3. respect, and Shame
All that I don’t know is far too much to squeeze onto this page, too much for this small screen to hold.
What I don’t know is why it has taken me this long to see you for who you really are- just a little, lost boy. Afraid to ask for help. Afraid to find the path again, because then, dear boy, one must walk it. One must prove one’s worth, one’s worthiness to even set foot on the path.
And so instead of asking for help yourself to find the path, you point to others- telling them, “Go this way. Go THAT way. But you must do it like I do, or you will be lost.”
And they LISTEN! And this has become your sense of self, the armor that you wear to hide what you don’t know and are ashamed to admit.
And. I. Listened.
I don’t know why I did. I don’t know why I pushed the feeling aside when every fiber of my being screamed out, “No! This is wrong! It doesn’t have to be this way!” I don’t know why I ignored that inner me- the truest me- the me that should be guiding my own way down the path instead of desperately pleading with me to just get back to it in the first place.
I don’t know why I stayed after our first fight. I don’t know now what even started it, but I do know what it was about. Respect.
I will never know why I stayed after you told me you don’t respect me, that I hadn’t EARNED it from you. I will never know why I stayed after you showed me you don’t respect me. Again. And again. And again.
Most of our fights in the last 13 years have come back to this one little word.
This is not the “Big R” Respect that is bestowed with medals and fanfare after babies are pulled safe from burning buildings. That is the respect that must be earned.
The respect I’m talking about here is the “little r” respect. The kind that is taught in preschool: Be nice to everyone. Think about other people’s feelings. Share.
This kind of respect is NOT the kind of respect that tells their 5'6" 115 pound girlfriend (who plays sports year round and has a history of disordered eating) that she is unattractive because she isn’t thin enough, athletic enough, and is too curvy.
This kind of respect is Not the kind of respect that tells their pregnant wife he won’t go to the store for whatever it is she’s craving that day because, as he looks her up and down… she doesn’t need it.
This kind of respect is not the kind of respect that begs the wife (who is now uncomfortable having sex with the lights on, or changing her shirt in front of him) to please, please video themselves doing “it,” even after she has made clear not just her position of “no,” but also has taken what should be the unnecessary step of explaining why. Repeatedly.
It is no kind of respect when she falls asleep, exhausted from working 70 hours a week to support their family, and he decides to do it anyway. To take the time to set up the camera on a tripod and make that video he so desperately wants.
It is not respect that admits to her what has happened after she wakes up, feeling disheveled and used and unsure of exactly why.
It is Shame.
And it is also Shame who finally admits to a wrong, after many tears, and too much blaming and finger-pointing and name calling, and several days of not talking. It is Shame who says “yes” to counseling, Shame who acknowledges the fault, and Shame who does nothing. For six long months.
And after six months? It is Shame again who places the blame on her- on me- for being unavailable, for being distant, for not being close. Shame who insists that for love, he will go to the appointment but he will not make the call to schedule it.
And I said, “No.”
I said I need respect. I said I need the commitment. I said I need you to show me that you love me enough to do hard things for me, because love is hard and marriage is hard and parenting is hard. And all I’m asking for is one simple phone call.
“But,” I tell you, “that one simple phone call means everything. That one simple phone call will tell me if I can even think of staying, or if I must go.”
You say, “Okay.” You say you understand. You say you’ll make the call.
This is not respect. This is Shame.
What I don’t know is whether I can live with Shame.
I do know I cannot live without respect.