Part 1: A Clean, Well-Lighted Love Tank
Part 1: A Clean, Well-Lighted Love Tank
My fictional therapist and I had a discussion a few weeks ago about keeping your Love Tank sufficiently filled to allow you to continue to accomplish what you believe is important. The ideal way is for others to pour their love into you while you pour yours into them. That’s almost the textbook definition of a healthy relationship.
My experience has been that it’s almost always a very bad idea to depend on other people for things you need for survival. People are often kind, but the truth is that we have no control over anyone but ourselves. There are certainly things we can do to encourage people to do what we would like them to do, but, in the end, absent physical coercion, we can’t force anyone to do anything. Forcing someone to fill your Love Tank is to invite them to piss into it. That’s not going to be helpful.
This leaves us with a problem. If we don’t have anyone to fill our Love Tank reliably, what the hell are we supposed to do when someone needs our love? I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so your mileage may vary, but I can’t just invent love out of whole cloth. I get what I can from Speedy Shine, and he often has quite a bit to give, but even he bit me a few weeks ago. You’d be surprised how quickly that drains your supply of mobile love.
Mobile Love. I’m not sure I like that term, but I don’t have a better one at the moment. I just Googled it. I’m not referring to an app. I mean love that is fluid and transferable.
There is some Love, I think, that can’t really be moved. The Love I Have For My Father is more of a stone statue than it is a well from which I can gather and carry water. It’s powerful but stagnant. From his position of failing to exist any longer, there is little he can do to add to it. I’ve never had any experiences to subtract from it. It is as it has always been and will always be.
The Love someone shows me by spending time with me, by paying attention to what I say, by displaying genuine interest in my life, or, on unimaginably rare occasions, giving me a hug is all love I can transfer to someone else when they need it. It comes in and it can go out.
Now, this is Fred’s Front Porch Podcast, and I don’t do interviews. I am, however, often interested in the ideas of others. Several people made the unforgivable error of discussing this on my Facebook page, and now I get to share some of their ideas with you. That’s what we’re doing in this episode. You could almost call it a panel at a Convention.
To give you context for this discussion, I need to share a bit of my personal life with you. That happens a lot. It’s my porch. I feel free to discuss whatever is on my mind here. If it happens to me, it has probably happened to someone else, too, and my experiences might help them decide how to interpret theirs. So, this is the personal part of Art. I hope it becomes universal by lighting someone else’s path a little, either by following my example or correcting my mistakes.
Part 2: Context Like White Elephants
Part 2: Context Like White Elephants
I had to end one of the longest friendships of my life recently. It’s vital to understand that this doesn’t mean my former best friend is in any way a bad person. She’s not. She has many things going on in her life, and she simply doesn’t have time to meet my emotional needs. That’s not her fault, nor do I wish to imply that it is. It is, however, something that makes it difficult for me to get my emotional needs met.
We had a nice lunch at Garcia’s and she drove me around to find my perfect office chair. I paid for lunch, and she spent her time and gas. This was kind of her.
The experience, however, served to highlight our perennial problem. She didn’t have time to talk to me. She had people she needed to text. She had to make some calls.
I recognize I am wrong to allow this to bother me, but that didn’t keep it from doing so. When I tried to explain, for what has to be at least the 500th time, that this hurt my feelings, she saw it, as she often does, as an attack instead of an effort to make our friendship more helpful for both of us. Our final interaction was her bringing the chair to the door and leaving. We were both unhappy with each other. It never seems to change. In that way, the love is stagnant.
I don’t like to be at the bottom of someone’s list of priorities if I am supposed to put them at the top of mine. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet who never take time for me, and I have no objection to that. I don’t give them hour after hour of my time, however, to help them with their problems.
I am trying to find a way to avoid any pain I don’t absolutely have to endure. This is part of becoming the best Fred I can be.
Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, there is nothing wrong with her. She is a good person, an excellent teacher, and someone worthy of all the love anyone can give her. I have simply found our friendship to require more than I have to give when I get too little to keep my Love Tank sufficiently full.
When I operate with too little in that Tank, I recognize I can’t do what needs to be done. I become far too angry far too easily, and I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s not good for her. It’s not good for me.
This is almost certainly my fault as much as it is hers. I did an entire episode of my show hoping to help her understand where I am, but the point didn’t sink in. I didn’t write it well enough. I need to be a better writer.
I need to find a way to stop relying on someone who doesn’t have the time to be my sole source of social interaction. I have to recognize I have control of no one but myself, and that even then I’m not entirely in control of me, either.
So, I am choosing to reclaim the enormous acreage in my soul that was set aside for her. I’m using it to do other work that I need to do. I’m using it for more time with Art. I’m using it for more time to get to know myself better. I’m going to try to grow. I need to find ways to fill my own Love Tank.
I may be wrong. I frequently am. I must make the best choice I can at every moment based on the information and experience I have. I always hope it’s the right choice. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.
I’ll have to wait and see how it goes.
I made a couple of Facebook posts discussing my sadness, and many people were supportive, while many others felt the need to tell me why I am wrong.
