The Selfish Scale: When is self-care considered selfish?

My best friend and roommate from college came to New York to visit me this weekend. She and I have stayed in touch, and been there for each other’s milestones for…uh…22 years.

I usually spend my weekends retreating from people besides my husband unless I have family visits and events. Saturdays flow out like so: wake up whenever dog (not children) decide we should, NYT and coffee on the couch, brunch, followed by what we’ve dubbed “writing time” even if it doesn’t always produce actual words. This time is really my self-nurturing allotment and includes reading, thinking, jotting down ideas, and only occassionally actually working on a book project. When I skip this time, like some people who haven’t gone to the gym or a toddler who missed his nap, I feel off, my nerves ever so slightly frayed. My weekdays are filled with external facing energy, like most people, but because my main job is in sales, that outward thrust is directed towards people – getting to know them, and many times, befriending them.

I love people. I crave connection, and like many writers, I tend to excavate to get to the bottom of what makes a person tick. “You get in there,” a friend who’d only known me for a short while once said. This is true, even though I’ve spent my whole life insisting that I am an introvert, because I’m creative and when I was younger, moody and insistent on alone time at the most random moments. But in the last decade, particularly in the last 4 years as a sales representative who arranges client dinners, parties, and bottles of alcoholic beverages, these new friends and clients would look at me in shock.

You? An introvert? No way.

They’d be right, except that recently, I’ve found myself trying to reclaim that introverted self – or at the very least, honor her needs. What this looks like on the outside is less of me on the outside. Fewer parties, less small talk and more deep talk and connection with what my therapist calls the four people in my inner circle (and you know who you are). Reciprocal conversation that flows naturally and nourishes the heart and soul, rather than a “catch up” conversation which to me is akin to reporting; digging into an old balloon of information that’s already been satisfyingly popped. But this comes with a price, a sense of being punched when those who are not in that inner circle say, “Where have you been?” or in one particular (and humorous) moment, “Where have you been, asshole?”

Whenever I experience such friction, or find myself taking inventory and analyzing my relationships too much (or if you’re Jewish, find yourself feeling guilty all the time), I get angry with myself for allowing it to distract me, but I also know that there must be some opportunity – a lesson – in this turmoil, or at the very least, it’s a growing pains’ groan.

Reconnecting with a friend who knew you when you were young and unfettered, when you were your true-you before adulthood and marriage and before the shackles of expectations appear is like jumping into a cold plunge pool of the soul. As my girlfriend and I huddled together in our pajamas to resume the conversation we began the night before, I was transported back to our dorm room 22 years ago (only difference was an air mattress in a NYC living room). We discussed and analyzed everything — our jobs, our marriages, and our friendships and how we serve them, and came to the realization that our type of friendship is rare. The last time I saw her was at my wedding 14 months ago, which means that I saw her and hugged her, but didn’t really talk to her. And we haven’t spoken on the phone for more than a few brief minutes almost six months ago. She told me her mother, upon hearing this, asked if everything between us was okay? She found this infrequent contact to be an indication of a waning bond, but my friend told her – and I agreed – that it is quite the opposite.

“We are there for each other for the important stuff, and we both know that. It doesn’t matter if one of us hasn’t called or forgot a birthday.” (Although Facebook has saved me from fumbling the latter).

best-friends-md

Not to mention the old adage that as we change, our friendships and their dynamics change. They have to, if there is growth to be had and priorities to be realigned. As a single divorcee, I was always available for any outing, craving like minded women friends with the same agenda as me, and the added motivation that perhaps I might meet someone at a bar (which is ironically how I met my husband). Looking back, there is no longer a spotlight on those friendships, but rather its searchlight has since cast over a different group, and then finally, has come to rest here, at home.

For the dudes that might be reading this, I know you’re scratching your heads (if not rolling your eyes), wondering how it’s possible that us women can spend so much time not only talking, but worrying about our friendships. To that I’d say, we can’t help it, because that’s how we are built — to crave the understanding and unconditional support that friendship provides, and like most fulfilling relationships, that comes with an emotional tax. (And besides, be grateful. It takes some of the pressure off you).

