the me I see

I was thinking the other day about why relationships (romantic or otherwise) end. About the people I've passively let drift out of my life and those I've forcibly cut out, and the reasons I've done so.

Sometimes it's an easy decision. When someone has hurt me too deeply and too many times that my capacity for forgiveness is exhausted, it isn't difficult to put up a wall and self-protect. I've been doing it since I was a teenager, necessarily. Live without limits, they say, but that's such an ambiguous expression. Live without limiting yourself, maybe. But recognizing and respecting the limits on my patience and compassion is essential to my mental heath. I like having boundaries. I'm okay with telling repeat boundary breakers to take a hike. Doing so frees up space in my life for people who'll treat me with care and respect.

Sometimes I let someone go because I realize his or her values don't align with my own. The older I get the easier this becomes. (And I'm not talking about beliefs, which I think of as inward conclusions we draw about the world around us. Values are what I consider the outward expression of qualities we prize in ourselves, and for which we want to be honored, by others.) If someone had asked me at twenty-nine what my values were, I don't know that I would have been able to answer. I don't think I had a clue back then, and I'm still learning now. Perhaps strangely, much of what I've figured out about my values I've done so by identifying what they're not. By seeing their counterpoint demonstrated in someone else. Like, Oh wow, what s/he just did? I don't want to be that. Nope nope nope. In fact, what is the opposite of that? Because that's what I want to be. It's a weird way to come to understanding myself, I guess, but sometimes it's more useful than trying to straight out name what I consider most important.

But sometimes I disconnect from someone because they reflect back at me a version of myself that I've outgrown - or our relationship, to me, represents a painful time in my life. When this happens, I feel conflicted. I feel ashamed for my inability to overcome the past and for "punishing" someone who didn't do anything wrong. But at the same time, I feel incapable of keeping them close. I haven't found a way to say It's not you; it's me - the me I see when I look at you - but that's how I feel.