I love the idea that ‘we teach what we need to learn.’
That couldn’t be more true when it comes to me and relationships.
In a way, this entire blog is about relationships; but I’ve written specifically on how aspects of our personalities affect our relationships, how our past and Families of Origin impact our relationships, on toxic relationships, on ‘grading’ friends, on what a truly reciprocal relationship looks like.
I guess I write — or ‘teach’ — on this topic so much because I’ve got a heckuva lot to learn.
One of the stickiest aspects of relationship for me is how unbearably disappointing they can be.
Recently, as I was speaking with one of my mentors about disappointing relationships, she reminded me of the fabulous maxim that “different is just different, not good or bad, right or wrong.”
I’ve worked hard to implement this principle in many categories of my life … but my mentor helped me realize that I need to apply it, too, to the entire realm of ‘how to do relationship.’
See, until just a few days ago, I was still applying a lot of black-and-white rigidity to my ideas of what a healthy, thus ‘good’ relationship looks like … and the sort of friendly behaviors employed by ‘good’ people in those relationships.
I placed high value on actions such as …
- remembering birthdays and holidays, sending cards or gifts and at least calling with warm wishes!
- never coming to someone’s home empty-handed
- respecting the input of those who have helped subsidize (emotionally, materially, practically, etc.) your existence
- always being willing to talk about difficult emotions and ‘problems’
- helping/supporting those who have helped/supported you
- being emotionally available / spending quality time together
- taking turns initiating everything so that both parties are reassured that the relationship is indeed a two-way street
Now, it’s not that any of things are ill-advised or ‘bad.’ The problem arises when I take my little handy-dandy list and determine whether a friends totally succeeds or completely fails passed on my specific criteria … which I thought were objectively true of healthy relationships (gulp).
- What, for instance, of a friend who would never hesitate to send me gifts or financially support me, but who is very confrontation-averse and refuses to ever talk about hurt feelings, etc?
- What of a friend who I see little of, talk to far less than I’d like, and who is otherwise not as emotionally available as I consider myself to be ‘deserving of’; but who never forgets my birthday, is always there when truly very deeply needed, and who will be loyal to and supportive of me until death?
- What of a friend who disagrees with me on just about everything I think is important in life, yet regularly encouragingly tells me how X (<– something wonderful) she thinks I am and who will always have my back in a time of need?
- What of a friend who might not come to my wedding or other momentous occasion, but will phone me often, share deeply of herself, truly know me and admire me? Who will go on adventures with me and , oh, and always send me a birthday card, too?
- What of a friend who would seem to forget my very existence when I’m not in her physical presence, yet who would move mountains for me if I asked her to; who might not always remember my birthday or might not come ever visit, yet holds me dearly in her heart forever and would donate a kidney to me if I needed?
Historically, I’ve been disappointed (if not actually completely devastated) when a relationship didn’t live up to all the grand things I imagined it capable of. It hurts. So. Much.
Traditionally, I’d comfort myself with versions of the same story that invariably boiled down to “well, I’m just SO GOOD at doing relationship. I just have what it takes to really, truly invest in others and give them the best of me. Others just aren’t this warm, generous, consistent, emotionally intelligent, dedicated, etc. It’s no wonder I’m disappointed; I should have seen this coming. I guess I’ll just have to lower my standards and be disillusioned for the rest of my life. Most people just aren’t good enough for me!”
Makes me sound like a real charmer, I know.
Due to a lot of trying events (<– practical experience!), some insightful and thought-provoking books, and amazing mentors who challenge me; I’ve been slowly waking up to how wrong about just how much I’ve been when it comes to healthy relationships.
Where I previously went wrong is that I’d have just one picture in my mind — that of The Perfect Friend, The Perfect Parent, The Perfect Spouse, The Perfect Whoever. If someone wasn’t perfect (i.e. they disappointed!), I’d have to vehemently kick them off their pedestal … how could they hurt me like this!?
