It’s been 4 years since your partner’s been gone.
For the first few months, you were just trying to get by. Then people started telling you the best thing to do is to start dating again. You’ve gone out a few times, but usually it feels like you’re forcing it. And while you do want to meet people, dating isn’t exactly what you feel like doing.
Now, your friend just texted you.
“Want to go out with me tonight? I’m just going to meet a few friends down at P&Ps around 8 or 9pm. Why don’t you come with?”
What do you you?
This situation is one that many people, my students included, have found themselves in.
Here’s what it breaks down to:
Something has happened.
It’s taken what you thought was your dream and now made things feel like they aren’t on track anymore. Because happily ever means with a partner, when people give advice it’s usually about dating.
So how do you stay friends with people who are trying to help you get back on track, while also figuring out what you actually need, and finding people who get what you’re going through and share your interests and values?
For most people, that feels like a tall order.
They think, “I’m too much.”
They begin to believe that they aren’t worth a life that is even remotely good, because for so long they’ve just been trying to get by.
When I talked with my student who found herself in this situation, it became crystal clear that the biggest hurdle in figuring out what to say to people who were nudging her to do things she didn’t know if she wanted was to step out of the mind circles the “shoulds” and “would haves” got her into. Because all this mental gymnastics trying to decide on even the simplest of things is exhausting.
That is step 1.
Then you focus on the only thing that matters: your priorities.
Here’s what you say to yourself:
“I know I’ve had fun before.
I’ve done things I’ve enjoyed.
I’ve even spent time with people you wanted to be around.
So it’s not true that I never go out. I have before.
It’s not true that I don’t have friends. I have had good friends before.
And even if things have changed and the people you used to love spending time with aren’t here now, what you’ve had before is still evidence that enjoying what you do is still possible for you.
I know what it feels like to feel good about what I am doing.
Then ask yourself: So what makes you feel that way now?”
The mental gymnastics spiral only happens when it’s not really something you know you enjoy. If it was, you’d already have done it!
Or you would have done what you needed to do so you can do it next week!
That’s because you prioritize what is important to you.
Plain and simple.
Here’s a short reflection exercise (best done in a journal or talking to yourself) that uses your own priorities to sort out what you’re going to do tonight (and learn how to sort this decision out more quickly next time too).
Because here’s the truth: no one else really cares what your priorities are.
Most people are usually thinking about themselves in situations like this. So if you tell your friend “no” - she might be disappointed at first, but believe me, she’ll get over it and it’s better for you both that she find another wing woman or man because you have other priorities you are here to attend to.
So be honest with yourself. In the end, the only person you hurt by not being honest is YOU.
Is this something I really care about doing?
Does it bring me joy to do this? Has it brought me joy in the past? (If it has, it can again, but you may have to let yourself feel a lot of emotions to get there, so you don’t have to do it today if you’re not there yet.)
Does this group of people embody the qualities I look for in the people I want to give the honor of spending time with me? (It’s a privilege for people to spend time with YOU. Do you want to give that honor to this person?)
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, whatever you are “forcing” yourself to do is probably not a priority right now. That’s ok!
You have permission to change and change your mind and change it again. So be who you are today. You can worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
Kirsten & Megan
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