It’s already starting. The families are making demands, and it isn’t going well.
My friend’s mom asked her to “come home” for Thanksgiving. This is one of my friends who had a particularly rough time with COVID-19. My friend, sensibly, said she would make the drive if two conditions were met.
Everyone in the family said no.
Like many of the people in our extended friend group, they think these requests are insane. We’re being paranoid, controlling, and unfair. We’re the ones with the problem. Indulging us is simply a bad idea.
This year, my friend isn’t going home. Her parents, her sister, and her brother-in-law will be eating without her because the four of them aren’t willing to pod together for two weeks or get a test.
Ultimatums are usually a bad idea, unless there is a toxic situation involved and a permanent, thick line needs to be drawn. When both sides are tossing out ultimatums, it’s likely that the relationship will be different from that point on.
The family says, Come home and do it our way. The end.
You say, I don’t want any of us to wind up in the hospital. I’ll come home under these conditions. The end.
That is a showdown.
In family law - not the kind that involves the courthouse or actual legal code - the only rule is loyalty. Call on any other authority, and you’ve said, or they’ve heard, “I choose a greater authority than you.” Science? Fiscal responsibility? The needs of your own children? A temporary situation that puts your partner’s family first?
It tends to go downhill from there. Whoever had the first conversation where the line was drawn will then call others and repeat their version of what they heard. Then the other family members will text or call and tell you off.
This should be no surprise. There are very few things that humans enjoy more deeply and sincerely than telling someone off. Lecturing, chastising, rebuking. Oh, what fun.
What we’ve forgotten how to do in our society is to stand down. We’ve forgotten, if we ever knew, how to reach toward one another, how to compromise, how to admit we’ve been wrong, how to give an honest apology, how to forgive. We do not have light hearts. We are instinctively suspicious and easily wounded. We read into conversations opinions and words that were never there.
This scenario of the skipped Thanksgiving could easily turn into a point of You Always Do This. This Is Just Exactly Like You. There You Go Again.
What my friend did is what we call Yes, And. Yes, I will come and be with you, And I will do it under these conditions.
When people know how to play Yes, And, everything can be positive and fun.
For instance, one person can say, Let’s do Thanksgiving this year, and the other can say, Yes, and let’s all get tests and quarantine so we can actually do it with no masks on! Maybe that even turns into, Yes, and, I can work from home so maybe I’ll stay through the New Year.
The first refusal shuts down the options that might have followed.
When two people are able to collaborate and cooperate, everything from that point forward becomes easier. Trust is established. Tastes and preferences are put forth. Something new comes out of the interaction that maybe nobody thought of before.
When the third or fourth person joins the interaction, there is already a basis for that cooperation. The unstated rules of the game have been laid out. If each additional person gets it, and keeps the game of Yes, And going, there is then a positive upward spiral.
For instance, my ex-in-laws figured out their own Thanksgiving rules in this way. One of the five kids went vegetarian, and then another went vegan, and then the dad got put on a special diet by his heart doctor. The mom shrugged and said, “Potluck?” And everyone said, “Tacos!” Thereby the great Thanksgiving Taco Buffet was born. Everyone lined up and served themselves from a dozen bowls of ingredients, and everyone was satisfied, and nobody complained, and all the leftovers got eaten.
(If a turkey had climbed through the dog door and gotten in line, it might have gotten its own plate).
Negotiation sounds shifty to a lot of people. Crafty, devious. What it really means is that there are a hundred thousand opportunities for everyone in a situation to be satisfied and have fun. Everyone can walk away happy. The only situation where everyone loses is when at least one person stalls out and refuses to consider any other possibilities.
This is the COVID Thanksgiving scenario under which nobody can win: I demand that you come to my house and pretend there is not a pandemic.
There are a million variations of this, where everyone can feel loved and connected and well-fed. One involves everyone getting tested. Another involves everyone bundling up and sitting outside. Another involves everyone agreeing to meet in person “when all this is over.” My own family is going to get on Zoom and wave to each other and compare meals and play games. I live a thousand miles away, so it’ll be more or less like the 350 days of previous years when we just... live where we live.
Personally I think family relations work better when we treat each other more like professional colleagues. That means we respect each other’s time and budgets. It also means that we speak to each other with basic civility. The more we set policy with each other, the more time we can spend talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. The alternatives? Are not that many and not that interesting.
When we’re caught up in family power struggles, sometimes it’s all we can do to avoid making things worse. Focus on what is true: I love you, I want to be with you, I understand how you feel, I know everything is crazy right now. Another thing that is true is that I want us all to be here this time next year. I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk. I will always be here for you.
Just maybe not in person right now.
We built a thing. I’m calling it a hummingbird tower. It’s both a fun and pretty project, and a direct example of how manifesting works.
(Or does not work).
I have a friend who has lived in California for many years, but she and her husband both grew up in different parts of the country. Apparently they don’t have hummingbirds in those areas, because my friend had no idea that you can get hummingbirds to fly right up to your window throughout the day. If you live in a hummingbird area, nothing could be easier.
