Monday, October 23, 2006

When You Can’t Unburn The Bridge

All relationships go through peaks and troughs. It’s one of the constant cycles of life that we can bank on. We’ll sometimes fight with our friends, and sometimes things will be perfect.

I think one of the hardest things to deal with is where the personal and professional intersect. I know I certainly encounter that potential conflict of interest in my own life, and have built some walls to protect myself from it. Not because I even doubt my own ability to be impartial, but because the appearance of impartiality can compromise the merit of the achievements of others if I don’t have those boundaries in place. Take the cozy noir contest with Spinetingler. I had to send out multiple emails yesterday, telling some people good news, telling a lot more people unhappy news. There were people I knew on both lists, and I felt it when I sent out those notices.

Especially the ones to people who didn’t place.

As I explained to someone else, having the boundaries enables me to approach my role pragmatically. I mean, it’s all good and fine to be personal and fun when the news is good, but it’s far from that when the news isn’t what the recipient hopes to hear.

This isn’t on my mind so much because of Spinetingler today, but because of other things, and it’s going to get pretty personal after my initial comments, because I’ve been working through a lot of stuff lately. I had a high school friend visiting last week, and it had been years… I think five years, since I’d seen her last. A lot has changed in my life in that time. A lot has happened in her life. It isn’t always as though you can just pick up where you left off, especially when she’s meeting my husband for the first time, and for the first time since high school she’s seeing where I live. There are growing pains that go with the territory.

And that’s one of the strongest friendships in my life. We’ve literally been friends for 20 years, and the ties that bind us have survived time, distance, marriage and divorce, kids, career changes, sickness etc. Peak or trough, we’re always friends.

It can be trickier to know that about people you build friendships with as an adult. You don’t have a shared history, a track record. In my experience, a lot of people have been users. They come along for a time and take what they can get and move on.

There are those you’ll try to befriend, but there’s something that keeps you from building the bridge. It can be nebulous, elusive, hard to define. It might be that their quota is full – they have a full stable of friends and don’t feel the need for more. Or they’ve been burned and aren’t sure if they want to risk opening up to you, because they fear they might be hurt. Or they have their own reasons to doubt your motives.

I worry about stuff like this a lot. I know, I worry too much sometimes. But when I first started meeting people in the writing business, I used my married name, didn’t mention Spinetingler and approached people strictly as a fan.

And I watched.

I’ve seen aspiring authors try to work an introduction to people in the business from successful authors. I’ve seen the guard go up as authors are asked for favours. I’ve seen that invisible yet tangible shield go up around editors, agents and publishers when they see a writer charging a path toward them.

You know, in some ways, it sucks to be successful. Think about it. If you were a millionaire, would you ever really trust that someone loves you for you, or would you wonder if they loved you for your money? I mean, come on, surely that must occur to everyone.

I worried about all of this as I was getting into the business. I worried about it because I feared I’d be viewed like so many others out there, looking for a hand out. Willing to step on anyone if it would help them get to the top.

That’s why there are some people I’ve been extra enthusiastic about. They’re the people who never graded me with a checklist before they decided if I was worthy of being acknowledged or not. They also happen to be great writers, authors who top my list for must-reads.

I still don’t like where friendships and the business side of this industry collide. Some people thought I was nuts to not ask Michael Connelly to blurb my book last week, but as far as I’m concerned, if Michael Connelly reads it, what an honour. I decided that, since Stuart helped me so much this past year, I didn’t want to impose on him for a blurb. I know he said he would, and he’s sweet and all, but it just didn’t seem fair to ask for more of his time. The book is stronger because of the counsel he gave me, and for that, I’m permanently in his debt. If I’m a better writer now than I was four months ago, you can credit Stuart for that as well.

I didn’t want to ask Mark for a blurb either. I know he’s a friend, and I’ve asked other friends… it’s hard to explain. Mark is one of the people in this business I’ve known longest, and the kind of friend I’d take any problem to. This past year, at a few of my lowest points I’ve had a ‘virtual’ cry on Mark’s shoulder. Lucky for him he hasn’t had to deal with me actually blubbering in person. He’s gone way beyond the realm of acquaintance and has become one of the people I trust most in this business. If there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he won’t feed me any bullshit, and boy, do I ever appreciate people who’ll be straight with me and not change their tune depending on who they’re trying to impress from one day to the next.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned trusted friends and the people I’m thankful for, but it’s on my mind today because I’ve been struggling with a situation that has me wondering. It’s a situation where I’ve been feeling betrayed.

