family, psychology

…Put up, show up, shut up…

Some people think I’m not a very “nice” person, mainly because I often speak my mind and don’t roll over to their demands. I think it’s better to be kind or good, rather than “nice”. There is a difference. A “nice” person is pleasant to be around and doesn’t make waves. They usually have self-serving reasons for being “nice”, which range from simply wanting to be liked by others, to actively wanting to take advantage of other people.

A good person with kind intentions might make waves for the good of all, even if it causes temporary strife. A good person does things that might not be popular with the crowd, but are ultimately in everyone’s best interests. A good person has mercy and compassion and thinks of the big picture, even if it means temporarily pissing off other people.

Nice people often end up screwing over the unaware, even if the screwing doesn’t cause any pain at first. Superficial charm can be a valuable weapon against the weak. Someone who is pleasant at first can easily end up turning into a nightmare, leaving others bewildered, shocked, and reeling from the surprise pain they cause. But good people are sometimes abrasive for the right reasons. What they say and do might hurt at first, but they take those actions because they want to minimize pain in the long run.

Sometimes I feel badly about being less likable than I could be. But then I realize that Bill loves this about me, because I encourage him to be assertive and stick up for himself and others. Also, since I don’t need to be liked as much, I often have a broader perspective than he does about some things. He rules more with his heart and emotions than I do, and that sometimes leads him down the roads to Hell. However, with me around to be firm and offer another perspective, he’s often more able to make decisions that hurt fewer people. Sometimes those decisions are unpopular and make people angry, but in the grand scheme of things, they turn out for the better.

Yesterday turned out to be kind of a yucky day for Bill. He had a very busy and frustrating day at work. Then he came home and found out that his dad is very sick and in the hospital. How did he find out? Through that ever popular medium, Facebook… and it was a family friend’s post that alerted him that something was wrong, not his sister or stepmother.

I think he was hurt that his family didn’t tell him before the news wound up on Facebook, although he wasn’t surprised. This is not the first time he’s been left out of the loop, although in fairness to the family, we are pretty far away and he is a product of his father’s first marriage. My husband’s stepmother doesn’t like Bill’s mom and was jealous of Bill when he was a boy, taking his father’s attention from her. She also doesn’t like me, because I don’t let her push me around and she doesn’t think I’m “nice”. Still, Bill has always loved his dad and has done his best to be a good son. So he was saddened that no one bothered to let him know about his dad’s situation.

Mood music for this post. I was introduced to the magic of Lyle Lovett by a Mormon couple I knew when I was serving in the Peace Corps. I consider it a gift they gave me far more valuable than the Book of Mormon.

I am familiar with this kind of pain myself. Last year, my favorite uncle passed away suddenly, having suffered a stroke. I found out about the stroke, not from a family member, but from a friend of the family… someone I don’t know personally. She’d posted her best wishes to my cousins. When I later asked my cousin why I had to find out about her dad on Facebook, she claimed she’d asked my sister to tell me. That made me sad, since I’m not that close to my sister. In fact, before this happened, I would have thought I was closer to my cousin than my sister. But I guess she didn’t have the same regard for me that I did for her.

About a week or two later, when my uncle died, I did hear about it from a relative. This time, it was another cousin who told me… one of the few who talks to me anymore. I remember when my dad died, I didn’t hear too much from most of my family then, either. I’m beginning to feel a bit divorced from them. I guess I can’t blame them too much. It’s been awhile since we last saw each other, and my outspokenness about politics has turned off a lot of them.

I still couldn’t help but remember back in 2017, when a very old and dear friend of mine took the time to send me a private message on Facebook to tell me that her dad died. She said he’d always liked me and she didn’t want me to read about his death in the paper. It meant a lot to me that she’d had the regard for me and the consideration to tell me about that, rather than letting me read about it on a public social media posting. It was more consideration that I’ve gotten from my own family when relatives have gotten sick or died.

