Tag Archives: change

Waiting for people to “change”

Going way back in my life, I remember waiting for people to change. Not usually arbitrary change. More typically it was change they told me they WANTED to make, were GOING to make, and so on. I was all ears. Great! They see the problem and they want to remedy it. They want to improve this issue. Make themselves better and — in either some or many instances — help our relationship in the doing.

It started, as many things do in childhood when my mother was always talking about “things changing.” The situation in our house wasn’t good, god knows, and there was plenty of room for improvement. She talked a good game. I believed her. I had a vision for a much better life myself. It was within reach, not the stuff of fluff and fantasy. We could do this as a family. Do I need to tell you nothing, ever, ever changed? Unless you count getting worse as change. No, I didn’t think so.

As I grew older and had relationships, I took this trait with me. Not to a one, but I came across my share of people who talked about change. Changing themselves. As I’d been with my mother, I was a gung ho cheerleader and sidekick. Things can be better! Won’t things be great WHEN…[insert “X”] happens. In my own way, much as it chagrins me, I was a True Believer. (I hesitate on that because I take a rather dim view of True Believers. When I say someone is one, I don’t typically mean “isn’t that a grand way to be.” No. It’s a way of explaining someone’s dogged pursuit. A single-minded vision that tends to overlook or block out anything that doesn’t really fit the picture. Cheerleading over iffy causes.)

Anyway, I know I was a key part of this dynamic. When people – some of them – became involved in relationships with me, started interacting with me, listening to my ideas and philosophies, they often started talking about “changing.” Again, I was all for it! This changing was invariably about eliminating a negative trait or behavior and improving themselves or their life in a meaningful way. Why, the solution was just around the bend! Things will sure be great when they – and by design, we – get there.

I must have been, consciously or not, directly or not, eliciting this response (to me). Which isn’t to necessarily say the people I’ve known weren’t ALSO talking to other people about changing, etcetera – I don’t know for certain – but I have to conclude I somehow prompted it in relating to me. It may have been a way to get or hold my attention. Sometimes people wanted my approval – telling me what they thought sounded good – which I saw or see only in retrospect.

Wanting people to improve themselves and/or to be happier, isn’t inherently a bad thing. So it’s not like a malicious intent. But misguided? Yes. It’s absolutely useless if the other person doesn’t genuinely want that – whatever “that” is in a particular instance – for themselves; if the idea doesn’t spring from something deep inside them. It’s not worth spit if you – i.e., *I* – am the only one really interested in the subject. If I’m the one propelling it, even indirectly.

It took me a long time to realize the above. That is, anything that’s going to have legs and last must be self-initiated. It’s all well and good (for me) to talk to other people, to introduce ideas, if only by example, but waiting for other people to change is a fool’s errand. Counting on it is a ticket to ride the Misery Moped – a comrade of the Bitter Bus – which you will ride alone.

My realization wasn’t sudden. It took years and evolved. I took all the maxims about the only changes that can be made are the ones you make for yourself, to heart. It wasn’t just about “them.” I took more of the energy I poured into other people and directed it my way. I became more conscious of how I affected people. My antennae went up whenever a person I knew or was getting to know started talking about “changing,” all the more so if it linked right back to me somehow.

Maybe a relatively benign story will help. I was seeing a man years back when I was becoming more conscious of this trait in myself (and wanting to CHANGE it). He was very smart, dry-humored, trustworthy. A basically good, if needy, man. However, decidedly into middle age, he wasn’t someone who took care of himself. He led a sedentary lifestyle, didn’t eat especially well, and was overweight. A big guy, not obese, but packing pounds. I, on the other hand, have for a long time, placed good health – exercise and eating right – at the front of my lifestyle.

His physical condition played a part in what we might do together – we certainly weren’t going for a run or rock climbing – but I never said a word to him about his weight or his eating habits. I didn’t talk about eating better or exercising more. It was a new day: I took him as I found him. I went on the idea that he was the way I saw him and anything I thought or decided in terms of our relationship would spring from that base.

