A man I loved betrayed a woman I loved a long long time ago. I am still not over it, and I don’t think I ever will be. I was quite young, but it’s still raw, this feeling, still present. The anger sits just beneath the surface of who I am, stored within me like carbon crushed to coal over centuries, just waiting for a spark that will set it all on fire. Recently, a different guy betrayed another woman I love, and I felt it all again. Exactly the same: that rush of hatred. Anger. The desire to tear down walls and scream. It’s absolutely none of my business, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
She called me at two in the morning. Apologies in advance for the cliché but it’s true: if the phone rings at two in the morning, it is probably not good news. I picked up and listened to her sob and stutter and gasp – sucking huge lungfuls of air down the line, as if she was drowning. It took me ten minutes to make sense of what she was trying to say:
“He doesn’t love me any more. He’s leaving me.”
That night I dreamed about him. I dreamed about him every night, for weeks. Weird, twisted, creepy dreams in barren landscapes where I begged him to stay with her but he turned and walked away. I loved her, and he was leaving her, and nothing I could do would stop him.
I know: fucked up. It was none of my business.
I spoke to her and comforted her and visited her, and invited her to come and stay with me. We spent a glorious, sad, desperate, beautiful weekend getting tanked on rosé and talking about all the men she could meet and love now that he was gone. We had fun. We laughed. We were sad together in the way that actually makes you feel better because you get a chance to be open about how shit everything really is.
She missed him, and they talked, and eventually they reconciled. Fell back in love. Got married.
I went to their wedding and raised a glass to her – to them. My anger sat and simmered, and I smiled.
Irrational anger and other people’s pain
I hated this anger – still hate it, because I definitely still carry it with me. There’s a rotting cellar somewhere deep in my soul where I pack away the unburnt coal of all the rage I feel for this man, who tore to pieces this woman I love so much. I hide it away so that when I see him in the pub I’m still capable of smiling. So I can say ‘hey! How’s it going?’ and not ‘what the fuck have you done to this incredible woman who is worth ten thousand of you? How is it that the outcome of that shitshow is that she should be more loving, more caring, more capable, because she’s frightened of losing you again? And that you should be more selfish, more indifferent, because you know there’s nothing you can do that will actually make her leave?’
I still hate him. I still dream about him. I love him.
I have to love him, because she does. If I stopped loving him then she and I would drift apart, and that would hurt too much. So I bury all the things I want to say, and I ache and yearn for him – just once – to say something that would give me permission to let rip. Ask ‘what do you really think of me?’ and genuinely want to hear the truth.
None of my business
When my friends are betrayed by strangers, it’s easy. God bless callous strangers – not for their uncaring cuntery, but for their strangeness. I can hold my friends and comfort them and reassure them that this arsehole wasn’t worth it. I have nothing invested in that arsehole, after all, so I can rally round without my own pesky feelings getting in the way of their pain.
But when someone you love betrays someone else you love, the answer is not that you simply pick a side.
You’re supposed to be neutral. Open. Ready with a listening, non-judgmental ear. You’re supposed to reach out to both of them and say ‘lean on me, friend.’ I think – though I can’t be sure – that this latest guy expects me to reach out to him. That despite treating me with the same selfish disregard as he treated my friend, he still somehow thinks that I owe him something. I think he wants me to be magnanimous in my support – remember we’re friends too, and recognise that he is a fool who made mistakes and deserves more forgiveness than I’d bother to extend to a callous stranger.
I really want to be that person. I would love to be that person. But when I try to be – when I smile and say ‘how’s it going?’ to the latest prick who dealt heartbreak to someone precious – all the feelings I had when the first dude did the same come flooding back up through my gullet, and it takes a hell of a lot of effort to swallow them down. To say ‘hey! How’s it going?’ and not ‘what the fuck have you done to this incredible person who is worth ten thousand of you?’
I can’t swallow them. But I can’t express them either. It’s absolutely none of my fucking business. My job is to support my friends, not make judgments or build bridges or sling bricks through living-room windows: just support my friends, and love my friends, and pick them up when they’ve been torn down. Not take sides or offer judgment or yell ‘CUNT’ until my lungs bleed, but to remember that this is not my life, it’s somebody else’s.
It’s absolutely none of my business, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. There’s no real conclusion to this, honestly, except to say that one of the greatest emotional tools I have ever been given is the ability to write. To pour all the rage onto pages and pages and pages, and make sure it never leaves my mouth.