Read it on Salon
Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
Exactly two years ago my mother died. I went to the hometown to take care of things and then my girlfriend joined me for the funeral. She acted her part great, but there was something in the air.
After the ceremony we went home, and as I got undressed and lay on the bed I was thinking, “Now I can fall apart, and cry and mourn.” In that exact moment, my girlfriend approached me and said that when she was preparing for travel to the funeral, she found an opened box of condoms. She was on the pill; I used them for hygienic purposes in our lovemaking that she didn’t know about, and she expects me to explain it.
The next three hours is a blur. I finally managed to ease her concerns, but the moment for mourning was lost. And I can’t get over it.
My relationship with my mother was a difficult one. Lately I had thought of her as the always demanding monster who took away the best years of my life. And in the moment the monster died, when I was to be free at last, another one took its place and presented her demands.
I didn’t cheat on my girlfriend, but it was this moment I felt that that sacrifice on my part was wasted.
And I still, two years later, cannot get over it. It was the moment I expected support and expression of caring, and it is in my book inhuman to not allow someone to mourn his mother, even if she was a monster. My girlfriend acknowledged and apologized to me for making my distress worse, but never acknowledged understanding that what she did was wrong. She just wanted her question answered, with no regard to the circumstances.
When my girlfriend’s father died, I gave her all the support she needed, and with lots of effort I support her life and business activities. But there were also other occasions when I needed some plain emotional support from her as I was distressed by something (business failed, family fight), and instead I got attacked to the point of rage (screaming, throwing things around, crying, insults). She becomes uneasy when I express any weakness at all.
Is it wrong to expect support from your loved ones? Is it foolish? Stupid?
I don’t know what to do.
The Distressed One
Dear Distressed One,
When your girlfriend found the open box of condoms, she was upset. She knew it had to mean something but she felt she couldn’t ask you about it because your mother had just died. So she kept it to herself. She attended the funeral with you, holding this secret all through the ceremony. Only when you were home together did she ask you about it.
It probably seemed to her that she was picking the right time. But to you, it was absolutely the worst time.
Thus occurred an emotional perfect storm.
Many issues collided and it was more than you could handle: Your mother, your mother’s body, your own body, your own procreative capacity, your attempts to control your own fertility, your mother’s death, your girlfriend’s presence at your mother’s funeral, your attempts to secretly prevent the transmission of disease, your difficult but successful sexual fidelity to her, her doubts about your fidelity — all these issues and more came together at a time when you were uniquely vulnerable, exhausted and grieving.
As I say, it was an emotional perfect storm.
There is beauty in such explosive moments because they make visible so many interconnected issues. They serve as signposts that it’s time to look at our lives and change.
I really suggest that you and your girlfriend begin working with a psychotherapist to see how each of you has a childhood that is being expressed in the present, in the relationship. You two can understand what happened but it will take work. It will require you to do the kind of work that eventually results in a change of outlook and new insights. Nothing can substitute for the required work. It is not something someone can just tell you. You will have to actually go through a process. The result of that process will be that you will suddenly have a new way of seeing your girlfriend, and you will feel that you understand why this happened.
What happened, I believe, is that your mother and your girlfriend had became fused, in your psyche, into one figure. So in a moment of crisis, grief and exhaustion, your emotions about your mother were transferred to your girlfriend.
When in childhood the primary attachment figure becomes a monster, then later in adulthood, in times of stress, when we are tired and in grief, people can seem like that monster. So your girlfriend, in that instant, actually became the mother monster. That is why you reacted so strongly, and why this problem persists. It’s good that it persists. It persists because it’s time for you to go deeper, to see how all this is connected.
What does a child do when the mother acts like a monster? He makes her into some unreal figure. It can’t be his mother treating him like this because his mother loves him and he loves his mother. But then in adult life we find ourselves dealing with the pain of relationships by imagining that people are monsters. They’re not monsters. They’re just frail, flawed human beings doing their best.
People are limited in their ability to understand the suffering of others. They can’t read out minds. And we are limited in our ability to forgive. But we have to keep trying — trying to understand others, trying to forgive.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, U.S.
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Siena Cathedral, Siena, Italy
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
Lost City of Petra, Jordan
Read it on Salon