Have you ever noticed that a quality you really enjoy about someone, at the other end of the spectrum, is the same quality that drives you crazy? My first husband was playful and a superb athlete. I loved to be with him on the water to go skiing, in the woods to go camping and at a party where he was a wonderful host, and everyone had a good time. After a decade, as the marriage began to fail, I was angry that he moved from job to job, didn’t manage money well and was not preparing for the future as I thought he should. I began to see these qualities as the whole of him. But as I faced the whole of our relationship and what had brought us to this painful time, I had to admit that I had intentionally chosen him and a big reason I did so was his playful, free spirit. The quality that angered me a decade later was just at the other end of that same spectrum. He had not changed; my priorities had changed.
I had two friends, sisters, who were very close. I didn’t have a sister and loved to be around them. There was nothing off the table, they shared every ounce of their lives and when I was with them, I got to be a part and share as well. When they moved out of state, I would go to visit and it was the same, three or four long days of honest, total togetherness. Then one sister became ill and, as she was dying, the family circled the wagons. They were all there for her, but no one else was included. It was heartbreaking for me not to be able to say goodbye, but the family closeness and loyalty that made me feel so welcome in the good times, also meant the family faced inward in times of hardship and grief.
I’ve found it useful to look for this counterbalance when I am in times of turmoil or confusion about a relationship or friendship. For example, perhaps you enjoy someone because they are completely in the moment and, when you are with them, they are totally present. Then don’t be surprised if they are not great at answering emails or returning phone calls. It is likely that you reached out when they were totally present in another moment, not yours. Or perhaps your friend is intensely loyal, you know they will never betray you and always be faithful to you. This may also mean they are intensely stubborn and cannot be convinced to do what you want, if they don’t want to. Period.
This is not to say that people can’t grow and develop, build on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, but our strongest qualities will endure, as will the spectrum. I am very well organized and disciplined. You can count on me. I also alphabetize the spices and become irritated if the toilet paper does not come off the top of the roll. I ask your tolerance and offer you mine.