by: Mariann Devlin
About two weeks ago, I was sitting across from a friend, telling her about a weird Guy Situation that had left me a bit bewildered. She sympathized, only to add,”But Mariann, you need to take some responsibility for what happened. I see how you are with guys sometimes.”
There are a lot of things in my life that I should take more responsibility for, mainly weird relationship events in which I feel alienated from a friend or a romantic interest. But as with a lot of people, it’s hard to take ownership of things that make you feel vulnerable. A lot of us enjoy walking through life believing that everything we do is of the purest intent, and that when things don’t work out it must be someone else’s failing. It’s safer that way. Our egos are protected from the guilt or shame that threatens to dismantle our carefully constructed visions of ourselves. And when we do admit we could have done something different, it’s always the “yes-but” response.
“Yes, I could have been less demanding, but if she hadn’t…” “Yes, I should stop doing this, but it’s complicated…” “Yes, I’m sorry but you did this…” Or, even more sneaky: “Yes, I’m contradicting myself, but life is one big paradox.” (The last one’s a personal favorite of mine, one which often leads me to putting my hand over my mouth and laughing like I just made a boo-boo. See my photo below.)
It’s been a recent discovery that my best friends are ones who, rather than co-ruminate and commiserate with me on my various “complications,” hold me accountable for my words and my actions.
“Whatever, manic-pixie-dream-girl. You love the attention.” “Come on, don’t you think part of you really wanted that to happen?” “That sucks, but don’t you think that maybe you’ve been unfair?”
Or the double-whammy. “I have to be honest, I really sympathize with her. There have been times when you’ve made me feel that way.” Or, “Shouldn’t you be more patient and accepting of that, though? You’re guilty of the same thing.”
It’s a huge myth that unconditional love, or radical acceptance of someone you care about, requires you to accept them for who they are. I’m starting to think that true, radical acceptance is when a friend can both admit that you’ve crossed the line, that you’re asking for trouble, that you’re being foolish or insincere or just generally bogus, but also still want to hang out with you. There seems to be a fine distinction between those two types of “unconditional love,” I admit. But I’ve learned recently that, first of all, idealization is no indication of love. And secondly, I feel blessed that I have friends who know and love me, the whole me- not just the me that “keeps face.”
In fact, the same person who told me I needed to take responsibility for the weird Guy Situation told me, months ago, that the more I revealed the darker, subtler sides of myself the more she cared for and appreciated me. As someone who has been mistaken for having an endlessly cheerful personality, what with my big smile, my boisterous laughter, and the West Coast affect in my voice, (an impression I can now take responsibility for), it was a relief to have someone look me in the eye and say, “You don’t have to do that. I care about you, shadows and all.”
Isn’t that what we all want? We put on our best faces because we’re afraid that if other people discover the real us, that they’ll be repulsed or frightened. Not so, with some of my closest friends, the ones who call me out. I can be fake, deceptive, equivocating, tempermental, indecisive, or flakey, and they’ll request that I recognize those things in myself and try to evolve from there. Even still, those things also make me fully human, fully Mariann, and clearly my good qualities outweigh the bad. Or else they wouldn’t be hanging out with me.
It’s those friendships which, interestingly, make me feel better about myself. I must be pretty swell if I have friends who can be firm with me about the things I should do differently. Because I not only have redeeming traits, I’m also someone who can be trusted to not take it the wrong way. They feel safe in constructively criticizing me, because they know I’m not going to get all huffy and pissed off.
It wasn’t always like that, I admit. Sometimes, I still struggle with taking their words as information- but after being called out on something, I used to go home and internalize it in the worst way possible, by going back and forth between thinking they just said those things to make me feel bad, or that they were right and those criticisms reflect a fatal flaw in my character.
It’s by the grace of those call-outs, though, that I feel like I’ve evolved as a person- I’m becoming a better version of myself. I’m not as flighty or insincere as I used to be. I’ve grown less demanding of my relationships. I take things less personally. I don’t feign positivity as much. I’m starting to choose my battles more wisely, even the ones which only exist inside of me. In a big way, I feel more authentically “me” because of the people who have asked me to take responsibility for myself.
I know some of my friends will read this, and recognize themselves immediately — because I’ve told them how much I appreciate their honesty and their knowledge that, sometimes, I’m better than that. Your call-outs have been a gift to me, no “buts” about it.
Mariann Devlin is a journalism school graduate from Loyola University. She’s a reporter for Patch.com, and a volunteer contributor to Streetwise magazine, a publication dedicated to ending homelessness. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Mariann moved to Chicago four years ago and still complains incessantly about the cold winters.