Relationships matter

After a day of couch surfing, crying, feeling sorry for myself, I finally picked myself up and got annoyed enough with something else. So I got started deep cleaning my shower, which led to decluttering the countertop in the master bathroom. And more crying. One of our final interactions we were looking at apartments for friend J and I was fretting over the size of the bathroom – the vanity was single sink, barely any counter. But being a guy and a minimalist guy at that, what the f**k did the countertop or bathroom size matter? It has a toilet, sink, shower – all he needed. Medicine cabinet over the sink was a bonus.

Made me smile.

But after a couple of hours of frenzied deep cleaning all through the house, I feel better. M came home from a day of running and trail sweeping and I got irritated with him for tracking in crap on floors I’d just steam cleaned and wiping his feet on entry rugs I’d just vacuumed. Not his fault, of course, but I’m trying to burn off my funk and feeling cranky because of it. Essentially it was one of those pissy days in our household.

As I wait for a final load of laundry to finish washing to be loaded into the dryer, my alternate thought spin cycle has begun making its rounds in my head.

Work is for the most part going very well. I’m busy enough and engaged enough with the clients stable I’m serving already, but they bring me projects with quick turnaround deadlines and it keeps things especially interesting. I have no real complaints and am enjoying this aspect of my life.

Or I was, until Friday.

As you may recall, my former firm was bought out by a much larger corporate firm and I was given a damn generous severance package. My former bosses are still consulting and working cases that were continuing at the time of separation, and my former boss’ corporation remains a client of mine as we wind things down. It’s a win-win situation, because I do really enjoy working with them. I also remain close to my associates who are still working for Big Corp Firm (BCF) and meet them for lunch or drinks/dinner at least once a month. These people are my friends and the relationships are important to me.

Over the last couple of weeks I have gotten calls from BCF about various issues. I rarely answer the telephone when the regional operations coordinator phones, because as far as I am concerned, they instigated the separation, tried their level best to screw me over before and after said separation, and are therefore completely untrustworthy. Our communications are always going to be on my terms, not theirs. This does not mean I am so unprofessional as to completely ignore their email inquiries or telephone calls; it just means I do not jump when they snap their fingers. Kind of a childish control issue, I admit, but they are not nice people and treated me very poorly.

Anyway, the questions they have been asking have been very routine, stuff we went over several times before I left. I’m not impatient with them, but I find it tedious when someone who is supposed to be intelligent and in charge of a business group asks me the same questions in different ways over the course of a week. I learned during the Friday meeting with the partners that the problem is not so much a misunderstanding so much as it is a conflict with a couple of very fussy clients.

The partners asked me if I would consider a limited consulting engagement with BCF for these few specific clients with very particular issues and a much healthier respect for me and how I dealt with them. Just to get things transitioned completely. Had BCF treated me more professionally, I would do so up to a specific number of hours each month without charge. But I know their coordinator knows there is a huge amount of distrust and resentment toward them, because I have stated it in those precise words with very specific reasons for my feelings.

But relationships matter. My relationship with my former bosses/present clients are important to me, as is my reputation among the BCF, even if they think I’m scarcely more than a clerk for not having a law degree. Refusing this limited engagement with BCF will ultimately hurt my former bosses, because they do reap a share of the revenue from these ongoing cases until they are settled once and for all. Everyone also knows that the request coming from them is impossible for me to refuse.

Even if I dislike my choices in the matter or the people I will have to work with on the grind of getting the relationship repair work done, it’s business. I am probably more upset about being put into this position, because completely hiding behind my mask of professionalism will be almost impossible in this situation. But they need me, and the greater good for people who do matter to me means making the best of the situation. I cannot even charge them a premium because of the circumstances to make myself feel better about it.

The bright side is that I’ll get to be back amongst my peeps a few times each month, and I have missed seeing and interacting with them on a routine basis. It is also a limited scope thing, something that will likely only last through the end of the year. Biggest bonus is they need me, not vice versa. My irritation with them for their big corporate practices is greatly tempered knowing that they are under enough pressure to address the concerns of a client that they had to try and recruit me back to help them smooth things over.

Framed that way, I feel very vindicated. Perhaps I will even come to enjoy the time spent with the vipers of BCF. I doubt it, but I have to retain a facade of optimism about the relationship and situation.

Hopeful realism

After starting this post during lunch and scanning it quickly just now, I recognize that shock of sudden death is starting to fade and I am in full-on processing mode, albeit the scenic route.

I live a small life. It’s not big, not flashy, not glamorous. But in the ways that are important to me, mine is a big, bodacious, overflowing, bursting kind of life. All good things.

What I value, I prioritize. My relationships – with M, my kids, extended family tribe, friends, clients and business associates – all are important to me and somewhere on my personal hierarchy of values scale. Work is on that scale somewhere as well, and not just for the financial support and stability it provides us. Accounting is not a flashy profession, and the type of work I happen to do is not as lucrative as being on the career track of a national or even a prominent local firm. But it’s infinitely more satisfying to me. The clients I have know me as a person and trust me to tell them the truth, no matter how much they don’t want to hear it. I have also come to care about them as people and experts in their own fields. There is some sort of new classification where the professional respect bleeds over and becomes a personal friendship as well. Having worked in larger corporate firms, it is so unlikely for me to have developed a work-life balance that blurs and blends into something that fulfills my need for mental challenges and stimulation as well as the emotional security of not having to hide myself behind the professional mask many hours each day.

From the work M and I both do, our basic needs are met. We have a nice home, an abundance of food, transportation, health insurance, employment, and money in the bank for our even older and grayer years. We have many wants as well, yet none that burn so hot that we are left feeling deprived and unhappy for its absence.

It’s the bigger losses that we cannot recover or replace that leave us sad and wistful for a different outcome.