Soon into our relationship though, he started talking about his weight. He volunteered that he’d lost a pound or two the previous week. (I don’t remember exactly what he attributed it to but it was an unreliable thing, not a lifestyle or philosophy change.) He made a point of announcing that if he kept up at this pace, he’d have lost 30 – or maybe it was 50 – pounds in such-and-so many weeks. Although I’d actively done nothing to incite it – other than to show up – I sensed that this talk was for my benefit.

That was confirmed in a follow-up conversation where he accused me of not being sufficiently encouraging of his weight loss plan. If I know me – and I think I do – I probably explained about the weight loss idea not really seeming like a goal of his and further, that I’d never said anything to him about his weight, so although it was presented as an offering of sorts, he wasn’t doing it for “me.” (I am reminded here of another man, who, soon after meeting me, announced he was going to “start working out.” I heard that proclamation from him a few more times until it dried up and was said no more.) And just to wrap up the story – so long as I knew him he never lost any weight or changed anything about his diet or lifestyle. And if he ever did after that, I surely don’t believe it would have anything to do with me.

I’d finally gotten it. The people I know and meet are usually in the vicinity of middle-age. I’ve stopped approaching people on the premise they will or may change. I assume they WON’T. This feels healthier and smarter. I don’t even want to hear talk about changing and I’m skeptical of it if I do. If someone changes, I’ll see it. In fact, the less talk – if it’s for my theoretical benefit – the better.

Left

I realized a long while ago that it’s harder to be the person left behind than the person who is leaving. Assuming they went willingly, it is generally easier on the one who goes somewhere else. Whether that’s the buddy at work who quits, the good neighbor who moves away, the child who goes off to college, the spouse who vacates the marital home, or the loved person who dies.

I think it’s because the person left behind experiences the absence acutely and regularly. They see the co-worker’s empty cubicle. See the child’s room with their posters still on the walls, their trophies and knick-knacks sitting on the shelves. Go through the practical matters of funerals or sorting through and dealing with the deceased’s belongings and mostly, try to fathom and cope with the huge hole left. They field phone calls and mail for someone who’s moved on. They no longer commiserate with their neighbor during snow storms or electrical outages, or chat over the fence in fair weather. They sleep alone in the bed once shared with the other person.

While they may miss you – except for the deceased, who, no matter your beliefs about what happens after death, probably doesn’t miss anyone – the leaving person will have lots of new stimuli occupying them, or minimally, they won’t consciously or unconsciously expect to see you.

That’s the rub. It takes awhile to stop looking in the old places you still frequent or live in, expecting to see and hear what you used to. There’s a confusion that occurs, when you catch yourself about to do something you once did – and you realize you can’t. It’s over. They’re gone.

I know the sayings about doors shutting and windows opening. About old goodbyes leading to new hellos. How every new friend was once a stranger. Yes, I know all that. Like you, I hear these sayings. And you know what? I don’t care. Painful is painful. Difficult is difficult. I don’t have to paint it up pretty, spin it so it’s more palatable. I’ve lived enough to know. You miss the good ones. You just do.

Compassion?

I recently had an exchange with Angie, and the topic of compassion was mentioned. Specifically, being a compassionate person. This got me to ruminating for a couple days. Not that I am not ruminating most of the time in general (I am) but this felt focused.

See, here’s the thing. If you asked me, “Are you a compassionate person?” I would say, yes, yes, I am. And then I’d add a caveat. I’m not entirely clear on what that caveat is though. I’ve fumbled around in my own mind as to what it is. I think part of the problem is the definition of compassion itself. This could be, as I believe in the case of the word love, that I might be walking around with an idea of compassion which is different from yours, i.e., that many or most of us have our own working definitions that are not necessarily all the same.

Compassion blends into other traits too. And that’s problematic. Is being compassionate the same as being empathetic? Is it being a pushover? “Turning the other cheek?” Is it being quick to forgive? Is it always doing the right thing? Is it helping wherever you see a need? Is it doing things you’d rather not? Where do ethics fit in?

I am careful, online and in life, not to sell or oversell my own traits, my own good points. This isn’t about being dismissive or downplaying what others may see in me as in: “Aw, shucks, I’m not all that smart” or “Do you really think I’m pretty?” or “No, I don’t think [insert whatever is being complimented] is very good.” It is more that I have an exacting nature and a specific goal to pinpoint the truth. Not to generalize or paint broadly – about much of anything and certainly not my own traits. So I hesitate over claiming compassion wholesale.

