I had lunch yesterday with a friend who recently ended a long-term relationship. "I wasn't moving toward happy," she told me. She had put a lot of effort into something that was important to her, but she gradually realized not only that the effort was one-sided, but that the relationship wasn't "(a) what I wanted, (b) what I enjoyed, or (c) what I would have chosen." She walked away, feeling liberated, and is now beginning the rest of her life.
I am familiar with the feeling my friend is experiencing. I have a problem sometimes with what I will call overenthusiasm. I begin a venture - a volunteer job, for example - that I am excited about and that I love. I pour my soul into the cause and dedicate my every waking hour to it. I continue to be enthusiastic about it long after I have outlived my usefulness at the task. When people tell me to calm down, back off, or move on, I get sad and offended and redouble my efforts. Then, one day, I suddenly wake up and realize, I love this a lot more than it loves me. And I walk away and find something else.
I can't tell you how many times in my life this has happened with friendships. Believe it or not (and I know you will find this shocking), there are actually people out there in the world who don't like me. I pursue them nevertheless, because I am just as shocked as you are at their failure to grasp what a great and fascinating person I am and how much fun I am to be around. It takes a lot of stonewallling, a lot of cancelled meetings, and sometimes just blunt rejection before I realize that I need to move on, or at least back off a little.
It happens with volunteer jobs too. When I started leading my Girl Scout troop, I threw myself into it. I held parent planning meetings. I taught the girls songs and actually took guitar lessons so I could accompany them. We went camping. We made crafts. I taught them to ice skate and to frost cakes and to drop Mentos into bottles of soda. We tie-dyed t-shirts and ate pizza and sold cookies at the mall. We watched the presidential debates and learned about the electoral college. We earned patches and pins and stuffed toys.
And then it began. First, the parents backed off. Then the girls signed up for other activities that conflicted with our meetings. I forged ahead. I was a great Girl Scout leader! I was fabulous! I sold hundreds of boxes of cookies and became the town cookie chairman! We weren't only going to go camping, we were going to go camping on the beach! Three hours from here! In a nor'easter! I'd show these kids a good time!
And then, one evening, I realized that I was alone in my living room, my guitar hanging from my neck, singing my heart out, and no one was listening. They were all in the bathroom, trying on different shades of lipstick. I love this more than it loves me. Time to move on.
I recently left a church where I had been a parishoner for twenty years. Same situation: I was the president of the Altar Guild. I sang in the choir. I taught Sunday School. I was a pillar of that institution. I snuck in late at night to polish the silver! I answered the phones when the administrative assistant was ill! I cleaned the keys of the organ with Pledge Wipes and ironed and folded all those little linen cloths! I washed and ironed the robes the acolytes and choir wore! I dusted! I hemmed! I sang!
And then, one day, I realized that it just didn't love me as much as I loved it.
My husband, fortunately, finds my overenthusiasm charming, so I'm pretty sure he's not going the way of the Girl Scouts or the church. He comforts me when I realize that I have mistaken an acquaintance for a friend, and when I zip the guitar back into its case. He comes with me when I visit other churches in an attempt to find a home. He humors me when I buy a new set of craft supplies, determined to become an instant expert at something I have never tried before.
My friend, she of the newly-single lifestyle, meets me for lunch and listens to my story. She encourages me to write it down. She is tall, beautiful, blonde, and glamorous and usually seems to have not a care in the world, but I recognize myself in her nonetheless. That's why we have been friends for thirty years.
We got another foot of snow last night. School is closed today, and for the first time in my life, my office is closed too. I was scheduled to attend a "Women in the Law" networking event at my old law firm this morning, but that too has been postponed to a later date. The crockpot stands empty; the kids and I will whip up a great midwinter meal later. I wish you all a wonderful day, filled with enthusiasm for whatever lies ahead of you.