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I’m not meant to manage my own problems or carry my own load.
About 30 minutes ago, I got off the phone. I had been talking to a friend about one of her reoccurring family dramas, two sisters competing for the love of their dad (as though their father’s love was finite). She wondered why her sister treated her contemptuously and when she explained her own behavior I understood why. In a letter she had written, she went so far as to say “I’m sorry I’m not good enough for you.” I shared with her my thoughts on the matter. I told her that it struck me as manipulative and self pitying. In tears, she thanked me for being kind and caring enough to be honest with her. Given what I had said, I think my delivery must have had something to do with it. I had teased and joked and playfully scolded her instead of preaching to or judging her. It was a first for me, I know. If you know me, you know that didn’t come naturally. 😉
When we got off the phone, I showered and made myself some midday breakfast, a bowl of cereal. I thought about two nights ago, Tuesday night. I was having my own issues with a wonderful woman I’ve been dating. I want her to behave responsibly and she wants the freedom to be flaky. This is a tough issue for me to accept. I pride myself on being a man of my word, not breaking plans and being able to be counted on. She’s a bit younger and with part of her youth, she’s resistant to being bound by what she feels are conventions restricting her self-expression. She wants to be free to make plans and break plans on a whim. As I said, this is a struggle for me. I have a hard time accepting her as she is and would like to see her change. I’m reminded of the quote “She’d be perfect if she were different.” If she were anyone else, I wouldn’t tolerate her in my life. I would walk away. The problem is she isn’t anyone else. She’s the embodiment of so much of what I do want and admire that I’m constantly challenged to be more flexible, understanding, patient and permissive than I usually am. In other words, by her own defects (because let’s face it, being “flaky” is defective), she encourages me to be a better person. Ugh! I hate that! Why can’t she be simple and straight forward? Why can’t she be easy to love or leave? Why? Probably because that’s the nature of romantic relationships; I’m forced through my own attraction to tolerate behavior I sometimes find intolerable.
Back to my original point, Tuesday. I received an email from this wonderful woman in question. We were making contact again after I had walked away. When I had done that, I had also begun to blame myself for not being more tolerant. That, there’s no problem with; I could use more tolerance. The problem was, I soon transformed self-criticism into self-pity which I couldn’t see. What I saw instead was the all too familiar illusion: “Woe is me for not being good enough for you.” This is a lie. There is no such thing as my not being good enough for someone else’s attention or ongoing interest. There is “We don’t work”, “We hurt rather than help each other”, “We aren’t good for each other” but there is no “We’re not worthy of one another” because we’re all equally valuable. In seeing that sentence, I’m amazed I was able to write it. Given my terrible dilemma of never feeling “good enough”, it’s hard to believe that I’m ever able to see this matter more clearly. Nevertheless, Tuesday night I wasn’t able to. I was blind and the only words I could come up with were self-serving, self-pitying and manipulative. Little did I know I would hear them from a friend lamenting the loss of her relationship with her sister only two days later….
“I’m sorry I’m not good enough for you,” I wrote.
I showed the email to a friend before I hit “send.” He put the kibosh on it. “Are you trying to kill this reconnection or are you trying to reconcile?” he asked.
“The latter” I responded.
“That’s not what it looks like.”
“Well, if not that…what?” I asked.
“How about this” he offered, “How about ‘I like having you in my life and I’m sorry if I don’t do a better job of showing it?’ ”
That was better, much better, certainly for this moment, than “I’m sorry I’m not good enough for you.”
See what I mean? Even you see it’s better. We all do, but not me, not when I’m in it. This is why taking my problems to others is so helpful for me; through their eyes and with their mouth, I’m able to see and hear their sense when I am unable to come up with any on my own.
The lesson here is not I’m that much wiser than my friend who’s competing with her sister. Its more likely that because I’m not in it, her situation and her shoes right at this moment, I don’t have to react to raw but real emotions and conflict. I’m afforded the luxury of perspective, a perspective that allows me to distinguish between feelings and facts. So, while feeling “I’m not good enough” is normal, believing “I’m not good enough” is not.
It’s an important distinction, one I’d do well to remember…feelings are not facts.