I looked them up out of curiosity, and it turns out that in North America, they live on the West Coast. That means if someone lives far outside the region, say, Maine, a project like ours would be unlikely to work.
First rule of manifesting: Start with something simple and straightforward that has a high chance of success.
What I wanted was something nice for a wedding anniversary gift for my husband. He is notoriously almost impossible to shop for. (When in doubt, may I recommend dried blueberries). I wanted to get him a hummingbird feeder, because he had been commenting on the one bird that occasionally showed up in the tree outside our apartment.
There are some constraints with our current apartment. We can’t drill into the stucco and we can’t hang anything from the roof. I would have to find something that either clamped to the railing or stood on its own.
As I looked at free-standing hooks, I stumbled across one that also had rings for flower pots. It looked sturdy and had good reviews. Great, I thought. I can get him the hummingbird feeder, and then he can pick out some hanging baskets and some flowerpots of his choice for the rest of it.
Then I ordered it and somebody broke into our building and stole it from the lobby, which was very annoying, and the company refused to replace it since it had been delivered inside our locked building. All I can do is hope that young thief didn’t throw it away, since it was fairly expensive, but rather gave it to an unsuspecting older relative. If someone somewhere is enjoying it, I suppose I can tolerate that.
I ordered a second one and fortunately got an email notification when it was delivered. By that time, our anniversary had passed, and the moment was somewhat spoiled, but I handed it to him and told him what it was.
He set up the plant stand that weekend and immediately mixed up some hummingbird food and hung the feeder.
This is where the manifesting part works.
I had two wishes. One: More hummingbirds! Two: Make man smile!
I had strong reason to believe that I could do both, attract the hummingbirds and please the man, if I took action. I was right.
There he was, hanging around the window, looking around, waiting and waiting for the hummingbirds to come.
It took about six hours before one came to take a drink.
By the next day, there were three distinct birds quarreling over the feeder, chasing each other out of the tree and buzzing around from early morning until sunset.
The next thing that happened was that my man took me up on my offer for the rest of the gift. Let’s go to Home Depot, I said, and you can pick out any flowers you like. Having known him for fifteen years, I was 100% certain he would enjoy this.
This is one of the secrets to long-term love - and friendship, too. Understand what the other person truly loves and facilitate it as often as possible. Usually it’s a very modest, easy, and inexpensive thing. Sometimes it’s the opposite of a thing, like knowing which people hate having their birthday acknowledged or don’t like listening to talk radio.
I happen to know that gardening is one of my husband’s very favorite things, something he misses keenly and something that is hard to do on a small, shady, rickety balcony.
We went to Home Depot, somewhere we used to go together all the time when we lived in a regular house. I knew it was going well when he got a certain bustling manner about him, and we left with a cartful of plants and pots and a bag of soil.
The first thing he did when we got back was to pot everything and arrange all the flowers. Almost immediately, one of the hummingbirds came out and sampled several of the blossoms, even though the feeder was hanging inches away.
The next weekend we went back, to get a few more pots to put around the base of the hummingbird tower. I laughed to myself, because this gift was going even better than I had hoped, and the entire thing was less expensive than, say, a new electronic gadget.
The hummingbird tower has turned out to be a really great anniversary gift. It’s something we both can enjoy. The hummingbirds are endlessly entertaining, and my little parrot likes watching them too. The flowers have utterly transformed our dinky patio, an area we didn’t use at all last year, but which is now the highlight of our apartment.
Best of all, something about this gift really seems to have touched my chosen mate after all these years. He has been extra-sweet since then. He’s also picked up something like 20% more of the housework, with no discussion.
I offered to get a second one, but we decided there wasn’t really enough room. It’s just right.
Now, there’s something missing from this story. I mentioned my friend who didn’t know that in California, you can basically snap your fingers and have hummingbirds start hanging out in your yard all year round. Her birthday is in a couple of months and I secretly got hold of her mailing address. For about ten dollars I can send her a hummingbird feeder. Her husband likes to garden, too, and I have a pretty good feeling about how it’s going to turn out.
I have some stuff to figure out. Don’t we all?
I work 8-6 at my new job, and it’s been hard to find the time to write my blog five days a week as well. Essentially all I do is work, try to put together a blog post, do chores, and sleep.
I hate the thought of just... having a job... forever and never doing anything else.
Also I’m like: ‘side hustle’ - on what side?? There are no sides??
I’m tired all the time.
(Isn’t everyone though)
But most people aren’t post-COVID tired, which is a different order of beast.
My big logistical plan for the past couple of months has been to brainstorm a list of blog topics, and then “catch up” on one of my three-day weekends so I can free up some time in the evenings.
But then all I do on the weekends is sleep.
I’m barely even reading any more.
