Thursday, August 16, 2012

Notes from the briar patch

I've been sitting here, looking at the blank page tonight, just staring at it. I have a list of posts I want to write this month, but I can't focus on any of them. And yet I have to write something tonight, so here's what you get. I apologize in advance.

I'm struggling with issues of loyalty and the lack of it -- both in my own life and as I see it played out in the lives of friends. I'm feeling cynical and sad and frustrated, like I'm fighting my way through a briar patch. It's one I've fallen into before.

I'm in there. Don't come in after me.

I've been questioning whether it's really possible to reach a reasonable balance between getting what you want and at the same time not hurting others. I can come up with example after example where one person ends up getting what he wants, but at the same time he hurts someone else because his time, his attention, his focus, whatever he has to give, is limited, so he has to choose. And I would give those examples, but some stories belong to other people and telling my stories (yes, more than one right now) just isn't a good idea.

I hate the direction my thoughts are taking me though. It's a "grab what you can because resources are limited" way of thinking. It's a way of thinking that leads me to dwell on what I don't have instead of being grateful for what's left what I do have. It's a way of thinking that causes me to compare, to ask why some people -- without even earning it -- elicit such devotion that the person offering it is willing to lose everything else. And because I'm in such a briar patch and briar patches are painful, I wonder why I'm not the kind of person who deserves attracts the white knights or superheroes.

These comparisons aren't at all useful. That I've figured out.

The behaviors on both ends of the loyalty spectrum are pathological. Someone who always serves the needs of another person, whether it's a friend, lover, or family member, and never puts his own needs first, isn't a whole person. He may seem like a nice guy, a giving, loyal guy, but he's lost his ability to pursue his own happiness because he's so focused on making someone else happy. He is, at best, a codependent who may resent giving up his life, but doesn't know how to stop letting it leak away.

On the other side is the person who does whatever the hell feels good to him at the time, no matter who gets hurt. He'll be your best friend when you've got something he wants or needs, but if a shinier object flashes at him from across the room, he's off chasing after that new toy, leaving the old one with the dust bunnies under the bed. Obviously he's not a whole person either, but that doesn't mean the Velveteen rabbit doesn't wish he'd spread his attention around a little bit.

Each of these is the yin/yang of the other. They are the same pathology with the same outcome -- somebody's needs/wants are always being met at the expense of another.

But even if you don't fall into one of those extreme camps, it can be hard to balance your own need to chase shiny things with the needs of others. It can be painful when somebody you care for chases shiny things at the expense of your feelings. Sometimes I can't figure out if I should ask for, or insist on, what I want or just walk away. (I usually choose the latter. I'm not as big a control freak as I seem.)

And it can be hard when someone else is hurt because of something you decide to do or not do.

I suppose the most common example is when one person wants more intimacy in a relationship and the other one doesn't. In my experience and from the stories I've heard, the person who wants the least from a relationship is usually the one who gets what he wants. Eventually the choice has to be be made by the person who wants more: should she stay or should she go and find what she wants? Does she have a right to insist that the other person give more to the relationship than he wants to? Or should she leave and try to find someone who is more compatible? There are no guarantees out there!

This is one of those nights when I wish somebody wiser than I am could write this post and come up with sage, preferably clever, commentary on the balance between loyalty and pursuing personal desires.

Anybody know the way out of this briar patch? How do you find the balance between giving the people in your life what they want and following your own desires when they don't match up? Have you found the magic scale? Or do you tend to tip it one direction or the other?

I'm sure the answer has to do with expectations and not having them. If only it were that easy. I don't want to hear that answer unless you can tell me how to not expect, not want, not desire. Because that's what this is all about. People either wanting and getting, or people wanting and not getting.

I'm not willing to give up desire, because at the end of desire lies the death of passion .... Fuck it. That's not acceptable either.


  1. It's kind of the core dilemma of growing up... We can stay at toddler level, demanding everything and testing all the boundaries. We can stay at wounded child level, giving up everything for the sake of the all-powerful being we're praying will automatically meet all our needs. Or we can navigate the ever-changing, ever-churning waters of relationship...

    The best tools I've found so far were the principles of recognizing all beings as ourselves and acting accordingly (see Conversations With God) and, until I achieve above-mentioned levels of enlightenment, the Compassionate Communication approach of Marshall Rosenberg. (I particularly like his student Kelly Bryson's book "Don't Be Nice, Be Real.")

    Basically, this approach provides a structure for getting people on the same page regarding the facts of the situation, helping them both identify their needs and emotions around said situation, and develop solutions that meet everyone's needs, not just one party's. Marshall was not a fan of compromise, saying that's where everyone loses equally.

    It's not an easy approach, but it's definitely created a ton of clarity in my life and relationships, and it's allowed for some serious growth and peace.

    1. Sage advice, Ria. Thanks for the book recommendations too. :-)

  2. One thing I've had to learn is that you can't make someone love. Either they do or they don't - if you force it, insist on it, it isn't love.

    You're right that the person who wants less usually gets what they want out of the relationship. When that shallow well is dry, the person who wants more just has to go looking for a new source.

    I hope you find your way out of the briar patch without too many pokes, snags, and stings.

    1. Thanks, Susanna. That post didn't come only from my life. It was a combination of stories people have told me recently that seem to have a common theme.

      And, yes, I agree. If you're the person who wants, more, it probably isn't going to happen.

  3. From what I hear, it's about valuing yourself above all else. It is entirely possible to value yourself and not devalue others. But allegedly, at the point that you clue yourself most, you find yourself making compassionate choices that honor the adult in the other person. Which means that you repect their choices but choose to yourself how much you care to hav their choices impact you.
    So they say.
    I wouldn't so much know...

    1. Sounds like something that takes the agreement of both parties to meet in that place -- same with what Ria was saying. If only it were as easy in practice as it is on paper.

  4. Also I wrote this with a ct on my arm. I can't even push the cat off! Apologies for the typos!