Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Too Compassionate

I have a complicated relationship with my friend Heather. I always have. But, she's been a friend since we were fifth graders and I know her past. I know her story. I know it hasn't been easy for her. She's made awful choices and hasn't always been the best friend to me, but maybe part of knowing someone for well over half of your life is knowing her limitations. Heather will never be as good of a friend to me as I am to her.

She called me a few weeks ago. To tell me that she, at four months pregnant with their second baby, was on the verge of leaving her husband. I've never liked her husband. He always reminded me too much of Heather's emotionally abusive father. Since she married him, and especially since he said a few filthy things to me, I've kept a safe distance. But I always considered her a friend.

And so when she called me to tell me the news and to tell me that she was looking for a house or a condo to rent nearby, I did what I could to help. We talked on the phone a handful of times in the next couple of days.

Then she said "Husband called me and he talked to me, like really talked to me and didn't yell and, if
we can have a normal conversation, than maybe we can work on things."

I didn't hear from her again. I texted a few days later, just to check in. Not to say "leave that rotten husband of yours!" not to judge. But I got nothing in return.

It pissed me off. Not because she wasn't leaving -- I get that it's a huge decision, especially with two kids involved -- but because I dropped everything to help her and she couldn't even text me back to say that she was okay.

I heard nothing from her for nearly a month. Until she called on Sunday. Her husband was "done trying to work things out" and she was making plans to move out. She wanted to know if she could still store furniture in my garage -- an offer that I had previously made. Before she didn't call back for a month. Before she pissed me off.

I got her voicemail just as I was leaving for my date. I didn't respond right away. I wanted to help Heather but I didn't want to feel used again. That's how I felt after last time, after I immediately responded for her request for help and then she just disappeared: used.

Later that night, I texted her. Sure, you can use my garage as storage. Let's just pick an end date so that we're on the same page.

Boundaries. That seemed fair. My best friend Lucy, a social worker and generally a good person to bounce things off of, agreed.

And then I called my mom to tell her. My mom knew the whole story. She knew Heather disappeared when she decided to stay with her husband and that I wasn't happy and I assumed that my mom would roll her eyes when I told her that I agreed to help her after all. I thought she would judge me for offering help to Heather. Again. But I was wrong.

"You shouldn't feel bad about helping her," Mom told me. "There is nothing wrong with helping someone who needs help."

She repeated the same to me yesterday morning, when we met for a yoga class.

It made me feel better.

Because, in a way, I'm setting myself up to be used again. I am. Heather's never going to be a person I turn to when I need help. I know better.

But I am going to help her anyway. If I can, I will.

Maybe I'm just setting myself up. But I would rather err on the side of being too compassionate.


Sabrina said...

I identify with this so much because I'm similar, I'll drop what I'm doing to help a friend but with that, comes disappointments and realities. Your mom is right though, there's nothing wrong with helping someone who needs help. It's just a matter of re-framing expectations.

I do feel bad for Heather, must be a horrible feeling to be pregnant and ending a marriage.

Kari said...

You went to yoga! yeah!!!
If you learn how to effectively set boundaries and stop helping people, I am coming down for lessons from you.....

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