I don’t know if I’ve ever posted a John Legend song in the time that I’ve had this blog and it’s been a shame. Now, I would not go as far to say that I know ALL the lyrics to ALL of his songs, but I will say that I’ve been listening to his music since before I was allowed to listen to secular music and had to sneak around. Quite a feat for a homeschooler. This is one of my all time favorite songs that he’s done. It’s been on repeat all this week for some strange reason. John has a way or writing songs that are super easy to relate to. The melodies are unique but not distracting from the lyrics. And John’s voice has a signature sound that adds to the genuineness of his music. This song reminded me of some of the times where I’ve had to delete numbers and then re-save them in my phone under “never EVER answer.” The thing about this song is that it’s catchy but also makes a declaration in some fashion. There will always be people who have trouble letting go. Whether it’s their favorite food, or a relationship they are incredibly intricately involved with, sometimes things have an expiration date. It doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing, it just means that we have to make some adjustments. Life changes and people change as well. Sometimes those changes require some reconsideration of close relationships. There will always be people who don’t want to take “no” for an answer. But if it’s over, it’s over.
In the past few months I’ve witnessed or rather observed from a distance the demise of several marriages. While some of the marriages have been second marriages, there have been a few that have been in the category of what I like to call starter marriages. It’s the same concept as buying a starter house or even starter car. The only thing that you take from it is experience and it is a stepping stone to the object that you actually want. Starter marriages have been around for quite a while. I’ve met couples who have been together for decades but started out with a starter marriage where they had a different partner before they met “the one.” Starter marriages tend to happen when individuals are younger in age. Impulsivity, immaturity, and being “lovestruck” tend to play a big part in their formation. Both people have made the decision that they want to get married without truly counting the cost. They want the feeling of extra security while refusing to let go the single mindset and truly becoming a “we.” These couples are the ones you see arguing about the stupid petty stuff on a daily–even hourly basis because they never took the time to get to know the other person before marriage. Now that they are together, they see a lot of things differently and begin to get irritated quickly and even second guess their decision to marry. Both people refuse to compromise and as a result, they quickly learn that the only way to avoid arguments is to not talk, avoid each other, or bury themselves in other pursuits. This does NOTHING for the overall quality of the relationship. It’s at this point that most couples realize that they really don’t work as a couple. The newness has worn off. They are changing as people and their spouse is as well but they’ve never connected on that level so it starts to feel as if they are living with a stranger. Both people realize that their long term personal goals aren’t compatible and that they both want different things out of life. All this usually occurs within the first 1-3 years of marriage and hopefully before the couple decides to have any kids. The absence of kids allows both partner to separate without having to ever see each other again. They may even go as far as to have a divorce party to celebrate the ending of the worse decision of their life to date. Both people go on to live their lives and marry again with more experience and wisdom the second time around. Hopefully.
The quality of self-control is often disregarded nowadays. People offer numerous excuses for their actions and blame the circumstances on choices that they themselves have made. “I couldn’t help myself” or “I just could not say no” are two of the excuses and the reasons why many people miss out on opportunities for success. Self control and discipline can be similar but they are very different. You can exercise self-control without being a disciplined person. One example of this is the choice to not assault someone who says something rude to you even though in your head you imagine your fist connecting with their face. We all know people who have been sucked into the drama of their friends. This can manifest in many different ways and many times a plan of action is required in order to entangle oneself from the messy web. For some, that person is their weakness or their drug. They can have their whole lives together but that one chink in their armor sets them up for pain because they just can’t say no. They can’t ignore the phone call, text, or facebook message. The interesting thing is that the person did not always have the amount of power over them. At some point you gave them the ability to suck you in. Many times this happens in romantic relationships that have gone bad but emotions are still heavily involved. Sometimes it becomes necessary to put yourself on a no-contact order with this person. This order is self-mandated as opposed to the legal ramifications of a restraining order. It requires a firm choice and enough self control to follow through even on days that are rough. You are making the choice to go “cold turkey” in order to break some relational bonds that are no longer benefitting you in any way. This means that you might experience some sort of emotional withdrawals because you’re breaking a habit that has become almost second nature. You have to be honest with yourself and also realistic in making this a life decision and not a “for right now” choice. The thing about a self-imposed no contact order is that it doesn’t work unless you actually stick to it. You can’t afford to have a weak day and sometimes this even requires an accountability partner of sorts because you have to break the habit. A few years back I had a friend who I talked to every night for a MINIMUM of two hours that sometimes went to 7 hours. This nightly practice continued for about 5 or 6 months. When the friendship suddenly disintegrated one day, it took me almost 7 months to get back on a regular sleep schedule because this person had occupied such a prominent place in my life and suddenly they didn’t. No contact orders also work when you need to take a break and evaluate a friendship or relationship. You aren’t required to explain to the other person that you won’t be taking their calls, responding to texts, or talking to them for a certain period of time. You can let your actions speak for you. How the other person handles you taking time away from them will be very telling of their maturity level and the true nature of the relationship. No contact orders can also be good when you start to question your investment of time and energy in a relationship that does not appear to be reciprocated. When you’re always the one making the effort and giving, a no contact order can give you some clarity on your expectations and what needs to change in order for the relationship to be successful.