I do not feel especially ambitious about travel or vacationing right now. If anything, I am enjoying being at home when I am not working on work-work. There is so much to do around our homestead, between decluttering and maintenance and planning/negotiating future projects. Just a few examples:

  • The dining room set we recently purchased used – $150 for an oak table with 2 leaves and 8 chairs – requires a good scrub and polish to make it our own. Then we need to move it from the dining room, put a newly purchased rug on the floor, and toss out the ugly old one presently residing there to protect the laminate.
  • There is more tree trimming to do, then the growing pile of dead branches need to be loaded in the truck and carted to the dump. But it’s been so hot; such outside tasks are lower on M’s to-do list.
  • Then there is our garage, a weekend job of organizing and decluttering all on its own. Again, the heat is a factor in this project; it’s difficult to get either of us motivated to take care of this crap when it’s 100+ degrees outside and not much cooler in the garage, even with the doors wide open.
  • Installing shelving in our laundry room. Part of this is just making decisions about how much shelving to put in there, purchasing and installing the materials, but it’s been low priority. However, my latest born-again zeal for getting rid of crap and doing a better job with available space has me eyeing this more critically and wanting to make get busy planning to make it happen.
  • Our hallway linen closet needs to be reorganized. This is currently the favorite dumping ground/stash location for anything and everything we’re not sure what to do with.

Left to my own devices much of this would likely already be done, either hired out or boatloads of crap tossed or donated long before this. Unfortunately, being married, staying happily married means some negotiation about how the shit gets done. With the way our lives and work/life balance tends to work, I only have small pockets of time to work at a project before I have to go out for a meeting or be at my computer working or am simply tired and in need of a recharge. Both M and I have health and fitness-related activities that consume their own chunks of time and are highly prioritized for each of us. Hardly matters if the trees are trimmed or crap we want/need to retain is stowed properly if our health is so poor we can barely do much for ourselves.

What often times judgmental me feels is lollygagging on both our parts about projects outside the scope of essential housekeeping or work-work tasks, the reality is our lives are full of commitments and responsibilities we desire to pursue or are part of the continuity of our lives. The projects on our lists will get done, eventually. Or we will relent and throw money at the problem and hire it out, something M is loathe to do if he himself can eventually get it done. In my impatience defense, I only suggest hiring out things he likes doing less than others, or that would take him on his own an extraordinary amount of focused time. Painting the exterior of our home immediately comes to mind. While M could most definitely do it and do it very well, I’m not sure our marriage could survive it. For such a big, time-consuming task, I would much rather there be a licensed contractor overseeing and doing the actual work, because when I reach the point of screaming because it’s not being done right, they are not showing up as promised, or it is taking too long because of the first two factors, a contractor can skulk off and escape my wrath at his own home. M, not so fortunate. I see this as a win-win as well because M, with his perfectionista tendencies, can follow along behind our painting contractor and either point out what he wants changed or touch-up to his heart’s content.

The point pounded home to me again and again, all this stuff means less than a hill of beans where grief is concerned.

This heartache is fresh, raw, and hurts dreadfully. Yet, even down here and squirming in the trenches of the freshness of pain, I know it will pass, heal over, scab and then scar. Life does go on, no matter how awful it seems in these moments.

I am not now nor will I ever be one to compare pain or wounds with other people. We feel what we feel in the ways that we feel it, and we are each unique beings. Talking about pain or happiness or other emotions is comparing apples and oranges, and I nether win nor lose any coveted prizes for hurting more or less that someone else experiencing loss. Loss hurts. Grief sucks. And life continues as if nothing of any significance happened in the world at large.

Such is my reflection of the smallness of my life. Someone significant in my world died, and I am learning to navigate this new normal. It has not turned me more cynical, dark, desperate, or depressed me into paralysis. I take it as a reminder that life is precious, our expiration dates unknown, because the future is not promised. All those cliches and platitudes designed and deployed to try and make us feel better about a fact of life we cannot change are true and yet they do not make me feel much better.

Mine is a hopeful reality. I love and lost a dear friend, and it hurts me deeply. He was among the first folks I would always want to share good news, on speed dial when I was troubled. Our email correspondence is epic, and like me, he seems to have saved every one ever exchanged. It’s precious to me, and even the mundane, day-to-day reporting leaves me feeling a little lost as to how I adjust to a world without my best friend in it.

Thing is, I will adjust and life continues. I still smile and laugh and extract full measures of joy in my days. And how quickly, how easy it still is for me to forget he’s gone, and when the thought flitters through my mind of how I will frame the funny moment or tiny victory, I feel the ice pick in my heart as I remember he’s not here to share with anymore. And all over again, it hurts and grief sucks.

The life I have built for myself, the world where I personally dwell is a beautiful and amazing place. It was before he passed and remains because of the zillions of memories  created. And going forward, I still see a lot of beauty, life, brilliance, humor, and love.

It’s a fresh, new, raw wound, one that may take a lot more time and resources to heal than I can presently predict or imagine. But I think mine is a long view, mixed with a dash of something akin to faith that we will meet again. For now I am living my life, feeling my pain, enjoying my joys. Hopeful realism at its finest.

The Sally Field conundrum

Remember back in 1985 and Sally Field’s “you like me!” acceptance speech? Every time I or anyone else uses that phrasing, I think about that speech. I do not watch award shows, but I do tend to read about them after the fact. And now that nearly every pop culture moment is available online somewhere, it’s not hard to replay it over and over again.

We are in the midst of a minor  hiring spree at my full-time job. My responsibilities have grown and expanded in my 18 months with the firm, and the firm itself has nearly doubled in size. These are very good developments, and even good changes and growth can be a challenge to adjust and manage. Trying to design my own role, to keep the some of the lesser responsibilities I enjoy and balance those with the higher skills and experience management role I have grown into is proving much more difficult than I anticipated. Bosses – all 4 of them – have wish lists of the type of role I play within the firm, and not all of the tasks are going to make the cut, because I am just one person with the same working hours as anyone else. On top of that, I am the most vocal proponent of work-life balance, and in an office full of ambitious type A lawyers, I could almost begin to feel like a slacker with my 4 day work week. Almost.