The truth is, the past few months have been very stressful. When I talk about being down, people sometimes express surprise, that I don’t sound like I have been, but I tend to let things build up to the point where I can’t cope anymore. Then everything simply adds to the stress, and I don’t handle anything particularly well. It affects my personal life, it affects my concentration, it affects my health...

And when things get like that, I do vent. And when I vent, I say, I’m not thinking clearly. I can’t really explain it all. My judgment is clouded. When I’m talking like that, I’m not looking for answers. I’m looking for ears and shoulders.

The trouble is, I said that recently to someone, and instead of being an ear and a shoulder, they relayed stuff I’d told them to someone else. Someone I don’t really know.

I’m not going to take the situation any further than that here on my blog, but this is where I’m at with it. It’s made an already stressful time in my life feel unbearable. Instead of just dealing with the things that were already weighing on me, now it’s been compounded by external pressure... Pressures that involve commitments I’ve made, finances, my publishing contract, everything. There are some things I’ve been actively involved in that I think people want me out of and I’ve had almost a week to think about it. I can’t shake that suspicion.

Of course, it goes back to what I already said. When I’m stressed, my judgment isn’t the best. And so it doesn’t necessarily matter if I’m right or if I’m wrong. What does matter is that someone I trusted to talk to about my feelings has made me question if I was wrong to confide in them.

To be brutally honest, I can’t remember a more difficult week in my life in quite a while, and I have had some rough spots recently. I didn’t think it could get much worse, but it has. And I’m not interested in pity. 100% not. The truth of the matter is, I’m left questioning a lot of things right now, and first and foremost, I’m questioning my judgment.

I’m going to be rather selfish and say that it sucks Mark is still on tour, because if there was one person I would talk to about absolutely everything, it would be him. But then, that’s hardly fair of me. He’s given me advice and support on more than one tough situation this year.

Unfortunately, we all like to turn to the people we’ve found reliable in the past. The people who’ve already proven that they will keep our confidences and give us space to say a few things we don’t mean and retract them later, because they know we’re blowing off steam. I mean, if there’s one thing I know this year it’s that I’ve struggled with some situations that prompted snap judgments. And I’ve had to consciously choose to step back and force myself to keep an open mind while I got all the facts. There were people I thought were responsible for some problems I was having, and when I looked into the whole situation, I found out they were just the people who actually brought it to me – that the problems didn’t start with them but others.

I believe in forgiveness. I just don’t believe in laying back down to be a doormat again and again for the same people, so if you believe someone is just going to keep kicking you, you don’t get down for them. You steer clear.

There are things I’ve been told this year that I feel the weight of knowing. Things I’ve experienced that automatically set me apart from some others. There have been a few times I’ve wondered why a person told me what they did, and hoped to hell everyone else they told has tight lips because I don’t even want to deal with being suspected of betraying their confidence.

And there are times I’ve had to make choices to break confidences in the past. When I believe that someone might actually be hurt, for example. Or when the situation is having a direct impact on me and I’ve been pressured to keep an unreasonable confidence. Those are painful situations to be in. And I'm not perfect. I've shown errors in judgment in the past, and there have been times I've had to own that. I'm not saying I'm faultless, not by a long shot.

Where I go from here in this situation is completely up in the air. I have resolved only one thing, and that’s to do nothing about it right now. Usually, I like to clean things up and move on, but not this time. This is one of those times I feel the need to emotionally withdraw and protect myself first. It may well be the only way to avoid making a snap decision that wouldn’t be wise and could have a negative impact on a lot of people.

It means leaving a few things hanging for now, but this is one time where I can’t worry about that. I have my priority list for this week, and those are the only things I’m dealing with right now and until I’m emotionally ready to address this problem, it’s going to have to wait.

It does leave me wondering how you guys decide if trust can be repaired or if it’s been completely destroyed.


Julia Buckley said...

Well, this is very mysterious, and I hate to think you've been put through the emotional wringer. I'll be happy to be the first ear or shoulder, though. And I hope things look better in the light of morning.

I know what you mean about friendships, though. Very tenuous things . . . .

Send me an e when you have a chance!

anne frasier said...

this sounds like some heavy stuff, sandra. so sorry you're going through a rough time. and as far as the contest -- i got a little taste of that with the clarity of night contest. friends entering, then not being finalists. feeling do get hurt, because they do take it personally.

new adult friendships are a curious thing that i don't quite have a handle on simply because most of the people i'm really close to i've known for years. i like the idea of new friends, but i wonder if those friendships can ever be as strong as the ones built over time. what's weird is that i can be friends with assholes if it's happened over time. because they're kind of like family after a point. but with new people i'm not going to put up with the crap.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anne, I think I know exactly what you mean about time and assholes.