Moreover, the reality is, I have a tough time thinking of anyone I really consider a “(very) compassionate person.” Perhaps it is because I just don’t use the word itself that much? Or maybe it is because not that many people are very compassionate? Or maybe I just personally don’t know these very compassionate people who do possibly abound? Or my working definition is too strict?

When I think about my own self, I believe I am empathetic. And while I think there is a parallel between empathy and compassion, I’m not entirely clear on what that is either. They seem awfully similar so far as traits go. Empathy seems to be about an ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe compassion is about staying in your OWN shoes and still recognizing someone else’s concerns? Could that be it?

Empathy is, or feels, like something I was born with. It feels like a trait I can’t turn off, even when I want to. I can feel empathy for people I don’t even like. (That would be likely the time when I might want to turn it off.) I tend to know how other people are feeling and what they need emotionally. At times in my life, I’ve even participated in scenarios as something of an emotion broker: I listened to two or more people talking or haggling over an issue, and I then was able to explain to each person what the other was feeling, what their concerns were. (I only did this when it was clear they didn’t understand each other, so I was acting like an emotional interpreter.)

Compassion, on the other hand, seems more saint-like, more generous, a choice to be decent, kind, forgiving, tolerant, loving, a stand-up human being. Even when people are screwing up. Maybe especially when people are screwing up. And I’ve got some problems with this. I think maybe I’m less compassionate than I used to be. And to be honest, I’m kind of GLAD about that. I’ve been tolerant, too tolerant sometimes, in my own estimation. And I’ve concertedly changed that, or rather, have been changing that. Does being compassionate mean you’re a sucker? That you must overlook other people’s screw-ups? Always look for the best, no matter how miniscule the best may be? Forgive and forget? If that’s what compassion is, I’m really not interested.

Too much of my life, I’ve been in positions where I said to someone in so many words, “What you are doing is not okay. It is hurting people. I don’t like it. It’s not right.” And the other person said, “Yeah, I know, you’re right, it’s a problem, mea culpa, I’ll change.” And then promptly went right back to doing the same thing(!) [Repeat.]

It’s in vogue to say that everyone is doing “the best they can.” That people do horrible things because horrible things were done to them. That you can’t do better till you learn better. Etcetera. This kind of implies that one day each and every person will or could, in time, work things out – learn – and shape up. Um, that’s not what happens. A lot of people just get worse! If they get worse, can we really say they were doing the “best they could” in the first place?? That’s illogical. Moreover, I don’t believe everybody is doing the best they can. I’ve seen a bit of anecdotal evidence that they’re not. That they could do better and just don’t. How many people make being a very decent human being a big priority in their lives anyway? Am I too cynical here? Are most people trying to be very decent human beings and I’m just missing it?

When I do a crappy thing, I feel really bad about it. And honestly, the “crappy” things I’ve done, aren’t all that terrible. I know they’re not. I probably thought they were till I grew up, looked around, and saw what OTHER PEOPLE were doing! To wit: when I was a child, I had to go to “confession” at church. I’d sit around all week, trying to drum up sins to tell! The best I could come up with was nonsense like not brushing my teeth one night. I’ll grant you, I picked up the pace on “sinning” in subsequent years, but the fact remains, the times I’ve done wrong or caused harm, stand out for their rarity and for the fact they sat on my conscience. I still look around and am shocked by what people are willing to do. They don’t even seem to notice because they do these things all the time. And — when I know them personally, they don’t seem to understand what I’m making such a “stink” about.

My point being, everybody seems to be operating on their own set of rules as to what’s okay behavior. At a point, the LAW steps in and mandates a lot of it. But look how many people run afoul of the law! A lot!! Did you know that 1 in 31 people in the U.S. is either in the prison system or being monitored by it? Should I be happy about the 30 that are flying reasonably right? Or haven’t been caught? Or are operating in just such a way that they are above the law but possibly below human decency? Making judgments – and I make them – gets in the way of being compassionate, I expect.

