Last night at a favorite watering hole I eavesdropped on a late 40ish couple on a first or second date. During the course of their ninety minute conversation he did not ask her a single question.
Not that she was asking questions either, but he would just talk about himself unprompted. His war stories from the first Gulf War (H’s war, not W’s war), work stories, family stories, his favorite hobbies, least favorite music, and what he is doing this summer.
He went on and on.
She tried to insert bits and pieces into the conversation, leveraging his occasional gulp of food or beer, but he would just start up again as if he ever heard her. Eventually she started to look bored and as the date progressed she started looking angry.
When he finally paid and left the bar she was ten feet in front of him. She couldn’t get away from him fast enough.
It got me thinking about a call from last year as I drove from home to home talking to a woman on the phone. She spent two hours telling me how hard her life is.
I say, “I talked”, but I meant, “I listened.” In those two hours, not one time did she ask me about me or my life.
Eventually, I even pulled over, placed the phone on mute, went into the rest area, did my business, came back to the car, and discovered she was still talking.
She had no idea.
And for two hours I said almost nothing because it was never a conversation. I had become her pressure valve. This isn’t new for her. This is how our relationship has always been.
When I finally interrupted her and said, “I need to go,” she thought me rude. I hung up feeling bad, like I disappointed her, thinking I am not a nice person, and believing I did something wrong.
Here is the thing: I am not her Hero. It isn’t my job to absorb her damage and pain and fears.
So why did I let her push them onto me?
It is not her fault I spent two hours on the phone waiting for her to take a breath so I could hang up. The whole time thinking on my inability to simply say, “I gotta go.”
What is it about me that I attract emotionally and financially unbalanced relationships? Why don’t I just interrupt her and get off the phone? What is it about her that she doesn’t ask me how I am?
Or if she does what about her causes her to immediately hijack airtime and I let her?
I’m not mad at her. When I saw it was her on the caller ID I knew exactly how the conversation would go.
Exactly. I answered anyway.
This isn’t new of course.
I recognize it is another example of how I lack boundaries and have an unwillingness to state what I need. This whole conversation is another example of how I avoid even low level conflicts for fear of disapproval.
I have, like so much, become conscious of my behavior. I am, for lack of a better phrase, now consciously aware of my unskillfulness at this part of intimacy. What that means moving forward is I’ll help where I can, but I will not carry other people’s water where they are looking to unburden themselves from a the load as opposed to simply share it.
Frankly, I’m finished with unbalanced conversations where being polite and concerned get’s warped into being someone else’s Hero and trying to be a nice guy. Expectations I create by my responses or actions.
In many relationships I played the Hero because that was what I thought I was suppose to be. Over and over I tried to save my mother, my brother, my family, the family businesses, friends and then girls and then women, including C and K.
I tried to be who I thought a stand-up person should be for friends and others, meanwhile they benefited while I abandoned my integrity, power, and self-worth. And a stand-up person throws themselves on the sword when they fuck up and fix it so no one gets hurt. They do it themselves and don’t ask for help.
I tried to be what I thought they needed…and sometimes what they told me what they wanted.
For example, I agreed to a bullshit divorce agreement with K out of guilt and shame, even though I know there is no law or judge that would have given her what she demanded.
And she let me, chaining me to her for 10 more years.
I took care of C’s finances, business, and kids following her divorce and financial problems while she sandbagged money, acquired assets, and gunny-sacked resentments.
And she let me, while falling into her patterns of silence, emotionally ghosting, and other things until I started asking for the things I needed and wanted.
In many ways I left both relationships poorer than when I arrived.
I won’t do it again.
I never wanted to hurt anyone even as I was dying on the inside. I believed if I hurt someone I must be a bad person. I believed if you care about someone that you don’t hurt them even if you have to lie. I believed lying was better than hurting them and then you buried the lie and carry it silently. I really believed it was my responsibility to carry the full weight of the armor so the people I love could be free to laugh, love, and perhaps paint.
Some where along the line I took responsibility for the well being of others.
One of the great lessons from this experience is, “Fuck that noise.”
I am no one’s Hero. I’m not here to save you, her, or them. What I will do is hold your hand and walk with you as an equal in a balanced relationship.
One of my Teachers said to me recently, “If you love someone you have to be open to hurting them and accept responsibility. If you love someone you have to be open to let them hurt you and accept that responsibility too. That is adulting. That is what it means to be vulnerable.”
As such, I see now that just because someone chooses to make me the villain of their story doesn’t make it true. It’s an excuse. It is a knee jerk response to pain. It lacks awareness and integrity.
Over the last year, I realized I have chosen unbalanced relationships where my needs and wants are delegated to the back burner. Where my needs and wants weren’t important enough to voice. Where my needs and wants weren’t treated as important. Where my needs and wants were immaterial to the people around me.
Where I chose not to speak up because I was too busy taking responsibility for the feelings and thoughts of the people around me. Going along to get along. Not rocking the boat. Making peace. Walking away.
Perhaps if I thought my needs and wants mattered I wouldn’t find it necessary to keep them secret or cover them up with lies.
I have had many unbalanced friendships. People that only call when they need or want something: family members, high school girlfriends, college friends, work associates, girlfriends, and wives. I am expected to carry it because of a misguided sense of loyalty or debt or obligation or shame.
They talk, I listen and then am asked to help or carry the load or fix it. Whatever the fuck “it” is.
For example, sitting here at this project I realize I have been tasked to fix “it” for people that toss out the loyalty card when it benefits them. Meanwhile, they dick around with things on the back end that directly impact me and they should have been handled months ago.
Of course, that is not their fault.
I chose these relationships and put myself in these situations. If I thought my needs and wants mattered I would have made different choices and acted accordingly.
Instead I hid emotionally from the hard things in attempt to maintain approval and favor. I hid to avoid conflict and loss. I hid to maintain appearances.
Hiding won’t work anymore. Those situations perpetuated across my life because I lacked self-awareness, understanding, and skills. Today I have awareness and a better understanding.
I can learn the skills.
I wouldn’t even be aware of this as a major life theme for me if over the last year I didn’t experience deep and intimate friendships. These are people that ask me how I’m doing, don’t judge, or offer unsolicited advice. They make space for my pain.
On more than one occasion they have responded to my answer, “I’m fine,” with, “Really? That doesn’t sound right. Tell me more.”
These are the meaningful and intimate friendships.
Friends and lovers that made it safe to be vulnerable. Friends and lovers that wanted to know me and not simply want to know me for what I could do for them. These are friends and lovers that when I say, “I cannot do this right now,” reply, “I get that I’ll be here when you can.”
They call me out and don’t kick me out.
They have enough self-awareness to know everyone has their own things and take responsibility for their own lives. They don’t look for someone else to be their heroes.
Which is good, because I need and want friends that need and want me in their life because of who I am and not simply because they need a hero.
Because, seriously, I’m not doing that anymore. If that is what you want, it ain’t me babe.