Am I a good person anymore? Sometimes I can’t tell.
I can say with certainty that I’d help the little old lady in the grocery aisle reach her jar of spaghetti sauce or stop and help someone I saw on the street who’d collapsed. I’d capture dogs running amok on a busy street and I’d happily sit with a lost child until his parents were found. I care for Peyton with a tireless passion and all the love in my body and work hard to figure out my relationships with my sister and mother like a good daughter and sister.
But lately I have also been judgmental and almost incapable of keeping secrets (ok, one secret of one friend, which I shared with The Neighbor). I’m fed up with the decisions my friends (and family) have been making which render them either miserable or powerless or both. I am a woman of agency: if something isn’t working fix it or end it or stop bitching about it. Leave me out of it.
I really and truly try to live by that motto, despite what it may have seemed like with my own life. After all, The Neighbor behaved very badly in the past and many (many) of you thought I should dump his ass.
I was asked by a friend last week why I decided to stay with him through all of that. We’re new-ish friends and we have only hung out 3 times over the past year. Our dates are peppered with lots of personal revelations and artisan cheeses and she remembers our first meeting where TN was being distant and non-commital and probably a huge jackass — such a far cry from where he is today.
“What was it about him?” she asked me, leaning forward waiting for my answer. “How did you know things would change?”
“I didn’t,” I told her. “I broke up with him 3 or 4 times, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. So, I guess he made that decision in the end.”
“But you could’ve broken off contact,” she pressed, her bullshit-meter going off. As a long-time singleton who has increasingly entered a black-and-white way of thinking when it comes to dating, she didn’t understand the complexities of our situation and why on earth I’d keep letting him back into my life, and she wanted to know my secret to what seems like a successful relationship today.
“True,” I admitted, “but it’s a lot harder to ignore a knock on your door than it is a text or a phone call. And, to be honest, it felt good to be chased after.”
And there it was. Was I that friend not too long ago who exhausted her friends and their emotional resources like I feel my friends are doing to me now?
Add to that a growing sense that the friends I do have — many of my decades and longer friendships — feel strangely removed from me. I am a satellite, distantly safe. I’m not really all that involved and I kinda like it that way.
Growing up, my mother taught me that to be a good friend you lavished attention and care on your friends, you never gossiped or shared stories, you exhausted yourself during birthday parties and important events and you were always available when needed.
Today, I realize that is a recipe for disaster because as beautiful a scene it is, it’s a flower-filled meadow with no fence. When do you stop? When do you rest? By my mother’s thinking: never; but by most other people’s: frequently. Which then means you’re the only one going beyond the hills while your friends hang out at their fence replenishing their own resources and maintaining good boundaries and you feel gypped, or worse: unworthy.
So, I’m in a bind. On the one hand I think I have a right to my compassion fatigue, on the other, I feel like a shit person and even worse, a shit friend.