I have a young receptionist that I like very much. He is attending college as well as working full-time, but he is quite intelligent and hard-working and has sharp focus and attention to detail. While I would like to promote him into another role where he assists me on higher-level and greater detail data entry type of work, he lacks some of the experience I could acquire if I sought out a particular accounting assistant skill set. The best thing about my present receptionist, though, is he is eager to learn, asks intelligent questions, takes notes, and learns from mistakes. He gets bonus points for majoring in business and turning his attention and studies toward accounting, so at least he grasps the basic debit and credit concepts. On top of that, he thinks I’m just the bees knees as far as bosses go and actually really likes me. While those are definite points in his favor, more than that he is delighted to learn from me and quickly grasped that when it comes to results, I almost don’t care how he does it as long as the final product is verifiably correct.

So we sat down yesterday to talk about the administrative jobs he does now, that I want/need to delegate to someone else, and what sort of job description we should write for the person we will hire. And it is a “we” project, because there are aspects I will be depending upon him to train the newest staff admin. By the conclusion of our working lunch we had come up with a new job description for the new receptionist I will hire and the promotional position he will be moving into and new hourly rate he will be earning beginning June 1. Now all we need to do is find the right employee to fill this job.

That I have a positive working relationship with bosses, coworkers, direct reports is very important to me; we must work so closely together it would have some measure of impact on my mental state to have to interact with a negative vibe day after day. That said, I work with professional folks who conduct themselves accordingly; even if they hate one another the focus is primarily on the work and getting it done. But we’re human, and stuff leaks out, tempers flare. I have too much respect for work/life balance to want to have to be in any sort of toxic workplace.

The way things have been evolving or devolving with long-term friendships the last couple of years have been hard for me. I am someone who values relationships and honest communication, yet at the same time, I do not nag or belabor a point of disagreement. I respect other people’s sovereignty and ability to make their own choices, even if I strongly disagree. Others are not quite as benign in their interactions, and I have been pushed and what feels like ridiculed for my own changing lifestyle choices, unfortunately to the point of having to distance myself from friend I/we genuinely enjoyed.

Last night during a text exchange another friend told me that I take life far too seriously and that I need to lighten up. Frankly, it landed as a cutting blow with a very sharp and precise scalpel. In truth, I am kind of a serious person and always have been. I have my impulsive moments, but I have regretted them so routinely after the fact that it has taught me to be more restrained and to be much less impulsive, be more thoughtful before acting. Same situation with spontaneity – I am a planner and being spontaneous tends to cause anxiety and discomfort.

It has long been a point of deep insecurity that these qualities make me an extraordinarily boring person with no sense of humor.

My more confident self now understands that is not precisely true, but being hyper-responsible is not really as exciting or fun to be around as a high-energy, no boundaries, fearless sort of soul. If there were not more serious, practical, responsible folk in the world, how could we appreciate those that are impulsive, spontaneous, and seemingly so much more fun to be around?

One of my dearest friends is my polar opposite in personality, in that he is a complete extrovert and thrives on social interaction and being around people. He is the guy who can talk to anyone about anything for an extended length of time and come away feeling energized by the interaction. He is a big personality sort of guy, yet he’s also very thoughtful, responsible, and more conservative in values. He might be someone who is gregarious and makes acquaintances faster than the average person gains weight eating without restraint, yet because of the generosity and expansiveness of his social need he is also far more accepting and understanding of differences in we more introverted sorts.

I think my Sally Field conundrum is that friendships I have retained and maintained for many years are now falling away because my life and lifestyle are changing. We are all getting older, our parents are getting frailer or are gone, our children are grown and leading independent lives of their own. M and I – we planned for this time period with eager anticipation and are enjoying these empty nest years at least as much as we did the child-rearing years. Our priorities – taking care of ourselves – are very different than they were even 10 years ago. For so many of my friends, their lives and desires are not so well considered; they had not given a lot of thought beyond what it meant to be a mother or a daughter. For many, their has been shift from working and caring for their children to working and caring for an aging parent and/or grandchildren. What they see as selfishness on my part – exercise, full-time job, self-employment business, working on our home – I see as a natural shift in my priorities.

I am also starting to understand they may like me less now because my life is far more about me and M as a couple and what we can do to enhance our life together. There are a few happy marriages and committed relationships, but far more long marriages are ending and affairs emerging or ongoing middle aged singles when they wish to be part of a couple. And truly, it is easier to bash and bully a genuinely happy friend in serious pursuit of her own uniquely personal objectives than try harder to fix your own problems.

Understanding is one thing, acceptance quite another, but anymore, I am about there, even if it is with sorrow and resignation. These friends are people I have known a very long time, some most of my life. I got through my divorce, hands-on mother years, the death of my child, the troubles with M with their help and support. I have been there for them through their own marriages and relationships faltering and failing, through the trauma of troubled children and drugs, the deaths of parents. We have celebrated graduations and weddings and births, mourned deaths and the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness. It just seems so strange to me that we could get through all that and find ourselves at odds over something like healthier lifestyle choices.

Inside, I have to believe they still like and love me in reciprocal ways I feel the same types of affection for them. But our lives are different now and continuing to evolve and to change, and perhaps some distance and separation will bring more clarity about what is real and what is important when it comes to friendships.

At the same time, I know change is just part of life. I am more philosophical about it, less insecure and tense about being non-friendship material. I have met some lovely women (and men) through the gym and other groups I have casually participated in with regard to diet and nutrition. It is refreshing and invigorating to meet new folks, to be exposed to different perspectives and experiences. At my base I am kind of shy, and it seems to take some effort on my part to put myself out there and truly engage with others in any sort of meaningful way. Not so long ago I was so deeply insecure I felt certain everyone had a negative view of me and had this irrational urge to take steps – any steps – to alter that viewpoint. What a waste of energy to even consider or care about, and I shake my head at my own silliness. Nowadays, I always hope that people I like and enjoy like me in return.

Because I am kind of a serious person; I like relationships to be respectful, positive, and harmonious. And I am not going to apologize or ever again feel regretful about this aspect of my personality.

