Tag Archives: relationships

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.

Relationship 1.0 2.0 3.0?

I’ve been thinking about posts, one in particular, by Deb, where she talks about her marriage. I don’t think I’m in any position to dispense advice. But thoughts, those I do have.

I don’t know what it’s like to be married a long time and not happy in that relationship. I did, however, watch my parents in that life. And I watch other people’s relationships and marriages. I’m innately curious about how other people live, and especially about the dynamics of love and of family (with the thought that two people can comprise a family).

Is there anything more important than the single person you choose to live your life with? Your partner? It just seems to me that the chosen person holds the key to everything vital. There are those people, who live together, who are married, but effectively go their own ways, and lead lives apart from one another. But most people are powerfully involved with their partner – and more importantly, most people are powerfully affected by their partner.

The other person in your life can build you up, tear you down, add to your happiness, or steal your happiness. They can make you laugh or they can make you despair. They can slowly, gradually, even imperceptibly, change who you are till you become a far greater version of yourself than you might have been alone – or conversely, a shadow of who you once were.

As I say, I’ve no long relationship to bring into the conversation. Still, I speak from my point of view. When I am involved, it is inherently my nature to become deeply invested. I am hyper-aware of the people in my life. I can’t help it. In the past, I have become more invested in some people than warranted. Like, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being little invested and 10 being overwhelming invested, I’d invest 8 where I probably should have invested 5 or 6. That is, the person wasn’t necessarily someone I shouldn’t know or be involved with, but the DEGREE was at issue. I didn’t get that at the time. I had more of a one-size-fits-all approach.

I wasn’t naive – I didn’t let things go too far in that I felt helpless or emotionally dependent to the extent I made irrevocable decisions not in my interest. Ones I would have paid dearly for, ones I’d STILL be paying for had I let them go forward. But I look back, and I see myself trying to pound square pegs into round holes. What a fat waste of time. And really – did I have it to waste? Does anyone?

I have learned. I began, in my relationships, to dial back my investment to more appropriate levels. To look closely at someone and where I truly thought they belonged in my life. I sometimes use the metaphor of a house. That is, you are the house. You decide how far into your house someone should be allowed to come. Some people don’t make it past the front door. Their behavior, demeanor, and attitude make clear this is a person that shouldn’t cross your threshold. Which isn’t to say, they won’t TRY. Others are permitted into the foyer and if they act right there, you might invite them to sit down or enter the living room. And so on as it goes.

Some relationships aren’t meant to go beyond certain levels. And to try to push them, or more importantly I find as a woman, to ALLOW someone else to push them past that point, can be a huge mistake with deep consequences. There are those who ultimately raise families with people they should have stopped seeing after the second date.

The trouble also, is once someone is deeply ensconced in a relationship and simultaneously unhappy, it can be difficult to tell if any subsequent dissatisfaction can be genuinely attributed to the other person. The partner can sometimes be viewed as a scapegoat, i.e., “I’m not happy, therefore it must be your fault.” I know that if I am unhappy in a relationship, I become consumed with that feeling. I mean, it can be hard to tell what is fair, or not fair, to lay at the other person’s feet when you’re in the thick of it.

Increasingly, as I became aware of these things I am writing about, I put them into effect in my relationships. I did not get “swept away” or allow myself to be corralled by someone else’s agenda. I don’t know the extent that other women are susceptible to that but by and large, I’d say women are generally more vulnerable to going along with someone else’s plan than are men. We permit ourselves to be flattered or talked into questionable relationships, and later, to stay in them past the point they either suit or serve us. Not always, but often enough that it is a phenomenon. I see it.

First, as I said, I dialed back my involvement in relationships where over-involvement wasn’t warranted or WASN’T WARRANTED YET. But more importantly, I cleared the decks and my mind in such a way, that I no longer could attribute happiness or lack there of, to anyone but me. This is a scary undertaking and yet, so well worth it, I’ve found. I returned the focus to center. The fact is, I began to treat myself more like the way I always wanted to be treated in relationships. Nothing extravagant, just improved. I found I had a better idea of how to treat me than other people did. Or at least those I’d had relationships with in the past. I effectively stopped waiting on other people, real and imagined.

All blame and all credit is now at my feet. The time and energy I put into other people (where I shouldn’t have or not as much), I took back and put into me. Again – you’d not necessarily be all that impressed with what I’ve managed, but for me, it’s huge. I see so very clearly that I am the best investment I’ve got. I’m the investment that needs to last, to go the distance. And if I’m stingy with myself, I will pay. It’s taken me a very long time so see that. And really believe it. I never used to look at things that way, which is to say, realistically. But I don’t mean realistically in the no-fun-at-all way (“realistically” sounds so dry & boring to my own ears, but that’s not how it feels). Look, if I still thought about things the way I did at 20 or 30 or approached my relationships the same way I did then, that would be a problem!

The things I’m telling you about are ongoing. But the direction seems right. I like it.

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.

Things Men Have Said To Me #17

We’d recently starting seeing each other but things had moved quickly in the relationship. Although young, he was an attorney as well as a volunteer firefighter.

HIM (informing): “My job comes first and the fire department comes second.”

(I had a pretty good idea his Mama was third in line; my number wasn’t looking promising.)