Worst of all, I feel absolutely starved for alone time. I’m not an introvert, I’m a shy extrovert, but introverts will recognize this problem. I’m in meetings for as much as 7 hours a day. I have to be “on” and listening and ready to be called on at any moment. While it’s exciting and interesting, it’s also pretty draining. Sometimes I shut off my computer at the end of the day and just walk into the bedroom and sleep for two hours.
At the beginning of the year, what I thought I would be doing was finishing my book proposal. I had an outline and a lot of material, I was jazzed and productive, I was “in talks” about it with a publisher...
And then COVID happened and the entire premise of my book kind of just blew away. The world changed and my book was for the old world, the world that was.
Gosh. I’d love to write a new book for the new world... but when? When exactly is that supposed to happen?
I’ve always felt that the fountain is ever flowing and that the ideas are always there.
That, though, requires carrying the bucket to the fountain and hauling it up.
Maybe all of this is just because I’m so physically tired, and still trying to heal my lungs and my heart after nearly dying five months ago. Or maybe it’s just reality.
Maybe most people really can’t have a challenging full-time job and write books at the same time. Maybe it really is a zero-sum choice, one or the other but not both.
Or maybe I’m just tired.
I hope that this dilemma speaks to you. As you read this, I hope you recognize where you have challenging choice points in your own life and that you’re able to make more time to think them out than I have been lately.
I’m not a caregiver, I don’t have kids, I don’t even have a commute right now. I don’t need an excuse to be tired, though, or to feel like I have trade-offs that I don’t want to make. I don’t need an excuse to feel like there are demands in my life that have me spread thin.
I certainly don’t need an excuse to feel like I often create my own issues in my life.
This is where strategy is so important. This is where it’s so important to pull away for an aerial view sometimes. We say, “This is how it is right now, this is the situation. Now what?”
What if it’s still just like this a year from now?
How about three years?
Nothing changes if nothing changes, and then nothing changes.
I’ve just come out of a three-day weekend, where I did almost none of the things I had planned to do, including writing in my journal and resolving some of this stuff. Where did the time go? It seems to have elapsed in long conversations with friends and family. That is a trade-off that definitely should not feel like a trade-off. I can’t very well say, “Will you please give me back that hour so I can do some writing, because I’m parched for time to myself right now?”
What would that become? Me at the end of my life, in a stack of journals and books, alone?
What I’d like is a day to literally sit inside of a closet, on the floor, with the door shut, and just have... nobody call me or talk to me or ask me questions or task me or assign me anything. Or look at me.
That’s why I’m going to bed now, facing another busy working week packed with people and conversations, not “caught up” (whatever that means) and still with nothing to write about. Except for my sorrows, feeling cut off from my creative well, wondering whether I have to just say goodbye to that part of my life.
Those of you who know exactly what I mean by all of this, do what you have to do. The task here, I believe, is figuring out a way to create time and space out of thin air, time and space to remember who we are and why we do what we do.
Recently we found out our company won’t be calling anyone back on site until there is wide availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Today, I read in the news some speculation that that wouldn’t happen until summer or fall of 2021. Looks like we’re buckling in for the long haul.
I bring this up because guess what, all the fall and winter holidays will pop up on the calendar regardless of what is happening in the world. We might as well plan now for alternative ways to celebrate.
I used to visit my family three or four times a year. We live a thousand miles apart so it takes some planning. I haven’t seen any of them in person since December, and it’s looking like we may not even be halfway through yet. Believe me, I’d love to be making plans to see everyone during Thanksgiving.
Which is what I’m doing. I’m emotionally planning to see them on a video chat.
I know a lot of other people are planning to meet in person. Or if not, they will have extremely intense family pressure to meet, which will ramp up in double proportion to any resistance from the more science-minded or cautious voices.
DO IT I REALLY WANT YOU TO
Look, I got COVID at a social occasion. I’m pretty sure the person I got it from, got it at the airport. That is my bias.
I’ve heard some pretty compelling talk about “love over fear” and people making choices based on how they interpret that. I feel the same exact way.
The way I interpret it, I choose love. Any sacrifice that is demanded of me, I’ll make it gladly, because I love my family. I will do anything to keep them safe. That means depriving myself of their physical presence for a while.
I choose this sacrifice of physical presence over fear:
The fear I know I would feel if my parents got sick
The fear I would feel if I realized I was the one spreading the virus to people I love
The fear I would feel, standing in the hospital parking lot, holding a big sign over my head
I don’t need to love someone from inside the same room. That would seem to me to be a very low-battery kind of love. A weak love.
Mine is a love that radiates across continents. I have no fear that it can’t be felt.
I know this because if anything, I hear from my family more often than I did before. They really pulled together for me when I was sick. We’re on family group chat every day, cracking jokes and sharing pictures. Of course we’d rather be able to see each other in person.
Which we will. One fine day.
Just not this Thanksgiving.
This is why I say we might as well plan now. There’s time to make it fun, if we’re all united in agreement that we’ll do things virtually.
For the rest of you poor souls whose families are going to try to guilt-trip you into risking their lives by carrying your body to them, there’s time to plan your responses.