There’s another piece to this. As I ruminated about the topic of compassion, I realized that very significantly, I’ve become more compassionate to myself. The compassion I turned outward, I began to turn inward. Now, a person might think, as you become more compassionate toward yourself, in turn you become more compassionate toward other people. Like, when someone stops judging themselves as much, they simultaneously begin to judge others less. Or the more love you give to yourself, the more love you have to offer. (This is often represented in the give-oxygen-to-yourself-on-the-plane-before-giving-it-to-others scenario, i.e., fill your depleted tank first so you have more to offer others.) But that’s not really what I’m experiencing. Maybe in the long haul it will be but it isn’t presently. What I used to give to others, I am giving to myself.

I now consciously choose not to be as compassionate as I once was, if that is in fact, the right word. It is not that I have erased empathy and compassion in my self. It is that I have become so much more conscious and conscientious about how I use them. The price tags were simply too high before and overtaxed my compassion/empathy spigots. And I just didn’t know that at the time. Or rather, I somehow believed I had to pay. It was all self-imposed.

I’ve learned that just because I start being compassionate in a situation or in regard to a person, it doesn’t mean I have to keep it up. If I see a reason to stop or dial it back, I now give myself permission to do that. I used to think once started, all in; no exits. But guess what? The Compassion Police don’t show up and your door and demand to know why you’re slacking off! Nothing happens! Maybe I used to think some terrible toll would be exacted for not towing the compassion line. For not offering second, third, fourth, fifth chances. (Because people wanted them or thought you SHOULD offer them or I thought I SHOULD.) And more than that; I don’t have to give chances AT ALL if I don’t want to.

Maybe empathy isn’t a choice – it’s involuntary as I’ve suggested, at least for me – but compassion IS.

“Don’t want nobody with no problems”

Bonnie Raitt’s ode to a “Real Man” has been around a long time. She sang,

“Don’t want nobody with no problems.
I don’t need a man with a monkey on his back.”

I’d think, YES! Me too, Bonnie. I also don’t want nobody with no problems. Rock on.

Except it wasn’t true. With the clarity and kick-in-the-pants that time can offer, I now suspect a man with problems must’ve been just what I wanted, if unconsciously. That unconscious is a bitch, isn’t she? (I think Freud said that.) It’s not a happy realization that either a) I was indeed looking for a man with problems and or b) having found one, I did not excuse myself and move on down the road. Rather, I dug in – at least for awhile.

Women, especially educated and/or accomplished ones (of which I can claim the former), often get criticized for being too picky when it comes to the opposite sex, for dismissing men too readily over superficial, unimportant issues – height, income, car, job, potential, education, little habits, etcetera (ergo that’s why they’re alone goes the complaint). I want to be clear that I’m not talking about these sorts of things, but actual problems, the twisty kind that interfere with life and relationships.

I didn’t wake up one day and BAM! realize all this and start fresh. No. For me these kinds of realizations come in waves, in stages. First, when I saw problems in the men I became involved with, I took note and stopped moving in closer and trying to solve them; instead, I stayed alert and held my ground. I was helpful where I could be and where it did not come at cost to my well-being. I did this despite the manueverings or agenda of the other person.

See, that was always part of the equation; I succumbed to pressure, subtle and not. I pressured myself even. I took on more than my share. That was my modus operandi (one familiar to many women). At some level, I thought I HAD to invest in a man’s problems – even when HE didn’t – that it was my job. And when I didn’t do that, I met resistance even from men who I’d only recently met, men who had no reason to have these sorts of expectations from me. (I think the “universe” always has a way of testing to see if you really mean business or are just flapping your gums.)

In part, for a time what I see happened was that I was still drawn to, and drawing, men with problems. What was different was how I related to them. It was a tremendous relief, I felt less burdened. I was re-working my role and seeing that – addressing problems – wasn’t what a voluntary relationship between equals was about, or what I wanted MY relationships to be about.

Other people’s problems no longer hold the questionable “allure” they once did. I see somebody toting a rucksack-o-problems – problems he isn’t addressing – and I may linger, I may talk, I may be a friend, or I may enjoy knowing him at some level – but I will not sign up for a relationship, I will not pitch my tent. I have changed. And I like it.

Never again

It’s strange when you realize there are things, for one reason or another, you will never do again.

