Case of the Missing Towels, Take 2

Two of my kids on top of the world - both figuratively and literally

This just in from my friend Joelle – the one who likes her apples cut in wedges, not slices. She writes:

“I read your post about not letting anyone else’s stupidity and crazy moods affect you… and if you want something you should do it yourself instead of relying on someone else to do it for you. i just think what’s the point in being in a relationship if you have to constantly change how you react to someone not being nice or acting nutty on a regular basis or having to buy yourself something b/c the person you are with can’t do it for you. Just seems to me that as women.. we are always.. well maybe not everyone.. but most women.. make excuses for others’ behaviors instead of walking away. i hear from so many of my friends… if i didn’t make my birthday plan, nothing would have happen. And I make stuff so nice for others. Why can’t they do it for me?”

So the question is, folks, do women – as consummate caretakers – give and give and give some more, taking care of others constantly and then have to content ourselves with crumbs?

And why bother to have relationships with others?

I thought about this question a lot. As a mom — four kids, two biological kids and one unofficially adopted Ethiopian daughter — I often gave all I had of myself knowing that I would never be “paid back” in kind. Sometimes I was able to recognize that the giving itself was its own reward and I gave with a full heart. Other times, I admit I was very resentful. So what did I learn?

I’ll break it down into two categories: giving and getting. When I give, I try to give freely. I try to give with no strings attached. I try to give expecting nothing in return. My favorite mathematical formula is this: No expectations = great happiness.

But before I give, I check my motives: Am I giving to get something in return down the road? (The unspoken deal!) Am I giving because if I say no, the other person will be angry at me? If I say no, will the other person try to manipulate me into changing my mind or try to get me to feel guilty? And if I say no, can I sit with that discomfort that comes with someone else’s disapproval? Finally, am I giving so much that I’m no longer modeling for other person how to give – but rather, merely teaching how to take?

I keep the focus on me: what is my red line? Do I know when to say yes and when to say no? I know I’ve given too much when I say yes through clenched teeth. Then I know I’ve crossed the line. (And nobody else can tell me where my line should be.) If I’m starting to feel angry at myself for saying yes – yet again – then the match is lit and I’ve started a forest fire of resentments. Then it’s time for me to move from saying yes with a full heart to saying no, politely and firmly. Don’t you like the sound of that one syllable on your tongue? Let’s try it again. No. Did you see where that period was after that one word? No. Yes, no is a complete sentence.

As for the getting, I have to remember that nobody else can read my mind. It might be wonderful if someone makes us a birthday party when we’ve already made a party for them time and time again. But some people don’t think of it. They just don’t. And if I know it ain’t gonna happen, then I say: buy that key lime pie cake for yourself and ignore the fact that the Other would have preferred a chocolate cake, and throw the party for yourself! (Don’t forget cute hair accessories as party favors!)

Here’s an example: I love snowboarding. My husband Jonny likes snowmobiling and snowshoeing but not snowboarding. For many years, I was expecting him to say to me, “Why don’t you go snowboarding during such-and-such a time?” I was waiting for him to give me permission or the oomph to plan a trip. I was waiting and waiting and one day it dawned on me that he will never make the initiative about this sport because he doesn’t want to go snowboarding with me and all the kids. Why? Because his role when everyone else is snowboarding is to wait until we get back and do the laundry. (Yup, I am a lucky gal.) So I realized that if I want to go snowboarding I’ll have to figure it out on my own. He can give me suggestions after I do the investigating and he’s extremely, lavishly generous about paying for 97% of the trip, but it is up to me to take the initiative. I can’t keep expecting, waiting, dreaming, scheming, hinting and hoping. I can’t be forgetting to do my own getting.

Are you a compassionate, competent caretaker on the slippery slope toward feeling like a dumb doormat? Are you a lady who loves too much? A Rapunzel waiting in the castle for someone else to rescue you and give you exactly, miraculously, what you want? Do not wait! Do not hesitate! Love freely. Give freely. But remember yourself.

Remember that you can travel all over the world but nobody deserves your love as much as you. Be involved with your families and friends and give with a full heart. But remember when to draw the line on the giving. Remember that you can also shower all that love and attention on your very own self.

Reminder to everybody: Please send me your scribbles from your writing exercise from my blog post here – about using our writing to peer into our lives and our souls — in the comment box and I’ll be posting them on Friday!

About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is the author of several books, including The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker), shortlisted for a National Jewish Book Award. Her novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins) was published in 2015. She is the First Prize Winner of Moment Magazine's 2019 Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, Glamour, The Forward, The North American Review, Times of Israel, and is a reporter for Israel21C, and many other publications. She is author of Big Up Yourself: It's About Time You Like Being You and The Mom Who Took off On Her Motorcycle, a memoir of her 10,000-mile motorcycle trip to Alaska and back to New York. She lives in a small beach village in Western Galilee, Israel, with her husband and family. She is a member of the local hevra kadisha, the burial circle, and a Muslim-Jewish-Christian-Druze women's group in the nearby town of Akko. And, she likes snowboarding and climbing trees.
This entry was posted in How to Change Your Life, Other people and us, Relationships, Self-care and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Case of the Missing Towels, Take 2

  1. Maeve says:

    Wow. I really enjoyed this! It is a very good lesson I am slowly, but surely learning in my own relationships with friends, family, and in my marriage. It’s essential to know when to say “No.” with just as full of a heart as when you say “Yes!”. Knowing you’re not always doing as much good for someone else if your “sacrifice” (by saying “Yes”) doesnt have your full heart in it. Really loved your sharing this. xo

  2. stuartart says:

    Enjoyed immensely – it shows awareness that you can question in such detail. Most aren’t even aware that they give to get! We all do. But being aware that we do here and there is the first step to giving freely, unexpectedly, openly, generously. Well done you. 🙂

    • dianabletter says:

      Hi, Thanks for your comment. Yes, you’re right, it’s always good to question our motives and then we are aware of what we’re doing and why.

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