Keep in mind, we might all be wrong. There’s always time for people to change. But you can probably write out a pretty accurate script of what each of your family members will say in most discussions. You can probably predict all the ways they’re going to try to “force” you to do what you don’t want to do, which is to go to their house, hug everyone with no masks on, and potentially have to plan a virtual funeral two weeks later.
A good friend of mine taught me how to do this. I told her I needed to learn to say no. She said, “Don’t say no. Say, “Um, no.” We practiced it together until I got the intonation right.
There are a few ways you can go about this. What you choose depends on individual temperament.
Passive-aggressive: Say yes and then claim that someone is too sick at the very last minute.
Workaholic: Say maybe and then claim you have to work on a report (school or work).
Tech-savvy: Make a recording of yourself saying No and play it on a loop so you don’t have to rely on willpower.
Executive: Pay someone to handle the guilt calls for you.
Honest: Say you have no intention of traveling during a pandemic and you aren’t going to do it.
This is what I’ve learned from being married to an Upholder. They just say what they intended to say. They don’t do guilt - they either do what they committed to do, or they do nothing, because if it isn’t part of their system, it kinda doesn’t exist. One simply does the correct thing, and in this case it is obeying shelter-in-place orders and working together to end the pandemic.
This is what I’ve learned as a Questioner. My answer to every possible situation is, Here, read this. Then I turn on the firehose and send mass quantities of links, articles, books, charts, and pre-review journal articles. I can genuinely do this ad infinitum. Wear ‘em out. Of course, there is the other variety of Questioner who gets sucked into the information vortex and does not necessarily have the academic rigor to distinguish fact from conspiracy theory.
I don’t think Rebels need any help giving people a firm No. Rebels don’t react well to peer pressure.
It’s Obligers who have the issue. There is a distinct Obliger tendency to operate by group consensus. If the Obligers in the family all got together and came up with a beautiful fantasy of eating and drinking in large groups, then by gosh you’d better not mess it up.
This is where I think planning can come in. What if we simply came up with a variety of plans that are more interesting and fun but still allow everyone to live until next year?
These are some of the things my family has done:
Try to copy a picture blindfolded, on a timer, and then give points for individual parts of the drawing. This could be fun to do with gluing tail feathers on the turkey.
Two partners try to wrap a gift and tie a bow around it using only one hand each. Also on a timer. Extremely funny on video.
Wear matching ugly sweaters.
Trade stories and jokes.
Simply put a laptop on the dinner table and casually hang out.
One thing we have not done, which would be great fun, is to learn a TikTok dance and have a family dance-off.
We also haven’t done any photo slideshows, although we probably should.
I tend to be the family tech support person, which is why this occurs to me, but some family members may be resistant to doing stuff remotely because they don’t realize the possibilities. They may be very uncomfortable using most of the features of the electronics that they already own. Sometimes they’ll try something for a cute grandchild or niece that they wouldn’t try for one of their own adult children.
There’s still time to practice.
One day, all of this will be over. I sincerely hope that on that day, all of us can celebrate together. I plan to run down the middle of the street yelling WAHOO! Might as well plan for it now. It will help to have something to offer as a distraction when you have the inevitable talk with your family about why this year is going to continue to be a little different.
It might have been a relief to a lot of people if this happened to them, but it wasn’t to me. I tried to log in to a Zoom meeting and discovered it had been locked.
This came as a surprise, partly because it was an error message I had never seen before, but partly because I was logging in a minute early. I tried again a few times over the next ten minutes, only to keep getting the same message.
This is where the story gets interesting, because of what I told myself while this was going on.
When something happens, does it happen *to me*? Or does it just happen?
I had the immediate, visceral response that this was happening *to me*. It was deliberate. “Everyone” had gotten together without me and decided they didn’t want me around. As soon as “everyone” had convened, they locked the room, relieved that they wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore.
I told my husband. “This is pushing all my buttons.”
He suggested the obvious, which was to email the host because they might not have realized that anything was wrong.
I did this, because I feel better when I do my due diligence, but my shoulders were slumped as I put all my stuff away. See, there’s this whole ritual setup when we do these calls. I have a spot at the dining table where the lighting is good. I set up my equipment. I pull up a chair for my little parrot Noelle, at just the right angle and distance, because she likes to look at everybody and see herself on camera. I have to pull an old pillowcase over it because she’s dusty, and for other reasons that anyone who has spent much time with birds will understand. Then of course I have to go get her and carry her over. The reverse of this process lacks all the anticipation of the initial setup.
At least I hadn’t put on makeup or straightened my hair...
Then I checked my email again, only to see an entire thread of the other half-dozen people who couldn’t get in to the meeting. The host said to try again. Accidental setting error.
We did it all over again. My husband helped with the bird, who was quite stimulated by the unusual activity level. I logged in to the call and everything was fine.
What was going on there, though? In the ten minutes when I felt like I was being deliberately rejected?
