Womb With A View
My friend constantly talks to me about her baby on the way and asks me to help her pick out furniture and clothes for it. This is very painful for me because my husband doesn’t want kids and I agreed not to have any. I didn’t realize I’d have this deep longing for a child, but I love him and am not willing to leave him. I also have a hard time asking for things, even if a person is my friend. How do I tell her it would be better for me not to talk about this so much without making her feel bad?
— Never-Be Mom
It’s hard when hanging out with your friend is one long “Look what the stork is bringing!” and all you can think is “My stork got run over by a bus en route to my house.”
Understandably, you don’t want your friend to feel bad. But you’re protecting your friend’s feelings at the expense of your own, feeling extra bad because you aren’t telling her you need something from her: to stop bringing you in on crib picks and “which onesie is cuter?” because it shines a spotlight on the bare space in your life where a baby would go.
In other words, she’s become a crappy friend to you — through no fault of her own. Maybe she doesn’t know you chose your husband over a baby, or maybe she thinks you’ve made your peace with that. By keeping mum about your feelings, you’ve effectively transformed her — turned her into the pregnant version of some empathetically bankrupt Binge-Shopper Barbie dragging a friend with no head to all the hat sales.
Imagine if you were as attentive to emotional pain as you are to physical pain. If your friend backed her SUV onto your toes, you wouldn’t just stand there all, “I have a hard time asking for things, even if a person is my friend.” You’d scream; she’d move the thing; and then she’d whisk you off to the nearest urgent care for a lollypop and an X-ray.
In contrast, consider where submerging your emotions, opting for the just-suck-it-up approach, leads. As clinical psychologist Randy Paterson puts it: “If you cannot say no, you are not in charge of your own life.” He explains that a “passive” style like yours is “designed to avoid conflict at all costs.” (In fact, conflict we avoid doesn’t go away; it just eats away at us on the inside.)
Paterson observes that passivity often emerges from a deep fear of being rejected and the mistaken sense that “the way to be accepted and appreciated by others is to give and give.” It leads us to keep our opinions to ourselves, give in to unreasonable demands and generally sell ourselves out in a desperate and typically counterproductive attempt to gain others’ approval.
Your passive style might have been protective for you once, like if you were a little kid trying to avoid getting smacked around by violent alcoholic parents. But chances are you’ve continued using it out of habit, because it’s become automatic, not because you closely evaluated it and decided that it still makes sense. And it still might — that is, if you, as an adult, have fisty alcoholic giants as your legal guardians.
You can choose to shift to a healthier style: assertiveness, sticking up for yourself and your needs in an effort to rebalance your interactions with other people so they feel fairer. You do this by being direct and honest about how you’d like to be treated. State your needs calmly, using respectful language, and do it in a timely way — as soon as possible — instead of endlessly festering with resentment that someone hasn’t read your mind and changed their behavior accordingly.
Assertiveness is ultimately the active form of self-respect (a person’s sense that they have value and thus have the right to ask to be treated as if their needs matter). Keep that in mind when you first start asserting yourself, which is sure to feel seriously uncomfortable and maybe even terrifying. Do it despite that. Refuse to let your fears be the boss of you, turning your life into one big suck-it-up fest.
Be prepared for the other person to disagree with you, dislike what you say, or even get angry. All you can control is your own behavior — through putting your needs out there in a calm, respectful, timely and nontoxic way. Mick Jagger, wisely, noted that, “You can’t always get what you want.” However, you’re more likely to have a crack at it if you don’t just seethe with anger until your friend finally figures it out at her baby shower (upon unwrapping your generous gift of matching Mommy-and-baby Swarovski-encrusted muzzles).