Day 22: Obligation or Opportunity?

Authors Note:  This is the 22nd entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

ImageDuring this time of the year, chances are many of us have been traveling around to visit family, friends, and others with whom we have a chance to connect as we travel back to our childhood and/or family homes.  As we do this – and as we wind down our travel time – consider this:

21. Spending time with people out of obligation. Just because you spent every waking moment of your elementary school days with someone doesn’t mean you have anything in common with her now. There’s no need to see every old friend and third cousin who passes through your city. Be intentional about who you spend your time with and allow yourself to let some relationships fade away naturally.

This one goes hand in hand with the post relating to entry number 20 – “Day 17: Albatross or Songbird” – when we talked about cutting off/banishing toxic friendships/relationships with your life – and entry number 2 – “Day 2: Affirmative Action” – where we discuss saying “yes” to everyone even when you don’t want to do something.  However, this one goes in a little bit of a different direction – in this case, what we’re really talking about is a sense of obligation.

When was the last time you went back to visit your family, and you heard that one of your old elementary or high school friends was in town?  Or better yet – someone’s first cousin, three times removed, was visiting, and they’d really “love it if you’d stop by” (even though the last time you saw this person was in 3rd grade and you have zero contact with them now)?  Unlike saying “yes” to everything because you don’t want to – in these instances, I tend to have this feeling that goes something like this – “I really don’t want to go – but I SHOULD go – because it’s (family/friend/etc.).  If I don’t, (fill in the name of relative or other friend) will be really upset with me.”

Talk about issues colliding!  Here we have a situation in which you DON’T want to do something, that you are possibly connecting with people who add zero value to you at the present moment (or who maybe never did except when you were FIVE), and the “good girl syndrome” all blending together in an obligation casserole.  I mean – how much guilt, regret, disappointment, etc., can you handle all at once?  

Evidently – quite a bit.

These moments happen to us all.  At these times, I tend to focus on what is important to me.  Do I really need to/want to connect with this person? Maybe or maybe not.  Is this a possible relationship that I can reconnect with and really learn from? Could be.  Is this a relationship that – when I was active in it before – brought me joy and/or something more, or that I contributed positively to?  Possibly.

When I consider these things – I come back to what fulfills me and brings me joy.  But I also consider the joy of the other person as well.  I end up splitting these moments at about 50/50.  Sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes – I’m just too tired to function and I know that I’d be a horrible companion/company for the evening, so I spare my grade school friend and/or relative the bear of dealing with a grumpy JPK.  Other times – I change my mindset and embrace the possible.  I’ve rekindled some amazing connections this way.  

The point of all of this rambling is simple – you have to do what is best for you at that moment.  Go if you want to – or if you feel ready to go . Don’t if you don’t want to.  Never let the lone sentiment of obligation rule your decision, for if you do, you will become a slave to it, and that will never bring you or anyone else around you joy.

How do you handle situations like this?

JPK 

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This Girl Likes Boys Who Like Boys…but doesn’t like the TV show

Editors Note:  This is the seventh in a series of guest blog posts about the experiences of women in a variety of settings.  Ann Marie Klotz, a professional in housing and residence life, shares her perspective on a new reality show and it’s portrayal of women in this entry.

This Girl Likes Boys Who Like Boys…But Doesn’t Like the TV Show

by Ann Marie Klotz

I have been in love six times in my life and three of those men turned out to be gay…and they remain some of my very best friends to this day.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I enthusiastically anticipated the new show “Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys” on the Sundance channel.

On their website the show is described as: “A groundbreaking series that explores a special kind of relationship: a woman and her gay best friend. A bond that goes deeper than friendship, it’s a fresh perspective on love, companionship, and the meaning of “happily ever after.” (http://www.sundancechannel.com/girls-who-like-boys-who-like-boys/)

This show follows four diverse pairs of friends in New York City—mostly in their 30’s and 40’s—who have been close friends for decades.  Each pair features a straight, unmarried woman and her gay best friend.   There’s business partners Crystal and Nathan; native New Yorkers Elisa and David; newly “out” Sahil and his BFF Rosebud; and Sarah and Joel who are at opposite points in their lives, as Sarah fears she will be a “spinster forever” and Joel just declared his love for his partner at a commitment ceremony.   

Being a woman in her 30’s with a healthy group of gay male friends I thought this show would reflect some of my own personal experiences and demonstrate the reason why straight women love their gay “besties.” For me, my relationships with gay men have always been about having a vested interest in each others’ lives, having a caring and communicative friend, having friends in my lives who are always “down for anything” whether it’s dancing, museums, traveling, etc. 

How straight women/gay men friendships differ from those with other women or men is more difficult to explain.  As I chat with other women who have close gay male friends the common themes that emerge are a sense of connection, empathy and understanding.  Perhaps it is because they share some elements of disenfranchisement with society—in 2011 women are still paid less than man for equal work and gay men are not allowed to legally marry their partners in most parts of the country.  There is a shared sense of injustice without the complication of competition or sexual tension.  

With very high expectations, I finally got the chance to view the first three episodes and I was very surprised to see the messages that this show continuously reinforced.  What I thought would be an honest look at the bonds of friendship is basically 30 minute episode dedicated to making women look selfish, lonely, mean and pathetic.    

Let’s start with Crystal and Nathan.  Both hail from the Mid-West (Detroit and Chicago, respectively) and seem to have a shared appreciation for family.  Crystal is a single mother and ex-wife to an NBA player.  Nathan has declared that he wants to have a child within the year—something that Crystal seems hell-bent on trying to deter him from doing.  She ridicules him and makes him cry at his birthday dinner by insinuating that he has no business contemplating fatherhood because she believes he is not strong enough to handle the demands of raising a child alone—yet she is a single mother.  Is this what friendship looks like?  Crystal is portrayed as mean, vindictive and uncaring for her supposed best friend.  Their friendship feels foreign to me because belittling her gay best friend and making him feel bad about himself isn’t exactly the cornerstone of a solid relationship. 

Perhaps the most stunning example of portraying women in a negative light is in the relationship between Sarah and Joel.  When Joel excitedly announces that he is engaged to his long-time partner, Sarah looks at him with tears in her eyes and wails “But it should be me!”    Ugh, seriously?  Real friendship rejoices in the joyous milestones of each others’ lives.  Her selfishness and jealousy during what should have been a moment of happiness makes her look pathetic, uncaring and ugly.  More dangerously, she is reinforcing hetero-normative ideals because she is basically saying that it should be her who is getting engaged because she deserves it more–and inherently because perhaps she believes straight marriage is more important?

Being friends with gay men (for me) is about having politically aware, socially conscious, hilarious and caring folks in my life.  These are people who want to make my life better and vice versa.  The show portrays women as angry at life, overly protective of their gay friends yet do not offer them the same amount of support that these men give them.

If there is a season 2 of this show I suggest that they feature a new set of friends in a different city.  Being gay in NYC is very different than Fargo, ND or Little Rock, AR .  Also, none of the four straight women are married.  Two are divorced and two are never married.  As a married women, my relationship with gay men is very complimentary to my relationship with my husband.  I would love to see one example of happily married straight women who have a gay best friend.  Perhaps my strongest recommendation is to find examples of healthy relationships where the friends celebrate each other instead of compete against and belittle each other. 

Until then, this show will be more like “Mean Girls Who Sort Of Like Boys Who Like Boys.”