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?

Expressing myself in the right spirit

Many, many years ago someone told me that “anything expressed in the right spirit could never be considered offensive.” I remember being charmed by the thought, while in my mind considering how naive and blank check that was for anyone and everyone to put forth their own offensive or ignorant on the unsuspecting community at large. The young man was a Mormon missionary; he and his partner at the time had befriended me after my separation from my first husband.

Fast forward 25 years and we remain in communication. Not closest of friends, but I do hear from him a few times each year. He is a sweet man with a kind heart, and after his service was over went back to Utah, went to college, got married, had a couple of kids, got divorced, and is now trying to figure out the dating game.

Anyway, this post has nothing specific to do with him, but I still remember the conversation and the earnest way he had said that to me. I so wanted to believe that, and that sins great and large could be forgiven and washed away. Considering where my head was at and what I had been through in life up until that time, I was torn between wanting to believe that and wanting to scream that some things, some people should be well beyond redemption.

This morning I am sort of stricken speechless by the judgment gene and having to just stop interacting with someone out of respect for their situation being absolutely none of my business and stating my thoughts and opinions doing little other than creating anger and strife where it serves no useful purpose.

So I am coming here to sort it all out.

An old friend had children later in life than I did and her only child is now 19. Said child was a bit of a handful and just barely graduated high school and has decided to put off college into some undesignated point in the future. She has a job at Walmart and is out of my friend’s home, living with her boyfriend in a trailer on his parents’ property. They cannot afford a car of their own and take the bus or depend on others for transportation. There is also a history of recreational drug use by both her daughter and the boyfriend.

And she’s now 5 months pregnant.

When my pal told me about it a couple of months ago, I could not hide my surprise and dismay. I know the daughter pretty well and like her as a person while wishing my friend had not been quite so permissive in her upbringing, but I had hoped that being out of her mom’s house would make her gain some perspective and maturity. Instead she’s now pregnant, her boyfriend and father of the baby presently has no job, has his GED but no high school diploma and has been fired or quit every job he has had in the last year. Bringing a child into a household with such immature parents does not seem terribly fair to the unborn one.

My face is pretty expressive. While I did not say anything negative about the situation my expression spoke volumes about what I really think and my friend was pretty angry with me about it. I stated my feelings as gently and as clearly as I could – their lives were about to get a lot more challenging and it seems unfair to any child to be born into poverty without any clear pathway ahead to be out of that level of economic uncertainty.

She has not spoken to me since. I have not apologized for expressing my thinking, but I have periodically wondered if I should. I guess anymore you are labeled a judgmental bitch if you express anything other than unicorns and rainbows when such auspicious news is presented. My friend, the soon-to-be grandmother has known me for 40 years; surely she is not surprised that I tried not to vocalize the thoughts in my mind. But she did. As she said when we parted, she expected better from me.

Hmmm. When did insincere congratulations become better? I tried to avoid anything other than a very neutral “oh … how is she feeling?” type reaction, but she pressed until I verbalized my reaction to and feelings about this news.

I was a young parent, and I remember the struggles of being 20-something and having to grow up really fast with my first child. And we had a lot going for us. We were married, both had good jobs and with full benefit packages, renting a little house in a pretty great neighborhood, and were very stable, responsible people. But we were in our early 20s when my oldest daughter was born. We were still so young and so very selfish. Being a parent requires that you put that helpless little person you have created first, take care of her needs before my own, put her first, and it was a hard lesson to learn and a challenge to adjust my thinking and change my world view.

That’s my experience and it has shaped my opinions and ideas about what makes a person ready to assume the responsibility to be a parent. I am quite well aware that if you factor in everything parents invest in raising children – time, money, other resources – there is never going to be a good time to have a baby and get started on that phase of life. But without much income or stability, it seems like a ready made recipe for a very tough life for all involved.

And I guess that makes me a bit harsh and judgmental, even if I tried my best to not state any of that out loud.

Fast forward to Wednesday, and in my mail was an invitation to a baby shower. Then this morning, a phone call to ensure I received the invitation and as an afterthought, a belated birthday wish. I recognize this as the olive branch it is, a conciliatory gesture to forgive and forget the preceding radio silence of texts and emails unanswered, phone calls not returned.