Granted, I’d had a long, rough day. Our system was lagging and everything that would normally take five minutes took more like half an hour. I was tired and frustrated. One last hassle late in the day was just... a lot. I hadn’t felt on the verge of tears like that for a long time.
Even so. Would others react the way I did, with sadness and futility? Or were there other “obvious” responses?
One person might have been relieved and gone off to watch a movie or soak in the tub.
Another person might have been angry, maybe pounded the table.
Someone else might have used the opportunity to reach out and bond with another person over the experience.
Yet another person would have assumed there was a technical failure on the platform’s end and shrugged it off.
Someone else might have blamed themselves for lacking technical skills and felt stupid, or old.
Another person might have been distracted and forgot the whole thing, never realized there was a technical issue, and then felt FOMO the next day.
A different person might gloat over their own impeccable hosting skills and contemplate seizing leadership of the group.
Someone else might have worried that something happened to the host and hoped everything was okay.
Another person might have catastrophized: “why does everything always go wrong, this thing is going off the rails” and spun off into a paranoid fantasy that the entire grid was collapsing.
Another approach might have been to assume the meeting had been hacked and start checking for signs of identity theft.
I dunno. Chances are that each person responded differently and forgot all about it once the meeting resumed. Probably the most common reaction was, give it a few minutes and it will be fine. Technically, that was the correct response.
The puncture in my esteem was patched later on. At the end of the meeting, someone asked, out of the blue, “If there’s time, could Jessica share one or two sentences about her parrot?” It was really funny! I gave the whole spiel about her: “Her name is Noelle, and she’s 22, and she’s a Congo African Gray parrot. She loves Zoom and she likes to look at you all on grid view.” I panned the camera so they could see how she relaxes by standing on one foot and curling up the talons on the other.
Of course nobody would lock us out of Zoom! Whether I’m there or not is probably a matter of some indifference, but my sweet little poof ball is a welcome presence. She just stands there quietly blinking and nodding her head, looking ridiculously solemn. Fluffy professor.
I read somewhere that when you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks about you. When you’re 40, you realize it doesn’t really matter what people think about you. When you’re 60, you realize nobody was ever thinking about you.
I’m trying to embrace this perspective a little early. I’m mostly harmless, average in most ways, and I have solid training on keeping my remarks brief and to the point. Whatever else they may say about me, I’ve learned to keep my mic on mute unless I’m speaking and I know when to yield the floor.
I try to remember that there are over 7 billion people in the world, and there’s no reason to try to be a part of every group. Statistically, most people will never know I exist, much less have an opinion on whether they like me or not. Better to calibrate and find a way to contribute, and seek out people on a similar wavelength. Or at least people who like parrots.
A friend of mine is trying to decide whether to get married. There’s an issue she has with her beau, and she hasn’t discussed it with him. How do I know? I know because she has discussed it with me at great length. This happens all the time. When people come to me for advice, half the time my answer is: Tell them what you just told me.
This is how you know whether you’re with the right person or not. Do you turn to each other when you’re confused or in trouble? Do you turn to each other when you need someone to talk to?
Most people are still very much hooked in to the pursuer/distancer model of romance. They want someone they don’t know all that well. Often they have no idea whether that person even likes them or not, or whether they’re available. I once asked out a guy from my Latin class, and was rocked back on my heels when he gently informed me that he had a boyfriend. Our feelings of attraction to another person can be amplified by the lack of a chance that we’ll wind up together.
Why is that? Why do we keep wanting people when odds are that they don’t want us back?
What the heck is it that we’re looking for?
My 11th wedding anniversary is coming up. Whenever my hubby and I are reminded of how long we’ve been together, we always look at each other with surprise. Where did the time go?? In some ways it feels like we’ve known each other forever, and in other ways it feels like five minutes. As worried as we both were about messing up our friendship by trying to date each other, it’s worked out.
It’s weird that we got the fairytale romance when we weren’t even attracted to each other at first. This is the hardest part to accept for those who aren’t bought in to the companionate marriage concept. They expect to start with intense physical chemistry and let everything else work itself out.
...whereas to me, feeling intense physical chemistry for someone who was a bad match for my temperament and lifestyle is my actual worst nightmare. To me that’s like a drug addiction. Longing for someone who doesn’t care about me, hurts my feelings, ignores me, has incompatible values, wants a wildly different lifestyle, and can’t or won’t hold a conversation with me... sounds like... the dating/crush life of my teens and twenties?
For whatever bizarre reason, a lot of people have someone in their life who fulfills all the qualities of a solid match. They can talk about anything and everything, they’re there for each other when times are tough, they laugh at the same stuff and enjoy spending time together, they basically agree on most things - and yet something about all of this seems to be a turn-off. It’s especially a turn-off when there is another player in the game, an elusive, unattainable, and pragmatically inappropriate person who is yet magnetically captivating.
Turn to your crush? For what?
