And I knew the only person who could give me those answers was Sophie, but I just wasn't ready to reach out to her. She tried, half-heartedly, to talk to me, through Facebook and emails, I just didn't respond, and she didn't force the issue. She obviously knew I was still upset, and now that we weren't being practically forced to spend every hour of every day together, I no longer needed to make the best of the situation. So maybe she was worried, I don't know. But finally, I reached out to her, via email.
Me, on July 5:
I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’ve been sorta keeping my distance from you over the last couple weeks because I’ve been thinking and trying to figure out why the whole situation in Belize is still bothering me. Because it is. I know you apologized, and I have forgiven you, but it still hurts what you did. I guess I feel like I don’t really know you as well I thought, because the person I know you to be knows me better than anyone, and knows how much I value loyalty in my relationships. And that person would know how much what you did would hurt me. Not because of the guy, because it’s me. I’m your sister. I know you were drunk, and that was obviously a contributing factor, but it’s not a reason. It’s not a good enough explanation to me for why you would do something like that. I want to know WHY you did it. Did you think about my feelings at all?? Did it ever occur to you when you noticed I was gone, why I may have left? Did you even NOTICE that I was gone?? And as much as I’ve been thinking about it and trying to figure it out, I can only come to the conclusion that I don’t really know you that well anymore. I guess I just don’t get what could motivate you to commit a betrayal like that so flippantly, without even thinking of my feelings AT ALL. Most of the time, you play the role of the older sibling, and I let you, because it’s your nature, and because I’ve never thought of myself as the responsible, role-model type. But there are some things I am wiser about than you, believe it or not. I’m your big sister, and I have loved you, respected you, cherished you, and rejoiced in our relationship because I know it’s a rare and valuable thing. Every time I talk to Jenna, I’m reminded how special it is to have a sister that is also a best friend. So as your sister, and best friend, I want you to know this stuff. And I need an explanation from you.
You’ve changed a lot over the past couple years, and some of the choices you’ve made in your life have stood out in particular, as evidence of that change. And I think I’ve always been supportive, and adaptive to your lifestyle, or at least I really tried, even when I didn’t think it was right for you (e.g. the polyamorous thing). But I was always sure that deep down you were the same person. I never felt like you were a stranger to me. But the time I spent with you on the trip is making me wonder if you’re going through something. I don’t know, some sort of minor identity or life path crisis? I could just be reading into it too much. Maybe I’m the one having the crisis because I feel like the sanctity of OUR relationship has been violated. But I saw in you a shade of a person you used to be a long time ago; a person I thought you’d grown out of. That popular girl who constantly craves and needs the physical attention of the men around her. I couldn’t reconcile it at first, but then it occurred to me that I felt like I was in 8th grade again. That dorky reject with the popular younger sister, who has a new boyfriend every week. That night you made me feel like that girl again. Like a hovering, unwanted presence. And I don't want you to think I'm just sitting here judging you, because I'm not. I’m just trying to understand what is, or was, going on with you, if anything.
Sophie, on July 5:
Thanks for your email and for expressing more about what's been going on internally for you. I have noticed that you've been keeping your distance, and I wasn't exactly sure how to respond to it. I figured it might be something related to what happened on your trip, but I wasn't sure if you just needed time, or if should do something or say something. Anyway, I am grateful that you reached out to me.
There are a lot of questions in your email, and I will try my best to not leave anything unanswered, but I think the key issue here is that you feel like I've changed as a person and that scares you because you feel like you don't know me anymore. I think that I have definitely changed, over the past year - but not in ways that were reflected in my actions that night. If anything, the way I behaved was more of a regression from the growth I think I've made. And I don't have any neatly fitting explanation to psychologically excuse it all away. But, I can share with you a bit of what I've been reflecting on for a while, and that your questions and points in your email bring up.
I am a person who always has my shit together. Who always has a plan, a direction, a schedule, a routine, a goal. Who always feels like I have to be the one to take charge of a situation, lead and watch out for others, make sure everything goes smoothly and that everyone's having a good time. For the most part, I like that about myself, I know it is a fundamental part of who I am, and I accept it. But sometimes, it is fucking exhausting.
