A friend of mine called me the other day, irate. Coming off of a heated conversation with his father, my friend complained that his dad still doesn’t understand or support some of his decisions.
“He just can’t do it. He can’t come over to my side on this. I try to connect over and over again, but he shuts me down every time,” he said.
I asked my friend something I’ve asked him before: “Did he ever come your way on this though?”
A couple of seconds of silence passed. “No, not really,” he replied.
“So why did you try again when you knew what you’d get?”
I already knew the answer, because I’ve been there myself. I’ve beaten my head against the wall with friends, bosses, boyfriends, family members and that waitress who always says she’ll toast the hamburger bun but never does.
Sometimes (especially with parents), even when we already know what to expect, we seek connection with (or approval from) people who are not capable or willing to give it to us in certain areas.
They either don’t agree with our ideology or point of view, are hell bent on criticizing anyone who does not subscribe to their point of view, refuse to go deep enough to respect another point of view or don’t have the bandwidth to say that they don’t agree, but love us anyway. Some people simply can’t or won’t ever give us the acceptance we seek.
When we already know this, trying again is like showing up at the Italian deli to get a pedicure and becoming furious when the manager says, “We still don’t do pedicures here, Michelle!”
So why do we go back when we already know we can’t fulfill our dream of eating a turkey and cheese on Dutch crunch while getting our feet massaged? (A girl can dream.)
Hope—I guess is the word that comes to mind for me here. I hope something will be different each time I try again. I hope that the person will listen in a new way. I hope they will somehow magically change and surprise me so we can be closer.
Each time I take that hope with me though and try to connect with someone on the wrong topic, I set myself up for pain and resentment. Most of the time, I don’t believe people who can’t relate are setting out to hurt us. They are simply giving what they are capable of giving, no more, no less.
There is sometimes a mourning process associated with acceptance. For my friend, accepting that his dad isn’t ever going to support him in particular areas is excruciating. He is coming to terms with the fact that he simply isn’t going to have the particular relationship with his father that he would like.
He can and does however connect with his dad on other issues and playing golf, which bonds them tremendously. The relationship isn’t lost, my friend is just adjusting his expectations. By finding support from other people where his dad isn’t able to meet him, my friend is also discovering new fulfillment from other loved ones in his life.
It took me a while to find my best connection points with the people in my life, but by doing so, I’ve saved myself from seeking out acceptance where I now know I probably won’t find it. Understanding all that I have said here, I still do try sometimes to find that pedicure in a glass case full of salami and headcheese.
I can’t help when hope surprises me and grabs on like static clingy underwear stuck to the back of my party dress. “Oh, dammit. Have those been hanging there all night?” Simply put, it’s hard to let go of the hope that says one person can give us everything we need.
Here are 5 important things I learned about communicating with others:
- Nobody is a perfect communicator and connector on everything.
- Sometimes it takes going to the deli for a pedicure over and over again (with a particular person) before we accept that we won’t get what we want there.
- Acceptance of our people’s limitations helps us to chill out and avoid disappointment.
- Truly accepting ourselves first decreases unrealistic expectations of others.
- Letting go of wanting a relationship to go an exact way frees us up to better experience number three.