Is your crush going to take care of you when you’re sick, help you move, cook for you, take care of your pets and/or kids, do favors for your extended family, and cheerfully share your home, your life, and your finances?
Outside of your fantasies, I mean.
Does your crush make you laugh, or even make you smile?
Has your crush ever given you good advice or shown any insight into your life?
Part of why I risked my friendship with my now-husband was that I realized what a huge part of my life he had become. He was the person I turned to. Several times he had given me the best advice of my life, and after a couple of years, I was starting to realize that I just made better decisions when he was around. I liked the person I was when we were hanging out.
He was the first person I wanted to tell whenever anything happened.
This is the first sign that your friendship is worth looking into a little closer. The reason you want to tell this person everything is a combination of factors. They’re reliable and there for you. They think you’re interesting and funny and they like to talk to you. You don’t have to explain why your joke or observation or news is worth sharing because you know they’ll get it. You don’t have to finish your sentences. You can communicate with a single word, or emoji, or a facial expression, or even by trying to avoid eye contact because you know if you look at each other you’ll both explode with laughter. (That’s the only time to not turn to each other).
These are the feelings of a friend-marriage.
Obviously these feelings are for everyone, not just romantic partners. Friends feel this way, and work buddies, and cousins, and neighbors, and teammates, and all sorts of relationships that will never end in marriage. This is part of how you know that your person is the one to turn to. It feels a lot like your other friendships.
We turn to each other, and that includes our friends and families. Part of the reason we rely on each other is that we recognize the way our families have blended. I consider the well-being of his relatives, partly because I care about them and partly because I know he feels the same way toward mine.
When it comes down to it, we turn to each other because sometimes life can be really hard, too hard to face it alone. We all have to turn to someone. It’s best when we can do this on a solid basis of trust and respect, affection and friendship. When we have all that between us, turning to each other is natural, and when it isn’t, we can turn to each other to work it out.
It’s easy to panic when the money is gone. Financial transitions are one of the scariest ways to enter the Place of Uncertainty. Looking backward years later, a few months may seem like more of a blip or a speed bump. At the time, though, there’s no way to know how long they’ll last or how exactly they’ll end.
I know whereof I speak. I’ve had to do this a few times in my life for various reasons. I started wandering down Memory Lane a bit, thinking what I would do if I were out of work, single, in debt, food insecure, with no way to pay the rent.
What I did that worked for me was, essentially, to find a sponsor. I wouldn’t have called it that at the time, but that’s what I was doing. This strategy may work for others.
Getting a sponsor when you’re desperate and broke is something that plenty of people do. Usually this sponsor answers to ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad.’ This isn’t always an option. Not everyone has parents. Not all parents are in a financial position to help out. Sometimes there is another kid there already. Maybe the parent is sort of looking for a sponsor too.
I lay all this out because some who are reading this may be in more of a position to be the sponsor, rather than hunt for one, and it helps to have that extra bit of understanding and compassion.
I didn’t necessarily go to someone looking for a place to stay. It was more like I had nothing else to talk about, and because I shared my pitiful situation far and wide, someone would pop up and offer to help out. Once it was a former roommate, but other times it would be someone I barely knew.
This is important because we don’t always realize that the world is so full of giving, caring people who are willing to take a chance on someone.
Usually the person who is willing to help out isn’t in a great financial situation either. This is why the situation usually works like this:
You can sleep there, and bring some of your stuff, but there isn’t room for all of it, and probably not for any of your pets. You feed yourself and you can have a little room on one shelf in the fridge. And you pitch in for utilities and/or part of the rent.
For a lot of families, even $200 a month can make the difference while they’re trying to keep it together.
This is where you can start to reframe yourself as an asset, not a pauper or a beggar. You have value! You are bringing something to the table! This can be a situation of mutual benefit!
I was generally welcome as a couch-surfer or fringe semi-roommate because I didn’t have a lot of negatives. Sure, I was flat broke and I didn’t have a car or even know how to drive. But I didn’t smoke or drink or have awkward substance use moments. I didn’t steal. I didn’t have a criminal record. I didn’t raise my voice at anyone, slam doors, punch walls, throw things, etc. I was (and am) generally a quiet, clean, safe person.
I’m not going to claim that I was Mary Poppins. During the situations when I needed a sponsor, and there were a few, my life was shambolic in many ways. I had what I now recognize as Drama. While I did have a plan for my situation, I did not have a plan for avoiding that Drama yet, because I didn’t understand that I could build my life in a way that would largely avoid it.
I did, though, clean up after myself. I didn’t leave trash or dishes lying around. I could use the kitchen or the shower without it looking like a bomb went off. It is impossible to overstate the importance of being clean and tidy when living on the good graces of another household. You simply can’t be as casual about your shoes, bag, clothes, bedding, dishes, food wrappers, electronics, books, notebooks, pens, etc as the people who are on the lease.
I was able to get a sponsor when I needed one because I had a plan. I always feel frantic when I have no income, and bored and restless when I have nothing to do during the day. I was always looking for some way that I could level up and earn my way out of the situation.
