Self-Sufficiency Is A Lie I’m Going To Stop Telling Myself
My parents have two dogs. The old one is lethargic and entitled, but the younger one is a survivor. She can left herself out of the house, do her business and then come back to the door and bark to be let in. She can use her paw to sweep food scraps from the counter directly into her mouth. You can throw a single popcorn kernel 10 feet in the air and she can catch it. My parents joke that they could go away for a week and leave the dog to fend for herself and she’d not only have fed herself the entire time, she’d probably figure out how to start a fire in the fireplace, too.
I’m like that dog. Exactly, like that dog. I have always been self-sufficient. The little girl who never needed help with her math homework grew up to be the young woman whose boss frequently jokes that she’ll steal his job. I always have money in the bank. I am a model employee. I will give you reasoned, practical advice about your problems and I will never ask for anything in return. Get rewarded and lauded for your ability to take care of business enough and you start to believe that’s the value you bring to relationships. You start to believe that your self-sufficiency is what people must like best about you and if you take that away or let it slip, that people will abandon you. If you are not able to solve all your own problems and theirs too and to do it all with a smile on your face, you aren’t worth bothering with. Your value is in doing and not just being and if you stop doing, there goes your value. It’s a sad, miserly way to look at human relationships and absolutely impossible to live up to. Just because I never ask, doesn’t mean I don’t need support or attention or help, as much as I’ve tried to convince myself otherwise.
But because I’ve never learned to ask for support or attention or help, I’m laughably bad at it now – a time when I could badly use all of them. A lifetime of training myself to jury-rig a solo solution has left me pretty ill-equipped to request a little emotional assistance. Where someone else might be able to communicate, “I’ve had a terrible week. I just want to veg out. Do you want to come over and watch movies?” in actual words, I can only do the equivalent of an infant wailing in her crib. Why yes, I am teething, but I can’t get that point across. All I can do is scream myself red in the face and hope that people can parse the true meaning from these often non sequitur outbursts. Not very healthy and not very effective.
I’m getting better, though. Yesterday was a pretty terrible day, but I managed to reach out to two friends, one old and one new. The old one reminded me that we’ve been close for a decade and she has my back no matter what. And the new one asked me if I wanted to talk. Instead of brushing it off and telling her I was fine, I said that yes, actually I WOULD like to talk. We chatted for an hour about personal branding BS, the journo life and Jeffrey Dahmer. It helped.
I keep reminding myself of eulogies when I struggle with being able to ask, to expect, to accept. Have you ever heard the recently deceased praised for his self-sufficiency? Bob was a man who always handled his own business. Bob never asked anything of his fellow man. Bob never burdened others with a need for companionship or support. Of course not. Being an island is not a praiseworthy quality. Being too proud or scared to ask for help is not something to be celebrated; it’s something to be pitied. We relate to each other on the basis of our flaws, our weaknesses and our needs even more than we do our triumphs and our successes. I have just as many of the former as the latter. And it’s about time I shared them. In fact, I need to.