We all have that one friend (or two…or three…) who comes to us for support or advice, but doesn’t like what we have to say because it’s not what they want to hear. This is for them.
If I didn’t care so much about you, we’d be getting along soooooooooo much better right now. I wouldn’t ask the hard questions. I wouldn’t challenge you to open your mind to other points of view. I wouldn’t disagree. I wouldn’t push you to examine your choices. I’d just nod my head, commiserate, and feed you handfuls of sympathy while we ate chocolate chip cookies. Then I’d go about my merry life, and we’d repeat the pity party every month or 3 months or whatever. Lucky for you, though, you’ve got other people for that. You call them the friends that understand you, that don’t judge you, that are supportive of you no matter what. I call them enablers.
But, whatever. Po TAY toe, po TAH toe.
Just for the record, I choose these difficult, painful, awkward conversations with you because I want you to be happy. You’re not happy right now, or we wouldn’t be having this chat. Remember six months ago, when we went through this subject the first time? We hashed it out, and I kept throwing out options, and you kept saying “I can’t”. Remember? Yeah, you remember.
First, let’s clarify what it means when you say, “I can’t”. Hint: It’s rarely, truly “I can’t”.
“I can’t” means “I’m afraid of failing”
“I can’t” means “It’s scary”
“I can’t” means “It’s too hard”
“I can’t” means “I don’t think I’m strong enough”
“I can’t” means “I don’t know how”
“I can’t” means “I don’t want to”
“I can’t” means “I’ve kind of gotten comfortable in this mess”
And, yes, sometimes “I can’t”, even from you, means “I’d rather have sympathy than a solution”.
Put your dander back down….it’s true, you know it, I know it, and we’ve all taken the same stance at some point or another. Sometimes sympathy makes a pretty comforting blanket. I get that. Just remember, if you stay wrapped up in a blanket for too long, it starts to stink.
When you don’t want to think about it anymore, or debate the issues any longer, or get tired of saying “I can’t”, just be honest (at least with yourself) and say “this isn’t making me feel better, and I want to stop this conversation”.
Or, tell me you don’t want to think right now, you just want to vent. I’m cool with venting. It’s one of my favorite past times.
But when you get tired of me pointing out the differences between “can’t” and “won’t”, and you pull out the big conversation stopper: the uber condescending “You don’t understand”…. this pisses me off, my friend.
I understand, I just don’t agree.
I understand, I just don’t accept your excuse.
Don’t try to convince me that your life is so horrendously unfair, your situation so dire, your burdens so crushing that they’re beyond my comprehension. Don’t act like I’ve had some sort of charmed life that I’ve just skipped right through; that my path was without pitfalls or detours or painstaking decisions or effort. As a matter of fact, don’t even assume that my path was visible at first; I bushwhacked that sonofabitch.
When you start on me with the “Yes, but YOU can handle things like this” or “I’m not like you” or “It’s not as easy for me as it is for you”, I want to grab you by the back of the neck and slam your face into a brick wall. Sue me for taking tough love to a new level.
How dare you think that somehow I just *poof* was born with the mechanism to cope with crap.
I don’t understand? Seriously?
I don’t understand? I had a mother that regularly reminded me that she wished I’d never been born.
I don’t understand? When I was 6 and wanted to play with the other kids in my new neighborhood, one of them told me that they weren’t allowed to play with me because my family was “a bunch of nigger lovers”. I didn’t even know what that meant, I’m not even sure THEY knew what it meant, but I sure understood the ugliness that was dripping from it. (Peter Dodson, wherever you are, you made an indelible mark on me….and Tony Scalise, wherever you are, weeks after that, when Peter started throwing rocks at me while calling me that name, and the other kids laughed, your choice to go punch him in the face then invite me to ride bikes with you left an indelible mark on me as well.)
I don’t understand? When I was 19, a new mother to a little baby Amanda, I regained consciousness as I was going into a CAT scan, just to see my brother, a priest, giving me Last Rites. I asked him if I was going to die; he patted my head and told me to not be afraid. (Note: this answer to that question guarantees that you will, indeed, be afraid.)
I don’t understand? I’ve sat in my kitchen, having not eaten for days, and figured out how to feed 3 children with what was left in the pantry and refrigerator until the next payday came…and that’s while I was working 2 jobs.
I don’t understand? 16 year old me sat in a court room and pointed out a rapist to a jury while he glared and I held back vomit.
I don’t understand? I’ve sat shamefully in an Emergency Room, bloody, swollen and with broken bones in my face, while lying to a police officer, a nurse, and a doctor about how I fell down a flight of stairs, swearing that my boyfriend outside the room had nothing to do with it. None of them believed me. I repeated that award winning performance the next day at my job, and they didn’t believe me either.
I don’t understand? My life has been assaulted with death, divorce, infidelity, fear, poverty, alcoholism, rejection, failure, depression, and hatred. Some of those things through no fault of my own, but many as a result of my own choices.
Through it all, I had friends who commiserated with me. They listened to me cry, and brought me wine, hated the people I blamed for everything, and let it all be someone else’s fault. They had my back, and I had theirs. Oddly enough (or not), they were often in the same messes I was in. I was an expert in Pity Parties.
Thank God, I had other friends. The ones who listened to me cry, brought me wine, then forced me to figure out why these things were happening. They had the hard conversations, and got back in my face when I started the litany of “I can’t” responses. They pushed me. They believed in me. They reminded me that I deserved a better life than what I was giving myself.
Once I stopped being a victim, I promised I would be that kind of friend when the situation called for it. That’s what I try to be for you. Honestly, I will lose our relationship before I become one of the people that just watches you self-destruct. I will always listen to you. I will always have time for you. I will keep having those painful, awkward conversations. I will cheer you on while you fight through your challenges, and I will get in your face when you’re indulging your demons.
Because you’re worth fighting with….fighting for…..and fighting over.