Last time I was in New York, I had lunch with a couple of girlfriends I’ve known for years. They spend a lot of time together. I only see them when I’m in town, but we talk on the phone, over email and on Facebook. One of them, I’ll call her Sue, had recently started seeing a guy she met on a dating site. It seemed like they had a lot in common and we were happy for her. The last guy she dated stole money from her for months and took off one day without a word. She has a history of dating men who end up hurting her one way or another, so we were hopeful this was going to be different. After we’d been catching up for awhile, she confessed that there was this “one thing” that was troubling her.
“Oh boy, here we go,” said our other friend, whom I’ll call Bertie. I pinched Bertie’s arm because she needs behavioral therapy sometimes. “No, it’s no big deal,” said Sue, “he’s just really close to his mom.” When we asked what she meant by “really close” she explained that his mom called him every night at 10pm at which point he’d go in his room, close the door and not come out for at least an hour, usually two. Sue was not supposed to interrupt, come into the room, or make any loud noises. Bertie’s mouth fell open and she hit my arm with the back of her hand before throwing her hands in the air, and then putting her head in them, elbows on the table. Sue’s eyes got wide.
“That’s kind of unfortunate timing,” I said, “And what’s with all the secrecy? Does he not want his mom to know he’s dating someone for some reason?” Sue said she didn’t know. “And you’re just supposed to wait until he comes back out of the bedroom? For two hours? Maybe this has just been their pattern all the years he’s been single, talking at night. Have you talked to him about it?” I was trying to get a fuller picture, but before Sue could answer, Bertie said, “I KNEW something was off about this guy!! That’s disgusting, okay, Sue?! He should talk to his mother during the day, not at night when the two of you should have some intimate time together. That’s just not normal. Something’s really off about this. And how many times do you have to get this lesson?? You have horrendous judgment when it comes to men!!!” Sue started crying. Bertie got angrier, said she was not, “up for another round of this,” threw a couple of twenties on the table and left in a huff.
Bertie loves Sue like a sister. I totally understood that’s what was motivating her outburst. Total frustration that someone she loves was probably heading for another brick wall (Sue is no longer dating the guy; she got out quickly and is relatively unscathed, and she and Bertie have made up). We’ve all been there. A person we care about deeply seems likely to get hurt and we’re powerless to stop it. It happens with family members, too. A couple of years after I graduated from college a close friend of the family said to me, “What are you doing with your life? You’ve graduated from Columbia University. When are you going to get it together?” And even though I knew she loved me, it stung and it sunk me a little further into that darkness. When a person is struggling, cutting them down is not going to help.
It’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but we never know what another person’s journey is supposed to look like. Each of us has our lessons to learn and sometimes we need the lesson over and over again to really get it – to be done with a certain way of being or thinking or treating ourselves. It’s hard to love someone who’s struggling without stepping in and trying to manage their path. Picking them up and saying, “Go that way, COME ON!!! It’s so obvious!!!” But it’s inside work. You can offer help if someone you love is in pain, but ultimately, we each have to do our own work to heal.
If you love someone who’s struggling, patience is the lesson. Compassion. Understanding. We all struggle, we all have pain. If you love someone who’s bent on self-destruction, that’s a heartbreak. Sometimes it means you have to love the person from afar. But you can’t control anyone else’s journey any more than you can control your own. You can work on the way you respond to the people in your life, and the circumstances that present themselves. You won’t always show up the way you want to, you won’t always make the healthy choice, and neither will anyone else. You may knowingly head for a brick wall, because maybe you need one last ride to be done with that chapter. If you have something to communicate to someone in pain, do your very best to be kind and clear. It’s not easy, this business of being human. Honest communication is always good, but screaming your viewpoint in frustration, not so much. Words are very powerful, and they can go right to the center of a person’s heart. A person’s heart is precious. Just like yours.
Sending you love,