I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
I knew I could get away with it. The things I was shouting. The way I was embarrassing her in front of her friends. I did it because I knew she would come back. And she cried. Her friends huddling around her while she sobbed into her palms. They shot me squinty-eyed glares and I could hear them whisper, “He’s not worth it.” And I wasn’t. Certainly not back then, at least.
See, it wasn’t that I was sadistic, it was youthful arrogance. I had been given a small amount of power, and more often than not, when a 13 year old boy knows he has complete control over another person’s emotions he tends to take advantage of his position.
She was sweet and wonderful and I was just learning the importance of keeping up a bad boy image. I thought it was “funny” to engage people. To push people. To make them laugh or cry, fall in love with or loathe me. It was about control and I knew it. But like a little kid without fear of repercussion, I played with their emotions like a cornered mouse.
Enough people at school had told me that they found me attractive and for the first time in my life I felt desired. I thrived on the attention. If things were going well with a girl, I would sabotage the relationship just to see how far I could push it. I got some kind of sick pleasure while I belittled them or started fights for no reason other than to watch them writhe in agony. I took pleasure in it because I didn’t think it was real. Because I couldn’t identify. And because a girl had done the same to me just months before.
Thankfully, I grew out of that phase quickly once I found my long term girlfriend who would literally put her foot in my ass if I had ever pulled that crap on her. And that was probably why I fell so hard for her. To this day, we remain friends and she still continues to take no shit. But as I grew into an adult, I noticed that so many of my friends and I continued to have the same relationship problems. As a pre-teen, I figured that by the time I was a grown man I wouldn’t have to deal with games and lies, deceit and manipulative trickery. But the hard truth was, it only got worse.
It gets worse because you share a deeper level or trust and faith. People share secrets with you and you open your soul and you expect another person to respect that honesty, and that isn’t always how it works and people will hurt you the exact same way as I would hurt those girls in a lunch room cafeteria. Grown adults will hold sway over the emotions of another grown adult and some will be disrespectful with that vulnerability and love. And it’s just as unfair as it was in 8th grade. Only you get the added hurt of knowing they should know better by now.
There are grown adults out there who never learned their lesson. No one ever called them on their inappropriate behavior or they never allowed themselves to open up enough to be hurt the way they hurt others so they simply can’t identify. Either way, there are only two things that are certain: the first is that no one will change overnight. That is simply not how human nature works. It takes a series of small events, an open and maturing mind, and multiple moments of clarity to make serious and lasting changes in any behavior. And second, there will always be predators in this world. People who will disguise themselves as someone you can trust who will let you down in all the worst ways. There is nothing we can do to avoid them because they have honed a skill so well that they hide in plain sight. Don’t worry about trying to keep them outside because plenty are already in the house and all we can do is learn to fight them.
But most importantly, we can learn to not become them. To sit on our hand when we want to throw shit. To hold our tongue and breathe deep when we want to scream. To hold in the tears and use our words. But the best way to fight these people is to cut them out of your life. To distance them. Give them the fade out. People get away with behaviors they believe they can and you won’t change anyone so stop wasting your time fighting for all the people who haven’t earned that privilege. All you can do is find the strength to walk away, to fade out and leave them behind. Because they are your past so let them be your past. So you can go find your future.