“Hey, Google, Turn Off My Feelings.”
Like everyone else across South Louisiana, I woke up to claps of thunder this morning. They were loud, concessive, and a bit startling. The thunderstorms we’ve experienced are part of a weather pattern that has been going on for a few days now. It has produced strong winds and street flooding in some areas, but for my community, fortunately enough, there has not been much more than the flickering of the electricity. And so it was that the power did flicker, once, this morning, causing my television and a few of smart-plugged lamps to automatically turn on. And so it was that I had to instruct my Google device to turn them off.
Honestly, I still marvel at the way that technology works. The same Google device that can coach me on making chicken alfredo and that plays music and news while I work goes on, with nothing more than a verbal command, to identify to a few other devices in my house, and instructs them to deactivate. Simple. Effortless. Quick…
“If only everything in my life worked this way,” I quipped. Then, after a moment of thought, I went a little further. “Hey, Google,” I said, “turn off my feelings.” The device responded, by saying it would try to be more careful.
Of course, I had given the device an unachievable command, and its reply was boilerplate. But I really was wishing that it had a better response for how a person — well, yes, me — should deal with a real break-up. The end of any relationship can leave a person — and, yes, me, again — racked with different emotions. It takes time and effort to process these feelings. And so, that got me thinking. I sat down at my desk, and I began to research just how often people might have asked of their Google devices the very same request. It turns out that Google Trends has not kept sufficient data on the phrase turn off my feelings, but on Twitter, a good number of people have tweeted such instructions, whether jokingly or otherwise, to their Alexa, Google, and Siri devices. So, it would appear that I am not alone in dreaming up such a request… Whew. Thank God!
Very rarely, if ever, have I written anything that delved into my relationship status. I had always deemed that topic of conversation to be more personal than, say, my faith or my politics, both of which I speak about freely. In fact, when it had come to people knowing who I am dating, my mantra has long been: if I do not tell you what is in my wallet, why would I tell you who is in my bedroom? Some things are just not for public consumption and are no one else’s business. Well, that was my thinking before this missive. I guess I am changing course now, perhaps because writing about my most recent experience could help me to sort through the thoughts in my head. And there are a whole lot of those!
Recently, I met an amazing person who we, for the sake of anonymity, will simply refer to only as Crab Noodle (and use the pronounces they, their, and them). From the moment of the introduction, I knew that there was something different about this person — something special. I was immediately struck by this person’s better qualities — youthful, attractive, personable, and hard-working. And with those things, what really stood out the most was just how caring and attentive Crab Noodle appeared to be to the people in their circle. They went out of their way to make sure that everyone was in a good place. “People deserve to be listened to and know that they matter,” Crab Noodle explained to me. “Just knowing that someone cares can help people get through the toughest parts of their day.” Crab Noodle was right about that, and it was that genuine degree of kindness that sold me on pursuing something more than a friendship.
No person is perfect, to be sure. In fact, we all bring our own baggage into a new relationship. For example, I fully and wholeheartedly admit that my stubborn and opinionated ass lugs around my own share of personal quirks, a blemished history, and some distracting responsibilities. So, I have never expected anything near perfection from any other person. You see, to me, for as long as two people are taking the same journey, and for as long as the weight of their baggage is tolerable, then they should be fine. The big question is, is there enough love between the two of them to step out into the unknown, together?
I knew that Crab Noodle has some baggage, but those things were not deal-breakers for me. In fact, we both seems to muscle through anything that might have been problematic. And so, the dating phase seemed to commence without much trouble, and I was, as the kids would say, smitten A.F.! I never really saw the end coming so abruptly.
I knew something was wrong. Talking or texting with Crab Noodle throughout any given day was a regular occurrence. That there was complete silence on Friday evening and Saturday raised my eyebrows. As was my routine, I had texted them on Saturday morning, just to say hello, but then, when there was no response, I did the same on Sunday morning, only this time asking if things were okay. A response came by midday. It was abundantly clear. Crab Noodle texted: “I believe it’s best that we aren’t together.” The exchange that followed was brief and shed no light on this decision. They said that they had given “it” consideration, and that they thought it best to continue their journey alone. When I asked Crab Noodle if we could talk, the reply felt more like a scoff. “What do you want to talk?” Crab Noodle wrote in their last text message to me. Stunned, I sat back in my chair for a moment, and I reread our exchange — one that only lasted minutes, but that also changed everything without an explanation. I knew it was over, and so, my last words were, rather stoically, “…maybe there isn’t anything to talk about.”
