Last night, I woke up at 2:30 AM to strange male voices at the place I’m housesitting. I pulled the typical don’t-move-and-they-won’t-getcha-thing for about 5 minutes while I tried to parse out who in the hell could be in the house besides me and Sarah, the 17-year-old girl for whom I’m playing active guardian while her parents are away.
Long story short, Sarah snuck two guy friends in after I had gone to sleep and then hid them in the attic eaves of her closet when I confronted her about the sounds. The night devolved to a foot through sheetrock attic flooring, insulation all over the guest room bed where I had been sleeping thirty minutes prior, and a 3 AM run to the town over to take two terrified high school boys home to their mamas. A real ass movie scene.
On the late night drive home, I asked Sarah point blank, “What’s up? Why did you lie to me?”
Her answer: “I didn’t know what you’d say. So I just did it.”
I kept a pretty cool demeanor because anger never serves us. However, my honest internal response was pretty one-note:
“You inconsiderate little punk.”
But after waking up this morning, I found empathy. Sarah is in the process of learning the lesson that we’re all learning. I have done the same thing she did a thousand times: Forged ahead without communicating; Placed my needs/wants above everyone else’s; Manipulated and contorted a situation or person until they behaved in the way I wanted.
My selfish impositions have never involved busted-up ceilings, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen everyday. My self-serving actions can look like withholding verbal praise for fear of building another person up strong enough to not need me. They look like forcing a romantic partnership to be more intimate or less committed than my partner is comfortable with. They look a lot like not treating the people around me as whole, functioning, totally capable people with their own wants and needs.
So from Sarah’s foible, I’ma take this:
Suffering comes when we’re not upfront about what we want.
Sarah was afraid I’d say no to her want. And honestly, I probably would have had she asked. But that’s what being a healthy adult is about: Laying all your desires on the table and asking the people around you (partners, spouses, co-workers, bosses, best friends, etc.), “Hey, would you mind helping me meet this?”
And in asking the question, you give that person the right to say no. If they do, you have two choices: You can twist the arms of everyone around you until you forcibly get the result you want, causing grief, suffering, and anger in the process.
Or, you can sit with your request. Notice how your body and mind squirm at being denied. Watch how your inner child reacts. And then just be patient as the world brings you the things you really need, not just what you think you do.
In Sarah’s case, her desire to live by her own rules will be in a few years when she’s also responsible for her rent, student loans, and health insurance — (with freedom comes responsibility and that whole spiel.) In mine, many of my needs are already met: I have a mind that lends me the opportunity to be grateful, to be patient, to be kind, and to be present. I have deep conversations with people I love on the reg. And I have a healthy body that I have the knowledge and means to treat well.