So, extrovert or introvert? Does extroversion equate to friendliness and inclusion of others, and introversion to its absence? And can’t we be both?

Another girlfriend who I confide in daily helped answer this question, as I struggled with this dichotomy and how my actions affect those I care about: “Self love and self care is difficult when we are taught that we must put others first, and requires a complete relearning to accept that it’s okay not to, and that in fact, we must.” (Yeah, this one’s in my inner circle for a reason, can’t you tell?).

She reminded me of the airplane analogy: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child.” Because we can’t take care of anyone else when we ourselves are not thriving.

Finding that balance is difficult, and requires routine maintenance…

…and perhaps an occasional loving reminder from a friend.

 

Should married people be giving divorcees advice?

 I was recently asked to write a piece for The Huffington Post/Divorce section (psyched!) and my topic choice, “How do you know when you’re over your divorce?” inspired me to write this post.
I am not suggesting that us divorcees are part of some special club, but we do have a unique experience that those who have not been through it can’t really understand. Fortunately for them, they just don’t get it. They attempt to guide us, when they have never been in our shoes. I suspect it’s no different in reverse. Should someone who has never been married give marital advice? Should someone who has never had children provide child-rearing tips? I guess they can, but whether you listen to it or not is your choice (or problem).
Three of my close girlfriends are divorced – we all split with our exes around the same time.  Two of them are now in serious relationships, and like me, they have pretty much healed. They have put their divorces behind them.
The only difference is, I’m still single. To some people, single is a condition that needs fixing. People close to me want to “help” me. They want me to be happy (even though I think that most of the time, I am), and they think if I find my next husband, like my divorced girlfriends have, I will be.   
I realize that their intentions come from a good place – love. I understand the ache, or the itch, to make a loved one’s burden lighter, and sometimes we can’t resist the urge to scratch it, even though it might not help.  
With the input of some fellow divorcees, here are some examples:
Divorced: “I got a really nice email from my ex-husband…after all this time…”
Married: “Maybe you two should go on a date.”
Divorced, no kids: “I’m thinking about going to a fertility clinic to discuss my options of having a kid.”
Married with kids: “Oh, is that the place where you can get some eggs?”
Divorced: “I had a dream that I saw my ex husband and we made up. I woke up really sad.”
Married: “Wow, I can’t believe you’re not over it yet.”
Divorced: “This guy I met on Match.com told me his last girlfriend called the cops on him after they had a fight, but that she’s the one that started it.”
Married: “Give him a chance.”
Divorced, no kids: “Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to be 40 this year. When I was married, I thought I’d have at least two kids.
Married with kids: “My friends started having kids at 44. You can have three.”
Divorced: “Sometimes it still hurts that my husband cheated on me.”
Married: “Didn’t you know that was going to happen? You can’t just travel for work all the time and expect your husband to stay faithful.”
Divorced: “I really want a child and my divorce has delayed everything.”
Married with Kids: “Just do it. Pick anyone. It doesn’t matter who.”

Divorced: ” I’m sorry I haven’t seen you for a while. Our friendship is important to me but it’s been tough and I needed space to process my divorce.”
Married: “It’s ok. I’m just going to pretend you went on vacation.”
It’s true that on the surface, none of the above suggestions seem constructive, or applicable. If we wanted stock advice, we could pick up a self help book (or read “Eat Pray Love”).  Maintaining a close friendship with people who have never been in your shoes can be tricky…if you let it. I try not to expect any magical pearls of wisdom. We are the sole surivivors of our own history and experiences – no one else wakes up in our own skin.  And that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be. 
So I guess the choice is ours. We can put up a wall between us and the people we care about who “just don’t understand,” and protect ourselves from frustration. Or- we can choose to share, in order to nurture and sustain that relationship.
And if that means that suggestions are going to be offered, so be it. 
You may even be surprised that sometimes, if you stay open, a pearl of wisdom might sneak it’s way in.