5.10.2007

The Intimacy of Inconvenience

***Long post. Sorry. But I've been thinking. And writing. Hard work these days. And here it is. Deal with it, or move on.***

Even those of us who think we are pretty normal have quirks and tendencies and psychological hang-ups of some sort that rear their ugly little heads like gargoyles coming to life on the spires of an enchanted cathedral.

Today, you get a little glimpse at one of my pesky gargoyles. Pregnancy perhaps brought it to life this time around, but it is nonetheless always there, spewing rain through its spout on the roof line...

A few weeks ago I had an episode of sorts over - get this - calling a babysitter. My OB appointment had been on my calendar a good three weeks earlier, I had even rearranged other plans or planned other appointments for different days because I knew that I had it.

And yet the day arrived and I realized that although the appointment was on my radar, I had forgotten the minor detail of finding a sitter for the boys. This was also a visit to the OB when I really needed an undistracted conversation, and the thought of taking the boys along (which I have done before) was threatening to give me hives, it was so not an option for me.

Long story short, I made several calls, got turned down repeatedly, and finally left one last voice mail a mere hour and a half before my appointment in which I started bawling and snarfing incoherently, trying to explain my need for a last minute babysitter because I needed a doctor.

And then there wasn't an option to erase the sniveling message after I got a hold of myself.

And then her husband was the first one home that day and picked it up instead of her.

When she called (undoubtedly at her husband's concerned recommendation) to check on me later in the evening, I smoothed it all over by laughing maniacally nervously casually and assuring her between extra peppy guffaws that everything was OK, I had just been stressed and felt silly trying to get a babysitter on such short notice.

After the hormonal smoke had cleared, and my very cool neighbor/landlady/friend had come home just before I was leaving and agreed to sit with the boys for an hour, and I almost didn't feel embarrassed for snotting up a voicemail like an idiot, I started asking myself, "What in the world was that all about?!"

I was seriously in knots over something so small...

Yes, I was frustrated that my brain had not processed the idea to get a sitter a little bit sooner than the day of. But that wasn't exactly it.

Yes, calling lots of people and getting a negative or no response added to that incompetent brainless feeling. But that wasn't exactly it, either.

Both of those feelings were just extensions of this underlying part of my personal hard-wiring:

I HATE to be an inconvenience.

It gives me serious stress to "put someone out." Really. It's like a cardinal rule of my psyche: Whatever you do, do NOT cause a problem or inconvenience for someone else.

So there it was, and I knew it was true. Somehow, "You made your bed, now lie in it," has taken on this element of personal uber-responsibility that makes me completely implode when I have to ask someone to help me out of a mess I made. It sometimes mutates into eccentricities like, "Whatever you do, do not ask for help," or, "You won't be able to repay that, so you can't ask," or, worst of all, "You wouldn't want someone to use YOU like that."

There are other people in my family who think this way, too. It drives me nuts when I see it in them, but then to realize I do it, too!

I have managed in some ways to overcome this. For example, I was able to realize that paying for college or a mission wasn't something that I could do by myself and that asking for help for those kind of things wasn't being a burden, it was being realistic and smart enough not to squander my future out of a stubborn belief that I should do things myself and not impose on anyone else.

And luckily for me, I have lots of good people in my life who were more than glad to help once I asked, who were happy and anxious to do whatever they could to help me go forward in life. But I think that was more about learning, "Ask, and ye shall receive."

For some smaller things, like when Henry was born, I was able to depend heavily on people to help me postpartum without guilt because I had learned from experience that a new baby wasn't a one-person endeavor, and once again that others were more than glad to help, and completely understood my need.

But still, I struggle to ask for small favors or to lean on others, especially if it's because of some mistake or fumble on my part.

I was mulling over this glitch in my emotional hardware when my mind flashed back to a couple weeks before, when I was on the other end of a last minute babysitting request. I was busy with the boys when David took a call from Elizabeth, simply asking if I would call back as soon as I had a minute.

Elizabeth is someone with whom I can converse easily, and we've known each other for a few years. We chat in the hall at church, and we've exchanged babysitting and gotten together for dinner a few times. I admire her for a lot of things, but sometimes haven't been able to gauge the depth of our friendship.

