Letting people into your life is how you build layers of complexity. It’s how you gain knowledge. It’s how you discover new challenges that ultimately teach you who you are.
Emotional and Psychological Baggage
“It’s great that you don’t care how you look when you dance.”
That’s one of the first things my future wife said to me the night we met.
As the legend goes, we were pretty much inseparable best friends from that moment on. I mean… she immediately got points for being willing to take jabs at me right from the start. (And, to be fair, I was dressed in boots, jeans, leather blazer and cowboy hat, grinding my ass up against a support pillar in the middle of the dance floor… so I had it coming).
But it was definitely a lot more complicated than that.
Emily and I had each been through rough breakups the year prior (in fact, those breakups happened on the same day). So while we clearly liked each other, hung out all the time, and pretty much saw ourselves as an item, we both had some emotional and psychological baggage on board. That baggage made it difficult for us to really move forward with what one would call an actual “relationship”.
Each of us was taking a huge risk – neither one of us wanted to go through the same emotional turmoil we’d dealt with over the past year. The trust issues, the self-doubt, loneliness… the things that come from the collapse of a very intense relationship.
While I can’t speak for Emily, my experience was such that I didn’t particularly like myself or think I was all that special – at least not as boyfriend or husband material. (Believe it or not I still deal with that on a pretty consistent basis). Sure, on the outside it looked like I thought myself quite the catch, but inside I felt unwanted and unloved. I’d been burned enough. The hopeless romantic in me was all but gone. As a result I was constantly stepping on my own toes and getting in my own way. Sometimes I made very clear attempts to torpedo the whole thing with Emily (without really realizing I was doing it).
And the more we were around each other, the tighter the bond. The closer we got. The higher the risk.
Emily committed maybe months or even a year before I really did. I was that out of sorts. And to this day neither one of us really knows what it was that made each of us commit. But we did. And when we did, it was incredible!
It was everything I’d always wanted – even though I had never known I’d always wanted it!
The Poopyface Paralegal
Within a year after graduating college I worked as a paralegal for a local bankruptcy attorney. For the most part, I liked it. It was much better pay than Radio Shack, and it wasn’t retail. So I didn’t have to be on my feet the whole day.
But I did have to keep on my toes.
That’s because, while I was very quickly getting good at paralegaling, one of the other paralegals – who had been paralegaling for many a year now – for some reason or another was mighty sore about me.
I don’t know if she was threatened by me or if I smelled or if my fashion sense was just not bankruptcy couture – despite our differences I to this day make no bones about how good she was at what she did. She really knew her stuff. Heck, I told her that on plenty of occasions. Perhaps it was just that I was more or less fresh out of college (and Radio Shack – talk about a promotion!) and still had a lot to learn about… I dunno… things.
Guilty as charged, Your Honor.
In any event, when it came to me personally, she was an absolute poopyface. I could never really figure out why. But she was so unreasonably oppressive that I almost quit on many occasions (and when I didn’t I just called out sick). I’d dealt with this kind of thing before and didn’t need to go through it again. I didn’t want the psychological trauma that I knew would come from it.
On the other hand, I was engaged to be married. I needed to pay bills and save money. And I wasn’t typically the kind of person to back down from a challenge. Especially challenges I show promise in overcoming.
I used to pray that she would mouth off or say something particularly unfortunate about the attorney’s wife, with whom she had an ongoing rift. Maybe, with a little luck, and a blessing or two, I would be relieved of the paralegal’s totalitarianism. I could keep this job and have this person out of my life.
How wonderfully Compassionate of me, right?
Nonetheless, my prayers were eventually answered: she indeed got caught mouthing off and saying something unfortunate about the attorney’s wife!
I remember watching both of them get called into the attorney’s office. I remember sitting there, watching the closed door, virtually wringing my hands at the sweet relief that was sure to come. When the door finally opened an eternity later, I watched the attorney’s wife march off and walk right out the front entry.
She had been fired.
The paralegal was here to stay.
If the attorney’s wife was to be granted no mercy, how much could I expect… like… ever?
Uh, none, turned out to be the answer, in case you were wondering.
