It’s my (natural) dad’s birthday. I’d like to call him, but I’m uncertain if it’s okay. He has a lot of people in his world who don’t know I exist, so I’m always hesitant to pick up the phone. Just in case he’s with someone who doesn’t know. “Oh that? That was, uh, my daughter I never told you about.” Could create awkward moments for him.
As I review that first paragraph, I’m struck by the words it contains. Uncertain. Hesitant. Awkward. Most people wouldn’t associate those words with me. I think most people would say I’m confident, self-assured, and in control. But here I am. Using those words in a public forum. Because those words describe me too. Particularly when it comes to relationships (e.g., family, friends, etc.). Because relationships are complicated for me.
But why??? I’ve thought about that question over and over. Let’s just go down a brief list of answers I’ve identified:
- I’m a natural introvert. I have always been bad at small talk, which seems to be the starting point for many relationships.
- I (generally) don’t trust people. I often don’t take my foot off the brake long enough to allow a relationship to start.
- I over-think. I’ll spend months trying to determine if it’s the right move to start a relationship or I’ll dissect a relationship until it falls apart.
- I’m not good at feelings (and relationships involve those). I keep a list of “feeling words” at my desk because when people ask me how I feel, I often wrap my feelings in a cloak of “thinking words” because it’s more comfortable.
That list is probably enough to explain my relationship challenges, but lately I’ve been wondering if those are the core problems. Maybe the real challenge is in a promise I made to myself when I reunited with my (natural) family. A promise that sounded something like, “I’ll have whatever level of relationship they want to have with me.”
On the surface, that promise sounds appropriate. It took into consideration their life circumstances, their thoughts/feelings about me surfacing after 37 years, etc. It honored them, and I still believe it was the right approach. But underneath, I think it reveals my core relationship challenge. I hold back. I wait. I survey the situation. I let other people dictate the flow of relationship. I don’t invest until they do. And that’s probably not the best way to have a relationship with someone.
Relationships are complicated. They need both participants to be invested and engaged. But here’s the hard truth–at times, one party just won’t have enough energy to be fully invested and engaged. And that’s where I often fail in my relationships. Because when they appear to back off, I back off. When they appear to disengage, I disengage. When they appear to turn down the energy, I turn down the energy.
Even in my best relationships, I fight that tendency. With my husband, with my best friend, with my (natural) mom, with my business partners, with a new friend that I want to turn into an “old friend” as times passes. Thankfully, this tribe (my tribe) seems to get me. Maybe they know how hard it is. Maybe they see me trying. Maybe they are like me and the relationship’s quiet spaces just seem natural. Maybe they are the opposite of me and give everything no matter what.
But the push/pull is always there. Always tempting me to play it safe. Always reminding me that other people are in control of the relationship. Always encouraging me to protect myself from the pain of potential rejection.
And that brings me back to my first paragraph. It’s my (natural) dad’s birthday. I’d like to call him. And I think he’d be happy that I called. But I won’t. Not because of him. Not because of people who don’t know I exist. Because of me. Because today I lost the fight within myself.