 

Closing doors, opening windows, emptying spaces

Last night I received a nice email from a former friend. It was an apology for things that have disrupted and eventually ended our long friendship. I read it last night, again this morning, and am now organizing my thoughts here before composing my reply.

I had the pleasure and privilege of lunching with trainer J and new tribe friend C yesterday. While J and I have had many, many free-roaming and far-reaching conversations over the months of working together, this was my first real opportunity to have an extended conversation and get to know C. I am not kidding when I say her charm, kindness, and wisdom have turned me into a huge fan-girl. Funny that a 3-hour lunch with people of such a varied age range – J is 28, I am 55, and C is 67 – could be so lively and entertaining.

One of the things C stressed as topics arose throughout our lunch, life is all about our choices and the ripple effect of the consequences. I wholeheartedly agree, even as I am not always so assured or as confident in my own, particularly when it comes to relationships.

This old friend made her own choices about our long 50+ year friendship and through the years has said many hurtful, stupid things. To be fair, I am quite certain we both have, because we are both very human. Looking back on the final series of events in my mind, I recognize that the choice to cease all communication and to terminate our friendship was more mine than hers and was my defense from what I viewed as relentless and ridiculous personal attacks.

I have zero regrets about that decision. At the time, it was among the hardest things I have done in recent years, yet it was important for my own emotional health and growth.

Now she has apologized for her words and her behaviors, and I believe the apology to be genuine and her regret for the cruel words and harsh judgments between us is real. She expressed the desire to close this chapter, reconnect and renew our long friendship. I now that is what I find myself mulling over today.

Forgive her? Of course; it would have been far more harmful to me to withhold that or to remain hurt and angry. Throughout the time since our friendship ended we have crossed paths at least half dozen times. While it was awkward at best to outright frosty hostile the rest of the time, I do not think or speak poorly of her. We had a falling out, but I wish her every happiness and success. The shortcomings in each of our personalities are well known to all who know both of us, and I have bent over backwards in my pleas that mutual friends not take sides in this dispute. There are so many things about her that overcome the qualities of her personality that I dislike and I seek to enhance the positives I found within her. For my own peace of mind, it is always better to focus and remember that she was my friend for most of my life and through some of the best and worst of events any person should have to endure.

That said, I am not sure our shared values are now enough to overcome the empty spaces that continue to exist. Many of my closest friends will refer to me as a Pollyanna or my generation’s rendition of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. I take no offense at such characterizations; I really want to be someone who sees the good in people and merely be aware of the extent of the less desirable aspects. I have had enough issues overcoming my own negative girl; I did not then and certainly do not now need the embodiment of her message in someone in the friendship realm of my life.

With the conversation with C and trainer J ringing in my ears and both their thoughts on choices, I recognize that the woman I am today is an enhanced model of the one who struggled mightily to let go of a harmful friendship. I am not immune to the weight of the years, shared memories and experiences. I will never cease begin grateful for her support and encouragement during some really impossibly painful periods in my life, nor will I ever stop caring for and about her and her welfare. In the fair and balanced backward view, I have to acknowledge that her methods and her thinking, her overall negative outward voice are in contrast with the person I am and what I truly value in those in my realm. As my confidence and my own sense of self have evolved, I recognize that I do have choices in who I invite to be part of my life and how we spend our time. I am not so dreadful that I have no choices in the matter, that I should be grateful for anyone who is capable of tolerating being around me.

I cringe inwardly realizing how much of my adult life has been spent feeling inadequate and inferior to others in my personal life. Sometimes even in my choice of employment, I have undervalued myself and my contributions and sought acceptance and validation from peers and superiors, a few of whom had questionable values or quality of character.

After thinking about this off and on throughout this day, I recognize that my old friend and I will always be connected, that I value our shared history. However, as adults, at the places we are in our lives now, trying to rekindle the closeness we once enjoyed is not a task I want to pursue. Trust once broken is hard to rebuild, and while there is no specific instance that could be labeled betrayal, sometimes the harshness of our judgments and that ways we hurt those we profess to care so deeply alienates affection to an irreparable state. When our paths cross, I will be courteous and genuine in my interest in her life and times. But I have little desire to pursue anything that involves direct sharing of my successes and disappointments or leaving myself vulnerable to the impact of her thoughts and judgments. Where once I was completely transparent and unguarded in sharing my thoughts and feelings, I have finally matured a bit and learned to be more guarded with sharing my personal treasures with those who have wounded me with carelessness or casual cruelty.

In the perfect world people are not careless or cruel to others, yet I know I myself have been guilty of both on occasion. I have been stricken with regret when I realized my error, and I deserved the consequences of those actions. But I learned, and I try very hard to not let my temper or impatience or insecurity overwhelm my values and code of good personhood. Being human, though, means the only thing I am perfect at is my own imperfect actions.

But as I remind myself, life is long and there are many more opportunities to make good and better choices.

For today, I will acknowledge the apology and graciously accept it. As for the rest, I have no idea what may happen between us and what the future may hold. I will retain an open mind on the topic, yet with a very guarded heart.

Good friend almost too good for me

My friend J is in Zurich and on the road to recovery from a very serious, life-threatening illness. The toll of this illness on him has impacted more than just his physical health. In the couple of months that have passed since this all happened I have watched his easy-going confidence and trademark happy-go-lucky personality become more guarded, watchful, and careful than the entirety of our long, long friendship. His level of patience along with his no-bullshit type honesty is nearly legendary in my world. The no-bullshit honesty continues, but his patience – especially with himself and his present level of ability – has been severely tested and is nearly exhausted.

It is an ongoing concern for me, one I have forced myself to rein in and keep firmly rooted in reality.

With the geographical distance between us and his insistence there is really nothing for us to do for him, I have devised other ways to try and help. Since learning how seriously ill he was and how long recovery could take, I have been on a relentless campaign to try and keep his spirits up. My daily emails are full of the details of my day-to-day existence life and times and frequently bore even me while writing them. However, when confined to home for weeks at a stretch, anything resembling personal news seems better than the silence or trolling the internet for interesting content. Or so he kindly tells me.

