May called to talk about my plans for New Year’s Eve. She is contrite, and apologizes for being less than understanding when I said I already had plans with my daughter Rachel.
I tell her I understand. I know she is disappointed, and I also regret that May and I can’t be together that night.
I suppose I might have called her to make amends, rather than let her call me. But she needed the time to sulk and get over it. That happens on her clock, not mine.
I know this pattern. I know how the rest of this conversation will go. It is necessary to get through it and be done.
I have learned this lesson as a parent: avoid rewarding bad behavior with extra attention. Her response to this situation was selfish and needy, concerned only with how it might affect her. It was childish, and I expected nothing different.
If she were of a different temperament, I would have called to express regrets that my preference to be with my daughter meant we could not be together. But dealing with someone so needy, I knew it would be wrong to chase her, begging forgiveness. She would be confirmed in thinking that by acting out, selfish and needy people can get the attention they crave.
I kept it superficial. She was sorry. So was I. End of story.
She digs deeper.
She was too sad about our “fight” to go to work that day. Instead, she bought some presents for my kids. Someone had to, and she knows I don’t care for shopping. Sigh.
Thanks! That is very sweet.
She inventories the gifts. So much effort.
How great! Thanks!
She digs deeper.
Don’t you really want to be together this weekend? You aren’t obliged.
I do. It will be great to see you.
It’s been so long, she says.
Yes, it’s been a week, I say.
Her probes hit hard walls. I know what she wants to hear. She wants me to be abject. She want to hear how much I want to focus a lot of attention on her and the coming weekend as the most important thing in my life.
But it really isn’t. Getting my obligations met is enough work. I am already neglecting so many friends, and so much work, to be with her as much as I am. Not that I can stress this with her, but I am making even more sacrifices of my available time so I can be free to date others.
I don’t make a big deal of the fact that I see others, but it is no secret. Her strategy seems to be: if I take up all his free time, he is can’t meet other people. She says she is afraid I will meet someone else and leave her.
She misses the point. I don’t want to meet “someone.” I can't "leave" her, as I am not "with" her.
I want my own life. She won’t lose me to that special “someone.” She will lose me to her own inability to listen to me.
She talks about all the wonderful holiday parties with her friends that I am missing. If only I could be with her. I remind her that I need to get back to the city early to be at a holiday party with my own friends, given that I am missing a few to be with her.
She hits with the heavy artillery.
“Have you had any thoughts about what you will give me for Christmas?” Her tone is injured, theatrical.
“No, frankly. I still have to buy gifts for Rachel and her siblings back home. I have to buy gifts for my kids. I am spending the holiday with my ex and her family, so I have to buy gifts for them. And I have so little money or time.”
“Your gift to me doesn’t have to be expensive. I only want something thoughtful.” She is a Buddhist, obsessing that she will get just the right Christmas gift.
“The best gift you can possibly give me is to relieve me of the obligation of getting anything for you. I don’t need a gift from you. We give each other a lot of time, and for me, that is more than enough.”
I really hate it when I sound pissy, but May is never content with the time I make for her. She only wants more, and she has no conception of the sacrifices I make to travel to hang out with her and her friends.
None of her friends has kids. Very few have significant others.
On any gift-giving occasion, they gather to give expensive gifts to one another. Nothing would make her happier than to have me there for Christmas, to show off the expensive and thoughtful gift I found for May, so perfect for May, so indicative of my devotion to May.
She concedes that we don’t have to exchange gifts. Finally the conversation is over.
I get an immediate email: I am so happy! I can’t wait to see you this weekend!
I hear Jason coughing in the next room.