How to Clean Grout Using Nothing But Elbow Grease and Tears

Jack’s toothbrush is too soft.

I learned this while using it to scrub the grout in my shower.

For the last two weeks, I’ve spent most of my emotional energy alternately wanting to stab people and crying. Turns out, there are more people in need of a good gashing than I previously understood. Sure, my emotional state may have had something to do with my urge to cut them, but really, I think under normal circumstances a lot of these people could benefit from a bit of a knifing, and upon hearing all the evidence, not a jury in the world would convict me.

Jack and I have always had what you’d call an unconventional relationship. We’ve known each other for ten years, and for most of that time we’ve been especially close. I value that. The power and depth of our connection has brought blessings and joys to my life that I have not experienced from any other relationship. I knew early in our acquaintance that he was an extraordinary person, and I felt strongly that it would be wrong not to know him as well as I could. I believe he is a gift to my life, and he has made me a better person.

But we’ve always been more than just friends, and less than romantically linked. For ten years, we have been an almost daily part of each other’s lives, sharing fears and hopes and worries and joys, sharing petty annoyances, jokes, late-night television and schtick, sharing the thoughts that keep us up at night, the things we never tell anyone else, sharing flirtation and emotion that, in any other human connection, would lead to something more.

Others have noted our seemingly natural fit. In light of its depth, some of us wanted it to veer more in the romantically linked direction, while others of us apparently preferred to run marathons and be evasive. The toothbrush was in my house because there have been times when Jack has spent the night, and there have been, oh, less abstruse connections… but I have some pretty solid rules about what I do and don’t do with men who run marathons while being evasive, so don’t let your imaginations run wild about my morals. (Which is not to say I haven’t let my own imagination run wild a time or 7,000.)

But don’t get me wrong, either: it’s not like we’ve been waiting around. We’ve both had dates, relationships with significant others, etc. in those years. And I’ve known for a long time that it was probably not going to veer in the established-couple direction and dealt with that as well as I could. But for me, it’s always come back to him. And for him, it seemed to always come back to me.

Well, that’s what I told myself, anyway.

Recent events tipped the scales of what I have always tried to keep in balance in our relationship. For the first time in ten years, I finally got mad. Jack has always tended to isolate himself for certain periods of time,  from everyone. But more from others than from me. This time I got mad because Jack had distanced himself so much for so long that it was really changing our relationship, and he had not given me the courtesy of acknowledging it despite a few truly gentle expressions of my concern. There were several things he had done or said that made me feel minimized and marginalized, and he knew it. It all came to a head, and I had finally had enough.

The two-hour Come To Jesus conversation that followed was at once frustrating and revealing. We both know we have our own issues, of course, and he offered that his is the worst kind of emotional unavailability. He told me I would be his perfect mate, if only he could let himself even consider loving me. And I knew that I had held on to hoping for an us that was more conventional because I had never had anything like us, and feared I never would. And then Jack needed a week and a half to answer two very easy questions: Given your self-imposed isolation, do you want me to leave you alone? and Do you feel that I am a significant part of your life?

Ten days to answer those two questions.

This would be the part where the stabbiness really kicked in. This would be the part where I became an emo barfburger with extra wretch-up.

And of course, I knew that the fact that it took him so long to answer those questions is, in itself, the answer to those questions.

At some point, I started to believe I could make do with the mixed pleasure and pain of what we had because it was better than not having it at all. During the ten days of silence that followed our long conversation, I was gut-punched with the knowledge that I might have to give it all up. I was devastated. But I knew that we were at a crossroads that could no longer be circled. I knew that I did not mean as much to him as I had thought. I knew that, no matter what came of our conversation, whether he returned with answers or not, I had to find a way to stop loving him.

He did return with answers (in email form, which pissed me off and I told him so – where did I leave that knife?!): that he wanted my close friendship but not more; that he knew it would require him to be more available and less isolated. This was not news. Rather, it was the boiled-down remains of what had simmered in him for that time, and, really, for years before, and it was all that he was willing to offer. We have had conversations like these in the past, but we have always danced around the real point for fear of losing ourselves and each other. But now there was nothing left to garnish the reduction. It was time for me to stop trying. It was time for me to redraw the lines that distinguish our friendship from the deeper love I have, until our friendship is all that I employ. Because I do not want to give up the blessing, the friendship that had made me better. But I could not keep believing it was more.

In my shower, I scrubbed at the grout of the tile for the first time with more than the rub of a finger. I used his toothbrush, possibly out of spite, but the only cleanser was the caustic acidity of my heartbreak, which was literally and metaphorically both profound and really eye-rollingly annoying. I was finally doing something more than looking at the collecting grime of what seemed harmless but wasn’t, and pondering the best solutions without acting on the answers. Minus a true cleaning agent, I might have more work to do in the end. But this was a start.

24 thoughts on “How to Clean Grout Using Nothing But Elbow Grease and Tears

    • There’s been lots of visualizing. 🙂 Not against Jack, actually – I don’t really like the idea of violence toward him (though I have visualized throwing things. That helped.) Thank you for the good thoughts. 🙂

  1. I know a couple of people who should be stabbed…and if it really was spite, you would have cleaned the toilet with his toothbrush.

    I can certainly understand not wanting to lose the gift; a deep and true friendship is a blessing. But I am not sure how one goes about “unloving” someone. I hope that you are able to come to terms with the changed (changing?) relationship and feel peace.

    • I don’t like to get that close to the toilet grime. I use something with a longer handle for that. Thank you for your thoughts – it will be a process, but it has already started. I’ll get to where I need to be.

