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“The people who really care about you will go the extra mile for you.”

This is popular self-help dogma.

And, it’s not true.

In my twenties, I ruined at least three friendships because I believed that someone who cared about me should show up for me in a very exacting, certain way. They would essentially prove themselves as friends by “going the extra mile” for me.

As a for instance: someone didn’t come to a birthday dinner I was holding because she had new dietary restrictions and the restaurant where the dinner was being held was pasta, pasta, pasta. In what I can only, in hindsight, admit to as total manipulation, I rather sweetly called her and left a long voicemail about how the important thing was that she was there. She could eat beforehand! She could just come and make conversation!

When she didn’t come to my birthday dinner, I was distant and cold to her next time I saw her. I was punishing her.

And then, oh wow look! She no longer wanted to be my friend. Shocker.

In my mind, the people who really cared about you were people who would prove it to you. If they knew something was important to me, they’d show up for it. They’d come to all the birthdays, dinners, housewarmings, remember to call, text back right away, drop everything if I was in a crisis.

What I understand now is that none of those things are actually love.

Why We Do This

We do it because we don’t want to be wounded, again.

Vulnerability: I didn’t want to be alone on my birthday. That’s why I pushed this friend to come. If she showed up, even if it cost her something to do that, then in my mind she’d be proving to me that she cared about me and about our friendship, which would mean I wasn’t alone and I’d have my “evidence” that I was loved (she showed up! That’s my evidence!).

Consider this for yourself. Do you do this in your marriage? Does your husband only show you he loves you if he follows the exact prescription you’ve laid out for him to show you that he cares? Are your kids only showing you that they care if they always remember to call?

The concepts of what other people need to do for us in order to prove their love are really just about us. We ask this of others because we don’t want to re-experience some kind of prior wounding.

It’s a form of asking others to protect us against our own wounds.

And sorry, but…that’s not someone else’s job. It’s my job to work on my wounds. Your job to work on yours. We can only help one another if the help is authentically given.

Given that most of us want to heal from our wounds, not spend our lives avoiding, here’s an interesting question:

What if not getting what you want is the best thing that could ever happen to you?

I Cannot Be Contained

In the years since, I’ve experienced both sides of the dynamic. I’ve been on the receiving end of the message that “If you love me, if you care, if I matter to you, then you’ll…” and it doesn’t feel good.

It doesn’t feel good because it’s manipulation. Love can’t live in the vise grip of manipulation.

It doesn’t feel good because it’s conditional. Love is unconditional.

It doesn’t feel good because it’s dysfunction. Love doesn’t thrive within dysfunction.

I’ve come to understand that my spirit cannot be contained, and my spirit always knows when something (a lie, a circumstance) or someone is trying to contain it.

If I know that saying “no” to a request will mean incurring a consequence, then I am existing under conditions that are not free.

It’s Hard to Release Attachment

Back to that question: what if not getting what you want is the best thing that could ever happen to you?

It would trigger all of your stuff. It would force you to deal with it. (Good!)

When the friend in the aforementioned birthday dinner incident walked away, she forced me to release my attachment. I couldn’t attempt to control her, anymore, and then I got exactly what I had feared:

I was alone.

It was really fucking painful. I was ashamed of my behavior. I berated myself and called myself horrible things and felt straight into those deep pockets of shame, the ones that tell you that you’re the worst person on earth (shame can be a bit dramatic).

I went there, I was in it, and I came out on the other side to understand more of this part of myself that was wounded and needed compassion. I have nothing but total respect for this friend when I think of her, today. In fact, I admire her–she had enough self-respect to say “no” to dysfunctional, manipulative behavior that I was trying to pass off as love.

Even though I know these things, of course I still catch myself: tallying what someone else does versus what I do. Paying attention to whether or not they’re paying attention.

It’s a shit-ton of wasted energy, energy I’d rather spend working through what’s underneath that.

The call is always there: What wound will I need to face if they don’t do what I’m hoping they’ll do and I have to deal with what comes up?

The answer to that question is your freedom.