This morning, Bill was getting updated on his father’s condition. He’d had to ask his sister about it after seeing the status update from the friend of the family, indicating that something was wrong. She has kindly been explaining the situation. It turns out Bill’s dad may have been exposed to COVID-19, so he’s currently in isolation. He’s got some underlying chronic health issues that could make him less likely to recover from this illness, especially if he’s had the virus. They are testing him now to determine if he has. At this point, he’s still lucid and seems to be feeling better. But he’s in the hospital and is showing some signs that he might have been infected with COVID-19 and possibly gotten over it while, unbeknownst to him, sustaining lung damage.

Naturally, that led to us thinking about what we should do if he doesn’t get well. This would be a difficult problem, even if there wasn’t a global pandemic going on. We live in Germany, and our families are in the United States. Going home means being on a plane for hours. Going home during the pandemic means being on a plane for hours, masked and exposed to strangers, and dealing with whatever COVID-19 policies are in effect in the United States. Then, once it’s time to go back to Germany, quarantining… but only after being exposed to people who lived with a man who may have had COVID-19. That means Bill might be be exposing people who are also in transit, then coming home to our neighborhood, which has many elderly people in it. I have asthma, although I don’t take medication for it. I’m also pushing 50 and overweight. It wouldn’t be good if I got the virus.

We are so lucky to live in Germany, which so far has not had the horrifically high number of COVID-19 cases the United States has had. But living in Germany comes with a cost when it comes to seeing family, especially in times of crisis. I suspect that if the worst happens, there could be quite a shitstorm. I advised Bill to think long and hard about whether or not he should risk possibly going home at this time, given how many people could be affected.

Bill’s stepmother is a difficult person. She has a tendency to think mostly of herself. She’s quick to take offense without looking at the big picture. I’ve written about this situation a few times over the years, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll write about it again.

In 2004, my husband’s ex wife decided to try to force us all to spend Christmas together at Bill’s dad’s house. She claimed she wanted the children (from three different fathers) to feel like we were all one big happy family. I thought it was a terrible idea, but no one consulted me about it. I was simply informed of the idea and expected to put up, show up, and shut up.

I was newly married to Bill at the time, and Ex probably figured that she could try to pressure me into being “nice”. But I knew that if I went to that gathering, it would be a shitstorm of epic proportions. I have experienced many epic holiday shitstorms with my family of origin. In fact, I had experienced one the year prior. And in 2004, by golly, I wanted to have a relaxed Christmas with no fighting. Moreover, we were broke back then and couldn’t really afford the trip. I figured no one in that group needed to see me, especially the kids, who typically don’t care about their stepmothers so much. Given the difficulty of the situation, I opted to stay home. Bill went to see his kids– for the last time, it turned out. Since then, he’s only seen his younger daughter in the flesh once– and that was in March of this year.

Bill’s stepmother was very angry that I didn’t show up. She thought I was snubbing the family. She took my absence as a dig– and was probably spurred on to think that by Ex, whose plans to humiliate me were dashed when I didn’t show up and no one told her I wasn’t coming. Meanwhile, I was thinking that what I did may not have been “nice”, but it was ultimately the kindest solution, since I knew that if I had to spend days watching my husband’s toxic ex wife in action, I’d probably want to kill her with my bare hands. I doubt it would have been a civilized scene. I figured Bill’s dad and stepmother just wanted to see the kids and Bill. Ex had made it clear that no one liked or cared about me, anyway. So I stayed home, saved the money on airfare and dog boarding, and drank lots of wine. Later, I was blamed for how shitty the gathering was, even though I wasn’t there and it wasn’t my idea to plan it.

Several years later, I did explain to Bill’s dad and stepmother my line of reasoning. They seemed to accept it, once they heard me tell them what my reasons were for not attending. While I was thinking of my own mental and physical health, as well as our precarious finances at the time, when I opted out of that gathering, I was also thinking of them and the kids. The kids were especially innocent in that situation. It was Christmas, and I thought they should enjoy it without seeing their mother and stepmother seething at each other. Moreover– I didn’t plan that gathering. I wasn’t asked how I felt about it. I was simply expected to put up, show up, and shut up, as usual. I might as well have been a cardboard cutout of a woman, with no thoughts or feelings, and no right to an opinion.