Part 3: Several Readers Write
Part 3: Several Readers Write
That’s the context. Now, let’s hear from our panel on the subject. First, we turn to Shoshana Edwards. She is a novelist, poet, and close friend. You can find her work at https://shoshanaedwards.com/
I’m writing this on Fred’s wall instead of mine because I want to talk to Fred’s friends. So here goes.
The price of friendship is acceptance. You accept your friend’s choices; you accept their orientation; you accept their beliefs. You do not have to share any of those. But friendship requires that you accept them, and respect them.
Respect is an act of validation. It says, “You matter, and I value you enough as a person to trust that what you believe, what you know to be true, your decisions, etc. are valid and worthy.” Respect does not question, does not instruct, does not criticize.
We all want to help our friends. We want to keep them from making disastrous decisions, and sometimes that is necessary. If depression or some other condition that has rendered the friend incapable of seeing the horrible consequences of a decision they are about to make, friendship obliges us to gently step in and urge them to reconsider, to give their decision some time, and to listen.
And that last word, LISTEN, is the hardest one. Once, years ago, I asked a gay friend how I could be a good ally, and he responded: LISTEN. I have learned since then that when I listen, without judgment, without a sentence just waiting to pop out as soon as my friend stops talking, without my own opinions, just listen — I have learned that this is the only way to truly love, respect, and get to know my friend. I become a sponge, rather than someone holding up a mirror, trying to see myself in that friend.
Do I fail? Yes, often. Ask Fred. LOL He will tell you how many times I have tried to tell him what to do, only to stop myself and apologize. Fred is a grown ass man. He knows what makes him happy, what provides safety and comfort, and he sure knows how to deal with his diabetes. He is living the life he wants, and if we are his friends we will stop telling him what to do and respect his choices. We will do what we can to provide comfort, whether in the form of rides or grocery money at the end of the month or subscribing to his amazing podcast or just occasionally dropping him a note to tell him how wonderful he is.
But telling him, or anyone else you call friend, how to live his life is merely mirroring yourself. It is not truly seeing Fred. And that is important. Our friend does not have long to be with us. Every moment we have with him is precious and magical and wonderful. And some of you are wasting it telling him what he is doing wrong. Is he making choices that might shorten his life? Perhaps. But he is making choices that bring him joy, that bring him pride, that make him feel accomplished and creative. Please, celebrate that with him for whatever amount of time we have our beloved friend with us.
Thanks, Shoshana. Those were useful ideas, and I wish more people had responded to them. If we don’t listen actively, we can’t really help people. We don’t need advice as much as we need empathy.
Next, another of The People On The Porch, who didn’t give me permission to identify her, shared this perspective:
If you are not getting your love bank filled from one friend alone, there is no need to delete that friend. In fact, that’s likely to only result in your love bank being more empty, don’t you think? If anything, the sensible course of action seems to me to be to try to make a few more real-life friends to help meet your needs. I don’t think needs can all be well-met online. If you’re not comfortable making more in-person friends, I would think the best thing to do is keep the in-person friend you have PLUS focus more on online activities. Right?
She continues, discussing some books on relationships and depression:
Kramer explains that depression is particularly toxic to relationships. People who are depressed generally have anhedonia, meaning they are extremely hard to satisfy. Anhedonia is pretty much the definition of depression. Since the depressed person doesn’t feel good, they reason that their relationship is not making them feel good. On top of that, another tendency of depression is to interpret everything in the most negative way possible. If someone is late, the depressed person doesn’t think that’s just a bad habit; they say it proves the other person doesn’t care about them. If someone can’t make it to an event, even if it is because the other member of the relationship is overburdened or sick, the depressed person assumes it is because the other person doesn’t care about them. This is incredibly frustrating to the other person, who may be doing their very best but is after all a flawed person who is not always perfect. Very few people can take a lot of criticism and still enjoy being with someone, so this creates a vicious cycle.
Harley also talks about getting into your giver mode versus your taker mode in a relationship. A depressed person may start to believe they are always the giver, and they may fail to realize it when they are being the taker. If you want to keep a relationship, you need to try to get more into your giver mode, although it doesn’t come naturally when you’re feeling depressed. Getting in your giver mode helps trigger more positive feelings in the other person and thus more deposits and fewer withdrawals into your love bank.
If you find the other person in your relationship is never satisfied, and you think they’re basically a good person, you should consider the possibility that they may be depressed. You’re free to assume that that’s not part of the problem, of course, but before you do, I think it’s wise to think about how long you’ve known them and all the things they’ve done for you that they didn’t have to do if they didn’t care. Similarly, if you find you are never satisfied by the other person in a relationship, you’re free to assume that it is because they’re not up to snuff or don’t care to make the effort, but I think then it would be wise to consider that you might be depressed. Before you assume that’s not it, I think it’s wise to think about how long you’ve known the other person and all the things they’ve done for you that they didn’t have to do if they didn’t care.