I have no plans to attend and to my best to be gracious and brief in my regrets, because after this long she knows I hate any and all types of showers and shower-like events. Unless it is for given for someone I am particularly close to, I always decline to attend and send a gift of some sort. I can hear the disappointment and disapproval in her voice, and she makes no effort to hide either. She knows my aversion to wedding and baby showers, despite enjoying most weddings and universally adoring babies. But this is her daughter, her future grandchild, and all bets are off and the protective mama grizzly claws are unsheathed.

Her words are not harsh or unkind on their own, but the intensity of emotion-backed demand leave me feeling frustrated and angry and completely misunderstood and misrepresented in her statements, but I am calm enough about it in my response. I say what she has just said – I am “punishing” her daughter for this pregnancy, I believe she will be a horrible mother, and I have absolutely no compassion for people in a lower socioeconomic bracket than my own – is absolute bullshit and she has known me since we were 14 and deep down she knows it is bullshit. She counters that people change, because I obviously have to become such a snobby, self-important bitch. That one lands and wounds, because while my general shyness or reserve has been interpreted as aloofness or worse, I have to work to overcome my social anxiety and fear to as warm and as welcoming as humanly possible. To suggest I am a snob of any stripe is uncomfortable and hurtful to me and she knows it. Self-important is not a term anyone who actually knows me would use to describe me. At least I don’t think so, anyway, but I can be insecure and worry about that some other time.

I can barely keep the hurt and mounting anger from my own voice as I tell her in the evenest tone I can manage that if that is what she truly thinks believes I feel and am, then it is probably best that I not attend this event. Her goodbye has the shrill tone of finality to it. *sigh*

Another old friendship bites the dust, but at least this time it is about something other than weight loss or the size of my arms.

My quandary is sending a gift. Or not sending a gift. I will in all likelihood send a gift, but I’m not sure what yet. Diapers? Something from the registry? Gift card? No matter what my personal thoughts on the situation, a new little human is about to become part of our society and will need things to get started in life. Where I typically feel very happy and excited about such events, I feel a sense of apprehension. Maybe I am completely reading the situation wrong, that these kids and their families will pull together and raise baby to a productive adulthood. I would like nothing more than to be wrong about the readiness of the parents.

In the end, I will pick a simple, practical gift, pretend the phone call never happened, send it with regrets about attending the shower, and call it a day. In the end, it will likely not matter much to my friend, or her daughter, or her future grandchild.

Anymore, friendship has its own currency, and I am learning the monetary value system placed on qualities like truth, integrity, honesty, frankness, and loyalty. Sometimes it seems being agreeable and supportive no matter what is the only things that matter. Maybe if I can learn to take a deep breath and express insincere platitudes in the right spirit I will not feel offended with myself. Maybe what I have long believed were valued friends and confidants will not leave me feeling hollow and a bit ashamed for my own naivete in things I have long believed in as real.

It is sad to be figuring out again that long camaraderie and association is not always indicative of a genuine friendship. Or perhaps this is me learning that friendship is not a Velveteen Rabbit; I cannot make it become real.

Relationship oxygen masks and safety briefings

In the preflight safety briefing, there is always the admonishment to “put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others around you with theirs.” It has become the metaphor for living my life, taking care of myself first before trying to help others.

The past month have brought forth bunches of examples of why this is so important to me, and the peril to my own mental or emotional or even physical health to ignore my needs in favor of caring for others in their time of heartbreak or other tragedy. Sometimes it is unavoidable – emergencies, parents and children, serious illness within families or close friends, being a source of strength during stressful situations or periods. I completely understand those situations, have been through many myself. However, sometimes being needed or being needy becomes a default position, an addictive habit that must be broken and then resisted.

In marriage counseling years ago, M remarked that I was not the woman he met, fell in love with, married. She was a much more all-encompassing caretaker, anticipating and fulfilling his every need and desire without complaint. At the time it was a really upsetting statement, as if he were saying I was now an uncaring, unfeeling person who did not give a single shit about him, his needs, his desires. I replied that his neediness was exhausting and it would take a much bigger, stronger, more powerful woman than I was to sustain that indefinitely. It was snarky, defensive, angry, and mean, and I regretted voicing my resentment and hurt out loud in that forum. Because from there the spotlight turned back to me and my own soul-sucking neediness and the types of games I unconsciously played that contributed to the horrible place where we and our marriage were currently dwelling.