Julia, I do appreciate it, very much. One of the things that's nice about my British friends is that they're somewhat personally removed from the people I have conflicts from. So, it's safer to take it to them because you can just deal with your problem without worrying about it impacting other friendships.

On the one hand, I don't like being cryptic. On the other, I get to the point I need to vent. I thought I'd done that, and ended up crying over the phone last week, but when the realities of what had happened really sunk in I got angry. And since all the main aspects of my life are entangled in some way, I don't feel like I have a safe corner to withdraw to.

I just feel like my head is going to explode.

SAND STORM said...

Well I can't even begin to guess what this is all about but I have had a lot of experience with backstabbing and breach of trust.
I have few close friends (my choice)and my own history has shown me that they are the only ones I could ever really count on.
I'm a loner by nature and don't sweat relationship drama normally but I 've been where you are and it sucks! Sometimes the trust can be repaired mostly I think its over. Try not to let the events of the recent weeks effect your health, life is short "Fuck it and them" and move past this.
I know easier said than done.
Of course there is always revenge:)

Amra Pajalic said...

Well as one of the people who was on the bad news list-don't sweat it. Rejection isn't ever good, but it's something we all have to deal with. Some days are better than others.

I'm sorry to hear about the backstabber. If your instincts are telling you to lay low, act on it. There's always time to give them the proverbial slap on the head, but sometimes you need to just not act because you can only deal with so much at the one time.

I'm with Anne on the friendship theme. I don't make new friends easily. The ones I've got have passed the test of time and I know they've got my back. True friendships are priceless. But you have to kiss so many frogs until you find the good ones. I've been through the merry go round like you-probably will be again. Just don't be too harsh on yourself. You don't know someone until you know them.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

I wouldn't enter a competition for which a friend was the judge. It's unfair to the judge/friend and, if I actually won, it wouldn't look good to others.

Anonymous said...

My sympathies Sandra-my sister recently betrayed a confidence (to our parents no less, then looked at me and said Is that okay?) I could have punched her, but that would have put the parents even more on her side.

Once trust is gone, it's hard to rebuild a relationship. It can be done, but it's a lot of work and you do have to wonder if it's worth it all. Go with your gut. You know this person and your past with him/her. In the end only you know if you want to put the effort into rebuilding that trust. norby

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Sorry to hear you're having a rough patch, mon ami.

Burning bridges is not a decision to make lightly. I've burned my share and more, and though I haven't regretted many, there's a price to pay. A few years ago I burned damn near all of them. One fell swoop and I cut myself off from people I'd known since childhood. It was a tough decision. These are people I love very much, who I care about deeply.

But having them in my life was causing me more grief than not. So I hit the reset button and started over. I hadn't quite realized how much I had depended on some of that support system, but I also hadn't realized how much that support system depended on me. It felt very one sided.

I don't think I'll ever be mending those bridges, and really don't think I want to. It's turned out better for me, and, I suspect, for them as well.

mai wen said...

Seriously, you and me must be long lost sisters or something because I feel so on the same wave length with you all the time. I've struggled with friendships a lot and it's been difficult for me to come to terms with it all, especially recently. I'm a very loyal friend who would do almost anything for someone I consider a good friend, and I tend to put this expectation onto my friends as well, which many of them do not come through with. I'm the type of person that makes new friends easily and quickly as I'm super outgoing and open, but if I get burned once by them it's difficult for me to forgive them and I usually have a snap reaction, which essentially burns the bridge. I think it's wise of you to sit back and wait to react because I've hurt many of my friendships by rash reactions that I regret now.

I've also been disappointed with many of my friends who have moved away. I try to keep in contact with them by calling, sending birthday cards, etc. and rarely do I get a response, and if I do it's hurried. I don't have a "best friend" (unless you count my husband, which I sort of do, but I need a best girl friend too) and I only keep in touch with one girlfriend from childhood and it's more polite and updating each other on each other's lives. We met in person once after I move from Minnesota and it was quickly obvious that we weren't the same and didn't click anymore, so our friendship is mostly based on keeping each other updated in life, not a close friendship by any means.

At times I definitely feel that void of not having someone you feel you can trust to vent to (and I Totally and Completely understand about just needing to be heard and understood, not given advice necessarily) and it's been difficult and stressful for me. My husband's the Mr. Fix-it type and anytime I try to vent about something he tries to fix it which is so frustrating, so sometimes he's just not the right guy for me to vent to.

