Sunday, February 7, 2010

Triangles Revisited

Excerpt from a project I am working on:

Suddenly having two parents presented a lot of issues.  Not right away, but once all of the excitement and chaos of having joining the family, traveled a great deal and meeting people finally gradually wore off. 

As I mentioned earlier, I had felt outcast in situations in which my biological father spent time with my mother or had sex with other women.  Having been left in the same room with my parents having sex, or left out in the apartment hallway when my father was with another women had an effect on me.  My being partially aware of what I was seeing made me feel excluded from the one parent, who I had any real connection to.  It was insensitive of him, of course, not to have left me with a friend or neighbor during these times.  This feeling of exclusion was laid over the already painful reality that my mother would have very little to do with me.

When I went to live with my new parents, and some time had passed, there became some interesting dynamics in which I tried to split my parents’ to get at least one of them on my side.  Having their attention and support was very important to me, and since my parents were new at child-rearing themselves and had a lot of issues to work out between them, I likely found the opportunity to work situations in which they would fight, and one would side with me.  That dynamic of having one parent on my side was most familiar to me.  I can’t say that I deliberate did this, as in, “Ok, now I’m going to work this into a collapsed triangle.”  But I do know in my heart that I was less comfortable with the prospect of the two people I was close to in having a strong bond in front of me.  In my mind, it meant I was outside of that bond and unsafe.

My parents have talked about a time shortly after I was adopted in which I became close very quickly with my father, Bill.  My mother said that he and I had a “love affair” for a while.  He was able to answer all of my questions since he was a man of science, engineering and journalism.  My mother felt excluded for a while until a couple of years passed, and then I suddenly tried to shut my father out, seeking my mother’s attention and support.  These patterns were painful not only for me but for my newly adopted parents as well. 

I remember a time when I was ignoring my father, probably for the better part of a week, and, while I was in my room, I heard him say to my mother, “He won’t talk to me.  He’s forcing me out of the house.”  I thought to myself that I had pushed things beyond a limit that I shouldn’t have.  Much later, I told this story to my therapist.  His reaction was that, indeed I was testing my own control and power in our family, but that my father should have been better equipped in himself to have been able to sit me down and confront the way I was behaving, instead of going to my mother about the problem.

My parents went into couples counseling when I was about age six, and as my mother remembers it, I was invited to the first session with them.  The therapist asked me what I thought was wrong, and I apparently said that it was between my parents, not me.  There was probably some truth to the fact that my parents had to start working out some of the differences in their own values and expectations in their marriage.  Doing that would strengthen their child-rearing methods as well.

I also felt this trouble with triangles with friends of mine.  I had a close friend named Christian on the block, and he had a good friend named Danny.  I remember feeling jealous of Christian’s and Danny’s friendship in those early years, again, with the presumption that their friendship somehow detracted from my friendship with Christian.  I really believe that all of this goes back to my complete reliance on my biological father.  Anytime his attention was diverted from me, it was detrimental to me because I had no other fallback.  It felt like a survival issue to keep his attention on me, and in the same way, as I stated earlier, he wanted to feel needed by me so much that he would hide from me to see if I would get scared without him.  All of this was jumbled up in a way that has had an impact on me for many years.  I think I became aware of the reaction to triangles in myself when I was in the back seat passenger in a car in high school.   My friend Tim and I had picked up our mutual friend, Kim, and we three were all driving down Ventura Blvd to go get some pizza.  Tim and Kim were in the front seat, and I was in the back seat.  I started to feel jealous about Tim and Kim joking around with each other and felt excluded in the back seat.  I realized shortly after this that it was a similar feeling to what I had experienced growing up.  I remember being surprised that I could still react this way at 16 years old.

In all, my parents had a somewhat more relaxed way of setting rules for me.  I had a bedtime, I had to study, and I had to do my set of chores.  But compared to other people in other places, I was given a pretty long leash at times and allowed to have a certain amount of independence.  For instance, both of my parents worked, so I had a key to get into the house after my carpool let me off.  I could play in the neighborhood and go about a half-mile in any direction without my parents being too worried about me.  I think the assumption that I was ok also had to do with where we lived.  The specific area of the Hollywood Hills that we lived in back in the early 1970’s was pretty new and remote and felt safe. 

As I’ve grown up, and especially since I’ve seen my parents succumb to their respective dementias, I have noticed that my mother did not like attention being diverted away from her.  A family friend told me that when I found my sister, she did not like it at all, and those times when I’ve taken my father out for lunch, just the two of us, she has asked what we talked about and inside, I could see that she didn’t like the time spent away from her.  So in a sense, my mother in particular was a perfect compliment to my trouble with triangles.  She reinforced the discomfort I already felt with threesome situations. 

I believe this, in my mother, came from her own cold mother’s being overcritical of her and rejecting her throughout the time my mother’s mother was alive.  This left in my mother a deep hole that she was always seeking to fill externally.  She wanted people’s attention on her, and as she got older and became more child-like with her dementia, she became intolerant of the natural flow and dynamics of conversations, which at some point, naturally weren’t focused on her.

While in their 80’s, my girlfriend and I would have dinner with my parents.  My mother might talk a while, transitioning from topic to topic, and then when there was a lull, and my father came up with a topic, he could only get a paragraph of speech in, and then my mother would say, “Ok, my turn to talk now. You’ve been talking too much.”  It would have been easy for someone on the outside to think that she just wanted to have a word in, but this behavior in her was the magnified residue of a feeling of lacking in value that she always tried to conquer in herself.

But my trouble with triangles, of which I am much more aware, still causes me hesitation in some situations, but I recognize it for what it is and where it came from now.  As an adult, I know the occasional feeling of exclusion is not something that is being done to me, but rather, is a bubbling up for a primordial experience I had consistently when I was very young.  And so, rather than giving into the anxiety triangles could cause, I embrace it with understanding.