News, Views, Happiness Pursued

Kid #2

Not my circus, not my monkeys

by | Mar 6, 2022

Hey, folks. How are we all doing? Been a rough go of it recently, huh? I gotta say, I can’t think of a single gosh darn person who has been through anything less than hell the last couple of weeks. Life has been rough! Absolutely fucking awful. I’m sorry if you’re going through it right now. 

There are two competing things I’ve been grappling with recently on that thread: we need people, but we need to be more self-sufficient. OK, for example, you need to be happy within yourself before you can be happy in a relationship. Any relationship, not just romantic. (And by happy I guess I mean secure? And not miserable?) But you can put off being in a romantic relationship; less so, other ones. 

Here’s the thing: At the end of the day, we’re all super-selfish. Some of us could even stand to be more selfish. It is very rare that you have people who will consistently show up for you, especially right now, when we’re all struggling so damn much. And truly, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re still worthy of love, and indeed still loved, if people don’t show up for you. And you’re not a bad person if you can’t show up for folks. You’ll never be able to be there for people the exact way they want you to be. And often, you shouldn’t be. We must be diligent and not give too much of ourselves away, as compelling as it is to disappear into other people and their issues. 

I don’t think anyone owes anyone anything, in broad terms. Sometimes we think people need to be there for us. Sometimes we think we need people more than we do. Often we just need to utilize ourselves more. We are all so accustomed to quick fixes. I can just barely remember a time before smartphones, so I might be straight-up wrong, but I think they have eroded our sense of time and patience. They have convinced us any solution should be quick and decisive, and if no decision can be made, we should reach for distraction. But we don’t learn anything from distraction. We learn more from speaking to other people, but not as much as we would if we let ourselves sit in that discomfort. 

When we speak to others, especially in a state of panic or pain, or discomfort, we are looking to confirm our story. Speaking with friends gives us reassurance, but very little new information. Speaking with someone you’re in conflict with can be helpful, but I find it rarely is when you’re in a state. I tend to enter a fight-or-flight mode and either panic and become defensive or combative, or shut down and help them beat me up. And neither of those modes are helpful. 

So yes, we need people. But much more than that, we need ourselves. It’s not fair to put our emotions on others. Maybe I’m just so sick of people doing that to me right now that I don’t have a clear view of it. But because we are all so self-obsessed and different, we’re of course going to upset each other constantly. I think only rarely does someone need to be made aware that they upset you. It is your job to deal with that everyday upset, and examine why you are feeling that way. People will not change for you, and I don’t think it’s very nice to ask them to. I think you learn so much more about yourself if you sit with the hurt or discomfort from interactions than if you put it on the other person. 

I’ve been big into mottos recently. Here are my top two: “Nothing anyone else does has diddly to do with me, that’s their own experience speaking,” and, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” 

I gotta remember that stuff more. I was talking with my friend the other day about how hard we find it not to take on others’ emotions. I always feel so responsible for those around me. If they’re having a bad time, it’s probably my fault, because of something I did or said or because they’re not feeling included or supported. Clearly that comes from a place of insecurity, but also a place of deep care. I want everyone to be OK, to be engaged. I almost always feel guilty or like a bad person or friend for just silly little things. But it turns out if you’re always apologizing and putting yourself down, others start to hear that message and internalize it too, and start to think, Oh, maybe this is your fault.

And personally, I know I’m a good person, if just as flawed as we all are. So nothing anyone does has anything to do with me. That’s their experience speaking. And I’ll listen to mine, because that’s what life is. And one of these days, I’ll finally take my own advice. 

Related Posts

Transience

Transience

Chapters 11 and 12 from Book IV of an epic memoir about homeless existence in Maine

Subscribe

We are supported by advertisers and readers, like you, who value independent local journalism. For the cost of one pint of Maine craft beer each month, you can help us publish more content and keep it free for everyone.