I’ve been on a quest for a long time to minimize the destruction of perfection in my life. I’d already made a lot of progress when it’d come to ‘letting someone off the hook’ by recognizing that they weren’t and wouldn’t ever be perfect.
The big hindrance that still stood in my way until just a few days ago, though, was that I’d still see these ‘truths’ about people as flaws.
I might accurately recognize that someone wasn’t going to regularly spend time with me, or wouldn’t remember my birthday, or whatever … but while I would ‘accept’ these as facts, I would still self-righteously believe that the person in question wasn’t ‘doing relationship right’ and that I was, therefore, graciously settling. How big of me.
It’s a huge step for me to now say ‘not only does Milly … or Carmen … or Frank … or Fred do relationship in ABC way, but *that’s totally OK* AND not objectively less ‘good’ than how I do relationship.’
Of course, this might seem brutally obvious to you. But, for me, this was a revelation. Being as into healthy, meaningful relationships — how to fight less, how to be yourself, how to have relationships be ‘fair’ with duly appointed roles, etc. — as I am, it seemed key for a long time for there to be a formula, an equation I could hang my hat on.
And, while it’s far too common for all of us to believe that our way is the one-and-only ‘right’ way … to do relationship, to parent, to eat, to exercise, to work, to play, to pray, you-name-it … I’m finding more and more that different is just different, not good or bad, not right or wrong.
And, I think that one little, power-packed maxim will impact me and my relationships in huge ways.
We are still allowed to have our preferences and priorities. We still need to discriminate, since that’s the only way to make a choice about anything.
Not everyone will be in my inner circle of friends. I can and will still find people that I don’t want to be friends with at all.
And that’s OK.
But, now, I have a much greater appreciation for what the people in my life offer me because I no longer get hurt when not everyone wants to be my best friend.
Instead of bemoaning various people not being in my inner circle, I’ll be grateful that they offer me connection at all. I’ll focus on what they do awesomely and not fret about how they fall short of my Perfect Relationship Standards (<– or, illusions).
I was the problem in my less-than-fabulous relationships. My expectations were unrealistic and, well, presumptuous! I thought every healthy relationship had to have certain features because, I know these things. Those who didn’t live up to all my ‘shoulds’ had stunted growth, tsk tsk, but maybe — with my wise guidance and flawless example — they would someday do relationship as well as I do.
Are you barfing yet? I am.
I can hardly begin to tell you how relieved, how peaceful, how HAPPY I am to have finally reached this new stage in my personal growth. Needing to eat past words, apologize for past actions, and otherwise cut myself a slice of humbler pie is a great feeling, a hopeful feeling. My life always gets better when I take more responsibility for myself.
To any friend who ever felt …
— pressured or bullied to be something different, other, or MORE … I’m sorry.
— shamed for being who you are, as ‘unhealthy’ or less-than in the realm of relationship capacity … I’m sorry.
— unappreciated for the awesomeness you bring to the table, which might sometimes be different from what I expect or perhaps other than what I most highly prefer … I’m sorry.
Know that I’m seeing you more clearly, loving you more dearly. I’m recognizing your strong suits. I’m not hanging around just waiting for you to ‘grow up’ … and become more like me.
I’m beginning to understand that not only do you have your own preferences and priorities, but yours are not less worthy or less healthy than mine.
We might not be in each other’s inner circle despite at least me thinking we SHOULD be — that’s OK. I’m so happy to have you in my life in the specific role that only you can fill.
After years of experiencing lots of hurt, heartbreak, frustration, feelings of betrayal or abandonment … I’m done.
Our emotions are always real, but they’re not always true.
I’m tired of inflicting suffering on myself due only to coming at other with presumptuous expectations that they will perceive ‘good’ and ‘bad’ the same way I do. And, in fact, I want to grow to continue seeing less and less ‘bad’, anyway.
When we experience disappointment in relationships…that’s on us.
Different is just different, not good or bad, right or wrong … even in how to do relationships.