“And how did this suddenly become about you?” Though when Phil says it, by now, he no longer bothers with the “suddenly” bit, relying on the pruned version: “How is this about you?” I know it’s said as a dig, but I rarely take offense. Well, wait. I do take offense because I then go on the defensive, hoping to explain why my personal bend on it is worth exploring. An example would serve well here.
The other day, Phil asked me for advice. A woman from his childhood turned up via Facebook and began to confide in him, he explained, revealing very personal admissions about her marriage. [A flag raised immediately in my mind. A personal flag. I said nothing but thought to myself, and why is she confiding these things in you? What have you revealed to make her feel so at ease in sharing these confessions?] She wanted to know what he thought she should do given the fact that while her husband was a good man, and she had a loving family of two children with him, she believes she’s in love with another man, a man at work. Phil asked me what he should tell her. So really, advice for him and for her.
Now. How can anyone hear this story told by her own spouse and not think of her own life, not even once, not even to question the flag, before answering? Actually, I’m sure most people can. I am not one of these people. I put everything into a personal context when I deliberate. I asked if the children still lived in the home, were they minors? Yes, he said. They are.
“And she says her husband is a good father, a fine man, just love is dead?”
“Right,” he says. “She says she’s in love with the guy at work.”
“And she’s asking your advice why exactly?”
“I don’t know!” He defends, seeing my raising of the flag. “I swear, I don’t even know her well. I wasn’t even that close to her when I did know her!”
I look at my own personal experience, and I receive plenty of communication from people sharing their lives, especially when they feel pained or desperate, needy for confirmation or justification. So, the flag begins to lower, but not before making it clear that I think it’s inappropriate. “Not because she’s a woman sharing this with you but because it’s out of the blue over Facebook and you’re not even friends. That’s weird. She sounds desperate and willing to latch onto anyone who’ll give her attention.”
I go about living my life by drawing comparisons to what I know and with what I’ve experienced personally. A lot of my sentences begin with “I.” So, this next bit comes as no surprise to Phil. “I would tell her that every time she thinks of this other man from work, every time she has a sexual thought, every time she wants to share an intimate thought or to feel affection, she should channel every last drop of it into her husband. Fake it to make it. Redirect the shit out of those feelings.” I know because I’ve done it myself. There have been times in my marriage where I have disliked Phil, not as a wonderful father, but as a loving companion, and of course there have been other men who have been quick with the compliments and adoration, an easy escape. I’ve never taken the escape route, mind you. Because the fact is that I’ve made a commitment not just to a man but to a family. It’s not always black and white, but from the limited details she has provided, and from the ones I know of my own marriage, I know that temptation seems like an enticing escape, a promise of the right path, the one you’ve meant to be living this whole time. But, I’d argue instead that what you’re meant to be doing now is refocusing your energy toward the life to which you’re already committed.
“You don’t think that sounds judgmental?” Phil asks me.
“I don’t care if it does. It’s an opinion, which is what she’s asking for, no? This isn’t mightier than thou territory. Believe me, if you weren’t such a good father, if we didn’t have minors in our house, I might’ve been out of here a long time ago. You’ve been a total–”
“How is this about you now?” This is it. The phrase Phil uses, methodically to pivot. To indicate that he won’t go there. Back to the task at hand. He’s not playing this game. I hear this phrase most often when we watch TV. [Insert scene of a man who breaks up with a woman who has just lost her arm. Would you break up with me? "How is this about you now?"... actually, he'd say, "Depends, which arm?"]
Clearly she’s hungry for attention and input (reaching out to near strangers with intimate details – not impartial advice columnists but old Facebook friends), hungry for male attention – the man at work. My advice would be to redirect every impulse and to act “as if” she has those feelings for her husband, given that belief follows behavior, her brain will eventually get the message and begin to believe these things truly, and that she should get some hobbies, broaden her Body of Work.* Invest in herself, in her own story, put her energy into herself, broadening who she is, breathing more life into what brings her joy. Perhaps it’s even something she can do with one of her kids.
HOW *IS* THIS ABOUT YOU NOW?
To be clear, I am preoccupied with myself and my own affairs, but not to the detriment of my relationships or to the demise of learning. I won’t, for example, listen to someone else’s story without asking questions, without offering some feedback, and instead responding with a story about myself to match. Not because I know it’s impolite but because I have genuine curiosity about others. Besides, I already know my stories and prefer to hear what others have to say. However…
When I watch a film or hear of a story, I inject myself in it, hoping to determine how I feel about it. I imagine we all do this, no? Put ourselves in the others’ shoes as best we can, then try looking out. What’s so wrong in making it, at least partly, about you?
Also, for any of us hoping to figure out our life’s story, hoping to build our body of work, trying to figure out our next move in career, now that the kids are off at school, out of the home, now that we’re at retirement… or even when it comes to love, given the timeliness of Valentine’s Day, I don’t just highly recommend Pamela Slim’s BODY OF WORK, I deeply recommend it. The information is universal without being generic, specific and applicable to all of us, no matter what stage we’re at in the game. The book is personal, insightful, instructional, and you’ll find yourself in its pages, much the way I find myself in everything. So there.
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