We’ve all experienced a friend or relative who sapped us of our energy. Perhaps manipulative, self-centered, controlling or a lethal combination, we are faced with a choice: navigate through the relationship or leave it. While cutting ties with a difficult person sounds tempting, sometimes it’s impractical or simply not the best option. During a particularly busy year of changing careers, moving, and pregnancy, I found myself in a constant state of exhaustion. The following year, I had a new baby (took a one week maternity leave) and began a second job on the side. Those two years, while highly meaningful and rewarding, were my “turbo-speed years”. Alone time was scarce and moments of relaxation seemed non-existent. I didn’t want to talk on the phone. I didn’t want to go out at night. I certainly didn’t want to host anyone.
Before those two turbo-speed years began, my old friend, Rebecca, had expressed a certain level of frustration and disappointment in me. I didn’t call her regularly, I should visit more, I wasn’t making enough of an effort investing in our friendship. It was difficult for me to meet her expectations because I was working, had young children, and, by nature, craved alone time. Can you imagine what happened to our friendship during the turbo-speed years? She felt that I had completely abandoned her and neglected our friendship. I found myself constantly apologizing and dreading seeing her phone number on my caller ID. Ironically, I invested even less of myself as I begun to associate our contact with negativity. The friendship went from cherished to tiring to extremely difficult.
When Rebecca and I did talk, I found myself trying to check our conversation off of a box on my imaginary to-do list. I would navigate the conversation according to her needs. What did Rebecca want to talk about? How was she doing? How could I help? Rebecca began to complain that I never vented or shared with her the way she did with me. She wanted the friendship to be mutual and reciprocal instead of one-sided. I didn’t have clarity at the time but I now understand that the kind of support I was looking for was someone who would give me space with compassion, and without judgement.
Eventually, Rebecca called it quits on our friendship. I didn’t ask her to reconsider since I knew I wouldn’t be able to meet her needs. Also, the chronic exhaustion of juggling different areas of my life weighed on me when I wanted to pick up the phone. After a while, I texted her briefly to see if she was interested in a dating a guy I knew and she texted me “Shana Tova” before the Jewish New Year. I felt apprehensive when contacting her given everything that happened but I really missed her and our friendship. We had been through formative years together, really knew each other, and genuinely cared for one another.
Recently, I reached out to Rebecca in the hopes that we could just move forward. Connection and friendship are rare treasures and I’m reluctant to sever ties with someone who shares so much history with me. One trait that I admire (and contend with) in Rebecca is her clarity about life in general. I live in a world of gray while Rebecca lives in a world of black and white. There’s always a right or wrong way of reacting. People are good or bad. Relationships are on or off. Rebecca’s perception of our friendship is that it’s memory of the past.
My and Rebecca’s story is one of two self-centered perspectives and unfair expectations. The Jewish perspective of a loving relationship is that it’s a center-point for giving. Two individuals intersect in the spaces they can give to one another. For example, a person might enter marriage in order to receive affection, admiration, and adoration from someone else. However, when approached with the Jewish perspective on relationships, a person will embark on marriage as an opportunity to give more wholly. So often, relationships boil down to how you celebrated my birthday, how you make me feel, and what kind of assistance- emotional, financial, or otherwise- you can offer me. While these might feel like the hallmarks of a happy relationship, the focus is supposed to be reversed. What can I do to give him or her pleasure? How can I best support him or her?
Expectation creeps into almost every relationship and suddenly we find ourselves focused on how others aren’t coming through for us in the way we want or need. If my needs aren’t met, why bother hanging around?
I don’t want to live that way because intellectually I know it’s wrong and intuitively I know how great it feels to be in a giving relationship. Ultimately, no matter how Rebecca feels (sad, angry, apathetic), I have no plans to dwell in dark places. Life is too short and we don’t know where it will take us. There is one place I always intend to be though: Connected to her despite all of my glorious limitations.