TL left this comment on another R4L post the other day:
Ah the shit. . .Today, I must admit has been a rough one for shit. One of the things I asked of MC after the shit hit the fan was, were there any gifts given or received? He told me about everything, including that his first AP had given him a homemade origami swan (so about 17 years ago now). He thought he had thrown it away. Today, I was looking through some old files trying to find an old password for an account we rarely use. I passed by an old college memorabilia file and decided to take a look in it, guess what I found in that file. . .the origami swan. In addition there was a message on its folded wing – “empathy helps.” It was a very rough morning for me, especially because MC is out of town right now. In the past, I would have crawled back into bed and cried the rest of the day away. Today, I had errands to run. So, I got myself together. I went shopping. I treated myself to lunch and a coffee, and I’m ok (not great, but ok). What is the moral of that story? I haven’t a fucking clue.
An affair partner gave it to me years ago, and I really thought I had thrown it away. Last week TL found it. I was shocked and disheartened. She was heartbroken and angry. She asked me, as she had many times before, why I had ever kept things like that. I answered, as I had many times before, “I don’t know.” I really didn’t know.
I think when I initially received a gift like that from an affair partner my initial reaction was to feign gratitude, ask myself what the hell I was supposed to do with it, and then hide it from TL until I could decide what to do. Why didn’t I throw it out immediately? I think I initially kept it because I was trying to determine whether keeping it would make me feel better about myself. I wondered whether it might remind me of feeling wanted or validated by my affair partners.
Later, after the affair, I would come across the hidden gift that I had forgotten. I again asked myself whether to throw it out. Again I told myself that keeping the gift would remind me that the affair partner had wanted me sexually. At least, that’s what I thought. I kept the gift to stroke my own ego. It was a means of seeking validation.
Years later, but before D-day, I again came across that hidden gift inadvertently. That time, I really did think I had thrown it out. Maybe I’m remembering that incident incorrectly or just imagining it. Maybe I was sloppy, and lost track of it before I could throw it out. In any case, on that occasion, I told myself that the stupid little gift wasn’t even helping me feel better about myself. I might as well toss it, I told myself.
When TL finds things like that, it really is as if she stepped on a land mine, left over from a war long ago. To prevent that from happening again, I continue to search my memory for any little worthless scrap of paper or cheesy trinket I may have forgotten. If I ever think of one, I have to tell TL and then destroy it. Why tell TL? She wants to know all the gory details of my affairs, to help her fill in the gaping, hurtful, doubt-filled holes in her story of us. Such unexploded ordnance must be destroyed. It is unnecessary, unwanted, and hurtful.
I think the first step for me in learning empathy was to stop being selfish and self-centered. It’s difficult to ask yourself what someone else is feeling when you are preoccupied with what you are feeling. The second step is remembering, each time someone expresses something, that you have the opportunity and the need to try to put yourself in their place.
As far as I can tell, those are the fundamental steps to practicing empathy. The problem is that those two steps are much easier said than done. They only come with years of consistent practice. And, even after all that practice, I still occasionally fall short, lose focus, or fall down on the job.
I’m not complaining, nor prescribing. I’m just saying this is what I’m trying to do. Advice or thoughts welcome.