Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Warring Hearts

There are people who believe that hatred is the opposite of love. They believe that you either love or hate your spouse depending on your mood or their behavior. 

I disagree. There either is love in a relationship, or there is none. We do not necessarily hate those whom we do not love anymore, and if we truly love someone, we do not hate them simply because we are angry or disappointed with them.

Hatred has a very different vibration. Although hatred is a vital ingredient of the so called love-hate relationship, we do not automatically hate because we stopped loving. We become indifferent. We give love and we take it away. 

I am sharing some vignettes from a life of a real couple. Here are only a few stories since it would take a large book to recount what I have witnessed. 

Years ago a colleague of mine retired from a job she really liked. She wanted to stay in touch with me and in a short time we became friends. Unfortunately, this friendship did not last long. I had to break it off before I lost my own sanity. 

My friend was married to a  man who was forced to retire a few years earlier after an almost deadly encounter with a prostate cancer. He survived the disease, but was too frail to return to work. For almost ten years they were waiting for her retirement so that they, finally, could enjoy their life together. 

It was 2001 and the summer was almost over. I was invited to a dinner at my friend's house. I met her husband for the first time and we had a really nice time. Well, almost. 

Out of the blue, in the middle of the dinner, my friend told me that her husband had prostate cancer and was completely impotent. I must admit that I was completely shocked. We did not know each other very well and it was the first time I have ever met her husband. I did not expect that such intimate detail of their relationship would be revealed to me so soon. What I did not know at that time was the fact that this was her way to take revenge and hurt him as much as she only could. He must have done something wrong that day and she punished and humilated him by telling me at the dinner table that he "wasn't a man anymore." 

We had many more dinners together and sometimes my friends seemed like a "normal" aging couple. But the more often we met, the more fragments of the whole and very painful story began to reveal themselves. I not only witnessed an abusive power play, I almost became a "victim" of their emotional struggle. Both my friends tried to use and manipulate me like quarreling parents who force their kids to take sides and when the kids take a side of one, they are punished by the other, and so on, and so on...

The husband's greatest dream was to spend his remaining days quietly, mostly reading. He had a large library and enjoyed the intimacy that only a good book could offer when his wife was still working. When she retired, he wasn't willing to give up his hobby. His wife who seldom read a book, would not have any of that. She would complain to me and everybody else that her husband was completely useless since he spent whole days doing nothing, but reading. And when she forced him to do "something" he would only mess up things on purpose.  

She complained that she married a man who could not do anything right! Take for example his work in the kitchen. One day she asked him to help her and he did. He was supposed to thinly slice spring onions. She instructed him to begin the slicing at that end where onion has "hair". As if an onion even had hair! Looking at the vegetable the pragmatic man decided that the tiny threads at the end of the bulb must have been the "feet" of an onion since they touched the ground. The green parts on top of the bulb must have been the "hair". This was a reasoning of a logical man who spent years working as a flight engineer. 

When she saw that he started slicing at the green ends the hell broke loose in the kitchen. Didn't she ask him to start cutting where the "hair" was? He tried to justify his decision, but she would not listen. He was simply a useless idiot who could never do anything right. She regretted very much that she ever married him.

A silly onion and they were ready to start the divorce proceedings. Seeing myself in the same situation I explained that if I have had finally moved my husband to help me in the kitchen I wouldn't care whether the onions were sliced, chopped or anything. I would not have even cared if we had to eat the onions with a soil on them. The most important thing was that he came downstairs to help the best way he could and if I did not like his job, this would probably be his last guest performance in my kitchen. But no matter what, I would have been grateful that he had even given a try. But this would have been my reaction.

More than a year passed from our first dinner and I was invited to another big venue - a Turkish-themed dinner at my friend's house. She was born in Turkey and wanted to prepare a big dinner to celebrate her culture.

I brought a beautifully wrapped gift to match the occasion. But when I arrived in my friends' house I immediately knew that something was wrong. Very wrong! She accepted my gift with anger and threw the package on a couch without even looking at it. She smoked one cigarette after another while he was trying to make a conversation. We had to wait for a few more minutes before we could start eating since the roast was still in the oven. 

Every single minute in that house was a minute too long for me and actually wanted to go back home, but did not really know how to tell them that. I was disappointed that instead of having fun with my friends I had to witness another war. I could have stayed at home and read a book, could have gone to the movies, or met with friends who were in a better mood... But there I was, feeling uncomfortable, disappointed and angry. Angry at myself, because only a week earlier I told myself that I would never see these toxic people again.

Finally, the meat was ready and we could sit at the table. We ate in uncomfortable silence. I tried to give the compliments to the cook, but they were not received well. I could not wait for the dessert with which my last dinner at that house of horrors would end. And there it came. With a thunder! It seemed that she was only waiting for her cue because when the desert, "Roasted Apricots with Walnuts," arrived on the dinner table she started abusing her husband again. He was guilty of destroying her famous dessert and he did it on purpose!

To make the long story short, once again the man was asked to help in the kitchen. The only thing he had to do was to chopped the walnuts in their brand new nut mill. He decided to use the speed 1* and see what she would say. She saw his work and scolded him that he was such a useless idiot. The nut chunks were too large. Who would eat that. Enraged, he then used the speed 7* and pulverized the walnuts. This, of course was the end of the world in her eyes. The stores were closed already. The apricots were almost done, but without walnuts the dessert wasn't what it was supposed to be. Apparently I arrived at their door only a few moments after the walnut drama. 

The whole story of their turbulent relationship might have been funny if it did not have a very tragic turn. During the two years since her retirement, my friend's husband had developed another tumor. The constant stress and anger set off a destructive process in his body. The emotions he experienced daily suppressed his immune system and he had to undergo radiation therapy. The PSA readings exceeded the norm by far.

The beginning of his therapy was also the end of our friendship since by then my friend decided that she was a victim of a cruel luck, and maybe soon a widow. In her mind the ridiculed man got sick to make her unhappy.

After two years of "friendship" I felt emotionally drained. I could watch it any longer and left my friends to themselves. There was nothing I could do to help and I could not trust them anymore. I became indifferent.

People often forget that relationships are special. As friends, husbands or wives we open ourselves and allow others to enter our inner world. When we are completely honest, we become incredibly vulnerable and our boundaries shift or, sometimes, even dissolve completely. This should not be a problem in a relationship based on love and respect where we can happily live without a safety net. The things change considerably when others try to take over and act from a position of power. 

When they made up after a fight, my friends used to say that they have the best relationship in the world. They would say that they loved and hated one another passionately. Their love-hatered was so strong that they could not live without one another. They were the happiest people, at least until their next quarrel. And they quarreled violently about the silliest and most meaningless things.

I personally would rather have no relationship at all than allow someone to manipulate and abuse me emotionally. People who love each other truly do not hate one another. One cannot hate a person one truly loves and respects. One cannot hate a person one accepts the way he or she is. One does not truly love if one cannot allow the other person to live and grow freely in a relationship. But if one is hindering the other and the other feels that his or her wings are being constantly clipped, hatred my indeed be what follows when immature and insecure love dies in a bud.

By Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon©2016