It was an awful, ugly time in our lives. No matter how much I appreciate the kick in the ass that made me start to grow up and get real, it was still an awful, ugly, soul-shredding period.

But looking back at it now, of course I was not the same woman he met, fell in love with, married. And let’s all give a big shout of thanks for that. I learned. I grew up. I matured mentally and emotionally. I evolved. And from where I am sitting right now, I became a far more enhanced and better version of myself. M did as well, although perhaps not quite as dramatically or as noticeably; he had done a lot of that work in his own individual therapy before meeting me.

I had actually just started with TM for individual counseling at that time, and I remember being bitterly angry at M’s comment, our marriage counselor’s (MC) response to it, and how the focus then turned to me and all my shortcomings. TM did not pat me on the head and bring out the Hello Kitty bandaids for my emotional wound. Nope, he ripped off the healing scab and started in with what felt like sharp and pointy dental implements to see what the freshly regenerated blood looked like.

I simultaneously smile and wince at the memory now, because I remember some serious, heaving sobbing and nose-blowing going on with a several close friends during that period. Those are the people to whom I feel indebted, for propping me up and keeping me functional during a very tough period.

M has never lied to me about his life, his actions, his behaviors. Because I lacked trust in him, it was years before I actually learned that he is who he says he is, and that I could trust him to act in predictable ways in nearly all circumstances. I, on the other hand, lied to myself continuously, and because I really believed those lies, I repeated them and presented them as truth to M and the rest of the world. They were not terrible lies, either. For example, I believed myself to be an all around happy, positive, caring person, and I am that – to everyone else.  To myself I was a cruel and inhumane taskmaster, negative, hateful, awful. I loathed myself and could not bring myself to share with him or anyone else the truth about why that was … until I finally just gave up and thought the end for me was near and spilled the terrible secrets I had hoarded.

Things started to get better after that, and I mostly stopped lying to myself. I would still try, then evaluate, then face the harder truths. The process continues to this day.

The best part for us is that we still liked, still loved the older, wiser, more intriguing versions of people we became/are becoming. M used to always talk about “taking care of ourselves” first, advice he tends to follow, particularly when someone in our world engages his rescuer tendencies. Maybe that’s the key to a longer, happier, satisfying relationship – prioritize taking care of yourself, then prioritize the relationship. On top of that, accept that you and your relationship partner are going to change and work with that precept, embrace it. Or maybe those are the things that work for us as a married couple, and for me with a few decades long, close friendships.

All that said, I firmly believe no one should ever ask me for relationship advice of any stripe or utilize it if I open my mouth and find words that sound like advice coming from it. I am not an expert in anything and have a past littered with lots of big and little mistakes that left cracks and craters in their wake.

Which kinda/sorta sets the stage for what’s on my mind this Wednesday.

If trainer J is the thoughtful, supportive, just-right coach I need to teach me how to exercise safely and sanely, friend J is his evil twin, the gung-ho drill sergeant type that would have me in tears of frustration, anger, and fear twice a week, every week. Over the course of the last 6 months of consistent practices, friend J has taken to texting me every morning bullying badgering enthusiastically asking about what I did at the gym that day, how much weight I am moving to and fro, etc. At first they were really nice inquiries, just “how’s it going?” and “it gets easier” kind of comments. As I have progressed and grown more confident, his queries have grown exponentially more gung-ho as well. These days, it’s still nice that he has such a genuine interest in my progress, but it has gradually gravitated toward “did you do full reps for every exercise in every set?” or “what do you MEAN your head’s not in it? Pull it out of your ass and just do it” type sentiments. *laugh* There is no malice in his expressions; this is friend J being himself and stating his precise thoughts in the lowest common denominator manner possible.