When I called back her husband answered and he told me she was already on her way to the hospital. I asked what was going on and he said that her dad was dying - she had been trying to find a sitter so that could go together to be with her dad. She hadn't found anyone, so she went alone. Without any consideration, I told him I'd be over in ten minutes.

On the drive there, I suddenly felt so close to Elizabeth and thankful that I would be someone she would call. It turned out that I was one of the first people she had tried. That felt good. Lots of other people had turned her down before I called back, but I came through for her. That felt good, too. I felt special and needed and like I was truly her friend.

As an adult, we have a few friendships that just click easily and naturally from the get-go, others are friendships that are solid mostly because we "go way back" with a person. We may have friendships that develop around a common hobby or interest, and that's mostly what we share with the other person. Sometimes we become friends with others who have kids the same age as ours and we see them at a lot of common school or extracurricular activities.

Mostly we have acquaintances and get together with people we work with, sometimes a neighbor or two, but I have felt it become more and more difficult to form lasting true connections as we grow up, change jobs, relocate, get more and more involved in the micro-universe that is our own family. We all kinda keep our distance. Or at least that's what introverts like me do.

"You can count on me" friendships seem more and more difficult to find and maintain. But after thinking how my friendship with Elizabeth seemed changed and enhanced because she asked me to help her when she was in a pinch, I realized that my inability to ask for help out of a tight spot might be part of the reason I don't feel as deeply connected with others these days.

I was explaining this little epiphany to David one night and he said, "You know, I think I know exactly what you mean." This surprised me, because I thought I was being sappy and a little melodramatic about how good I felt that Elizabeth needed me.

David said he recently had the same kind of experience with a co-worker, Scott. They have a lot in common, they work on projects well together, and our Calvin and his daughter are the same age so we've gotten together for birthdays in the last few months. But David still wasn't sure if he was just a work buddy, or a friend.

Then one day Scott asked David if he would be willing to come pick up their family at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning and take them to the airport so they wouldn't have to pay for two weeks of parking while they were on vacation. Scott was a little hesitant to ask, but David was completely glad to do it.

And then another evening when David had to work late and missed his carpool ride, which meant that I would have to get the boys out of bed, load them up and go pick up David whenever he finished, Scott said before he left, "David, please call me when you're through. I live close by and can take you home, no problem. Don't bother Traci."

David said that these two things made him realize that Scott is more than a work buddy or acquaintance, that he is a friend.

So here is what I've learned: There is an intimacy that comes from inconveniencing each other from time to time. There is a closeness that develops when we see each other in a pinch and can do exactly what is needed to help the other out. When I stubbornly believe that I shouldn't "put anyone out," I'm actually preventing a closeness and sharing that could enrich a lot of my relationships. I'm not allowing anyone to feel like they are part of my life, that I need them.

For me, feeling needed is second only to being loved unconditionally. Everyone wants to feel like they have something they can offer or do for someone they care about.

In fact, when I think of the most intimate relationships I have - with my husband, for instance - it is a lot about taking up slack, helping each other out, sometimes seriously inconveniencing the other on occasion. It's how we learn and grow with each other, learn to trust and pull for one another.

It's not using one another, it's not walking all over one another. It's not a contest of score-keeping or back-scratching - it's being part of each other, of really reaching deep and connecting, because we both know we need each other.

And somehow, knowing another's need and being able to fill it gladly makes both people feel more like true friends.

14 comments:

Emily said...

Not a frequent commenter, but had to come out of the woodwork for this one. I relate on so many levels to this, and it really spoke to me. I thought you should know. Thanks.

Angela said...

"So here is what I've learned" paragraph: Absolutely profound. You said it so well too.

I laughed out loud at the description of the voicemail you left on the last person you called. So dang funny. I've left those messages, I've gotten those messages. Last time I left one, I even said out loud, "Man I wish I could delete this message."

I could seriously write a novel of a response---but I won't impose on you. :) Love this post T. I'm "dealing" with it's length....