I've had to embrace that role in many of my relationships - sometimes, it is just something that comes naturally to me, like in our relationship, as well as within many of my friend groups. In my relationship with Brent, it was a big factor as well. I was the one who wanted to join the Peace Corps, and he agreed. Which meant we had to get married, and he agreed. I was the one who wanted to move to Chicago, and he agreed. And then start graduate school, and encourage him to do the same, and he agreed. Every major decision for both of our lives was made by me. Which is wonderful in some ways, because I always felt I was free to make my own choices, as was Brent, and if we both wanted the same thing, then it would continue to work out. But eventually, the stress of that became really taxing, and affected other aspects of our relationship...
While you are, of course, one of the people who knows me better than anyone, there are some parts of my life I've always been reluctant to share with you, or that we just never really talked about much, and sex is one of those things. Maybe it was because I was married, and it seemed weird to share it, or maybe it is just general shame/guilt around sex that I've been carrying around my whole life because of our upbringing, I don't know. It took great effort for me to tell you about the polyamory thing, and I knew you wouldn't necessarily be on board with the idea, but I wanted to tell you because I wanted you to know me. And I do appreciate that you accepted it. But, we never talked about it much beyond that.
A very significant factor in the reason why Brent and I chose to become polyamorous, and are no longer together now, is because I lost interest in him, sexually. I still loved him, enjoyed spending time with him, respected him as a person, etc. But after being the decision-making, responsible, guiding person in the relationship for so long, it became harder and harder for me to see him in a sexual way. I tried really hard. I felt really guilty. He felt rejected and undesirable, of course. Which made me feel guiltier and angry at myself for not being able to do such a simple thing - to have sexual interest in this person that I loved. This went on for years...
At first, I thought it was just a natural decline in my sex drive in general. That had happened to Brent before, and I had all those feelings of being rejected and undesirable, so I knew how bad it must feel for him, and I thought that if I just waited and kept trying, it would come back. It didn't, and I realized that I did have sexual interest in other people. Then we decided to open our relationship, and I learned a lot in that process, but that's another conversation. Ultimately, the situation between me and Brent didn't change. And eventually, I had to accept that it wasn't going to, that I couldn't force it, and all the talking about it and crying about it and going to therapy and talking about it some more was only making me feel worse and guiltier and not changing the situation. So, I was the one who said we should end our relationship, and he agreed. I was the one who said we should get a divorce, and he agreed.
So, after being in the same relationship for almost all of my adult life and then finding myself 27 and divorced, at a time when most of my friends were just getting engaged or married, I realized that I wanted to make some serious life changes and test myself and learn more about myself, and really just be out on my own. Which is a big part of the reason I came to Guatemala. I needed a change, and I wanted to see what it would be like to go off of the obvious path of life that I always felt I was supposed to take - to get a good job, work hard, be ambitious, start a family. I wanted to see what it might be like, what I might be like, living without a strict plan.
For the most part, it's been great. And I've found that I really enjoyed it, and it was challenging not knowing what's coming next, and I was afraid, and that was okay. I don't need to worry about the future so much. I also learned that, now having discovered that I can live that way if I want to, I still prefer to have a plan. I like having purpose and direction, and I'm an action-oriented person in that regard - I thrive when I have something to work toward and am taking the steps toward it. Now that I've decided I want to pursue my PhD, I'm very driven in that, and I've been really focused on reaching out to professors, writing my statement of purpose, doing research into my area of interest, etc. It's who I am. I'm happy with it.
But every once in a while, holding that all together, being responsible and having my shit together and sticking to my lists and my schedule and all of those other certainties...it just falls apart. Every once in a while, and usually under the influence of alcohol, I have a really reckless night that I tend to regret afterward. And I'm noticing that this is a pattern of destructive behavior that I need to be more aware of and I need to stop. Alcohol isn't an excuse, it's just one factor. Sex is also usually involved. And yea, I think having male attention to boost my self-esteem in some way is a part of it as well. Normally, I take more pride in and find more self-worth in my intellect, my work, my place in the world, rather than my appearance. That's something I've had to learn - to literally re-train my brain to think in those ways, to value myself, to stop hating my body and just accepting it and loving myself for better reasons. It's been hard, it takes work, and it's much easier to just seek male attention that seems to do all that for you, in the moment.
