compassion · disappointment · family · self-care · self-preservation

Stay in Touch.

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I received a birthday card in the mail from my father the
other day.
On the front are printed all these large, cartoony instructions saying, “Daughter, Whatever you do, don’t open this card!”
On opening it, the message inside reads, “You still don’t do
as you’re told.”
And there’s a handwritten note, wishing me a happy birthday
and telling me to stay in touch.
It’s both funny and tragic. It’s funny, not for it’s printed
content, but for the fact that it continues my father’s understanding of me and
our relationship: He’s the good one, I’m the fuck-up. He makes the rules, and I don’t follow them. What a set-up. 
This is “funny,” because it’s sad. Because it’s continued
confirmation of how unrealistic our relationship is, and because it confirms
that this is not a person I want to be in communication with.
Lest you think me harsh to judge or condemn a relationship
based on one tin-eared card, believe me, this is the softest of these messages
I’ve received. And continue to receive from him.
On Saturday, I got the chance to talk to my mentor. We were
talking about amending relationships where there is discord, or where I simply
don’t feel at peace.
This, of course, is one of them.
But, my father was listed in a category of others, too:
People I’ve fallen out of touch with out of self-preservation.
I wanted to talk to my mentor about whether I’m in the
wrong… that still-lingering “good daughter” or “good friend” guilt. Shouldn’t
you show up no matter what? Isn’t that love? Or is that obligation? And does it
matter?
Isn’t it my job to adjust myself and meet these people where
they’re at, regardless of how they’re harming me?
Because as painful as it is to know how intractable the
situation with my dad is, I still lash myself with reproval.
I should be able to withstand my crazy aunt’s needling about
my family’s ills. I should be able to listen to her constant health complaints
and victim-laden phone calls. I should be able to because she’s family and because she’s alienated nearly everyone else
she’s related to.
I should be able to sit in a car with my manic friend, even
though I get quiet and withdrawn around that kind of unpredictable behavior. I
should be able to meet her level of enthusiasm and kookiness because that’s
cool, right? Why can’t I just be cool, like her?
I should be able to be in relationships with people I don’t
want to be in relationships with, because that’s what “good” people do, right? Because
that’s what we’re told good people do.
But, to quote that myopic card, I rarely do what I’m told. …
What my mentor offered me was there are some relationships that
are once or twice a year out-reaches. And that’s okay.
Send your aunt a birthday and holiday card, and call it a
day.
Allow your friend who makes you uncomfortable to have her
own experience, and you don’t have to be a part of it if you don’t like how you
feel around her.
Reply to your dad’s occasional emails, thank him for the
card. And leave it at that.
There are relationships that we invest more in and there are
those we invest less. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care for the person. It
doesn’t mean that they are bad, or that I am.
It just means that my self-exacting standard of
communication needs relaxing.
You don’t have to invest in relationships that cause you
pain.
Believe me, I’ve done enough work in trying to make these
particular ones work. To find common ground and compromise and a way of
communicating that is healthy, or at least not harmful. And unfortunately,
there isn’t one.
I wish and try and hope and beg Universes that they were,
particularly with my dad, because who wouldn’t? But, this is an intractable
situation. And I have bloodied my fists knocking on a closed door, trying to
break in through a side window, and torn fingernails trying to dig underneath
all the battle defenses that each of us have drawn to come to a relationship with him that I can be in.
But, when you come to the end of the line, it’s time to get off
the train. This one doesn’t go any farther, no matter how much I wish it did.
And I do. And I probably always will.
But in the reality of today, these relationships are not serving
either of us. I can’t demand someone to show up or behave how I want. I can
only adjust myself to what is. And allow myself the compassion to stop
haranguing myself for not being able to adjust them.
And I can do that by staying in touch. Just barely. 

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