I love, Love, LOVE friend J, but at the same time, there are moments when I hate, Hate, HATE friend J. And devilish charmer that he is, he relishes every single second of driving me to the darker side of my emotions toward him. Because that’s just the way he is with me and others closest to him, and most of the time it (eventually) makes me laugh and appreciate his intensity and irreverence all over again. Occasionally it has the (likely) intended effect of firing me up into an angry tirade in reply, which in turn makes HIM laugh uproariously. These are buttons only he can push with this degree of aplomb and expertise, because he installed them through the years of our friendship and reads me like a book.

Occasionally he will say or do something that is genuinely hurtful, and I call him on it. With friend J, as with M, there is no knee-jerk apology and falling all over himself to make me feel better. There are explanations. There are discussions. Sometimes there is escalation into loud, shrieking, yelling at each other. Occasionally after all that there are apologies, sometimes from both of us. Mostly, though, I have come to understand the the original hurtful statement or action was not something said or done with intent to hurt my feelings, maybe just a thoughtless something that I took personally or too personally.

Through the years friend J has by example taught me a lot about putting on my own oxygen mask first. He is a mentally and emotionally healthy guy, knows what he wants and what he does not, is pretty much impervious to the opinions of most everyone, and takes no prisoners in living his life on his own terms. That said, it’s refreshing to know someone who has a “do no deliberate harm” outlook yet tends to be brutally honest even when I wish he would lie to me, if only by omission. As a friend he is the fiercest, most protective and stand-up guy imaginable.

When it comes to romantic entanglement, he has evolved into what I think of as a serial monogamist because of his tendency is to date 1 woman at a time, whether it’s for 2 weeks or more than 2 years. He does not lie to women, does not ever represent himself as someone seeking a long-term commitment, yet is happy to go with the flow if that’s how things work out between them. To date he has been very clear that children or marriage are not on his bucket list agenda, and he has tended to steer clear of single mothers as a result. He actually likes children – both my kids have very fond memories of him playing with them, attending their birthday parties, being present at family events – but just because he would be an amazing father does not mean he wants that for himself.

Some of my more cynical single friends wonder if I am too trusting, that no man can stay single and enjoy a happy social life without lying and/or cheating at times along his way to the grave. To them I always reply – why lie to me? We are now and have always been just really good friends, I am among the least judgmental people he knows, and through the years many of my close friends have become close friends of his as well. Sooner or later the truth would trickle down to me, and I would be upset that he felt the need to lie to me about his activities. If he were the type to be cruel and insensitive to the women he dates, we would have never become friends in the first place. I have met many of his squeezes through the years, including 3 memorable instances where he dated friends of ours for various periods of time, so I have heard many first hand stories from the other side.

He is spending a year in Switzerland, working for a charitable organization he strongly supports. It has been interesting for me thus far, hearing the stories of his day-to-day adventures and figuring out that a grown man can actually get a little homesick for his own house and car and friends and regular life. But since he is away from normal, day-to-day familiar activities and things, he also has more time to harass me about training and exercise, interrogate me about what my husband, children, and mutual friends are doing, and tell me the stories of what he is doing and experiencing currently. He also loves to ask me what I think about dating and the women he is dating, knowing full well what I am likely to say well in advance of my saying it. I am quite predictable that way.

Friend J is an avid gym rat and works out at a swankier gym than the one he uses at home. He broke his hand a couple of months back and is only now able to get back into some lighter version of his regular training. Between the soft cast and being a good looking, gregarious American in a Zurich gym, he’s had plenty of opportunities to make new friends to hang out with and women to date during his off time. The latest has been a 28-ish young woman he met at the gym. For the record, friend J turns 44 this year.

He describes this one as nice, intelligent, kind, and has a good sense of humor, qualities he values. He has also said she’s kind of pretty girl spoiled, in that she’s very attractive and used to men slipping in their own drool when trying to get to know her. They began in an easy-going relationship revolving around gym workouts, which advanced to coffees, meals, touring the city, etc. You know, regular dating stuff.

Except … and there always seems to be an “except” or a “but” in such matters … she is becoming more needy and clingy while claiming to not wanting to get closer, too close because he will be returning home to the US at the end of this year. She also says she does not want to depend upon him too much while demonstrating the opposite and seeming more and more dependent upon him. Friend J is a stand-up guy; he’s happy to help if there is something he can do to help, but not to the point of tying himself in knots to make it work. He’s affable, not a stuffy, arms-length-because-I-am-leaving-in-a-few-months type guy, because if he likes you he likes you and will be all he can be for friends or more.