One night, while Brent and I were still together but seeing other people, I went out with some friends. This guy I was sort of seeing came and met me out, really late as the bar was closing. I was already rather drunk, and he bought us two more drinks which we had to finish quickly before the place closed. I slammed it without a second thought. He had a car and offered me a ride, so I said goodbye to my friends and went with him. We went back to his place, we smoked some weed, we went upstairs to his room, and by this time, I was pretty fucked up, but still could have made better choices. We had sex, and I spent the night. I didn't call or text Brent to let him know I wasn't coming home, none of my friends knew where I had ended up, and I didn't make the effort to get myself home so that Brent wouldn't be worried. I didn't even look at my phone. I woke up the next morning because Kal (the guy's) boss called him, waking us up. He was looking for me. I got my phone and had probably 50 missed calls, mostly from Brent. He had been worried. He had called the police. He called all my friends, they told him I was with Kal (who we knew through work), they got the phone number of the org. Kal worked for and called it, and then Kal's boss called him, and the whole thing was this huge, terrible, and completely avoidable mess. I hurt Brent, I put Kal in an awkward situation, I got my friends unnecessarily involved - and all for what? For one stupid night of me being careless.
This was probably the most extreme example, but not a completely isolated incident. Somewhat similar things have happened before. And one of them happened that night while you were here. And so, I recognize this is a pattern, and a very unhealthy one. Not one that is repeated very frequently, but a persistent pattern, nonetheless.
So, to attempt to answer your questions. I can't really say why I did it. Probably out of insecurity, mainly. Did I think about your feelings at all? Honestly, no, not in that moment. Not until the next morning, and then felt awful. If I had thought of your feelings, I don't think I would have made the choices I did. But, I didn't think of them. I didn't think of anything but myself and my own stupid reckless and careless rampage. To be honest, most of it is a total blur. I was MUCH drunker than I have been in a VERY long time, but I acknowledge and own that I made the choice to get that drunk. Which was also inconsiderate and stupid. I didn't think about why you might have left, I didn't notice that you had left, I had no concept of the passage of time, and don't clearly remember the order of events. I remember snatches of that night, and what I do remember mostly embarrasses me. I don't like seeing myself as the person I was behaving as that night either.
I, of course, know that loyalty in friendships is very important to you. And honestly, if I would have even had the faculties or the consideration to think at all before acting, I would have thought about that. But, this is going to sound stupid, but it really had nothing to do with you. It wasn't you, it was me. I would have probably done the same regardless of who I was with that night, because I wasn't thinking about how my actions would affect other people at all. Or even how they would affect myself. Really, I wasn't thinking. Just doing. And didn't even fully realize what I was doing while I was doing it.
So, I guess to attempt to tie all this together - I have changed in recent years. The aftermath of my relationship with Brent has affected me, the divorce has affected me, the move to Guatemala has affected me. But I think I've come out of those things mostly with positive changes. I have a better sense of who I am now, I have finally come out of a depression I was experiencing for many years, I am more optimistic about my future, more accepting of myself, more tolerant and accepting of others, and more willing to try new things and test my limits and challenge my boundaries, while still recognizing that sometimes, I have those boundaries for a reason and they're a good thing. But clearly there are issues I still need to work through and areas in which I still need to improve.
I guess some part of me hasn't grown out of the girl I was in middle school, and I don't even really know how, at that time, I came to be that way...I guess upon entering public school, because I somehow suddenly stuck out as pretty and became popular at that time, it gave me the approval of others around me, it made me automatically liked by people who didn't even know me, and deep down, I'm pretty shy, so I felt like I needed that. Or I, at least, enjoyed it because it assuaged my insecurities and allowed me to not have to deal with them, to not have to work on reconciling myself to myself.
This incident in Belize, which is a part of a pattern of destructive behaviors, is one of those things I need to work on changing still. It is not a part of the changes that have occurred in me, it is an old pattern of behavior that still needs changing. And I can honestly say that I am glad you had such a strong reaction to it. I am glad that you expressed your anger. I think it is the limit for me, if that makes sense. It's the reality check I needed to show me that this pattern of behavior can't continue. That it's harmful and hurtful to others, and to me. Which means I need to find other, healthy outlets for the stress and anxiety and pressure I sometimes feel as a result of the standards I normally hold myself to and the role I normally play, or I need to go easier on myself when it comes to those things. I still have some figuring it out to do.
All I can tell you is that I'm deeply sorry for how my behavior affected you. And I'm embarrassed of the way I acted and am sorry that you had to witness it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my feelings about or relationship with you, and I'm sorry that it had an impact on that as well.
There are still things you don't know about me, or sides of me you've probably haven't seen much of...topics that we just tend not to discuss, or contexts in which we haven't been together. And I'm still changing, and always will be. And I tend to keep a lot of stuff inside, and it's hard for me to really share who I am with other people. But, I want you to know me. And if nothing else, I hope this helps a little in that regard.