Yes, relationships are a lot of work. I read everything you write, though, and I’m having trouble believing that interaction with real live people in-person is unimportant to you. If you would like me to send you Willard’s or Kramer’s book, I would be very happy to do so. I don’t want to over-step my boundaries, though, which I might have already done. I realize I sound preachy but I feel I should share some things I had to learn the hard way and that helped me enormously. Maybe someone reading will find them useful even if they don’t apply to you.
These are all excellent points that are worthy of consideration. It’s why I’ve included them in the discussion. Her advice is a wider application of solutions to my specific problem. Art is both Universal and Personal.
I think it’s fair to say that both my former friend and I suffer from severe chemical depression. I wish I could make its effects stop simply by willing them to stop. I also wish I could get my blood sugar to stop rising simply because I wake up in the morning, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it exists. Her insights into depression and relationships are helpful.
There was a third perspective from another Facebook friend that needs to be acknowledged.
Sounds like…you didn’t do exactly what I wanted so now I’m going to publicly shame you. I urge you to reconsider your view on this person who has shown to be very loyal and caring to you. While I understand when you go out it is a singular focus, that is not always the case for others and your right to say, an unfair expectation.
She is correct that the expectation is unfair. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can make it go away. I have to recognize my own flaws and shortcomings. Correcting them, however, is a later step, and it’s not as simple as we would like.
Part 4: The Old Man At The Bridge
Part 4: The Old Man At The Bridge
It is easy and common to coach from the sidelines. We often feel not only allowed but compelled to tell someone what they’re doing wrong.
A friend of mine has a policy of never telling anyone what to do with their life. I do my best to follow that same policy. I realize I don’t know nearly enough about what is happening in your life to tell you what you ought to do. If asked for advice, I may go as far as trying to convince someone not to end their own life, but, even then, I recognize I’m on morally shaky ground. It’s unlikely, but it’s certainly possible they would be right to end their own suffering. I always fall back on the idea that once it’s done, you can’t undo it, but if you wait, you can always do it later. Of course, that may not always be true, either.
This is all by way of saying that I share my life with people who matter to me on Facebook and in this blog and on this podcast. I’m interested in what is happening in your life, and I assume you share that interest in mine. If not, we can just scroll on by each other’s posts. No harm, no foul.
I’m not sharing, however, to offer you the opportunity to tell me why I’m wrong. I often ask for advice, and when I do, I’m clear that this is my goal.
Instead, writing is my most effective form of therapy. Puppy cuddling is second.
An important aspect of writing well is the knowledge someone else is going to read it. My Facebook page, my blog, and my podcast represent my publishing house. I go through several drafts before it shows up here. I want to be sure I’ve written it as well as I can.
When something makes me sad, I need the therapy that writing brings. I need to commit it to the screen so I can see it more objectively than I can when it’s just floating around in my soul like a ghost that had too much Taco Bell.
This is a time when I am sad. I need to accept the responsibility for that sadness. I can’t control anyone else. Everyone is allowed to behave in the ways they choose. The only power I have is to decide whether I want that behavior in my life. When, through conversation, logic, and rational argument, I find myself unable to get someone to stop behaving in ways that hurt me, there is no point in blaming them. I have to change the only thing I can: Me.
This allows me two options.
First, I can decide that whatever is causing me pain doesn’t really hurt. I am unable to do this. Perhaps I will reach that level of maturity, but I’m not there yet.
The only alternative I have left, then, is to stop having someone in my life whose behavior hurts me. Because it’s someone who has been an important part of my life for well over a decade, the absence leaves a hole similar to one left by reaching into my stomach and pulling out my spleen.
I need to fill that hole promptly so the pain can begin to recede until it becomes just another ache, like my broken knee, or the absences of Melanie and my Father. That pain is always there, and, after a time, I can make friends with it, in the same way Simon and Garfunkel made friends with darkness.
Filling it with another person doesn’t feel like a good idea. If one was unreliable, the next may be, too. And, of course, no one can ever really replace someone you love. Scotty Ferguson showed us that in Vertigo.
I fill it with my writing, my show, the music of extraordinary artists, the videos I make, and anything I can find about which to be proud. I have to replace the love I once got with the only reliable source of it: Me. If I can learn to love myself in the way I love others, I think I will be happier.
When it occurs to me that I would never want anyone to treat someone I love in the way someone I love treats me, I have to love myself enough to say so. And while the wound is fresh, I’m going to be extra nice to myself because it’s what I would do for you if you lost someone you love. I would do all I can to make sure you know you’re still loved, even if not in the same way you were before. I would remind you you’re not as alone as you feel right now. I would try to show you how beautiful the world can be anyway.
I remember the night my Dad died I was physically unable to believe the sun would ever rise again. It simply couldn’t rise on a world of which my father wasn’t a part. It was against the laws of nature.
I need to remind myself that the laws of nature continue to apply in precisely the same way they have for the last 22,153 days. The world is as it was, but part of it is not part of me anymore. There are worse things that can happen.
It’s time to reinvent Fred. I can do that. I’ve done it before. I have the resources I need. I have the creativity. I will take a little time to mourn my loss, but then I need to continue being the best Fred I can be.
Thank you for continuing to be my friend. You’re making a difference for me.
And yes… I love you.