I have an elderly friend who is a little difficult. I have struggled with her for the last two years in particular. She has cared for me at really dark periods and been here, a fixture in Santa Fe, for me. She can also be blunt, judgmental and plain rude. As a mother figure, I worry she judges me and I judge her for it.
Today, we were talking (well, I was talking) about something that has been bothering me for a few days (weeks, really my whole life–I was talking about my PARENTS.) I finished talking about it, and then somehow brought the conversation back to it.
She said, “Alma, we already covered that. Enough.”
I am a very sensitive person. I get my feelings hurt easily and often, generally by people I love and also by cashiers and random people on the street. I often want to cry. Years ago, I learned that most of what people do is not about me. In this relationship, it’s a lot harder to believe it’s not about me. Since I was talking about my family, people she knows, and I was vulnerable, the axe fell extra hard. I seethed when she asked me, “So how’s work?”
I like to talk about myself, though, so we moved on. I told her about work. However, I felt incredibly self-conscious, worried that she talked to all her friends about what a spoiled brat I was, and if I had made some grave mistake in the “friendships with grumpy old ladies” arena. I was angry.
I finished my tea and asked in a very roundabout way if she was judging me for what I had been talking about. She didn’t give me an answer, she just said, “I knew I had struck your ire.”
You mean my FEELINGS? YES, YOU STRUCK THOSE. “When you say things like that to me, it makes me feel self-conscious.” I swallowed a knot in my throat and then asked, “Can we do it so we see each other less often, so then we can talk more about us and I’m less tempted to talk about my family?”
“We can see each other every other week.”
“That’s how much we’ve been seeing each other.”
“Yes, that works for me.” She said it like it was a new concept, this seeing each other every other week thing, and I wasn’t suggesting we see each other exactly once a month or less.”
When you talk to me that way, I feel like you don’t accept me.” My eyes were watering and I felt like I looked the way my mother does at emotional places in movies.
Then she said, “Maybe instead of getting me to accept you, you should work on accepting me?”
There have been other times where I have felt like I was burning in the Seventh Circle of Hell because I was so worried someone didn’t accept me. I never thought it was a matter of me accepting them, including all the ways they might make me worry I am not accepted, only to realize they are not accepting themselves, just like me.
The whole Boundaries conversation has been irking me for a while now, mainly because it is impossible to operate in this world as a perfect person. It is also impossible to make friends with a perfect person. I have felt like I wanted to distance myself from my friend, but that bothered me because that made me feel like I had gotten what I needed from her and now that our friendship required me showing up for friendship’s sake, I wanted to skip town. Young people are like that–I have been abandoned by a lot of people like me. Old people can be mean in other ways.
I’m not saying that if you have a problematic person in your life you should let them walk on you. If you’re in a violent relationship by all accounts leave. Just consider the idea that it’s not personal, you’re not a victim, and you have lessons to learn yourself. Even if it’s just not to treat yourself the way they treat you that you hate so much. Because I would be willing to bet, most of the time, we treat ourselves worse than anybody else does.