One big part of my experience as a social worker who worked with patients in hospice care was provide emotional support to the families as they went through one of the toughest times in their lives. There are literally no words to describe the feeling of going into someone’s room who is surrounded by their family and knowing that they are mere hours or minutes away from death. I say all this to say that many times family and loved ones start to go through some or all of the stages of grief when the person is still alive. This is generally referred to as anticipatory grief. One thing that I’ve seen as a therapist is how people start to demonstrate some of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) when the relationship is about to die or appears to be on life support. However, one thing that has been interesting to me has been the people who are going through the stages of grief over a relationship that does not exist. This is what I mean. Let’s say someone is attracted to someone else but they have not taken the time or the initiative to show their interest to the one they find attractive. This person, having no idea that they are being admired from afar pursues other relationships to the horror of the one who likes them from a distance. The person admiring from a distance can go through the stages of grief because of the rejection that they feel and also at the many thoughts of having this individual and then losing them. But yet, the relationship never existed except in the mind of this individual. It’s funny how our minds can be creative and innovative but can also imprison us. Sometimes we have to get out of our own heads and stop inflicting the emotional wounds on ourselves because of distorted thoughts. Definitely easier said than done, but possible with self awareness and new thought habits.
Listening seems to be a skill that has lost value over the past few years. While people hear, they very rarely take the time to listen. I remember experiencing this as a younger child of three. My grandparents were in town and I was riding with them. Consequently, they got turned around and I as the non-directionally challenged three year old proceeded to tell them how to get to our destination. For some odd reason, my grandparents decided that the word of a three year old wasn’t valid so they proceeded to ignore my directions and ask people around them. Finally after about an hour of driving they decided to give my directions a try and they ended up right where we needed to be. I say all this to say that listening is a lot harder than merely hearing. Listening involves putting your own agenda to the side and devoting your attention and focus to the words of the other individual. It means that you aren’t day dreaming about vacation or your grocery shopping list while they are talking. Listening gives you insights you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. It challenges you to think differently and to develop empathy and understanding of the other person’s viewpoint or perspective. I’ve listening to many a person and heard what they were trying to say but weren’t really saying. Complaining about a spouse’s job or time spent with their friends sometimes meant, “I’m feeling neglected and want you to invest some of your time and energy in me.” Yet, their message wasn’t getting through because their spouse wasn’t really listening to what they were trying to say. Being deliberate in taking the time to really listen will make a difference. Guaranteed.
During a conversation that I had earlier this week, someone said to me that there’s a fine line between strategy and manipulation and we cross that line all the time. It really made me think about all the times that we do things that would normally be characterized as manipulative but are actually strategic. Therapists do this all the time with clients. The thing is that the difference between being manipulative and being strategic is that when you’re strategic you have the other person’s well being as a priority. Being manipulative is more self serving. This automatically made me think of all the times that people have manipulated situations or people for the sake of getting or appearing good to a potential significant other. Some might argue that these actions are more strategic than manipulative. I think that they can go either way. If you’re sincerely convinced that your presence in the daily life of your potential significant other will enhance or benefit them in some way, you’re more on the strategic end of the fine line. In no way am I advocating for stalking and not taking “no” for an answer, but we have to realize that there are times we have to strategize in order to get an actual chance. Sometimes you just have to know what end result you want and strategize backwards in order to get it because it’s the only plausible option. Because the line between manipulation and strategy can be so blurred, examining your motives can be one of the only ways you can know what side of the fence you’re on.
One thing that I like to do is conceptualize relationships through an investment perspective. The truth is that some people are good investments and others are not. Sometimes you have to take inventory of who is in your life and if they are assets or liabilities. People who are assets are those who contribute something positive to your life. They listen and genuinely care about your welfare and they are true friends. People who are liabilities seem to suck the life out of you. They take and take and take……and take some more. They are the people who are always asking your for something. They act entitled and never apologize for their actions. In a perfect world, we would never have to deal with these individuals. Dysfunctional relationships wouldn’t exist and people would take responsibility for their actions. However this isn’t the case. The truth is that liability people will always exist in some form. But you can decide to have clear boundaries and get really familiar with the word “no.” Then there are the people who don’t fit into either category. They don’t drain you, but they also don’t contribute to your growth in any way. These people are almost like a tax-deductible donation. A complete write off. But unlike a donation, there’s no tangible or monetary benefit. Ideally, you would want to have more assets than anything else, but in relationship land quality is more important than quantity. This is why it’s important to invest your quality time in people who have proven themselves to be assets. It makes no sense to devote the bulk of your time and energy to the middle people and the liabilities. You won’t have a good rate of return and at the end of the day you won’t have gained anything other than experience.