I love you, and I appreciate your concern.
Me on July 8:
Sorry for taking so long to respond; I didn't mean for it to go this long. At first I was just thinking about what I wanted to say, and then I just...didn't wanna think about it at all, and I kinda just left it longer than I meant to. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to explain to me some of the things that have been going on with you. A lot of what you told me about you and Brent's relationship, I sort of already knew. Either from just being around the 2 of you, or based on things you've said in the past. As far as the polyamory thing goes, when you guys told me that, it alarmed me because I recognized it as a symptom of unhappiness, not as this...period of marital enlightenment that you guys were making it out to be. And that's why I had a problem with it. I didn't think it was the right way to go about trying to fix your relationship. I know it can be emotionally taxing to be in a relationship (any kind of relationship) that forces you into the role of caregiver/adult/responsibility all the time. That's how I felt in my relationship with Abbie. Ha. To be honest, that side of me kind of scares me, because I don't like thinking of myself as the motherly sort; I equate it with being old for some reason. Maybe that's part of the reason I always let you take control of situations when we're together. If you would rather not always play that role when we're together, that's totally ok with me. In the case of our trip, I just thought it would be easier for both of us because you know the area better than I do, you speak Spanish, etc.
As far as changing goes, I do believe we are constantly in the process of becoming who we are supposed to be. Actually, when I reflect on just the past 5 or 6 years of my life, I made a lot of drastic changes, and I think just from one year to the next, I became a very different person. Not so much when I was younger, but mid-20's to 30's has been a big change for me, and I think that' normal. It's obviously different for everyone, but it's important to be aware of the changes, and for there to be some intent behind it. Self-awareness is a rare and wonderful thing. Not many people have it. And I think your last email shows that you do, so that's good.
Recognizing your pattern of destructive behavior is also good. I do remember that incident in Chicago with Kal. I was one of the people calling you that morning. I had forgotten about it till now, but Brent did call me pretty early that morning, worried. I can't really offer much advice on how to prevent this from happening, because it's never really happened to me. I mean, sure, there have been several times I've gone out, gotten shit-faced and had some regrets in the morning. But my actions never affected anyone but myself, and maybe the other people I was drinking with. I'm really good at drinking nowadays. Haha. I don't really know how I do it, but I manage to get just barely drunk enough to feel good, and then just maintain that. So I never black out or do anything too dumb. There are exceptions to this of course, but generally I'm pretty good about knowing when to stop. Maybe that's just because I used to drink more in my early 20's and I learned my hard limits, or maybe it's just because I hate that feeling of not being in control of my body. (That's why I have no interest in hard drugs) I dunno, maybe it's just because I'm 31 now, and I get hangovers much more easily. The only advice I can give you is to rely more on the people you go out drinking with. You and I don't go out much together, and I like getting drunk with you, so I wasn't paying much attention to how many drinks you had that night. But in the future, I will. When I go out with Taryn and we get wasted, we always take care of each other. It's just understood. And that's important, not only to prevent you from making stupid decisions, but for safety's sake.
You're right that we were raised to think sex is bad and shameful and therefore you should never talk about it. And we are definitely products of our upbringing, but I DON'T really think there's anything shameful about sex. And I don't have a problem talking about it with you. I just don't really go into many details about my sex life with anyone. Unless it's like a funny story or something. I'm just kind of a private person when it comes to that, but I don't feel more uncomfortable talking about it with you than any of my other friends. And I hope you don't think I was judging you because you wanted to have sex with someone on the trip. Because I don't have a problem with that at all. I just think it's important to be cognitive and responsible about it. There's a reason I've never gotten pregnant or had STD/STI's in my life, and that' because I'm careful. It's also partly cuz I'm celibate. Which is unfortunate, and not really my choice. :/ Last night I went on a tinder date with a guy who turned out to be an ex con. FML. Well, this concludes my email. We don't have to talk about the thing in Belize again, I feel much better about it now. I mean it's no longer keeping me up at night, so we can just move on. Well I'm starving so I'm gonna go make breakfast. Bye!
Shsiter (<--- that's what I just typed. wtf.)
Our emails continued, but it's not important to include them here. I genuinely felt much better about the situation, and something about being back in the States made it easier to move on and forget it. It was sort of like a bad dream I had. And I'm thankful and lucky to say that I can look back on our Belize trip fondly now, despite what happened. It's no longer a tainted memory. Just sort of a blur.