The first time, I had a job but not enough savings to pay a deposit on the room. It was fine - I always paid my rent on time.
The second time, I had a pending legal case and a check coming in.
The next time, I was applying for school and I needed somewhere to be until the dorms opened.
The next time, there I was again, able to pay a deposit this time but technically unemployed until Tuesday.
(There are a couple of spots in there that I’m eliding to streamline the narrative).
The thing is, I started my adult life with a part-time minimum wage job at a convenience store. When I got a job as an office temp it felt like I had won the lottery. I was thirty before I had any financial stability to speak of. I hustled my butt off to get through college because I knew that was my only way to earn the kind of income where I could quit bouncing out of penury and into financial disaster over and over.
Now I’m proud to be the one who is able to help. I’ve hosted all sorts of people on my own couch, lent or given money, sometimes anonymously (or hid it somewhere where nobody would find it until I left). I’ll never stop because I can never go back in time and not need a helping hand. It feels like a karmic debt that can never be repaid.
I know from experience that hard times are temporary. Terrifying! Traumatic sometimes! But temporary in the end. There are a lot of people like me out there, who know what it’s like and will respond to an honest plea.
Just remember to always clean up after yourself and be easy to get along with. Hang in there. When things are at their worst, that means it won’t take much for things to get better soon.
We’ve swung about as far in the direction of the individual as we possibly can, a claim that I will proceed to back up in great detail but that can be observed by anyone in any common area these days. There is only a certain amount of time it can hold in this position before it inevitably begins to swing back the other way.
An example that comes to mind is of a woman who was killed by an alligator in Florida back in May. She was informed that the same individual alligator had taken down a deer at the same exact spot. She replied, “I don’t look like a deer,” moved closer, and those were her last words, as the alligator then proceeded to do what alligators do.
If you’re ever looking for a way to explain the concept of “death by misadventure” to your kids, this would be a solid example.
What was happening there?
It’s mean to pick on someone who isn’t here to defend herself, and I don’t mean to do that. I still feel the same shock and horror that I felt two months ago, when I first read this sorry tale.
Why would someone disregard social proof or direct evidence of objective reality?
I’m not sure, because I’m not wired that way, but I can take a few guesses. Demonstrating autonomy, that nobody tells me what to do? Displaying skepticism, that I’m smart enough to tell the difference between common sense and urban myths? (Although... alligators are real??) Raw physical courage? Belief in one’s ability to move quickly and outrun danger, on the extremely unlikely chance that I guessed wrong?
This is exactly what I think is going on with the novel coronavirus and mask refusers.
I can tell you from personal experience that COVID-19 sucks. Hated it. I can also tell you that the person who gave it to me thinks it’s no big deal. She believes she’s immune now and that the crisis is overblown. She is not alone in this reaction, to be sick with COVID and then shrug it off. All I can say is that if her symptoms were as bad as mine, then she must have the grit and stamina of a thousand wildebeests.
What people are saying over and over again is that rules don’t apply to them. Emotionally they buy into the concept of the sovereign individual. They interpret the situation of living in a pandemic to mean that they are assuming personal risk, and that is their ethical prerogative.
The merest suggestion that any one human can owe anything at all to any other human, under any circumstance, seems to trigger a deep rage in these people.
I think this is only possible because of where we are on the pendulum swing between the individual and the collective. We’re at a place where the idea of “a community” of any kind doesn’t even make sense to some people.
Just because there is more than one person in any given location does not then mean that there is a “group” of any kind. No connections, no broad categories. It’s impossible because there is only The Individual multiplied by seven billion.
The opposite extreme of this would be the idea that there is only a group, and that there is no such thing as an individual with personal rights. It’s fairly easy to imagine this, and it’s possible this is how it feels to be a bee, or a fish in a school of fish. Any ant stands in for any other ant, but in this formulation they don’t have personalities or names or music preferences.
Obviously it makes the most sense for people to exist somewhere in the middle, with personal rights but also with social connections, friends, and some way to contribute to a greater good. This is the space with the potlucks and the games and the concerts. This is the space with a modern economy.
The far individual end is the space with the terrorists and the mass murderers. Arguably the mass murderer is a notch more individualistic, because terrorists tend to act based on group decisions and delusions. The lone gunman is probably acting on a personal grievance. The only reason it would make sense to inflict a personal vendetta on random strangers is if those strangers have no value to the killer.
The reason I talk about this is that an asymptomatic super-spreader of coronavirus... may very well have a higher body count than most mass murderers.
“Oh it’s just the flu...” that is 50x deadlier than influenza.
Why would someone persistently refuse to pay attention? Sure, I can understand why someone would feel allergic to mainstream news. But at this point, people know someone personally who got sick or died. I know I do. At this point I have several friends and a few first-degree relatives who have gotten sick, and someone I’ve been to dinner with several times has died. I know a dozen people who have lost a family member to COVID.
