Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Blood from a Stone

Have you ever tried to get someone to talk to you when they don't feel like it? It's actually an amazing exercise in futility and the perfect embodiment of the AA serenity prayer: the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

When someone isn't giving you what you want in life--either in romance, friendship, at work, or otherwise--it's like trying to get blood from a stone to get that person to give it to you. I'm not talking about material possessions here. I'm talking about emotional investment and certain desired interpersonal interactions, whatever those may be.

I thought of this today when someone sent me a Modern Love column from the New York Times. The author told the story of a difficult breakup in which she, the dumpee, was reminded of the memories of a lost love through their shared Netflix queue. The column ends with the woman deciding to "say nothing" in response to a check-in text from her ex, accepting that she "can't change the way someone else feels" about her, so she changes her Netflix password instead.

It was a poignant, sad, well-written, and funny column. Except I was struck by the fact that this woman was not, of course, "saying nothing." Quite the opposite, she was literally publishing a very long account in the New York Times of a breakup, which the initiator himself was likely to read. In her own way, she was still poking and prodding around for a response, or at least for the last word.

These interactions can be distilled into one very basic idea: you can know intellectually that you "can't control how someone else feels," as the author of this column does. But there's a wide gulf between intellectual insight and the emotional insight you need to feel that this is true. To have serenity about it.

I can remember many occurrences of this throughout my younger adulthood and even into the present day. I would feel a certain way about a person in a particular situation. I would want that person to feel or say something in response. I would want to do that thing Adele wants to do in Hello and "meet to go over everything." Of course, this is always the last thing anyone on the receiving end of these overtures ever wants to do. 

That person is a stone. Which is not to say they are cold and unreceptive in general, although they often are. But they are cold and unreceptive to you. Who cares why? It doesn't matter, because it's never about you, not in the way you think it is, anyway.

It took me a long time to realize this. I'm still figuring it out in many ways, and have explored this theme before. Trying to get reciprocity, responsiveness, or security from someone who won't or can't (it doesn't matter which) give it to you is like trying to get blood from a stone. You're constantly asking "why?" or "why don't they care?", when really you should be asking yourself "why do I?"

Like all of us, the author of that modern love column might still be seeking an answer to that last question. 

I hope she gets it.

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