I read that in interviews that the French writer Romain Gary often told a story about a chameleon being put on a succession of different-colored cloths. The chameleon changed color effortlessly until it ended up on Scotch plaid and went insane.
I thought it sounded like a good allegory for how I got to Al-Anon.
I always had a hard time relating to people who shared about people pleasing. I couldn’t even relate to the term. PP sounded like something you trained young kids to do on the toilet.
Surely, I was too selfish to fall into that category. I thought of myself first. Made sure I got my needs met. Had this whole self-care routine. The only person I tried to please was myself.
Until I met a man.
When I met a man, I was all about what he liked. If he liked to two-step, I liked to two step. If he liked to drink beer, I liked to drink beer. If he read science fiction, I read science fiction.
I came across a line in a book recently that reminded me of this. It said, “I’m a vacuum filled with the folks I’m with.”
For a long time, I didn’t even see that I was doing this. Then, when I did, I didn’t see it as people pleasing, because I believed I did it because I wanted to.
It never lasted, of course. Eventually, I would resent the target of my affections for “making me” give up everything I enjoyed. Then I would swing 180 degrees the other way and insist that everything be my way. I’d pick fights to sabotage the relationship or just break things off and move on.
No doubt, I left a lot of bewilderment in my wake. Because no one ever asked me to give up a single thing. It was all me.
I even did this with my husband, with whom I’ve had the longest-lasting, most healthy relationship of my life.
When I think of the things I used to do to please him early in our marriage, I think I must have been insane. Once a week, on a weeknight, we hosted a dinner party for six or eight. I was working full-time, of course. I would go to the grocery store on my lunch hour and buy provisions, then come home and prepare elaborate, made-from-scratch meals because I thought everything had to be perfect, homemade and awe-inspiring.
We had beautiful gardens, both front and back, filled with potted flowers that had to be watered and deadheaded twice a day. I spent about two hours a day on the gardens. I did enjoy them, but they wore me out. My husband would tell people that the gardens were a lot of work, but I didn’t seem to mind doing it. I’d just smile.
I watched TV at night because my husband did, even though I preferred to read.
I did everything around my husband's schedule. If he got up earlier than usual, I cut my exercise routine short to accommodate him. God forbid if he had to wait five minutes for me to be ready. If he did, I was all apologies. When I started going to Al-Anon, I tried to arrange my schedule so it would not affect his.
Little by little, I re-claimed my life. I learned I didn’t have to say yes to everything. I began to say, “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have 10 people for a dinner party this Tuesday.” But sometimes we have two people, or four, we know well, for a casual dinner.
I do enjoy hosting a really fine dinner party on occasion, maybe once or twice a year. But I no longer feel I need to make every dinner a big production. I’ve learned to keep things simple. In fact, this is what my husband always advocated.
We now have fewer flowers and more plants, all on a drip system.
The table next to my spot on the couch now has a lamp, so when my husband watches TV, I can read.
Now, when my husband wakes up early, I don’t cut short my routine. I don’t even know whether he’s up or not. I shut the door to the exercise room. I do what I need to do, then I come down for breakfast. Sometimes he waits for me. But I try not to keep him waiting too long.
Today, instead of having everything my own way, I try to meet him in the middle. Neither of us gets our way entirely. But we both get our needs met. We’ve settled into our life together. It’s a good life, and we are happy.
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