Monday, August 27, 2012

be a people trainer

It's a subtle truth that I've come to understand:  people treat us the way they do because we allow them to do so.

Now, I'm not talking about total strangers who give you attitude on the subway or those terrible acts of random violence that happen to people.  Those are different.  And I'm not getting all Secret-y on you and saying that you make your own reality, but I am strongly suggesting that you have a hand in it.

Here's how I've seen it in my own life:  many years ago, I was in a friendship that wasn't particularly healthy.  We counted on each other for moral support, but weren't always as clear as we could (or should) have been about how we wanted to be supported -- we never trained each other on this.  So we did for each other what we would have wanted done for us, and sometimes it was right and sometimes it was wrong.  There were times I tried to jolly her out of a sadness when I should have just let her cry.  There were times she tried to logically convince me that my situation wasn't as bad as it was, when all I wanted was someone to hear my pain.  Nothing inherently wrong with any of this except that we sat on our feedback.  Instead of saying, "Right now, Kate, all I want is to be sad," my friend would get angry or lash out at me.  Instead of me saying, "I just want to be irrational right now and still be loved," I would hurry to get her off the phone and just cry by myself.

It got to be craptastic.

I can't speak for my friend, but over time, my resentment grew, and my patience eroded. Why can't she just give me what I need? I kept thinking.  We ended our friendship because we didn't know how to share what we needed, and neither one of us could train the other in this area.  (In fairness to us both, there were many other factors that contributed to the demise of our friendship, but this was a big one for me.)

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, since my sister is raising two little boys, and I'm still looking for Mr. Right.  (They seem unrelated, but bear with me.)  My sister is "training" her little boys to grow up and participate in society.  She's teaching them "please" and "thank you" and reminding them not to put their feet on the table while Nana is eating or not to pull Maisy's tail.  And they take this information because, well, she's the mama, and it's backed up by daddy.  That's one kind of people training.  (Generally, best reserved for little people.)

The other kind of training is related to making a relationship work.  For example, I know that I am not the most flexible and spontaneous person in the world.  I long to be, but in my heart I know I'm pretty square.  So it's a good idea, especially if I'm dating someone who is less schedule-bound than I am, to make it clear that I don't care what we do or where we go, but I'm most comfortable when I know what time and where to meet.  Training him to treat me in a particular way.  (Or, if you take issue with the concept of "training" a date, offering him the opportunity to treat me in the way that is most comfortable for me.)

Why is any of this important?  Because if you don't teach people how to treat you, they'll treat you in their own default way.  And that means you're looking for a needle -- the person who will naturally treat you in the way you want to be treated -- in a much larger haystack.  And in a city of 8 million straws, who has time for that?

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