This morning I wrote and sent my daily exercise recap (which I spare my blog readers most of the time … you’re welcome) as well as more details from the rest of my Thursday, and he very kindly sent me a bracing text in reply. I was not exactly complaining about anything, but I suppose I did sound fretful about recent events in the gym and a mishap on Monday that involved me stepping off a curb )without realizing I was stepping off a curb) and losing balance and landing on my right knee. The bruise was not as horrible as I expected, but since then the knee has been giving grief on a particular kick-back exercise on my List Wednesday and again today. While not a big enough deal to ask trainer J about, it was enough daily fodder to mention to friend J in emails.

His reply:

text

Exasperated much, J? Still, that’s the friend J I know and love. The kinder, gentler, enabling voice I have heard off and on through the last couple of months has frankly scared the shit out of me that he’s actually sicker than he lets on or than I realize. M talks to him almost daily – they are like gossiping old ladies – and reassures me that everything is fine, but that it is hard to go from completely self-sufficient, self-contained masculine guy to having to have a home health aid come in and cook and clean and ensure you have the strength to care for yourself as well as friends staying overnight just in case they are needed. While a far better solution than staying hospitalized, accepting that he required this level of assistance was a very bitter pill for him to swallow.

I get that. I do. But I vastly prefer that he bust my chops about being a whiner than hold my hand and want to talk about my feelings. We are brother/sister in practical pragmatism, and I had not really realized until this crisis how much I depend upon him to be my bitch-slapping voice of reason. M certainly cannot do that for me. If he did, we would be spending a lot of our together time in marriage counseling.

My anxiety and concern for friend J’s well being continues, although like his moods and impatience to be well my anxiety and concern for him ebbs and flows.

That he is a life-long athlete and has been a runner, a cycler, a body builder, and a power lifter helps me with my own exercise and better health journey. Despite also being a bachelor, he eats a pretty balanced and clean diet with his vices of booze and the occasional cigar. More than that, he’s over-the-top interested in what I am doing in the gym, about my eating challenges, my progress and my setback. He’s someone I trust not to be judgey about any of this stuff, yet kick me in the ass and reach out with a helping hand when I want to fall down and stay down and have had thoughts of giving up.

It also forces me to recognize that he is a very healthy specimen and more likely to survive and continue to thrive. His obsession with black dogs (death) is partly just the way he is and partly him yanking my chain about my ongoing concern for him. I understand that as well.

The whole experience has me thinking about our history, and I realize there are moments when I feel like he has been a far better friend to me through the years than I to him. This is not negative girl speaking, but just an accounting of the good deeds done back and forth through the years.

But at the end of the equations in my head, I recognize that friendship is not a financial or a numbers-type relationship that keeps a running tally. There is no quid pro quo for me in my family or tribe of close friends, and I absolutely believe the same is true of him. We have our little wagers on the most ridiculous things. We trade gifts back and forth for no particularly occasion and forbid each other from gift exchanges at Christmas and birthdays, a rule we have both violated on special occasions through the years. When we eat out we have a system for picking up the check that is mostly civilized and does not dissolve into endless bickering once in the restaurant.

My sense of helplessness right now when it seems he needs support or companionship or something more than hand-wringing concern brings forth a lot of insecurity and inadequacy issues. I recognize that it’s not so much that I do not want to do something so much as there is nothing for me to do beyond boring him to death with the details of my daily life every day via email. With the time difference and my crazy work schedule, even text or IM conversations are hit-and-miss. Email has always been our primary go-to communication and we’re accustomed to and embracing it now.

The thing that inspired this post today – even when feeling the crappiest and crankiest he has in the 20+ years we have known each other, he has always been right there for me. WIth the hand to help me up, the boot to kick me in the ass, the box of kleenex when there are tears (because he’s one of those guys who does not cope well with crying women). While we are in the same profession (accounting), his career path and work experiences are different. However, managing people involves the same skill set no matter what the parent organization, and through the years he has been walking encyclopedia of ideas to help me cope with training new staff and associates.

Days like today, when I get this snarky-sounding text back, I cannot really explain how reassured I am that he is going to be okay. While I will feel much better when he is able to return home and restart life in vicinity of my town, right now it’s nice to know his challenges are not so insurmountable and that he is still capable of rising to the “snap out of it!” occasion with me.

All is right and well in my little corner of the world.

We are responsible for our own happiness, right?

This is a bit of a venty and ranty post not directed at any particular readers here. It is as if my recent paragraphs of thoughts lately on my own codependent tendencies in response to others I hold dear having a lot on their plates has past the point of simmering and into the boiling over and making a mess. The single person who inspires this particular post does not even know I blog. But even if she did, and read this, it’s more a reiteration of a rather intense conversation we had today just after another long-time friend’s wedding reception.

It was an imperfect ending to a joyous cake occasion. And let me just say, after months of no cake, the tiny little slice tasted amazing. I think the heavens open and choirs of angels sang directly to my tastebuds.

Yes, I think my eyes may be glazing over in memory of that wonderful sugary deliciousness. Back to my own emotional kitchen.

We are back to the old backstory of cheating husband and trying to pick up the pieces and reconcile. Okay, that’s not my reality, and I am the first to admit to being potentially terrible friend in this regard. However, I think that if you are still so angry at your H for his poor choices and so distrustful of him now when he is trying to repent and demonstrate regret for those poor choices, maybe reconciliation is not the wisest path at this moment in your lives. Maybe separation and working with a professional therapist from 2 different corners is a better use of time and energy.

She says they cannot afford 2 households and that is the first step toward divorce. In her anger (understandable), she is not letting him get off so easily. She also feels unemployable after 20 years as a stay-at-home mom. Then she used the dreaded “d” word – she “deserves” her life and lifestyle and not having to try and reenter the workforce because of a mistake he made. He screwed up; he needs to fix it.

