It’s Valentine’s Day and my word for the year is love. So, I asked myself how I could love the people I love better. First, I had a conversation yesterday with my Work Wife and effective west coast best friend. I told her I have a really hard time repeating myself–in that, I could probably think of three things I hate more (wet socks brown bananas and cats). My issue becomes particularly problematic in friendships because unlike with my students there’s no syllabus to refer to. That sounds trite, but there is great comfort in an outlined contract of sorts which details expectations and means of measurement.
A long time ago I stopped giving advice. Why? Because nobody listened anyway and I found myself getting more involved than was necessary in not-my-problems. I drew a thick line in how I cared for my friends after a particularly tense situation with a friend and her boyfriend. I thought I was doing the right thing for her, she disagreed. It was a mess but we recovered over time. Still it taught me a valuable lesson: that love sometimes means leaving people to their own muck.
One of my favorite quotes from play therapist Gary Landreth is “When you do for others what they can do for themselves, you rob them of the opportunity to learn their own strength.” I heard it once in a play therapy training and I latched on to it like crazy. Because I was doing this habitually. I wanted to help give advice, be the 3am phone call, talk through problems, come up with solutions for people but in my doing so people were NOT listening and effectively creating their own misery cycles, and I was right there with them. What I know from counseling is that you don’t make a change until you are ready and nothing solely externally can force real change. So I was setting myself up for failure too. I was exhausting myself and growing angry with my friends. I had to change.
Now I have become much better at “letting grown people be grown” but the fact still remains that when someone asks my opinion of me, I am extremely hesitant to give it. One friend of mine was particularly bothered by it. I shared my reasons for withholding but of course that doesn’t change the experience of feeling someone is keeping something from you. And for me it doesn’t change the experience of having to share my opinion (for what)? In the end people do what they want to do anyway. It feels like a no-win situation.
So how can I love better? How can I reframe my experience? It is, of course, no ones job to listen to me. Why do I get so upset when I repeat myself? Because it feels I have been unheard. Specifically now, unheard when you sought out my voice. But that current frame only causes frustration for me. So I need a new one. WW said I need to feel less responsible for fixing. I don’t think I do feel that sense of responsibility anymore. But admittedly, I do find it difficult to be around people who continuously create their own misfortune. In this sense, it’s not an issue of me wanting to fix its me wanting to sever. I don’t like the way they feel.
WW suggested an impatience with people. Or maybe I heard it underneath something else she said as I do not believe those were her words specifically. That is one I’ll own. Not that everything is easy for me, it’s not by any stretch of the imagination, but some people require a bit more time. I think it’s insulting when people insinuate that my impatience comes because I’m so good at… Or I don’t struggle with… Because a) I see it as an excuse and b) of COURSE I’ve struggled. I struggle every day. And for the most part, publicly. That’s elective and it’s not meant to make “it” look easy. It’s to illustrate how very difficult it is to be real with yourself. Calling myself out in front of others…not to be an exemplar but to be in solidarity with.
My impatience comes from watching potential circle the drain. Millions of stars in our personal universes go wasted because of I cants, I don’t deserves, and but hows. That is hard for me. Maybe because I know, to some extent, what it feels like to believe all those things about yourself and how grossly untrue it all is. And no one could have learned that lesson for me. But I sure am glad my people stuck by me while I turned my life around. Randy Pausch says if people haven’t surprised us then we haven’t given them enough time. I just want to love people enough to wait for the surprise. I “simply” need to let go of the timeline on when that should be.
This work…self-work can be so bitter sometimes. Especially when you’re looking at the parts of you that you want to change. It is immensely helpful, though, when as a result of your other work you now have the wisdom to believe you Can change. That you are indeed capable of it, you are worth the goodness which lies on the other side of it (and that revealed during the process), and that by faith in yourself you can get there. I suppose the love goes both ways. You’re a person too and sometimes when given enough time, you might surprise yourself.