Never-mind doing things wrong or making mistakes, which I have also come to realize and grasp is okay; I’m talking about the fact that I am really, truly, allowed to disappoint people. I had this realization today. I don’t need to make people happy.
Just as I don’t need you to make me happy, you don’t need me to make you happy. I’ve understood that I don’t have to be perfect (though I certainly still struggle with it), but when this clicked for me this afternoon while bent over the 1960 german Heidelberg Windmill printing press at work, it felt like I had struck gold.
I guess it’s been so deeply ingrained in me to always strive to please, that even though I’ve grasped concepts close to this idea–setting boundaries, taking care of my needs first, saying no whenever I want to, not to take things personally, it feels like I stumbled on a new piece of the ever-deepening and never-ending discovery of what it means to be a conscious human.
So often I am too concerned about how my actions will make you feel. Well, I’ve learned that your actions can’t “make” me feel any particular way–that it’s my choice to be upset when you show up 20 minutes late to our meeting. I could also choose to think of those 20 minutes as a cool unexpected period of time where I get to read fiction, and feel grateful for it instead. The point is, the choice is mine, as always. Similarly, it’s your choice to feel positive or negative when I take an action.
I’m not saying that what I do won’t have any bearing on your experience–it probably will, unless you are numb. But I have been so careful to most often choose an action that will make you, or my boyfriend, or my friend feel happy, that I’ve stifled my own being. And on top of that, I am only IMAGINING what I think you will feel. I might have a good idea of how you will feel when I tell you I’m going to stay home rather than come to that thing you invited me to, but really, I don’t–how you choose to look at it is up to you. So I might as well do us both a favor and do what I’m going to do, and let you feel however you’re going to feel. If that’s disappointed, that’s ok. It’s ok for me that you’re disappointed; it’s your choice whether it’s ok for you that you’re disappointed.
If I allow myself the space to be disappointed, which I do (although grudgingly sometimes, of course) and know that I will feel disappointment and the myriad of other unhappy feelings on a regular basis for as long as I live, why do I think it’s not ok for you to feel those things? Are you so fragile that you can’t handle a little disappointment? Surely I trust you to be heartier than that. All the times I’ve felt disappointed have only helped my skin grow a little thicker, boost my confidence to know that I could weather the storms that come my way. Why should I baby you? Perhaps I should learn to trust you a little, give you some credit. I’m going to disappoint you, as I’m sure I have in the past, but this time I’ll try to trust that if we’re meant to be in each other’s lives, you’ll continue loving me as I continue loving you through happy times and sad.
I think the final straw that queued this giant “a-ha” for me was listening to the TED Radio Hour Podcast on Growing Up. One of the speakers was talking about how different we raise our children in this generation than the generations raised kids previously: how before, children worked and so parents didn’t spend a lot of time with the children and the kids were, for better or worse ethically, “economically relevant”. But these days, school has replaced work in the lives of children, and parents spend more time with their young and since the kids are not bringing in money for the family, they are “economically irrelevant, and emotionally relevant” (or something along those lines). And the main thing parents focus on these days is making their children happy. That didn’t sound so crazy to me, because just like the majority of parents today, the general consensus is that is the most important thing in raising kids is to make them happy. The speaker, journalist Jennifer Senior argued “that the goal of raising happy children is so elusive that it has put modern, middle-class parents into a panic.” Is it really the responsibility of parents to make their kids happy? And I realized that I don’t think that’s true–I don’t think parents are responsible for making their kids happy. Likewise, I am not responsible for making my parents happy. Nor are you responsible for making me happy, nor am I responsible for making you happy.
Unhappiness, discomfort, challenge, adversity–I’d like to think that’s what’s made me into the multifaceted, empathetic, creative person I am today. I certainly don’t think we should go so far as to TRY to make eachother unhappy or to disappoint one another, but fuck, sometimes you just can’t avoid it, especially if you are not going to squash a little bit of who you are in the process. So let’s practice not being so goddamn delicate. Life is tough as shit sometimes; there is grief, sorrow, heartbreak, and bitter disappointment. It is impossible to avoid. Perhaps we could not be so afraid of causing these feelings for another that we shrink our selves.
To reality. To disappointing one another. To life, in all it’s glory and sorrow.