We met at the pub around the corner from my house. It had been months since I’d seen her, but the texts were frequent and often intense. She and her boyfriend were riding a roller coaster of emotional triggers and conflicts and it had been going on since last Spring. My friend was the sensitive, subdued type- a giver and recovering people-pleaser. This relationship could appear volatile, but my gut told me it served her. It served to break her open.
The pub was crowded- baseball was in its post-season glory. I smiled to myself knowing I could give her my full attention; baseball was the sports equivalent of an underwhelmed yawn.
Spotting her in the corner sitting in a dimly-lit wooden booth, I waved. “You look so peaceful,” I said as I sat down across from her. My surprise was thinly veiled. I fully expected her to be frantic, agitated. But she wasn’t. She leaned back against the dark cherry veneer of the booth with ease. Her auburn hair was gathered at her shoulder in a loose braid and her body language was soft beneath her Fall uniform of a grey wool sweater and black leggings.
She pushed her glasses up along the bridge of her nose and smiled. “I am,” she said gently. “You’ll notice I haven’t had to reach out to you in weeks.”
The waitress came by to take our pint orders and then scurried off to fetch them. I nodded to my friend, “I know, but you know I’m here for you, right?”
“Of course,” she replied. “I’ve just come to a realization that has helped me to stop blaming myself or blaming him.”
My stomach did a flip of excitement for her. As much as I felt this growth over the past few months was good for her, I knew it was also very painful. Anything that eased that pain and resistance was graciously welcomed. “Tell me everything,” I said as we clinked beer glasses.
She took a swig and sat forward. “So, it’s about Cal, but really it’s about both of us. I always knew he struggled with anxiety and depression, but I could not shake this feeling that it went deeper than that. His trust issues, intense fear of abandonment, emotional outbursts, mood swings…I had to finally admit to myself there was something deeply-rooted there for him. And it wasn’t just past infidelities or the death of his father or any of the other tens of awful things he’s dealt with over the years; it was more.”
“OK,” I said, giving her the space to continue.
“I’ve been praying about this for so long, but recently I asked God: ‘How can I love us better?’. I couldn’t be a victim about it anymore. As hard as it is at times, my intuition tells me it’s worth it because I love him and I simply need to be willing to love him better- with compassion, understanding and firm boundaries. And, in that way, I love us both.”
My heart swelled. I knew what she meant. “I so agree,” I told her.
She shrugged lightly, “I’m at the beginning of this. I’ll probably falter…but, I’m losing my train of thought. So I prayed and a short time later I read an article about Borderline Personality Disorder and I’ve since read countless more. Danielle, this is my boyfriend. This is my kind-hearted, intensely-loving, passionate man. This is how he shows up everyday- unpredictably. He is a person who experiences emotion far greater than the average person, who is fiercely afraid of being left, who takes out his emotional pain on others with angry, sometimes ranting behaviour. He also has feelings of emptiness and deep guilt at how he treats those he loves and has dealt with these feelings in very self-destructive ways in the past.”
I shook my head with compassion- for all involved. “Wow,” I said.
She continued, “He’s often been accused of seeking ‘drama’ or ‘attention’, but really it’s just acting out of deep hurt. He’s not mean, though he can say mean things. He’s not manipulative, though as he navigates his pain he can appear to be trying to get what he wants. And I know this at my core, Danielle. It would be so easy to write this man off, but those actions don’t match what I feel from him. His soul is kind. Babies, children, animals- they’re all drawn to him. When I met him, I felt instantly safe and protected. And this…this Borderline, ugh- what a terrible name, is not him. I’ve read articles from experts calling it by other names: Emotional Sensitivity or Intense Emotional Disorder. I prefer those. They feel right.”
“I don’t blame you,” I said empathetically.
She sat back and sighed. “I’m not saying it’s easy and believe me, there are a thousand articles advising me to run like hell from him for every one article with compassionate advice for working things through.”
I observed her closely. She wasn’t tense. She was calm- assured even. But I had to ask, “So you don’t feel like a doormat?”
She shook her head. “I am not a doormat. And any time I let myself feel like that, I move through it quickly because it’s bullshit. I’m kind and compassionate, but I will not be pushed around. I will not have my feelings shoved aside to make room his larger-than-life ones. He needs support and empathy and to be told the fucking truth. He needs all three. Every time. None without the others.”
I took in what she said and let the wisdom of it sink in. “Love with the intention to heal, with the intention to give, can be very messy. Our wounds will be exposed,” I said finally.
“Yes,” she replied. “We humans want to build up our suffering instead of breaking it down. We want stories to tell- for sympathy, for acceptance. It’s achingly normal. But he and I want to get to the core of this because we know there is more love there for us. We don’t want to keep blaming and fighting. We want to uncover all the insecurities and expose them for the liars they are.”
I sipped my beer and smiled. Her approach was not for everyone. But if it worked for them, I knew it had the potential for some powerful healing. “So was he diagnosed?”
My friend laughed. “No, this is my armchair diagnosis. It’s not about the disorder, but the framework of symptoms is a definite match. It’s something to go on. And he is in regular therapy.”
I leaned forward. “And you?” I asked.
She looked down for a moment. “Yes, I think I need that. My spiritual practice is strong, but I want to give myself the gift of a full cup. Therapy does that. I don’t want to fall into resentment. I want to learn from this and possibly help others. This kind of relationship is not fodder for facebook posts or insta inspiration. One has to go into this with eyes wide open.”
I disagreed. “With all due respect, honey, it is what it is. You love one another. You don’t have to make anyone understand. It’s not your job to make this palatable to the masses. You will have happy moments- many of them- and it’s perfectly OK to share those with others. You don’t have to apologize for the hard times when you believe in what you’re doing.”
Her eyes glistened with the tears of feeling heard. “Thank you,” she said. “I promise to keep you posted. But for right now I have a thirst for more beer and a hunger for fish and chips.”
I smiled and waved to our waitress. “Done,” I said.