Many of us are familiar with the lyrics to this popular song. Along with a catchy hook, the song embodies a sentiment that many people would agree with. The artist in this song repeats the three words “no new friends” over and over again. Great friendships aren’t made overnight. Have you ever met someone and within a matter of minutes they have already decided that they are your best friend? One of the most annoying experiences ever. I think that the best friendships and relationships have stood the test of time. They involve people who you have known forever–or you’ve gone through so many experiences together that it feel like forever. Many people have a “core” group of friends who they keep up with. One thing that I have learned is that many times people who have a “no new friends” mentality actually make the best friends. This is because they tend to be fiercely loyal because they don’t have many reasons not to be. People who have had good friends for long periods of time tend to be more comfortable with themselves and also more likely to refuse to be drawn into superficial and surface relationships. At least in my opinion. There’s more genuineness and authenticity when someone isn’t looking for a friend for the sheer reason that they feel they need one. Friendships have to develop and grow and sometimes people don’t want to be bothered with the process of meeting someone and building a relationship with them. In my opinion, I don’t think that having a lot of friends is necessary because quality is more important than quantity. It’s easier to be yourself and comfortable with people who know you well and who you have known for years. Having a “no new friends” mentality is somewhat of a luxury because it implies that you actually have old friends and are still close to them. Getting out of your comfort zone and doing something different often means that you have to let go of a “no new friends” mentality and just meet and get to know new people. Not the “funnest” thing ever, but definitely necessary. However, now having any new friends actually works for some people. They’re comfortable that way and they don’t want to change. I don’t blame them. If something isn’t broken, there is no reason to fix it. At least most of the time.
One of the things that I occasionally do is call my really good single guy friend and complain about being single. TOTALLY ironic I know, but it always helps to put my life into perspective and it’s actually quite therapeutic. In doing this, I avoid the inevitable cliche’s and words of sympathy that others give me and I get a cold hard dose of reality. Much needed and well deserved. One thing that happens around this time of year is what I call “The Winter Feeling (TWF).” The Winter Feeling is similar to Seasonal Affective Disorder in that it’s seasonal. In my experience it goes from about mid-October to early-March. Now, The Winter Feeling is almost totally the opposite of the Summer Feeling–which I’ll dedicate another blog post to. The Winter Feeling tends to become more prominent as temperatures in the environment start dipping lower. You start thinking about how cold your bed is, you buy an electric blanket and name it, you look for alternative sources of heat such as a cat or dog. Some people even have a Winter Feeling designated individual who they would never see themselves with long term, but who could serve as a “filler-person” for the time being. The Winter Feeling involves increased levels of self awareness as you get colder. The trick is to not let it get to you because before you know it, you’ll just appear thirsty, desperate, and somewhat mentally unstable. The Winter Feeling will have you seeking companionship of any type because it’s cold outside and it gets dark early. Plus, loads of people get engaged in order to plan awesome spring and summer weddings. It’s the time of year when being alone is not the cool thing to be. There’s some unspoken expectation that everyone needs to have SOMEONE around this time of year. However, that’s not the case. The Winter Feeling can take a lot of people by surprise but when you know it’s coming it can be similar to the difference between riding a roller coaster with your eyes closed and your teeth clenched or just enjoying the ride because you know that it won’t last forever but will have ups and downs. One thing I like to remember is to not take myself too seriously. After all, it’s just the winter feeling. Spring will be here soon.
Recently one of my college colleagues posted something on a social media site that caught my attention. She said that having a crush on someone and liking them are two different things. I totally and complete agree with her assertion because it just makes sense to me. The idea of having a crush on someone usually brings of memories of elementary or middle school where you liked someone and you were convinced that the two of y’all were meant to be. I think that as we grow up, many times our crushes morph into some sort of attraction toward different celebrities. The actors, entertainers, and musicians that you know you’ll never meet in person but are convinced that they would immediately propose on the spot if they ever had the good fortune to spend time in your presence. Crushes are unattainable. They’re based in fantasy but yet the romantic side of us is ever optimistic that they’ll come to fruition. Liking someone, on the other hand, is similar yet different. I honestly think that in order to actually like someone you have to be in their physical presence. Unlike a crush, where you feel a connection through a TV screen. Liking someone involves having interactions with them. I honestly do not understand people who talk about how much they like someone but yet the person doesn’t even know that they exist. While I understand the concept of pining from afar, I just don’t think that it makes a lot of sense. You waste so much time and energy you can never get back because you haven’t even taken the first step of introducing yourself. It’s hard to like someone you don’t know but it’s easy to have a crush on them.