I lasted maybe a few more months after the attorney’s wife left. It came down to: after showing a lot of promise, I wasn’t performing well enough, and because I was on a very clear and continuing downward trend, it wasn’t worth keeping me around.
Fair enough. That was mostly on me. I wasn’t performing well. Sure, I can point to that paralegal as being the problem, but at the end of the day my performance is mine. And to be perfectly honest I’m sure in some unconscious way I deliberately torpedoed myself as a means of making an escape.
What Is There To Gain?
It’s easy enough to see what I gained from letting Emily into my life. Though we’ve had ups and downs, we’ve been together since 2006 and as of this writing we’re on the cusp of marking our 10th anniversary. By committing to having her in my life, I’ve grown and had experiences I never would have had otherwise: I’ve traveled the world; I’ve had children; I’ve gotten into television and film; I’ve grown in my faith; and I’ve learned that while I’m not perfect by any means, I’m not half bad – at least in the sense that someone like her is willing to keep me around on purpose.
That’s all just for starters. And it’s because I (eventually) took the chance, despite all those doubts, traumas and insecurities.
With the paralegal it may not be so easy to see. Where my experience with Emily was predominantly positive, the one at the bankruptcy office was pretty much all negative.
Or was it?
True, I had many sleepless nights, practically loathed my job and felt nauseous and sometimes terrified throughout my tenure there, but I learned a lot about myself, too.
I learned how quickly and easily another person’s negative obsession with me can become my own negative obsession with them. I learned how much energy and time is expended simply from fearing and hating someone; how exhausted that can make you feel. And I saw a very clear picture of a person I didn’t want to become.
Don’t get me wrong – that experience sucked. But I’m glad I had it. It forced me to do some self-discovery (much as my experience with Emily has) and built new layers of complexity into the person that is me!
Building Layers Of Complexity
Nearly every experience you have in your life is going to imprint itself upon you and have lasting repercussions on your character, your heart, your view of the world, and your view of yourself. Letting people into your life – letting them swim in it even for just a little bit – forces you to make decisions about who you are and who you want to be. It can open you up in ways you don’t expect, and may surprise you when you discover things about yourself you never knew were there.
Sometimes the people that come into your life have this certain kind of power over you that you’re afraid of getting hurt when they disappear. In those instances it’s natural to want to distance yourself or cut ties early so that you don’t get hurt. But then you’re missing out on all the wonderful moments you can have – even if those moments only encapsulate a short, but intense, period in your life.
Sometimes the people that come into your life seem as though they’re there to destroy it. They don’t wait to build trust and then wreck you – they come in guns blazing right from the get-go. In those instances it’s natural to want to run away before they can detonate you. But then you’re missing out on conquering the challenge that this presents in your life – you miss what it means to stand up to that destructive force and what you discover about yourself as a result. As it turns out, even if you don’t stand up to it, you can withstand it, and that still makes you all the better.
Don’t get me wrong. In no way am I saying “Oh this guy is a wanted drug dealer with a felony record and really bad connections…. sure yeah come on in! Let’s see what crazy antics ensue!” No. I’m not talking about deliberately putting yourself or others in real danger. I was in no real danger with the paralegal – it was hard but it was a challenge. Know that difference.
I’m also not saying to let people in who simply cannot be trusted, right from the start. In fact, when a person loses your trust, it’s okay to cut them off.
As somewhat of an aside, I would argue that this is a good gauge for how to look at your current relationships – physical or social media. You don’t de-friend someone because you don’t like their political views or they appear to be everything that you’re against – where’s the challenge in that? First off, you’re probably wrong about them, and if nothing else you’re likely cutting off a good source of “learning some shit”. It’s when you know you can’t trust them with your life (or your reputation) that you let them go. I’ve had to do that recently myself.
Letting people into your life is how you build layers of complexity. It’s how you gain knowledge. It’s how you discover new challenges that ultimately teach you who you are. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s just plain not fun. But if you give it a chance, there’s always something that those people are trying to teach you.
Or, as I like to say, God put them on your path for a reason. Find out what that is.