The spate of emotions in the days since have been random and burdensome. The end of any relationship is likely to bring about feelings of guilt, disappointment, anxiety, humiliation, anger, sorrow, and whatever else we try to mask, while we fumble through the aftermath, hoping to continue the other aspects of our daily lives. None of this was a new experience for me. Unfortunately, I have survived my share of break-ups before this one, and I will make another admission that, in one or two of those, I probably did not survive them so well. That might have been the reason why a few friends reached out to see how I was doing, even though I am quick to assure anyone that “I’m cool” or that “it is what it is”.
The truth is, well, I am human, and I cannot turn off my feelings in the moment that things appear to be over. I honestly do not know how anyone can. So, yes, I am hurting a bit from this experience, and, yes, I really do wish Google had had a more useful response to my command.
A man may not be able to help how he feels about events over which he has no control, but he can control what he does in response to those events. Time and past experiences have taught me a few things about coping with the unexpected when it comes to relationships. And so, this time, I do hope that I am smarter in the way that I deploy those approaches.
One of the first things is that I did take an inventory of the things for which I am grateful. I have a good life, and I have been blessed with an incredible family and remarkable friends, particularly the folks in my inner circle. I have crowded the hours, over the last few days, with them and with my work, just to keep my mind from wandering into the wrong places. Alongside that, I am continuing to read and jog and cook. In fact, I look forward to hearing my sister rave, once again, that my sauteed green beans are the best she has ever had! (Given that I could not boil water before the pandemic, I would say that this is a compliment.) The point here is that there is life after the unexpected moments, and I have to remember to cherish that.
Throughout the last few days, I have gotten a lot of advice, and the most prevailing words instruct me to “let things go”. For me — for anyone, really — while it seems like a simple thing to do, it is not the quick fix that it sounds like it would be. Hell, I became invested in this relationship. How could I just pretend that it did not happen or that I did not have feelings because of it? That is not possible. Those feelings are real, and they linger.
Maybe a better way for me to approach things, though, can be described like this: acceptance and restraint.
If someone does not want to be a part of your life, that is perfectly fine. You must respect their decision for what it is. Period. That may not immediately change how you have felt about them, but as you come to accept that they do not feel the same way about you, your wounds can begin to heal. I have learned that a person needs to reserve his or her attention, time, and effort for those people and things that are willing to exert the same, if not more, for him or her.
With this, I have also learned that you restrain yourself from taking any action that may put your in a position of weakness — particularly when you are not at fault. I do not say that to promote prideful conduct. Rather, I want to emphasize that no one should chase another person. Reconciliation, if it is even possible, takes two people, and it should begin at the hands of the person most responsible for the troubles being faced in the relationship.
In my situation, for example, Crab Noodle damaged the bond between us, and so, it should be them who takes the initiative to repair it, if it is to ever be repaired. Were I to try to do this — try to be “the better man”, simply to get us beyond this moment — I know that it could potentially set the kind of ugly precedent that makes many relationships difficult, or even toxic, later. I could wind up being the only one in the relationship expected to make things right, every time there is a dispute, whether I caused the dispute or not… That just ain’t gonna work for me.
Relationships are tricky, and when they come to an unexpected end, the effort required to get over them must be deliberate. No one’s feelings easily go away when the last words are spoken — or, um, even more cowardly, texted — and there is no quick way to turn those feelings off. I have learned in this break-up, as well as from the lessons of others before it, that a lot of what follows these moments must be efforts to create better standards for who and how I date, as well as a real appreciation for my own self-worth. While I may continue to have feelings for Crab Noodle, I have to be more important to me. I must put a greater value on my own person, what I bring to the table, and my own peace of mind. That is the only way to really get through this…
Accept. Adapt. And carry on.