If you have some idea that you can save people, or make another person feel happy or whole or healed, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, and maybe worse. Wanting to help people is beautiful; we could use more of that in the world. That impulse is the catalyst that leads someone to share, to listen, to offer support or encouragement, but thinking that you can swoop in and make things right for someone who’s in pain, just with the depth of your love and concern, is a recipe for disaster.
I say this whether we’re talking about your best friend, your new friend, your child, your parent, your partner, or your new romantic interest. Each of us must do our own work, and sometimes when we try to make things right for someone, we unintentionally rob them of an experience that might have helped them grow. It’s brutal to watch someone we love suffer. It’s natural to want to comfort and nurture, and if you can see a clear path toward happiness, of course you want to point the way. It’s fine to offer tools that have worked for you if they’re open to your ideas, but people do things as they’re ready. You can’t micro-manage someone else’s journey.
When we spend lots of time and energy focused on what someone else is, or is not doing, saying, or being, we conveniently stop paying attention to our own growth, our own needs, and our own healing. We all have work enough to do, just keeping our own side of the street clean. Life asks us to rise up every day, to show up and be present, to listen, to reflect, to respond, to engage. You have this one life, and what you do with it is up to you, but if you allow years to go by where you’re so caught up in someone else’s life that you forget to live your own, that’s time you’ll never have back.
Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you want a partner, or a project. If you grew up thinking that love was conditional, that it had to be earned, and that it could be taken away if you didn’t measure up, you probably have a lot of work to do in your current relationships, romantic or otherwise. When we don’t value ourselves, we gravitate toward people to whom we might become invaluable. “I’ll just be perfect for this person, I’ll give them everything they need, and then they won’t leave me or hurt me or betray me.” That isn’t love, that’s a project.
When our children are young, we have to lean over the plate and cut the pancakes, or halve the grapes, or put lids on the cups so everything doesn’t spill down the front of these people we love. If you find yourself metaphorically doing these things for grown adults, whether they’re your children or your friends, something is off.
Try to get very clear about what you want. If you want love and peace in your life, you won’t find those things by trying to control other people, or circumstances. Love can’t exist in a vise grip, because love needs room to move and expand.
Wishing you enough trust to allow for that expansion, and sending you love,
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