“Why is it that people are so quick to throw everything away to cling to someone needy, high maintenance, and dysfunctional?” she asks me.
“I ask for so little,” she continues. “I take care of my own needs and do my best to try to be flexible. It’s not always easy, but I know it’s what I want when I’m on the other side of things. But instead of being rewarded, I’m continually put on the back burner. Because I’m easy to manage, I rarely get what I actually want. Meanwhile, his other girlfriend is always having crises. It’s not that she’s cursed, even. She’s just loud about it. Even a hangnail is a crisis to her. And instead of rewarding me for my patience, for toughing it out, for being easy to please, he rewards her. He rescues her from the hangnails.”
I nod, taking it all in.
“You’ve heard this before, haven’t you?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. And then I add, “I’ve lived it. I spent a lot of time on the other side of it, too, catering to overly difficult people who didn’t appreciate the help. And even though I didn’t mean for it to, it monopolized my time and attention. That’s just how it works.”
“How did you deal with it?” she asks.
I send her a link to an essay I wrote about it, about how I made a conscious decision to stop giving the squeakiest wheels the grease and to look closer at quieter people who rarely complained.
“You can’t make anyone do this. You can’t make them make that mental change,” I say. “But I can honestly tell you life is better when you don’t ignore the tough ones. And the way that I finally found someone who wanted to help me, even though I under-complained, was by making that shift myself.”
She considers what I’ve said. “You know,” she says after a while. “I hadn’t noticed that, but I’m doing it, too. I’m jumping at crises myself. And that’s likely part of the problem.”
I nod. “It usually is. It’s just hard to see because the pain of being back burnered easily overshadows the part of the problem you can actually do something about.”