Which specific friend or relative has to die before someone finally caves and says, “All right already, I guess the alligator really does grab people sometimes”?
The trouble is that nothing is harder for the extreme individualist than admitting to a mistake. It comes across as losing face. For a sensible person, getting solid information is a cause for gratitude - thanks for looking out for me, I know you’re trying to help. (Avoid food poisoning, avoid getting a speeding ticket, avoid a sunburn, etc). A narcissist will be more and more enraged the more serious the warning was, because the bigger the threat, the dumber they might look for missing it.
One of those mistakes that is impossible to admit is the mistake of trusting a con. Being tricked is so embarrassing that people will avoid reporting fraud, sometimes even at the cost of millions of dollars. Finding a way to reframe these events in a way that is emotionally more acceptable would really help correct a lot of issues.
How do we get the pendulum swinging again, so it is at least one notch away from the farthest possible point of selfishness? What are some ways to help people feel safe to relax into a friendlier, more altruistic position? How can we help people feel proud and smart for stepping away from the alligator?
Leading Without Authority is an automatic classic. This is not a motivational business book in the traditional sense. It’s more of a tell-it-like-it-is guide to why some people are really hard to work with, which can be so refreshing. Read the right way, Keith Ferrazzi’s book can help deal with not just frustrating people at work, but frustrating people at home, too.
What I love about this book is the concept of co-elevation, that improvement is a group project. I can’t become a better person without having a positive effect on others. Helping others, in turn, is a form of self-improvement. Any person at any level has the power to reach out and try to solve problems in the workplace, no matter how pernicious.
Try, anyway. Usually it’s the small stuff that rankles on us more. We can sort of learn to accept larger issues - like my first job at a mortgage bank, where I knew they sometimes foreclosed on people - but daily friction with our coworkers can become nearly intolerable. That’s usually why people quit, because there is that one person (or boss) they just can’t stand any more.
Part of the reason why is that we feel like we’re expected to pretend these interpersonal issues don’t happen. Meanwhile, the person who is bothering us - and possibly everyone - may have no idea! We only know how other people perceive us if they tell us.
Ferrazzi encourages us to approach the people we’ve written off and figure out a way to work with them. Leading Without Authority has a bunch of examples of how much this oogs people out, how they’d basically do anything to avoid this type of conversation, but then how they did it and managed to make a real connection.
I have tried this and I have to say, it does usually work. There are people out there who are unapologetic jerks, and it can be funny to have a conversation with them about their methods, because they have no problem admitting their part in things. Other times, the person everyone is whispering about is totally oblivious.
One of these successes involved the guy who always came to the potluck but never brought anything. I hate nothing more than when people talk smack about someone behind their back and refuse to confront them directly. I said to him mildly, “Usually when people come to a potluck they bring something, like a bag of chips or some paper plates.” “Oh?” he said. He was from Ukraine and, guess what? This was a completely new custom to him, so how was that his fault? From that point forward, he always made sure to bring a contribution.
Start with the assumption that people are nicer than you think they are.
Another occasion that went much better than I expected: I worked at a campus with limited parking. There weren’t enough parking permits to go around, and they only lasted a year. The person in charge issued new permits, and suddenly several people found out that their permits had arbitrarily been canceled with no notice. (!) Mass outrage. I suggested that at least a form letter should go out to tell people, if not some other systemic reforms, but nobody wanted to confront this infamous Revoker of Permits. I volunteered as tribute. I emailed her, and she literally invited me to her office for tea and cookies. She had an entire collection of beautiful teapots and an oak dining table she had brought from home, complete with cloth napkins. I made my suggestions, she instantly agreed, and then we just hung out and ate cookies together for a while. Not much of an ogre.
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night, going over a bad interaction at work or just dreading going in the next day, you need this book. Maybe everybody does. Leading Without Authority is most excellent, and I can vouch that its premise even works for lowly administrative assistants.
Now that 99% of my social life is being performed virtually, I’ve discovered the advantages of multitasking. It’s not that I’m not listening to you - it’s that sitting still on the phone makes me restless and impatient. I got through large lecture hall classes in college by crocheting a massive afghan that I still use today. Think of these activities as ways to help me pay closer attention to you.
Things I have done while my phone was on mute:
Squeegee my sliding glass door, inside and out
Unload the dishwasher
Make a sandwich
Wipe out the microwave
Draw in my bullet journal
Floss my teeth
Update our whiteboard
Feed my parrot
Dust the baseboards
Eat a bowl of oatmeal
Organize my desk
Wipe fingerprints off my tablet
Make a fairly large breakfast
Wash the pans
Have a sneezing fit
Change into my gym clothes
Make the bed
Get in the elevator and ride down to the lobby
Examine my hair for split ends
Give my parrot a vigorous scalp massage
Sweep the floor
Look at your photo and wish we were together
I’ve done a lot of things while I was talking to you with the phone on mute. One thing you can’t accuse me of, though, is texting anyone else at the same time. At least the only person I was talking to was you!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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