Letting Go Of Relationships, Not Needs
I’ve been doing a lot of letting go lately: of things, of expectations, and of relationships. It has been my attempt to be more Zen, letting go of things as they arise. And it has thrown me into a pit of grief.
I read somewhere that, when you truly let go of an expectation, you are okay with whether or not that thing or event happens. You are fine either way. I’ve done that a few times in my life and have discovered that when I let go of my expectation, the relationship is let go of simultaneously.
Relationships and expectations go together. Human relationships are based on expectations. Period. If, for example, someone said to me, “You know, I am fine with whether or not my husband is faithful to me. I am okay either way,” I would respond, “Wow. Your definition of ‘marriage’ sure bears no resemblance to mine. If my husband put my health in jeopardy through infidelity, I would be extremely not okay with it. Have you simply surrendered your self-respect from years of neglect?” I believe that all relationships have some level of foundational expectations. When the expectations are gone, so is the basis of the relationship.
The expectations come from very real needs. The ways of getting those needs can be negotiated. The needs themselves are non-negotiable, however. And people can sure waste a lot of time negotiating non-negotiables. When it becomes clear that a specific relationship will never meet Need A, the expectation is gone—along with the relationship. The need still has to be met and now you can look elsewhere to get that need met.
I am dealing with this with Barry’s family. My needs have been huge. This past year has been the hardest of my life. I have been dealing with multiple traumas simultaneously. They have pretended to be supportive. When I have actually reached out for assistance, I have been rejected. My expectations of getting my needs met through these people are gone. The basis of these relationships has been vaporized. I am still seeking to get these needs met. When it becomes clear that I am expected to give, give, give, and that the other person need only receive—in my hour of greatest need—it is time to move on. And I refuse to pretend that I am not wounded by their response. It has become clear that what they want is my reassurance that they are good people, without meeting the expectation that they actually are good people or are genuinely helpful in any way, shape, or form. It’s about their emotional needs, not my urgent crises. My refusal to reassure them and pat them on the back for their fake offers of help is deeply offensive to them. Good. Their offense is their only connection to reality.
I am also dealing with some of this with a friend. Her expectations of me were greater than I could meet while I was dealing with umpteen crises simultaneously. I let go of my expectations of her. It threw me into a pit of grief for a while. I didn’t realize that I was letting go of her. Then I started to feel so much better. I didn’t understand at first. I figured out that my feeling better was simply relief. I had stopped investing so much time, energy, and expectation into that relationship. My internal resources were freed to meet other needs. At this point, I cannot imagine going back. I had not realized just how much of my resources this friend was sucking up. To not have that vacuum hose attached to my emotional resources any longer makes me almost giddy with relief.
Human beings have needs: physical, financial, and emotional. This is normal. Occasionally in people’s lives, they are given more than they can handle. It may happen once or twice in a person’s life. It is not routine.
When overwhelmed, I and other humans may have nothing to give. The normal give-and-take no longer applies.
I feel the need to address “spiritual by-passing.” This is where you pretend that you have “transcended” a situation without addressing the fundamental need driving it. It is delusional at its core. I’ve done it with Zen. “I am letting go of everything,” I tell myself. When I start to do so, I discover that the foundation of all my relationships is gone. Letting go of my expectations does not address the unmet needs and now I am needy without genuine hope of getting those needs met. Absolutely nothing has been resolved.
I know that this is a phase of my life. It will not last forever. Someday, I will have more to offer. I am already at a place where I am less overwhelmed and can think more clearly regarding these issues. It’s kind of like my anti-depressant: I have no intention of being on it forever, but now is not the most realistic time to go off of it. I am letting go of the pretense of certain relationships meeting certain very real, non-negotiable needs. It is the relationships I am letting go of, for the purpose of getting my needs met in other, healthier relationships. The relationships are negotiable; the needs are not.