Unfortunately, even though we explained why I did what I did, other situations have since come up in which Bill has been yelled at by his stepmother for not showing enough deference or regard for his father. She also does this to Bill’s younger daughter. Stepmom is very good at shaming and blaming other people when things aren’t to her liking. And this situation with Bill’s dad, especially if it ends up having the worst outcome, will surely invite drama. Bill will be expected to make a trip to the States if the worst happens. But I have already told him that I think he should consider what going there would mean for other people, to include some who just happen to live in our neighborhood.

Bill thanked me for offering that perspective to him. He said he needed to hear it. I’m sure I will be blamed for it if he chooses not to go, but that’s okay. Lots of people think I’m a bitch. As Ex once famously said, I can’t help how other people feel. Moreover, if stepmother does crawl up Bill’s ass for not showing proper respect by jumping on a plane to see his father, he can tell her that she never even bothered to tell him he was sick in the first place. Respect is a two way street. And while going to comfort her would probably be the “nice” thing to do, it would not be the good or kind thing to do for the vulnerable people who live and work with Bill every day. Even if he did go, she probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

In any case, we don’t yet know if Bill’s dad has been exposed to COVID-19. He might not have been… although being in a hospital during a pandemic isn’t really being in a safe zone, either. And he might very well recover, which would be the outcome we’re all hoping for.

For some reason, I’ve found myself in the crosshairs of a lot of manipulative people– women, in particular– who try to pressure me into being “nice”. But, as I said before– it’s better to be good and kind, rather than nice. And being good and kind doesn’t always feel “nice” to others, even if it is the best thing in the long run. I have resolved not to “put up, shut up, and show up” anymore in order to avoid other people’s wrath. I have my own wrath, and my own right to make choices that work best for me and others around me. If other people choose to be loyal to themselves, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t anyone? Especially a man as lovely as Bill is.

ETA: COVID-19 test was negative.

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psychology

The wrong idea…

I saw the above photo this morning and decided I had to add it to my personal collection. There’s so much truth in it, especially for me. My whole life, I’ve been called “weird”, even by supposed loved ones. I suspect I have this problem because I have an outspoken personality and a rather well-developed vocabulary… (in English, anyway). Many people tend to chafe at anyone who doesn’t go along with the crowd. I don’t like hanging out in groups, nor do I enjoy having queen bee types trying to tell me what to do. I like having good friends, but I prefer to see them one on one or in small groups. I also have a very unique laugh that annoys some people. I can’t help it. It’s the laugh God gave me. It’s loud and distinctive and I’ve caught shit my whole life for it. Other people find it “infectious”. I like ribald, inappropriate humor. Bring on the fart jokes and oversharing. I’m all over it.

For many years, I tried to be more like the way other people said I should be. I can remember agonizing in grade school and high school, trying not to say or do such “weird”, offbeat things and trying to tone down my raucous laugh. Nothing worked, and I became really depressed because I didn’t think I’d ever find a tribe who accepted me for who I am. I also figured I’d wind up an old maid, since I didn’t have a lot of dates. But stifling my true self led to self-loathing and destructive habits. After years of trying to fit my square self into a round hole, I decided I needed to simply be the most authentic version of who I am.

The lovely thing about getting older is realizing that you’re never going to please everyone. Someone will always find something to dislike about you. Fortunately, in most cases, just as many people will find something to love. I have a number of wonderful friends, and even a few family members, who think I’m just great. My husband, who is himself one of those people who works hard at being liked, has told me more than once that he admires my ability to express myself. I have helped teach him that being “liked” isn’t always the best thing, especially when it causes you to compromise your own values. It’s still hard for him to stand up for himself, but he’s now better able to do it than he used to be. He’s told me that it’s partly because he sees that not being liked isn’t the end of the world, because in most cases, for every one person who dislikes you, there’s another who will get everything you are and love you for it.

