“The scariest thing about distance is that you don’t know whether they’ll miss you or forget you.”
― Nicholas Sparks
In my last post I was speaking a bit about the notion of “emotional labor” and whether or not estrangement is “women’s work” – by which I refer to the business of “worrying” about relationships, naming and speaking “feelings” for self and for others, feeling “responsible” to solve and resolve emotional tensions and feeling or bearing a disproportionate amount of blame and shame for being unable to successfully manage these tasks.
I had an email from a man this week, who spoke a bit about how estrangement had happened in his family. I will not get into the particulars of that, other than to say, at a certain point he became aware that when he was unhappy with someone in his family (most often his younger sister and mother) he elected to remove himself from the family. In other words, he “estranged”. This “solution” to emotional difficulties, or to disapproving of something his mother or sister said or did, was cyclical – it had happened many times. Most often, after a period of time, he advised, his sister or mother or both, would seek him out, apologize for the rift, and coax and encourage him back into the family fold. He agreed with the content of my previous post, and advised he had indeed, thought of this as “women’s work”, a job he simply expected the women in his family to do. “I never went looking for them” AND he never intended to stay gone forever. He knew his mother and sister would sort it out. (To his credit, he appeared quite sheepish about this).
I’m a little curious about this story – I don’t think for a moment that it is respresentative of all men by any stretch, or of all women. At the same time, his words made explicit a theme that I have seen pop up from time to time in my work. I call it “pursuit and distance”.
I note that pursuit and distance is not just limited to interactions between men and women, but also note it does seem perniciously present in male/female relationships; or maybe simply it is a reflection of power imbalances, typified by one person being more invested, or caring more about the outcome of the relationship. (Some) men manage emotional tension by distancing or removing themselves, (some) women manage the same tension by seeking increased connection and closeness. It seems women are more likely to “fetch” the relationship back in part because they are more invested in the success of relationship — it’s their “job”.
What happens when/if women stop taking on the responsibility to pursue and repair relationships? What happens when the dog (regardless of gender) won’t fetch? What might this have to do with estrangement?