For this girl – and possibly for everyone else but me – he is a good and supportive fitness coach friend and assistant, happy to help her with her lifting form or learning how to do new things safely in the gym. However, like most people, he has basic expectations that the person he’s trying to assist is willing to do the work and the (quite literally) heavy lifting in whatever goal she is pursuing. Stories I am hearing this week, she is trying to turn his gym time into social time with her. First she tried the cute pouting routine – did not work because he is immune to cute pouting. When that failed to get her the response she desired, she escalated into little teary-eyed disappointment at his “indifference” – which quite understandably left him even more inclined to ignore her poor behaviors. I guess the latest was a little tantrum that left him cold and to the point that he wants nothing more to do with her childishness. When J is at the gym to get through his own workouts, he is generous with his time but is pretty serious about getting his shit done, too. She grew to expect that if they were both present and working he would pay more attention to her and her routine than his own. The friend J that I know and love does not tolerate any such misunderstandings and has been kind yet direct about what he sees as an obstacle and an issue. This is her problem to be resolved not a “couple” thing where they both need to make compromises. Needless to say she has not been taking it very well.

My take is that she’s a little too young for him and he needs to find someone a bit more grown up to hang out with. But he knew that already before I even said it; he just likes the exasperation in my voice.

He was quizzing me on whether I thought she was shining him on about what she really wants, and I again referred him back to my basic default is that as women, we tend to lie to ourselves more than we lie to other people. Truth, I have found from personal experience, leaks out in a myriad of other big and small ways. While this is my default position about women in particular, it is my personal generalization and is adjusted as I meet people and get to know them; I do not wander through my life with expectations that all people tell big and small lies to themselves or others deliberately and routinely. However, as a person who is aware of and affected by the opinions and expectations of the world at large, I know how adaptable I can desire myself to become, and I have to guard against the justifications and exceptions I might make to be more comfortable or to get what I think I want in the moment. Slave to my own impulsivity – not often for a very long time. I am vigilant in guarding against that to the point of being a safe, sensible shoes sort of personality.

So I have been pondering this little melodrama off and on all week and find myself thinking again that I am missing an angsty emotion chromosome in my genetic chain. No one likes to be ignored, and while I am not there and able to see what he is doing and how he is responding to her, I know friend J is as susceptible to “white knight” syndrome as the next guy, but tends to set some tall boundaries against it with others, particularly with women he likes. In fact, I have had him tell me that I’m being a baby, I’m being ridiculous, or I’m overreacting about something or some situation on more than one occasion, and even me, knowing he is absolutely right, knowing exactly what kind of guy he is, have slammed the phone down in his ear with a string of obscenities that ended with “insensitive jerk” or worse.

Unfortunately, when I calmed and cooler, more honest reflection prevailed, I had to agree with him. I was being a baby, being ridiculous, or overreacting. While it might have been nice for him to be a little less direct in telling me so, it’s not his way. He and M share that trait, and while I do not always appreciate it, I respect both of them for it. If they were yes men who only told me what I wanted to hear when I wanted to hear it, they would not be the men I hold in such high esteem.

I suspect the days of this young woman being in his orbit are winding down, and I am more amused than concerned. Friend J does a fine job looking after himself, and the biggest worry I have about him is that someday he will cross paths with someone truly unstable and who hides it very well.

There are other people, other friends’ romantic entanglements and long marriages suddenly dissolving in my real-time, real-life world right now that have a lot more painful drama. In those cases, the drama will not be dealt with in a realistic, direct, or honest manner, and it makes me feel so sad for the parties involved. Friend J and his dating adventures are a distraction from others I care for facing painful choices and realities they did not desire. Right now, my role as a caring friend is to listen, to support, and to encourage them to take steps to protect and care for themselves first and foremost (there are no dependent children involved in any of these situations). I suppose I have finally learned how to put on my own oxygen mask first and am now ready, and capable, of assisting those around me. Even if I do not feel especially qualified. These are close friends and I truly want them to get back to a place where they can be at peace and hopefully happy once more.

Maybe, right this minute, that is qualification enough. Time will tell.