Things Best Forgotten

At some time in your life you’re bound to make the acquaintance of someone who refuses to forget details of incidents that have happened during your relationship with them, details best forgotten because they cause you grief at each retelling. Incidents that should have been forgiven and forgotten long ago.

It can be as simple as a friend who always reminds you of the time you spilled ink on her favorite sweater. You may have paid to have it cleaned or you might have bought her a new, more expensive, sweater. It doesn’t matter, she will never let you forget that past mistake.

It can be a relative who always greets you with “Remember when you….” and then recounts the time you were caught skinny dipping in the family pool. Of course she only tells the story when it will embarrass you the most. They’re mistakes you’ve made, things you’ve done, now a part of their historical retellings. You can’t make them forget, no matter how hard you try.

Sometimes the person remembering the past is an important person in your life. It can be your boss who just isn’t sure “you’re ready to be trusted with the Murdock account after what you did with the Riley account” even if that mistake happened in your first month of employment, 15 years ago.

Perhaps it’s your wife who just can’t forget the details of your fling with your secretary 25 years ago when the two of you were separated and considering divorce. That one mistake has been replayed so many times it seems as though you’ve slept with every woman you’ve ever met. Not that you shouldn’t have since you doubt the price would be any higher than what you’ve been paying for something you did so long ago.

Forgetting a person’s mistake, or error, or indiscretion, does not mean that should they continue to do the same thing, we will allow them to get away with the next one and the next. It does mean we will not continue to berate them for something that has been done and is in the past. We can choose selective forgetting, keeping the information we’ve learned as a reference so that we will not be blindsided in the future. It is part of our learning process.

Perhaps Paula’s story can be of some assistance. When I asked for personal experiences in forgiving and forgetting, quite a few people responded. I think “Paula’s” experience is fairly common. Paula is not her real name and a few of the details are changed to keep everyone anonymous.

From Paula:

“Being married to my ex was like being married to that ‘memorial wall,’ you know, the one put up to remember Vietnam? Everything I did got written in stone and repeated back to me, time and time again. Whether I burned a pot roast one time, put a dent in the car, or talked to a male co-worker at a party, not only did it become a major argument at the time, it was added to my expanding ‘memorial wall.’

I really tried to be a good wife. Believe me, I was probably much better than most, if only because I was trying to keep that ‘wall’ as clean as possible. Even minor disagreements triggered a complete replay of the list of my past mistakes, large and small. He said he forgave me these things. But he kept bringing them up, elaborating on how bad they were. How bad I was.

Instead of fading into obscurity, each little minor thing grew in importance with the retelling. He was good at embellishing. I think that’s the word. Or maybe exaggerating is better. I mean, if it started out as talking, by the time he told it for the 10th or 20th time, I had slept with the guy for pete’s sake! And that was how he remembered it, from then on. He just couldn’t put anything I did, that he perceived as a wrong on my part, into the past. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, forget even the slightest wrong.

I tried so hard. But a reasonable person can only take so many years of this kind of dumping. I grew to resent his non-forgetting and I grew to resent him. While I was trying so hard to be a good wife, and do things the right way, he was busy cheating on me. Oh, I didn’t know this in the beginning, and even when I began to suspect something was wrong, I kept my eyes closed to it. Wives are supposed to do whatever it takes to keep their marriage together. Aren’t they?

Probably because he was feeling so guilty (and I didn’t realize this until years later) he began accusing me of being a cheat! I mean he was believing all the stuff he was repeating back from years past and like I said it was getting changed every time he repeated it. He was making impossible demands that I ‘prove’ I wasn’t cheating, monitoring my time away from home, demanding an accounting when I went to the grocery store or to the mall. He was always welcome to accompany me but he would rather accuse me of sexual misconduct with the guy at the gas station, my doctor, every man I had any type of contact with!

He was the one staying out late every night, but when he got home, he was angry at me! I stopped socializing with my girlfriends because he didn’t ‘trust’ them. I became almost a hermit, afraid to talk to anyone for fear a simple look or word would send him into a rage and bring up that familiar growing list of wrongs and accusations. When I couldn’t stand the pain any more, I left him. He accused me of leaving him for another man. I didn’t, but I’m sure he still believes I did.

I’ve now married to a wonderful man. There’s just one problem. I don’t trust him. He’s never given me any reason to think he’s ever even looked at another woman. Yet, when he calls and says he’s working late, I wonder who he’s with. It’s what my ex-husband used to do, you know? I know he’s hurt by my accusations and we’ve had some arguments over it, but I just don’t want to be a fool again, you know?”

While Paula isn’t building a “memorial wall,” she makes the same mistake so many of us do. Afraid to forget the pain her first husband caused her, she’s making her second husband pay the price just as her first husband made her pay the price for his jealousy. It could cost her a good marriage. Her husband does not deserve her mistrust. Her ex-husband did.

The interesting point here is that Paula was willing to forgive and forget during her first marriage to the man who was actually cheating, but she’s not willing to do the same in her second marriage with a man who has never hurt her!

The same type of situation can exist between friends, between parent and child, between you and your boss. Perhaps that note in your personnel file from years ago is what keeps you from getting the promotion you deserve today.

Forget? Why not learn and grow instead? From a visitor to the FRIENDS and Lovers web site comes this very good advice:

“Forgive? Yeah. If not for him then for yourself. Forget? Impossible. But learn from it. Use it as an opportunity to grow. There’s only two things in this world we can count on: Ourselves, and Change. We can’t do anything about what happens to us. But we can decide how we’ll respond. As far as the pain goes, PRAY. Only God and time can help in that department.”