Morning Glory said...

I can't tell you how many times I read something you wrote and realize how well you say what I think. You nailed it so beautifully.

I was told one time after having been in a car accident, that I needed to let my friends know when I needed some help. I didn't like to ask for help either, because I was used to doing for myself and my family. She reminded me that when I don't accept offers of help from other people, that I deny that person from being able to feel blessed for helping. Does that make sense? It sure did to me and I've never forgotten that advice.

But I still hesitate to ask for help. This was wonderful to read!

An Ordinary Mom said...

Excellent post. I love the way you wrote this. I find that my most cherished friendships are the ones where I feel neither of us is keeping score. Instead, we are just there for each other ... always! I need to be more available to others.

Stacey said...

I've also been thinking about friendships lately, and a lot of your post really resonated with my own conclusions. Thanks for sharing with us.

Oh...and I get what you mean about not wanting to be a bother. Labor with my second child was a bit of an emergency situation, and while all the doctors and nurses were running around, all I could think to say was, "I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" I've often thought about that situation and seen the raw truth there. A lot of us need to work on this kind of (what'd you call it?....) "quirk". ;-)

My Ice Cream Diary said...

I am saving and printing this post. You said so beautifully what I tell so many other women (and my self too). Thanks for being able to put this into words for me.

Terina said...

i know exactly what you mean. when i lived in germany, things like this happened a lot, because you didn't have anyone else to lean on. last minute babysitting, letting someone borrow your car, running over to the store before it closes to get milk for a friend who won't make it back from their trip and would need milk in the morning. and the things that people did for me. i feel very close to most of those people. they become like my family.

Blog Antagonist said...

Wow...we are soul sisters. I've always been very independant to the point of extremism. I think the kind of relationships you describe are really rare these days. We're becoming really isolated from one another.

Great post, very thought provoking.

Amber said...

"There is an intimacy that comes from inconveniencing each other from time to time..."

I LOVE this passage and couldn't agree more. Just the other day, I stopped in a parking lot under construction to help a confused blind man find his way. I had the kids in the car for me so it was utterly inconvenient but I had compassion seeing him wandering around lost.

And you know what? I may have helped him find his way but n helping him, I found mine.

Sketchy said...

So profound. I think our Heavenly Father gives us these occasions so that we are forced occasionally to allow others to serve us. For their benefit and ours.

Millie said...

There's a woman in my ward who, to my way of thinking, inconveniences everyone in her path. She's like a tornado of "I need you to pick up my son and drop him off here," "I need you to watch my boys while I go shopping," etc. and I've always prided myself on being self-sufficient. *I* would never stoop to such blatant neediness. If you want to go shopping alone, can't you wait till your husband gets home?

But I'm starting to rethink this. While I'll probably never go to her extreme, it would probably help me to stray out of MY extreme too. All those times I've helped or have been helped, there was a great closeness developed, that staying home with the blinds closed doesn't bring. Thanks for your great post.

michelle said...

I was told the same thing that Morning Glory was told. A little lady in my church seen me struggling with my son and life in general and she told me that when you deny people from helping you, you not only hurt yourself but you are robbing them of there blessings.

I always try to remember this but from time to time the old, you must do this by yourself comes out in me!

Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing

Jen3 @ Amazing Trips said...

Gosh, how true!

I, too, absolutely positively HATE to be an inconvenience and I never (or very, very rarely) ask for help. But the thing is - I never feel like someone is inconveniencing me, when they reach out for help and I'm extremely flattered that they would ask and that I could be there for them. It's a crazy backwards thing.

Our next door neighbor, I am forever indebted to, because she dropped everything and came with me with three vomiting toddlers to the ER last October. While Charlie was on the floor at home sick, she left her husband and 4 children and stayed with me (despite my protests that "I'd be FINE!") in a hospital room from 10 PM until almost 5 AM.

And wouldn't you know, I'm closer to her now than I've ever been.

I wish I could have been nearby to help you out ... I would have done it in a minute! :)

Diane said...

GREAT post… very well written and thought provoking! Thanks for your honest evaluation and sharing! Blessings, Diane