I have a friend who is struggling with some life choices right now. She’s around my age and has decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. She’s been in other master’s programs and has never been able to finish, mainly due to the programs not being a good fit for her. Still, she has the drive to keep trying and one day succeed. Recently, she announced her decision to get a master’s degree in social work. I piped up to tell her that I have a MSW myself. I don’t use it, or either of my other two degrees, in a professional manner. However, I can’t say that I regret any of the degrees I’ve earned, especially now that they’re paid for. Each educational experience was worthwhile and each one left me with new skills and knowledge. I do use the skills and knowledge, just not in the manner in which I expected.

I told my friend that she’ll find that the emphasis in social work is encouraging clients toward achieving self-determination and adapting situations to work for specific clients. I encouraged her to look at herself as her very first client. The first step is to ignore the naysayers and do what works best for her situation. Social work is going to require a lot of hands on work, paper writing, group work, and hours. My program, had I not done a dual degree with public health, was 60 hours. With the public health degree, it was 81 hours. I actually completed 90 hours– 84 for the graduate degrees and two undergrad prerequisite classes. I took an extra graduate class because I was interested in the topic and thought it would be useful. It might have been, if my life had gone the way I planned it once I determined that I was an old maid. But then, it turned out I wasn’t an old maid, and I got swept into the globetrotting Army wife lifestyle. So now, here I sit, writing these sage words for those who care to read them.

There is more than one way to get through life. What works for one person doesn’t always work for the next. Each person is cut out for different things. You can’t control what people will say or think about you, so it does no good to worry too much about it. People have their own reasons for thinking and feeling the way they do, and you’ll never fully be able to know or understand the vast majority of those reasons. I’m sure that my personality triggers people positively and negatively, because I’m not particularly laid back and I tend to say exactly what I think. If I don’t say it verbally, it usually comes out on my face. I have very expressive eyes and facial expressions that often do my talking for me. That’s why I tend to be verbally direct. The eyes don’t lie.

If I don’t say something out loud, I’ll often write it. People read what I write and some people connect to it. Other people get angry or offended and try to silence me. I’ve gotten plenty of negative feedback on posts I write on my blogs. It always surprises me how upset people can get when another person dares to express themselves, even on something like a blog post. It’s like they can’t fathom how or why someone might want to write something down. They can’t seem to understand why I would write something so upsetting to them, seeming to forget that I don’t even know the vast majority of the people who read my words, and they don’t know me. I have no idea what most people’s personal situations are, or what will trigger them. Most of what I write isn’t for other people anyway. It’s for me. Moreover, while this is mostly a public blog, it’s still my space. Anyone who reads this has come into my space, the same way they might visit another person’s home. Everyone is free to leave my home anytime they want to.

I can be funny and entertaining for some people, yet others have told me I rub them the wrong way. I find that it’s usually “leaders” and controlling types who don’t like me, because I’m not much of a follower. I don’t take orders well, particularly if I sense that the person doing the ordering is not worthy of being followed. I do best when I work independently and am allowed to be creative.

I haven’t seen my friend in person in many years. We knew each other in high school and are now connected only on Facebook. She’s always struck me as smart, talented, caring and kind. While there’s a pragmatic side of me that would worry about trying so many different academic programs, there’s another side that thinks about how short life is… and how there are only so many opportunities to try new things. People are going to say whatever. They’re going to think what they’re going to think. It’s her life… and this is my life. When it comes down to it, deep down, most people know what’s in their hearts and what they can do.

There’s so much truth in this. The older I get, the more I realize that other people’s opinions, especially about me and what I do, are none of my business… because they are mostly formed by things that have nothing at all to do with me.

While I wish I were still as young, healthy, and pretty as I used to be– even though my love life is much better in my 40s– I would not want to relive any part of my life. Wisdom is a good thing. So is the ability to tell other people to fuck off without fearing repercussions. In my case, telling people to fuck off happens verbally or non-verbally. I can’t help it. But I really am a nice person deep down… I have a big heart and a great capacity for compassion. If people want to think I’m more of a bird flipping lion, that’s on them. Sometimes being thought of in that way is also advantageous.

Those are my deep thoughts for today. Now it’s time to watch Bill brew his latest homebrew.

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