ARgh, if you figure out the friendship puzzle let me know, it's something I struggle with a lot too.

Anonymous said...

I tend to give folks too many chances before someone bops me over the head and orders me to stop it! From a gal who needs to learn this lesson herself, I say, let it go and move on - life is too short and there are better people out there deserving of your time. =)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sand Storm, you're right. There is always revenge. gr

Amra, you have the kind of attitude that will serve you well in this business. Professional, not personal.

Patrick, I definitely didn't enter the contest Anne was judging because Anne was a judge. I'm with you there - it's awkward. Of course, the more people you know, the harder to avoid that in your career, unless you don't put your books forward for awards.

Norby, wow. What a tough situation for you with your sister. Go with Sand Storm, and remember revenge is a dish best served cold.

Stephen, what a hard but courageous thing to do. I've gone through some of that, being cut off from people from my past, including family. And this year I've been rebuilding a few of those bridges. To be blunt, it's stressful. As stressful as severing the ties.

Good inspiration for writing, though.

Mai Wen, did we marry brothers? LOL. Seriously, I'm sorry to hear you've been having a similar struggle. For me, this is the one thing about the blog that really helps - venting it out there in such a way that purges it. You can write something in a notebook, but it's still just your thoughts until you share it. Then, people add in perspective and it evolves and changes and you start to see things from different angles. I don't expect to always be right, and I expect the odd slap on the head myself. You have to have someone with no vested interest in the outcome tell you when you're being an ass- I might blow up in the short term but end of the day I always listen. Unless I know they're wrong.

Dana, I'm the same way. And I don't like to 'discard' easily. Maybe some friendships need a longer probationary period and the mistake is mine for not showing more discretion about sharing my feelings. I mean, you don't know someone until you know someone. I've made mistakes and been forgiven, so how do you really decide that you aren't willing to overlook something?

This is why I'm often super-personal on my blog. If it isn't a secret, then nobody can betray your trust. I don't trust easily.

Which is likely why it's a bit of a recurring theme in my books. :(

Daniel Hatadi said...

When my last relationship ended, so did a number of friendships associated with it. Not through a deliberate effort as such, but when you realise that someone is using you and all the people around them as resources, quietly moving on ends up being very liberating.

There. A bit of mystery from Daniel. I hope things get ... no, wait! No sympathy! :)

Eileen said...

So sorry it has been a heavy week. If there is ever anything you need you just do a call out.

S. W. Vaughn said...


Here's my shoulder, lady. :-)

Lisa Hunter said...

Sorry you've had such a hard time, Sandra. If it's any consolation, sometimes "lost" people come back, or people we've hurt in the past decide to forgive us and let us back into their lives.

Anonymous said...


I completely understand how you are feeling at the moment as I have just found out that I have been the subject of slanderous playground gossip from "the rottweillers". For a short while it destroyed me as the main perpetrator was someone I considered a friend.

The healing came from my real friends - old and new. Their shock, laughter and anger at the situation was great (and well-aimed bitchiness was even better!)

I was so sad to lose the friend initially and felt so betrayed. Trust me, it is something that we can never get past, so the relationship is now dead. What surprised me is that I feel better for it. I hadn't realised how this particular bunch of women got me down with their little judgements on the people around them and their self-righteous attitude to life around them.

Since I started talking to other people, I find I have more fun.

Most of my best friends are old friends and I'll put up with no end of crap from them because as someone else said, they are like family. I have one friend who if I want unadulterated sympathy I will call. I have another friend who I will call if I want some real straight-talking. I have other friends who I call my "Sex and the City" friends who I will bore with the minutiae of my day-to-day life and they do the same with me!

I have other more recent friends who are close, but I am always aware that they are not 'tried and tested' friends yet so while generally I give 100%, I am sometimes a bit wary because I know we don't have the foundations yet to ride a storm! (How mixed is that metaphor?)

As for the original ex-friend, well I must admit I had quite a nice feeling of satisfaction the other day when she came out of her house as I was coming near to it, my daughter called her, I blanked her and she literally ran away!!!!

Treasure your friends because there are times when you need the true ones. And they don't have to be old friends. One of my closest ones is someone I met online six years ago who happened to be the only other Brit on the forum and lived in the same town as me. I couldn't do without her now! We are rant-buddies!!!

And Mai Wen - I am married to a Mr. Fix-it too and it is very annoying. It is why I need my rant-buddies!