As anyone who knows me can imagine, that landed like a lead balloon.

We can agree that he screwed up, because he did, big time. No matter what the circumstances, even I at my liberal understanding best cannot fathom or condone cheating on your partner. Leave them, then go off to be with whoever has caught your fancy, but don’t be a douche and sneak around. If you fear leaving your partner will be insanely hurtful, do you really think finding out she’s married to a douche who cheats is somehow better and going to hurt less? Lust must dramatically lower the emotional IQ of a cheating spouse.

Thing is, they both pay for his mistake now in various ways, and it seems an impact of the decisions about how to move forward characterize how those payment transactions unfold. If the choice is divorce, then it becomes more a financial transaction than an emotional one. If they choose to pursue reconciliation, it is primarily an emotional transaction with gutting the details of the affair as well as the real and perceived circumstances leading up to that destructive action as well as what is required of both of them to heal this terrible breach. However, trying to reconcile requires negotiation and new agreements, and I certainly do not believe anyone gets a free pass to be continuously disrespectful and abusively angry to a partner based on prior bad behavior. Not that he does not deserve such treatment, but it does not seem helpful in the long-term solution. Nor does the straying spouse get away scott free and with a fresh start as if they had all debts discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Nope, whatever choice gets made after the affair comes to light, the conversation is just beginning even if the topics are very different. And if reconciliation is the goal, hashing it out in therapy seems first order of the day.

I understand bad things befall good people and that recovery is incredibly hard. How we respond/react to and live with the hardships in our lives can be defining for us as an individual. We cannot control anyone else’s feelings or actions, but we control ourselves and choose who we become for the days that come after.

And I also I understand I say this from my safe place of a long and faithful marriage. We separated for a time during a really bad patch, and yes, we were both free to pursue and date others during that time without marital penalty and M and I have stuck to our agreement that what we did on our own time during that separation remains separate. It is not ammunition to be fired at or fuel to be tossed on the fire of any fights we have had since that time. From that perspective and experience, I am 99.99% sure I am the one who would be leaving if such an event were ever to come to pass in my own household. I would also potentially be the one paying alimony, and while it would suck eggs to be in that position, I am simply not the type to emotionally beat the shit out of M in retaliation for hurting me, breaking my heart, betraying my trust. All 3 have been done to me over the course of my life, and in each instance I walked away rather than trying to extract revenge, so I feel confident in saying it is simply not my way. Far better for me to never see M again after such a great fall.

Despite all that, despite my philosophical outlook and privately held opinions on their union, I am most insulted and upset about her abandoning any and all personal responsibility for her present and future happiness. She has put me in the awkward position of feeling like a terrible, unsupportive friend. Her H cheated. From her perspective, he needs to not only actively participate and repair their marriage, he needs to continue to grovel and scrape and accept her punishment for his terrible deed until she decides he has suffered enough, as has she. And he needs to make it up to her, forever apparently. Their marriage is presently at an impasse, because she’s dreadfully, desperately unhappy and he is not doing enough to make her feel better.

Try as I might to gently or directly bring up her responsibility and personal stake in her own long-term happiness, she is adamant that he hurt her, he took away her joy, he needs to restore it. She is so adamant that I started to wonder  when she believes individual happiness becomes someone else’s responsibility? Is it the moment you become engaged? The day you marry? Maybe the minute you realize you have fallen in love?

No question, no doubt that M makes me smile and laugh and my life infinitely sweeter and better. He makes it easier and more desirable to be the better version of myself for myself. But, I cannot hold him responsible for my happiness, and I kick back hard when he has suggested in the past that I am so key to his ability to thrive as a person. Of course I do not want to hurt him. Of course I want our marriage to remain healthy and strong. Absolutely I want more than anything for him to be happy. But it would be unfair of him to be so dependent upon me for happiness and joy and feeling like life is worth living. I want to enhance his life, not be his whole life. I’d be crushed and smothered under the weight of that responsibility.

I know my stand on financial independence – I always want to be capable of caring for myself, no matter what – and the older I get the more conscious I become of the trend of emotional dependence. Sometimes it’s real as in the young adult children of helicopter parents (my most recent experiences at work with difficult employees has scarred me forever), and sometimes it’s related less to the emotions involved than to the financial strings attached.

But I also recognize that I cannot help someone so entrenched in their pain, that by continuing the conversation I am only enabling them to burrow deeper into their safe trench. Trainer J recently advised me to “drop the bombs and walk away” when it comes to these types of situations, and I had to take it to heart and put it into action today. To the best of my recollection, I said the following: “H is not responsible for your happiness. If your marriage is floundering from his horrible choices and mistakes, perhaps it would be realistic to discuss and evaluate your healing as well as legal options with competent professionals.” And with that I hugged her and walked to my car and drove away. She tried to protest, or say more, but I put out my hand in a “gotta go” motion and did the kindest  thing I could in the moment, which was walk away from an unproductive conversation.

There have been a dozen or more unread texts and 2 unplayed voicemail messages since then. I will get around to them eventually, just not right now. I need some distance and a decent cooling off period between now and the next rendition of reading/listening to her point of view.

This is one of those reasons why I am glad I blog, to examine our conversation from a more level-headed, less emotional perspective. I don’t know that I am more right or more wrong that she is, but I have a clear and practical vision of how my life is and what changes I can make to improve the less satisfactory parts of it. If I am incapable of taking action or refuse to get off the couch to try, then I hope and pray I stay quiet and don’t bitch or whine about my choices to others. Depression and emotional distress comes in many forms, and I am self-aware enough to recognize my limitations. I make plenty of mistakes from reacting rather than slowing down and thinking choices through, and because of that I try not to do anything, make any decisions when I am in a compromised state of mind. Always it is better to try and slow down and think about the consequences of my actions, and it is not something I can possibly teach to anyone else. I have also learned how to ask for help from others, and to seek out professionally trained experts when I sense overburdening my family and network of friends with the new day, same issues loop.

