So I've meant to post for the past few days, but there's been a lot going on. Some stuff kind of hit the fan that has necessitated late night phone calls, long conversations via text and instant message, and internet research that has taken far too long. It's not resolved, but hopefully it will be in the next few days. It's put writing on the way back burner.
And yet, I'm here tonight. I have about 5 open documents right now with pieces of writing I have started...but I'm not continuing them tonight. I will, but not tonight. Tonight I'm going to write about something different that's been on my mind a good deal the last week, in a number of different ways: what, if anything, do we "owe" other people? There isn't a set answer for this, I realize, but I think I come down harder on this than other people might (in spite of the fact that I am "too nice." I've heard that so many times in the past week I could vomit).
Example 1: A colleague at work has a neighbor who creeps her out. He texts her frequently, asks her to go out with him, invites her to coffee, comes out of his door when she is coming and going, and generally, she gets a bad vibe from him. He won't leave her alone. She is in a committed relationship, and this guy makes her uncomfortable. After several weeks, he finally got the hint that she was continually blowing him off and ignoring him, and he started to back off. Then, her apartment complex was repaving the parking lot, and he texted her to remind her to move her car. "Thanks," she texted him back. "Hope you weren't affected by the government shut down." He texted back that he was. She texted back that she was so very sorry. He texted back that he really wanted to get coffee with her. She came into work and talked to our other colleague and I, saying that she wasn't sure what to say because he had made a nice gesture and she didn't want to be rude to his nice gesture. Our other colleague suggested beating around the bush and not answering his question directly. I, however, got on a soapbox about how women are socialized to believe that if someone (particularly a man) does something for them, they are obligated to do something for him in return, even if it is something they do not want to do. I told her that he texted her to tell her to move her car, which was a nice gesture...she said thanks...she is not obligated to do anything for him in return for a text message. I wasn't saying let the door slam in his face next time you are walking out at the same time. I'm not saying she should aim for him in the parking lot. I wasn't even saying that she should text him back saying, "I will not and will never ever ever go get coffee with you, you creep." I simply indicated that she does not owe him a coffee date that she is not comfortable with purely because he texted her to move her car.
My opinion, clearly, was in the minority.
Example 2: Two colleagues -- neither of which I know very well -- engaged in a conversation with one another about their significant others. Being significant other-less, I was fine with continuing to work at my desk while listening on and off to their conversation. As they wrapped up the relationship Q and A with one another, K turned to me and asked, "what about you Auto? Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Not right now," I said, continuing to type. I asked her a question about her boyfriend.
"But why don't you have a boyfriend?" M asked. "You should be dating. Why aren't you dating?"
"You know," I said, "I've made the choice the past few years not to date...I'm to the point that I'm starting to think I'm ready...so you never know what might happen." I smiled appropriately and laughed, then turned back to my desk. "Man, I have so many notes to write. Do you guys have a ton of notes this week?" I asked, clearly redirecting the conversation.
"You should SO be dating," M stated. "I don't know why you're not dating. You should be dating! Time's ticking! It's time!"
"Yep, we'll see," I said.
"Well, we should go out, and you should get drunk, and I'll be your wingwoman, and we'll get you back out there again."
"You know, thanks for the offer, but I really need to be the one to decide when I'm ready and how I want to go about it," I said. I hate these conversations. I HATE them. Words cannot express how much I hate them...and when they get pushy, or start to involve statements like the above, I start to get panicky. There are just too many memories wrapped up in people telling me what they think I need, and when people don't listen, I get angry, and I get scared, and I start to trust them less.
"K and I will set you up with an online profile! We can set you up with an amazing online profile. Don't you feel your biological clock ticking? There's some guy out there waiting for you!"
I can feel myself shutting her out and feel emotion flooding the places where rational thought is supposed to be.
"Is there a reason why you're not dating?" M asked. I paused. Part of me wants to tell her yes. Part of me wants to tell her that there are reasons, and what they are, and how what she is doing contributes to me feeling unsafe. Part of me wants to stop her and tell her that she better stop and respect my verbal and nonverbal cues to end the conversation or...or else.
Instead, I just say, "yep," and I continue scrolling through the treatment plan needed list on my computer.
"Ooooooooooh," she says, like she thinks she knows something. "Did something traumatic happen?"
My heart catches in my throat, and for a second, because she keeps asking these questions, I feel obligated to tell her. I feel that my vague answers necessitate some sort of explanation. I feel that her persistence warrants some sort of response.
But at the same time, I don't trust her. This person is not a friend. She is a colleague, and thus far, she has not earned my trust.
"In part. Something like that," I say, figuring this, please God, must be the end of this line of questioning.
"Ooooooooh," she says again, like she really has it figured out now. "What happened?"
And again, I feel for a moment that I owe her an explanation. I have been vague and unresponsive: perhaps that makes me in the wrong, and I therefore owe her a proper answer. Perhaps I owe it to her simply because she asked. Perhaps I owe it to her because she is clearly curious. Perhaps I owe it to her because there is no shame in telling stories.
But, I realize, I don't want to tell her stories. I don't want to give her reasons. I don't want to give her explanations.
"I'd really rather not go into it," I said. She accepted this answer and we all went back to our progress notes and treatment plans.
I struggled, afterwards, feeling as though I had handled it wrong. Feeling as though I had fallen short because I had not given her the answer I owed her. Perhaps I had not given her the answer she deserved.
Auto, I told myself later, you don't owe them anything. You don't owe them your stories. You don't owe them an explanation. You own the rights to your stories, and who you share them with and when belongs to you.
Example 3: This last one is a long story that is ongoing, so I'm not going to post it here. It's enough to say that there are certain people in my life who believe that, just because we have known a person for 20 years, and because we have put up with a certain level of concerning behavior in the past, we should continue putting up with that behavior, even when it reaches unacceptable (potentially dangerous) levels because we owe it to him. Because we owe him the benefit of the doubt. Because it is believed that he is, essentially, a good person. Because he's having a difficult time, and potentially doesn't have long to live, and because he has done good things in the past, it has been argued that we owe him leniency when he engages in behavior that is black-and-white unacceptable, dangerous, and makes others feel as though they are unsafe.
I don't believe that we owe him anything. Unacceptable is unacceptable, and dangerous is dangerous. A history of good behavior does not make us in debt to him such that we owe him anything at all. The only thing we owe anyone is a sense of safety and security to ourselves and our loved ones. We owe one another and ourselves the right to say no and draw safe and healthy boundaries. We owe one another and ourselves the right to do whatever it is that makes us feel safe, even if it means taking strides that place limits on others and may make them sad or angry. That is the only thing we "owe" anyone.
When I write this, I feel like a bitch. I have been socialized to believe -- and continue to receive message indicating that I should continue to believe -- that I should be "nice" regardless of the cost to myself. That I should go out of the way to make sure that I am doing and giving and being for others. I owe it to them, right?
I'm not saying go out there and mow everyone over and only look out for yourself. I'm just saying that we do not owe these things to others. No one will give us the respect we deserve unless we ask for it -- unless we demand it. I say we should ask for it. I say we should demand it. We owe it to ourselves.