?"
She realized she had been guilty of slowly encouraging and accepting these morning get-togethers. She even took a childish pride that they seemed always to be at her house, but this morning something was different.
The screams of the babies and the noise of pre-school children were different. The ringing of the phone that morning and the yelling for quiet was different, and she realized the crude husband-jokes were as stale as the eggs drying on the breakfast dishes. But the jolt in her growing awareness came as she realized she had been gone to the supermarket for about 20 minutes and the coffee-drinking women didn't even know she had been out.
Yes. Something was decidedly different.
The woman got up early the next morning, watched the neighborhood kids go out of sight on the long yellow bus, opened her front door and tacked a sign to the door that read "If you haven't been invited, don't knock." Feeling cowardly, but freer, she refused to open the door to the demanding knocks, and ignored - for several days - the incessant ringing of the phone.
One does not, she muttered to herself, have to explain one's need for solitude, simplicity and sanity.
In the weeks and months that followed, the woman became aware of her own game-playing. She stopped playing the I-live-for-my-husband-and-children game, and she saw it for what it was: Her excuse for not accepting her individuality, and a lazy excuse for not getting involved in life outside her front door.
From the attic of her mind she pulled out old, unused talents and dreams, dusted them off and put them to work. She started her first business, and the change in her was partially responsible for the husband who later walked, suitcase in hand, out the front door and away from "Somebody I don't know anymore."
Slowly she learned to recognize, unlove, and let go of the game players: the "Ain't life awful?", "My husband is such a jerk," and the "If I'm pregnant again, I'm gonna kill myself" song of the irresponsible.
A growing confidence in herself and her ability to manage alone caused her to look for new friends among the "shakers and movers" - those dedicated women who managed to balance home and family with exciting personal dreams and goals, community and national involvement.
One powerful game she had to faced squarely was the blood-is-thicker-than-water family game. From child-molesting, to wife-beating, to drunkenness at family gatherings, the kin were to be tolerated at all cost because, after all, "They're family."
"But respect is a prerequisite to love!" she wanted to shout at them. She never did because, after all, "Blood is thicker than water."
She learned, instead, to say things like "With an appointment we can both plan our day." And she stopped having lunch with family members or friends who wanted a sympathetic ear for the same problems they had whined about 10 years earlier.
Life is sweet, she thought ... and time and energy should not be spent with those who are dedicated to proving life sucks.
Unloving came at a price. She had to defend her refusal to play games, her absence at the everybody-will-be-there gatherings, and her decision to make solitude and thinking a scheduled part of her day.
Her mother's voice brought her back to the present, and to the now-familiar pain of "unloving" ... of letting go.
"We can expect you, then, for dinner tomorrow night?", her mother asked.
She heard a door close softly, felt a tearing. "No," she said. "No. I'm sorry, but my evening is planned."
Elizabeth T. Andrews is a newspaper columnist living in Cartersville, Ga., where she writes poetry. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.