I’m physically strong for a woman and always have been. It’s something I took a little pride in; I liked being able to do things and not always stand off to the side or have to ask for help. “Let me do it,” was my go-to phrase. One time at a carnival, a midway booth was testing strength with hand grips. They had two, one for each gender. I surprised the attendants by testing past the top rating on the woman’s grip, so they handed me the one for guys, on which I scored “weak man.” (I could see it was a slur against men but I was happy to merit the rating.) In my glory days, I never did try one of those swing-the-hammer-ring-the-bell strength tests, but I secretly wanted to.

I can’t believe now, some of the physical tasks I used to do. I never hired anybody for any of my many moves; alone or with a few friends, I did it, hauling furniture, boxes, etcetera. I haven’t hesitated, when I saw a nice-looking piece of furniture by the road to pick it up and walk it home. Tables, dressers, a pine coffee table. For years, each season, I’d carry huge, old-fashioned window air conditioners – up a flight of stairs and back down. Again, I don’t know how I did it. They must’ve weighed 100 pounds or darn close, and given their sharp-edge boxy shape, were awkward as hell. The worry, in addition to losing a grip, was tripping over the stupid cord and taking a tumble, but I psyched myself up – you can do this! – and proceeded.

A couple years ago I managed to get a 6 foot long cherry wood dresser down a flight of narrow stairs. First I had to stand the piece on end to get it around a tight corner. There was a hairy moment or two when it got wedged against the wall part way down the stairs but was freed and it – and I – eventually reached the first floor unscathed. I knew that was the last time I would ever do a physical feat so extreme. I crossed a line. I was pushing it and my confidence in my ability to successfully pull off stunts like that was diminishing. (In this case, the imagined bad scenario was losing hold of the dresser and having it careen on down the stairs of its own accord, stopping only when it crashed into an immovable object such as a wall.) And I didn’t want to hurt myself. All my parts have a few years on them and they’re all originals. I need them to keep working. Never again, I thought.

I will never do a back dive into a swimming pool again, although to be honest, it’s been decades since I executed one. Still, for a long while, I imagined I could do one if I wanted. I no longer think any such thing. A back dive?! The hand-stands, which I never felt whoppingly secure with in the first place, are vague-ish memories. I do not expect to ever roller skate again, and ice-skating seems unlikely as well. I sucked at both, and my fear of falling, which rather impeded my crappy skills, I’m quite certain has not vanished.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go on a roller coaster again. I like amusement park rides but I never liked those. I remember just waiting for it to be over. Same for anything that turns riders upside down and/or suspends them in that compromised position. Or free falls, so that one’s internal organs feel as though they’ve been left behind. Never again.

If – and it’s “if” – I climb a tree again, I doubt very much I’ll venture as high as I used to. I get dizzy just thinking about far up I’d go, where a branch snapping, or a foot losing its hold, would have meant disaster. Besides, getting up there is one thing; it’s climbing back down that is the real pickle. How would I explain what I, a grown woman, was doing stuck up in a tree?! “I just wanted to see if I could still do it…” [Side story: I also liked trying to see if I could fit through small spaces. There’s a particular gate not far from where I live and not long ago I got tempted to see if I could squeeze between the rungs. It’s in a spot where people come to walk, run and bike, so I made sure no one was around before trying it. The mortification of getting myself stuck was definitely on my mind. I know exactly how peculiar a grown woman, who I dare say has been described as looking “elegant,” “sophisticated” and lord help me, even “glamorous” would appear doing such things in other people’s eyes.]

I will not be wearing a tube top again. They were never good news in the first place, providing no boobage support and constantly needing to be yanked up. Same goes for strapless dresses lest they have built-in structural features to keep them where they belong. It’s been a long time since I had a strap-less dress and any I previously owned were the keep-yanking-’em-up variety. Never again. I still wear short skirts and dresses, since I’m lucky to have the legs for them, but I’ve got limits now, or rather the hemline can’t be too limited. Sexy is one thing; foolish is another. Same goes for any apparel with kittens, monkeys, cartoon characters, or any other childish accents. No more. There will also be no big bows in my hair or on my clothes. Small ones – I do so like bows! – maybe.

Are there things you will never do again?