Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Page From Nancy's Book

Need your couch moved? Have a new living room that needs painting? A ride to the airport? I’m that friend. I’m the one that you know you can count on if you need something. I have to be. It’s what makes me valuable as a friend, right? Besides, I always feel too guilty to say no to the “Help me move and I’ll buy beer and pizza” emails. I know what it feels like to need help at those times. Yet I’m never surprised when friends say no to me.

“You give too much,” a wise friend mused last week. “Where do you think that comes from?”

Without skipping a beat I deadpanned “Middle school.” I was that kid that sat alone at the corner lunch table and got shit on by everyone. Hence I was willing to do anything to have someone be my friend. It’s taken me a long time to learn that people are your friends based on who you are with them, not if you’ll carry their couch. At least the ones that count.

I was sitting in the living room of a fabulous and wise couple I know, asking Mr. Wise for advice. A girlfriend of mine had just asked to borrow a sizable chunk of my DVD collection. When I got her message I felt a pit sink in my stomach. For me, it wasn’t a question of if I’d fork over the movies. I felt like I had to. I had a resource and she needed it. The question was how much of my own mind would I speak in the process?

The thing was I had never let this particular friend know how upset I’d been after she’d done me the favor of pet sitting for me over the holidays. I had arrived home to find my pets alive. And that was about it. Nor was that much even immediately apparent. The cat was gone as she’d left a window open. It took me several hours to find him hiding in some neighborhood bushes and hungry from three days outside. My dog meanwhile, mused over a Tupperware of chicken bones she’d inexplicably left on the floor. If my dog had gotten into the Tupperware, he’d have been dead. In my preserve-the-friendship mode, I chalked these things off to the fact she was not a pet owner and wouldn’t have known. The rest of my house though there was really no chalking off.

My favorite wooden spoon was missing along with my dish scrubber. My favorite pearl-handled knife had a huge black melted scorch down the handle and a chip in the blade. My prized Africa photo album that’d I’d specially left out for her to enjoy had greasy food stains on the wooden cover. Other photo albums of mine had photos slipped out or crushed in the bindings. Several DVDs were missing including still-wrapped ones that I had for sale on my Amazon seller account. I’d had to apologize to buyers and refund their money when I noticed their purchases were in fact not present.

All this, and the fact that she’d never acknowledged the earrings of mine that I gave her as a thank you, was stewing in the back of my brain. As I ran through this litany of negligence and carelessness, Mr. Wise stared at me. “You’re clearly not loaning her anything else, right?”

It was like a bolt of lightening. “You mean I don’t have to?” It had never occurred to me to just say no. For me keeping a friend always meant a yes and I just had to deal with how good or bad I felt about it. With this friend, I intended to loan her the DVDs. My only question was: do I tell her how much her ‘pet sitting’ upset me or not?

I am amazingly capable of talking myself into the fact that I’m really the jerk in a given scenario. After all, how lame was I to be attached to material things like a knife? The pets were alive in the end and the rest is bygones, right? I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. And frankly when I thought about really airing my feelings, I was afraid I’d turn in to a screaming monster. Sitting on the rage was clearly the healthy choice. At least I still had a friend that way.

“Yeah, great friend.” My advisor scoffed. “Wouldn’t want her out of your life.” I took his point but at the same time, this girlfriend is someone whose company and world view I really enjoy. But Mr. Wise wasn’t going to let me off that easy. “You’re not being a friend by not sharing how you really feel. You’re short-changing her.”

I went home and thought about everything I wanted to say to her. I took it out of accusing tones and kept it all to how I felt. Then I called her and told her I would not be loaning her any DVDs and I felt free. If she chooses not to be my friend anymore. That’s OK.

So what I’m learning is that it’s OK to say no. Nancy was right back in the day. There may be a few bumps along the way but I like who I get to be when I say no to something that makes me feel used. And the friends that stay will be the ones who value that. And yes, I’ll still help you paint your kitchen.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

Lucky for you I'm not painting this apartment! But I'll still hang out with you for fun. :-)

3:25 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Thanks!

Yeah big lesson for me: change is OK. Turns out letting go of some people is really good for you.

8:10 AM  
Blogger greg said...

heidi

its fate that those of us with big hearts who put them on the line get them back dirty, misused and worse for wear. But that doesn't mean we don't have to keep putting them out there.

I take a new philosophy.

Everything I lend out - I expect to never get back. I'm rarely disappointed... :)

The biggest realization I have is that not everyone was raised as good as us - knowing how to treat others properly - and how to respect their stuff...but its not our job to teach them either.

There are some who will learn - some who won't... and we learn to deal with them... or not...

its a funny world...

1:17 AM  
Blogger greg said...

heidi

its fate that those of us with big hearts who put them on the line get them back dirty, misused and worse for wear. But that doesn't mean we don't have to keep putting them out there.

I take a new philosophy.

Everything I lend out - I expect to never get back. I'm rarely disappointed... :)

The biggest realization I have is that not everyone was raised as good as us - knowing how to treat others properly - and how to respect their stuff...but its not our job to teach them either.

There are some who will learn - some who won't... and we learn to deal with them... or not...

its a funny world...

1:18 AM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Yeah, Greg. I think I finally learned that lesson and got to where it sounds like you are. Kudos!
:)

2:15 PM  

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