Thursday, July 19, 2012

How you feel doesn’t matter

Memorial Day Weekend, 2007. I had just separated from Beta Husband a few months prior, and I had my own apartment for the first time in my life. Two of my best girlfriends flew all the way across the country to celebrate with me be there for me during a really confusing time.

One night during their stay, we rented a Zach Braff movie called The Last Kiss. I really liked Garden State, and I’m a huge fan of Scrubs, so I had high expectations for this movie. But I was seriously disappointed. It was beyond awful.

But one line near the end of the movie really struck me, and it’s been playing in the back of my mind ever since. It remained my constant companion for months after I saw the movie, and even now, the line pops into my brain periodically as a gentle reminder.

Since the movie was so bad, I’m going to encourage you to not watch it by basically spoiling the whole thing for you. Here’s the gist of what happens.

Zach Braff’s character gets engaged to his long-time girlfriend – a sweet, pretty, girl-next-door type that makes all his friends jealous. Fast forward a little bit – they get into a huge fight, and he cheats on her with some skanky college girl. During their make-up conversation, he confesses his infidelity to his fiancée. Devastated and heartbroken, she leaves him and moves back in with her parents.

Desperate to win her back, ZB goes to her parents’ house to talk to her, but she refuses to come out of the house. Her father comes out instead. ZB says something like “I just want you to know that I really love your daughter.”

Now, here’s the line. I can’t remember it verbatim, but it goes something like this. The girl’s father says, “It doesn’t matter how you say you feel. What matters is how you treat the people you say you love.”

Hearing that line, in thick of my divorce, froze me to the couch cushion. My breath caught. My skin prickled. I closed my eyes against the hot tears and finally exhaled as Guilt eased its death grip on my chest.

Suddenly everything seemed so clear. No one can feel your feelings for you. Others can only observe your actions, hear your words, and experience how your words and actions make them feel. So how you actually feel is of little consequence.

Could it be that simple? Even if an asshole loves you, he’s still an asshole?

Every nasty thing that Beta Husband ever said came rushing back to me. Every thinly veiled lie, every contemptuous glare, every silent treatment, every misplaced punishment. But instead of anger, which is what I usually felt after reliving that nightmare relationship, I felt peace.

For almost nine years, I stayed because he said he loved me, and I forgave every transgression.

He says he really loves me…
He says he’ll do better from now on…
He says he can change…
He says…

Eventually, he says was no longer good enough. I needed a he does. But there was no he does.

A few weeks after suffering through that awful, yet life changing, movie, Beta Husband called. For the first time, I heard him cry. He promised, he begged, he yelled, he apologized. I remembered every tear I shed over him in the previous nine years and how every tear was met with distain. He never once cared if I cried.

I realized that the man on the phone wasn’t speaking from a place of love, but rather from fear – of being alone, of change, of starting over, of uncertainty, of what people would think – that he mistook for love. And even if he did really love me, I would have no way of knowing.

Whenever Guilt hovered around, that movie line reminded me that I made the right choice to leave. Whenever someone who had never walked in my shoes called me a quitter, a sinner, or something worse, I silently quoted that line. It became sort of a mantra.

Many years later, that movie line creeps into my head on occasion. In a marriage, especially when you become parents, it’s easy to take each other for granted. You get tired, busy, lazy. You let life pull you in every direction except toward the one you love.

Today, those wise words from that awful movie serve as a different kind of reminder. My sweet, wonderful Hubs can’t feel my feelings, so the only way he’ll ever know how much I love him is if I treat him like I love him. So I should probably stop blogging now and join him on the couch. I want him to believe it, not just read about it. 

Pouring my heart out with "Things I Can't Say."