Somehow, this exchange matters to me in my own emotional growth and courage to be my authentic self. Somehow, I feel as if I just trashed a long friendship in a fit of exasperation. Somehow, it is as liberating (if yet another long friendship is on the curb) as it is frightening.

I have always been open and direct about what I think, how I feel, yet I have also been willing to soften the delivery to avoid making big waves in the tiny little pool that has been my life. In this instance, I do not feel as if I were too harsh or too hard. However, I am a little concerned over what feels like dwindling patience … but not really, not as genuinely as I probably should be if I am truly feeling some regret. I can feel my emotions locked in battle for balance, to right my codependency wagon and allow me to be a supportive and encouraging friend without allowing myself to be sacrificed on the altar of another person’s problems. The one thing I know to be absolutely true about enabling? The more you do it, the worse it gets. The enabled party continues to need, and to take, and to unintentionally suck the life right out of me, and to never truly understand what sort of injury I have incurred.

And the responsibility for that injury is mine and mine alone.

This liking myself, improving my level of self-respect and confidence – it is surely is not for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. When I embarked upon my quest for better health, I had no idea what unusual paths and forms it would take. I remain committed and glad I got started, and on this there is no second-guessing or worry that I made mistakes.

Or maybe I am developing a deeper understanding of that #sorrynotsorry hashtag. I know I do not live in a vacuum, and I know life is complicated, no matter where you land on the mentally/emotionally balanced and healthy scale. This is not my brand of crazy I’m struggling with today; this is my brand of healthier choices expressed. And I do feel happy about that.

Influence

How much influence do others in our lives hold over us? How much influence do we hold over others? And where is the tipping point where trying to influence or persuade becomes trying to control or manipulate? Or are these different things that come from different motivations right out of the box? What to do when being a supportive, encouraging influence feels more like enabling and results in feeling discouraged and energy draining for us?

These are questions swirling in my mind lately. Not all the time, not obsessively, not urgently, but cropping up frequently enough that they become a recurring theme for me to explore.

I think about those who hold sway in my life for different reasons – M, my kids, my closest friends, my clients, my business associates, my village of experts and teachers. For the most part, these are people I trust, particularly or especially within their sphere of expertise or their place in my life. Some of those circles overlap – I have clients who I also consider friends, I have a village that I think of like extended family members. For all these sources no matter what their classification in my life, I listen to them, am keenly interested in what they share with me, want to know what they think and how they feel. I want to ensure they are okay and to help whenever appropriate and possible. And I absolutely believe in the integrity within our interactions.

In my real life as well as on several blogs I regularly read and follow, I see some form of disconnect between those who speak their truth, those who use ambiguity, and those who are outright lying for whatever reason. The last troubles me the most, obviously. Much of the time I do not understand why someone would lie about relatively trivial things, or even to get what they think they want. Which should be comforting to know that I have a functional moral compass. The most obvious liars and cheats are terrible people who should be avoided at all costs, but there is a much subtler version of truth-shading. I have mostly come to understand it stems from something amiss in the other party’s life. Depression. Anxiety. Insecurity. All of the above. Something else I know even less about much less how to identify it. And as much as I want to help, to be a good friend, to be a resource, I cannot help anyone who refuses to admit there could potentially be a truth and reality problem in our communications.

I understand boundaries very well, and in my world it is fine to tell me something is none of my business or that you are uncomfortable answering a question if it seems too personal or something else. I am not completely obtuse and do pick up on the subtleties of subject changing or not responding directly to a question. For me, this is how I discover boundaries and get to know people. Another lesson from being a parent that extends to the rest of my life. As my kids grew up and achieved more autonomy and assumed more responsibility for themselves, year-by-year letting go of a little more of the mom-who-controls-everything mode was a natural progression that I accepted and after awhile, truly embraced. It gave both kids room to experiment, make independent choices, make mistakes with those independent choices, learn about life knowing M and I were there, we had/have their backs. A few times I was disappointed and angry at dumb choices they made, but for the most part in those days they checked in before making a big decisions and allow me to weigh in with my thoughts or preferences, and they learned to listen and to trust me when I said it was their choice. From my own history growing up, I absolutely knew I would never become a parent who says “I told you so” or harp upon decisions they made that I suggested or plainly stated was a bad idea.

Does not mean that I do not feel the impulse sometimes to insist they do it my way or to try and take away some of their autonomy. I am not much of a spontaneous person, and when it comes to friends and family, I strive to be very careful with my words and actions. Sometimes our individual truths are hurtful and not what we and our partners in discussion each want to hear, and sometimes our truths are absolutely inaccurate when removed from our own context. Basically it’s tricky and it’s complicated even when it should not be all that difficult or challenging.

This same lessons apply to friendships, although I have a few examples littering my history that are train wrecks and nothing I say, nothing I do would prevent the same issues, same problems from recurring over and over again. In these situations it became obvious we should never discuss relationships, parenting, or financial matters, because I grew weary of seeing the same mistakes happen in a predictable cycle and they grew frustrated and defensive in light of my pained expressions and refusing to be supportive in their time of need.

Part of life is being let down and disappointed by actions, reactions, behaviors. In the last year I have discontinued regular contact with long-time close friends and chronicled it here on the blog. It has been a process that left me uncomfortable at first, but slowly I am coming to realize that not all painful change means it is bad or regretful change. Perhaps I am in a mental/emotional growth spurt and learning things that are obvious to just about everyone else.

My basic recent takeaway is that I value my time and have learned to prioritize it, which is likely the most benign way to express that my tolerance is limited with people who cannot or will not be straight with me. I love having friends, but how based in reality is a friendship when someone chooses to not be truthful? When I was a single parent, my free time was scarce with young children underfoot, so many of my friendships were with other mothers, other parents in similar situations. While our kids played we’d sit on park benches and talk and revel in some adult conversation that did not involve breaking up arguments or comforting frustrated toddlers. Same was true as the kids advanced in school grades; many of my friends were parents of their friends or people I saw at PTA meetings or band booster or parent athlete events. Never underestimate the bonds forged with other parents while manning a snackbar at a high school water polo event or a wresting tournament.

