On a recent trip to San Diego, I was in a workshop on relationships and we were doing this really interesting exercise of mapping out the people who hold space relationally in our lives. Good, bad and ugly, we were to put each person somewhere on our map, according to how close we were to them and whether the relationship was a good one or a bad one.
I’ve got a big crazy family and there are several people in my family who I am not really ‘in relationship’ with, whether that is by my choice or theirs, so it was a really interesting exercise. I was sitting next to a friend who had decided to take the same workshop because, like me, she had some crazy going on in her family. Our other friends felt that other workshops would be more beneficial to them, clearly indicating that they had far too much Brady Bunch going on in their families, or that they were, in fact, in denial. Or maybe they just know crazy can’t be fixed by drawing it on a map?
Anyway, after we had found a place for everyone on our ‘maps’, the facilitator asked several questions, one of which was, “Who is your Person?” Four little words that made my world stop spinning for a minute. With just these four words, he had put into language, what I had been feeling for years, but didn’t know how to say. What is a “Your Person”?
Your person is the person you can call when you have had it with your kids and you are pretty sure you might kill them if someone doesn’t talk you out of it. Your Person will talk you out of it, or help you ponder where to hide the bodies. Your Person is the person you can call if you need to tell someone what a big jerk your husband is. Your Person will listen in an empathetical way and then when you’ve calmed down will gently suggest that maybe you aren’t completely in the right. Your Person is the person you can call when old grief hits you like a ton of bricks and you need to cry. Your Person will dry your eyes, they won’t mind if you’ve ruined their silk blouse and they will end up making you smile. Maybe even laugh. Your Person takes your midnight call, collect call, drunk call. You can tell them your hopes, dreams, desires, darkest secrets and they will love you not just in spite of them, but because of them.
You know really quickly when someone is Your Person, but even more quickly if they aren’t.
I was having a mini crisis the other day. Actually, I was annoyed. I knew I was being petty, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed. We had studied- and by we, I mean my youngest and I- for about 12 hours for my daughter’s science final. She had taken her final and failed it. Like, REALLY failed it. This started out the frustration. Then, not telling her the bad news, we had to study for her next final. We were up until 12:30am learning literary definitions that she should have learned sometime during the year, but somehow did not. Cramming. My kid is starting to hate literature, and although I love reading, I am starting to hate literature too. Then we wake up early, after not enough sleep, to study a bit more before school, and Breaking News, another school shooting, this one close to home. Never mind kids with guns killing kids, we’ve got finals to take, off to school you go.
Fast forward a couple of hours, I get a text from my mom. I don’t know my mom. Well, I know that she is my mom, but I don’t know WHO she is. Does that make sense? She knows I’m her daughter, but she doesn’t KNOW me. I wish it were different, but I can’t make people be who I want them to be, and so I have let go of the fairytale. I’m not saying that it’s been easy, but after awhile, you learn that no matter how big of a control freak you are, sometimes the best you can do is control yourself. AnyWHO. The text asks me if my high schooler is safe. Clearly, my mom has seen the national news that is covering the school shooting. I reply that the school in question is across town from us, so she’s safe. I add that it’s finals week, so she’s swamped, but safe. My mom, meaning well, says, “Tell her she’s very intelligent and she’ll do fine.” I got flash point angry. First of all, she just FAILED her science final. I would not call that doing, ‘just fine’. Don’t pretend to know something that you have no fricking clue about. Second, I got mad because my mom has no fricking clue that my daughter just failed her science final and that is just not the way it is supposed to be! My mom should just KNOW this stuff because she should have been a part of my life. She should know everything about this stuff. She should be MY PERSON!
But she’s not and I’m pissed, and I’m sad and I’m hurt and I need A Person. My brain is cruising through my mental Rolodex in a panic searching for A Person. It lands on my sister, which, in all honesty, my good judgement should have over-ruled. I love my sister and she loves me, and I am my sister’s Person, but she does not have the emotional bandwidth or energy to be MY Person, or anyone’s Person. She is in survival mode, single parenting two young kids, one of which has special needs. But there is a momentary lapse in my judgement, or I am just feeling desperate, so I call her. Less than 20 seconds into my call I know I have made a grave error. I politely start with asking my sister how she is.
PEOPLE!!! When someone calls YOU and asks how you are, do NOT under any circumstances, assume that they actually care how you are! Assume they are calling you because they NEED you, or at the minimum, need something from you. It is only fair and polite to ask them why they called first, so just tell them you are FINE! You can always unload the truck when you have found out what they need! But my sister doesn’t have the bandwidth, as I said, so she opens up the sliding door of the big ass Penske moving truck that is her life and unloads the sh*t out of it. I can’t hang up. I am held hostage. After all, I am her Person and she needs me, so I listen, commiserate, ask questions, give input, tell her she’s doing a great job, hold back any thoughts that agree with her that, “yes, you might actually be crazy”. You know, all the stuff that a good Person does. She finally starts feeling better about 25 minutes later and says, “Sorry, for unloading on you. It’s just, I don’t have a therapist.” I’m now exasperated, exhausted and irritated, in addition to still having the issues that I had before I called her. One thing you need to know about being someone’s Person, is that you don’t have to lie to them. You can and should be honest with them. Just not when they are in the middle of an actual freak-out session. So, now that my sister has been talked off the ledge, when she says the whole, “therapist” thing to me, I say, “Yeah, well, neither do I. The one I want to see charges some reasonable fee of $165 per hour.” She gasps and says that’s ridiculous and I agree and then she says she’s really got to get off the phone now, but, “Are you guys doing alright?” Yeah, it’s a little too late to start down that road now, so I say we’re fine and hang up.
Now I really need A Person. I text the first friend I think of. “This is going to sound petty, but I have to say it to someone-lucky you! My mom texted me earlier and asked if L was safe because of the school shooting. I said “she is fine but overwhelmed by finals”. We’ve literally studied until 12:30am the past 3 night. She failed her science final after 12 hours of studying for it!! My mom, who knows us sooo well, “Tell her she’s very intelligent and she’ll do fine.” I know she was trying to be nice, but I am so annoyed.”
My friend’s response proves that she knows how to be A Person: “I too get annoyed when people pipe in when they have no clue. I know I need some wine when someone says something nice and I want to respond, ‘What the @#$% do you know?’ xxoo”
Exactly. It was like she was in my head and reading my mind. Or she knows I’m in Crazy Town and she is worried about my mental stability, so she just agrees with me. This is what A Person does. I told my friend that I knew she would ‘get’ me and that I had tried to call my sister and what a schit show that was. She told me to call me and vent to her, and then she did what every good Person does and said, “My vent for the day is that I just had an appointment here and now my office smells like ass.” She made me laugh. Suddenly I felt better. Suddenly jumping off a bridge didn’t sound like a rational idea.
We all need A Person in our lives. If you don’t have one, you really really need to find one. A Person can save your life, or prevent you from taking one!
To my friend that was my Person that day, and you know who you are, I love you.