      • At least you know where you stand, what you stand to lose, and what you have to do. There isn’t always a happy ending in these things, but there doesn’t have to be a bitter end, either. I wonder if your relationship/friendship will remain as strong if you are emotionally detached/unavailable?

      • It’s a complex emotional and logical thing to sort through, for sure. I don’t think I’ll end up detached. I will be less attached, though. I have never seen him with rose-colored glasses, but there were lots of times I willingly chose to see him in a flattering way or to take his signals to heart. Now I have to take responsibility for that, recognize what’s real and accept the gift of our friendship, reciprocating it only as far as friendship would allow. We’ve all lost love before – I think it’s a matter of what we find in the process.

        Then again, I could be full of crap. Time will tell.

  2. Oh, Jack. We’ve all had a Jack in our lives. Mine ended up marrying someone who (everyone said) looked just like me, but turned out to be an utter pain in the ass. I will admit: a small part of me felt vindicated. Now (10+ years later), I’m thankful we didn’t end up together, because I’ve landed with someone I’m even more compatible with – and who doesn’t dance around emotions. Perhaps you need to take a page from Jack’s book and make yourself less emotionally available to him? Good luck. And in the meantime, use that toothbrush however you see fit.

  3. SEMI-gut wrenching? Disguised as semi-funny? What an incredibly honest post. I can’t imagine having such a relationship. Maybe that’s a guy thing … maybe it’s a guy from another generation thing. Your angry posts are difficult for me to read. Some years ago, I discovered I used anger to cover up sadness. Sometimes, the only way to dissipate the anger is to feel the sadness. I wonder if you do the same thing. Whatever, I hope things work out for you … and Jack, if you want that to be in the cards.

    • Yeah, I had to take some deep breaths before I hit Publish on that one, and it took me that full two weeks to figure out how to write it in some semblance of sensibility. But when I started blogging, I told myself I would be honest and sometimes that would mean revealing painful things. It took me a while to get there.

      You had made that point in my previous post about stabbing people (jokes, kids, only jokes) about anger vs. sadness. I think for me it’s worked the opposite way. As I had said, I learned 20 years ago that anger is a byproduct of hurt. So what I’ve done in that 20 years is suppress anger and acknowledge, confront, wallow in or accept pain instead. I think for me, anger actually comes out when the pain has gotten to a point where I can’t process it as heartache anymore. I need it to be anger to refresh my perspective. In any event, this post really was much more about heartache than anger. The anger went away when we had the Come to Jesus. There are hints of frustration, both with him and myself, and embarrassment, and other things… but sometimes I use faux anger as a tool of humor to lighten up something pretty heavy.

  4. There is a Jack in my past as well. It took years to let go of the dream. I hope it doesn’t take you that long. We’re still friends, but not really. I had to distance myself and not be so available to realize I just wasn’t The One for him–when I should’ve been focusing on myself the entire time and on what made ME happy. A man who is not emotionally there for you is not going to make you happy. Women are very good at rationalizing, analyzing, and seeing the details but not the big picture.

    • I think you’re right, but I’m still trying to parse the degree to which you’re right. 🙂 He actually does make me happy – by which I do not mean that my happiness completely depends on him. He has always contributed to my happiness. But I think I did all the things you mentioned. It’s hard not to. I think that, in true relationships, we have to do those things too sometimes to make it through the rough spots. I don’t want to get to a point where I don’t find any relationship worth fighting for because I can explain away everything by saying I had rationalized it all too much to begin with. (I hope that made some kind of sense.)

  5. Well, I figured it was Jack (in that lady post), but I didn’t want to pry any more than I already did. I loved my best friend once, too, only I was the one who wouldn’t let it go further. I knew him too well, and I knew hire that would end – and that the friendship would be lost, too. Even though it was my own decision, it took a lot of time to get over the love I felt. I do think that you’ll

    • (stupid phone)

      get to a place where it doesn’t hurt any more. Just accepting that there won’t be more to your relationship is a big mental step. You may always think (on occasion) about what could have been, but it won’t have the sting anymore. Mine is like a bruise, a little sad thing that I remember, but the desperation and aching is long gone. In the end, you will have the same Jack, the same friend. But by accepting what you already knew, you are allowing yourself to open up to other possibilities – to truly open up, not temporarily open up until the time is right for you and Jack. I know you said you dated other people, but I have to wonder if they were just space fillers, because you felt that you ultimately belonged with Jack. Of course, I don’t know if that is accurate or not, but it is something that people do, whether they realize it or not.

      Things will get better, easier to bear, and you will adjust. In the meantime, scrub away. By the way, toothbrushes make a great shiv. (No letters, please – of course I kid.)

    • Technology makes us all look bad. 🙂 I knew you were having tech problems, not brain problems.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your experience. I’m intrigued by how many people have said they had a similar person in their lives. Makes me feel better and less foolish. I guess we just want to believe in love, huh? Anyway, yes, it will get better. And I have to say that, no, I really don’t feel that the other men I’ve had in my life were space fillers. I’ve thought about that. I truly was with those men because I wanted to be, even though they ultimately didn’t work out. (Mostly I think I choose the wrong men!) Further discussion between Jack and me has made some things more clear. It’s surprising to learn something so significant about someone I’ve known so well for so long.

  6. I love this post. Thank you for sharing it with us. I don’t love that you are going through a painful situation. I’m kinda pissed at Jack but I’m Irish, we’re “very comfortable with anger” (a therapist told me that once 🙂

    Hang in there. Do what makes you happy and sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.

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