But I recognize the transitory nature of those relationships. My closest circle of friends are people I have met at various jobs throughout my career and/or that I met at some point and just clicked with on some real, raw level. Friend J – on the surface we have virtually nothing in common, yet after 20+ years we are still best of friends. Friend GS – who just resurfaced after a 2-year absence – is another who is 13 years younger than I am, lives on the east coast, and is now weaving his way through the single parent maze I was immersed in when we first met. There are others, people who I see once or twice a year, or maybe only ever 4 or 5 years, yet keep in regular, close touch via text and email because that’s what type of friends we are. These are in my phone favorites list and speed dial when something significant happens and I need to share the joy or an extra shoulder to lean on or arms for hugging support.

To a person, there have been misunderstandings through the years, even hurtful things we have had to hash out and resolve in order to move forward. But to the best of my knowledge and instincts, they have never lied or misled me about anything. Sure they have disappointed me, and I them. Sometimes real life with close friends their own day-to-day lives are a more interesting priority that fulfilling a vague commitment for a friend who will ultimately forgive their thoughtlessness. Thing is, they know my priority and how my mind works. They say “I am doing this” then it clicks into a holding place in my head until concluded. If they fail to initiate the task, they come back and say “sorry, I got distracted with something else and have revised to this.” I am okay with that nearly all the time, because I get stuff happens.

But to say “I am doing this” and have it evolve into “I have done this” is like a done-deal. For me to learn through the passage of time and have my happy expectation dissolve into something else is huge for me. When the “I have done this” turns out to be a deliberate misleading statement – uber huge. The first time it happens, I explain my position very clearly: if you tell me you have done something, I believe you. If it turns out you told me you did something and you in fact did not, it’s a chink in the trust that is difficult to resolve. Just telling me is far better than just letting the situation unwind itself out, have me questioning you about it, being reassured that you don’t know what happened but it’s on the way. Or even worse, making an excuse, only to have me at some point call you on your bullshit, that is a really hard one for me to recover from.

There are extenuating circumstances. Life happens. But to ignore the problem and hope it goes away is not working on a communication issue or breach of trust between us.

I am dealing with a few such situations right now. And it completely sucks. Because while I hate conflict, I hate that trust shattered makes me feel like a shit-worthless friend. I hate having to separate myself from meaningful friendship.

I am very frustrated with the trivial matters that have been escalated into crisis-like situations. I am very frustrated with myself for being so trigger-happy as a coping mechanism based partly on intuition and instinct, but mostly on generous amounts of prior poor experiences. I am equally frustrated with friends who cannot or will not just tell me the truth and make some movement, take a small step to try and talk it out. Overall I am just disturbed and disgusted with myself for allowing it to send me into a tail-chasing spin cycle. In the bigger picture, the root cause of the breakdown does not matter. And from the the way things are progressing, neither I nor the offending parties matter much to each other either.

Which is why these situations are sucky and hurtful. I am trying to be careful and cautious about how I go forward and deal with what sits in my mind like a giant pink elephant, but it’s crowding me out my positive experiences. And lately I am all about embracing the positive

So let me just finish purging myself of this stuff and move back into my happy, less troubled self.

My old friend who is obsessed with weight and appearance finally responded to my email reply to her, and in typical fashion, turned it around and made this all about me and my overreaction to her concerns, even going so far as to say my better health objective has backfired and turned me into a raging bitch.

Huh. Really? Intriguing turn of events. In truth, the email made me laugh, probably inappropriately. But oh well. It is possible I should be more upset, but I am not. If this very old friend takes it upon herself to tell me who she is right now, I should simply believe her and let it go. I do value my time; arguing over the differences in our perspectives is completely pointless. If I used Facebook like normal people I would unfriend and block her, because that is apparently how these things are done anymore. Instead, I simply deleted the email without further response.

We are all now middle aged grown-ups. Despite how young or old we may feel inside, hopefully enough time has passed and enough experience accumulated to the point where we can be courteous and be kind to one another even if we have grown apart as friends and confidants. Or so goes my thinking on the subject. Possibly I am the delusional one.

There is another blogging community we both belong to with a larger, wider group of friends. For years we used it more like a message board for the group, where we would post news or vent about our spouses or dating or other aspects of our lives and receive support or a kick in the ass from the others with their comments and perspectives. Only we were all friends in real life and it was not at all anonymous. I think about my real-life friends who once participated on the community blog and now read this, my personal blog for updates, and occasionally react to it in email, text, or telephone. Nothing I write here is anything I would not repeat to them in a face-to-face conversation, so I never fear that I am stepping upon toes or being passive-aggressive in getting my point across. If that were the case I am extremely unlikely to leave a post up just long enough to be read by one or a few and then delete it and all the comments. Nor would I abandon my blog completely, delete it, and run from it and its history. That happened a lot off and on through the years in this other community and was the catalyst to beginning my own blog, my own safe space.

It is not my way to try and hide or wipe my past. I see the evolution of my thoughts, my life in the historical posts here. Some of it is truly cringe-worthy, and not just because of the typos and grammatical errors (because I rarely do more than a very superficial proofread and hardly ever edit). Despite my cringe-worthy personal content, I also see growth and maturity in my perspective. I see where I have abandoned any and all interest in being a good or popular blogger, I see the allure of audience blogging and my rejection of it. I treasure those who read and like and comment. Perhaps there is something in my posts that brings a new facet to their own journeys, or they find amusement in the slices of life and endless navel-gazing going on around here. Blogging life simply got better when this became more of a public journal than anything else.

On Sunday I got an email from another blogger who paid me this high compliment: “There is a ring of earnest authenticity in your writing that I find comforting.” I was and am hugely flattered by those words, because I am as real here as I am standing at my keyboard at home. It is that type of authenticity I desire in all my relationships, but particularly those where influence on either side is an option. Otherwise, what is the point?