Photo from Global Pillage
I’m turning 29 in a few days and if reexamining my 2014 wasn’t enough, I’m getting around to examining my 20’s as a whole. It’s hard to believe that this crazy, disjointed decade is about to close and apart from figuring out what I wanted to be doing with my life, this whole episode has also been characterized by the friendships and romantic relationships that I created or destroyed.
I didn’t have a very sophisticated algorithm for attraction. Ten years ago, I felt like I earned a bright friendship badge every time I met someone who liked the same music as I did, liked the same books, drank as much alcohol, and hated the same people. Such stellar standards! I’m still friends with some of my peoples from the college and post-college years, but that’s all because of good conflict resolution skills and empathy. Most of those relationships though have faded into the background or got spectacularly sabotaged by my or their assholery.
It’s tricky finding what you have in common with people when the things that used to don’t come into play anymore. Pop culture know-how still ranks high in my attraction algorithm, but not as high as emotional wholeness. I don’t drink or leave a trail of destruction when I go out anymore (maybe once a year!) and my favorite conversations these days are the sober ones over brunch. It seems that our time gets more finite as we get older and it would be nice to make sure that it goes to the people who will appreciate it the most.
Here are the red flags I’ve learned to call out on others and on myself:
- When they make their insecurities your problem
Everyone’s insecure. It becomes as issue though when it gets projected to the people you allegedly love and care for. This is a passive aggressive way someone expresses resentment and a good gauge of how to sniff it out is when you find yourself not wanting to share so much about your life because you’re afraid of how it will make the other person feel. Another gauge is when you try to share and you get parroted replies in return and the conversation doesn’t grow. Another is when you find yourself spending so much time trying to make your friends feel better about themselves.
Think this is you? Suggested reflection: I am not in competition with anybody but myself. I need to stop categorizing people in hierarchies because it’s that same hierarchy system that feeds my self-loathing.
- When they have victim/guilt complexes
These are people who have a hard time being honest with themselves and who have cultivated years of playing innocent to avoid responsibility and owning up to their mistakes. This is a wide spectrum and sometimes you’ll encounter the types who will acknowledge their faults but will fast forward to the resolution part so that they can still avoid the uncomfortable process of guilt and remorse. Many of them are the types that insist on cultivating a curated persona and revert to this behavior when cracks form on the surface. This tends to go hand in hand with vulnerability issues.
Think this is you? Suggested reflection: I am not perfect and no one expects me to be. Confrontation and reconciliation are really painful things but only in the short-term. Barricading myself emotionally again and again will only get in the way in fostering healthy relationships and will most likely draw in only superficial ones — this is an exhausting and lonely way to live.
- When they have sensitivity chips missing
These are people who either don’t care or unaware they hurt their friends’ feelings when they get carried away with their teasing or ideological diatribes. These are people who give you shit for quitting alcohol/drugs or wanting to go home early. These are people who can’t put their gadgets down when you’re trying to talk to them. These are people who have never uttered a sincere “How are you?” in their whole lives. These things are so fundamental and yet so many people still put up with it.
Think this is you? Suggested reflection: Compassion is not weakness. We live in a relational world and it would be great to check on others instead of myself all the time.
And that’s it! It’s not a guarantee but these three things are huge and have helped me figure out coexisting. I complain about people almost as much as I want to spend time with them again. Relationships make our world and the world’s a nicer place when we’re more honest and more empathic.