Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Break-Up… or Say What You Need To Say

My best friend texted me yesterday morning regarding my latest post about my best date ever to call me out on being in a romantic, nostalgic mood. Well, she’s right. I’m in a pretty good mood lately, and it’s boosted by an upcoming visit I have with one of my oldest friends. Not that he is old, but he’s known me since I was an infant. Which I suppose actually would make him old. Anyway, I’ve been giddy as a Bieber-addled tween for a few weeks now looking forward to my upcoming playdate, so yes, she’s right.

Still, knowing my BFF, I know she’s hinting at me to tone it down a smidge. Hence this post is a sort of book-end to the other.  That post described my favorite date. This one talks about break-ups.

I suppose the ideal book-end would be a post about my worst break-up ever, but I’m not sure at my age there is such a memory, barring break-ups involving violence and cruelty. Fortunately for me, that’s not part of my history.

Still, I’ve learned something that I would like to share regarding how to make awful moments like break-ups, or really delivering bad news of any kind, maybe a little less awful. What is this magical advice, oh sage one, you ask? It’s so simple it’s scary. Ready? Be honest.

What, you ask? Be honest? Tell someone something unpleasant? Like, directly to them? In direct terms? And hurt them?  Here’s the easy answer: Yes.  As John Mayer says in his song that aside from the title and refrain has nothing to do with this post, "Say What You Need To Say."

Let’s face facts here. If you’re going to break up with someone, or fire them, or get them to make a tough change of some kind, it’s almost a certainty that the other person is going to be hurt. Right? You may be able to soften the blow a tiny bit with a white lie of some kind. But the harsh truth has a way of coming to light eventually, and when it does, it hurts like hell to know someone wasn’t honest with you. Sometimes that hurts more than the tough message you were trying to convey in the first place.

And let’s be real. Rejection is rejection is rejection. Disappointment is disappointment is disappointment. Failure always eventually feels like failure. Just because that first moment is eased in some way and you don’t have to deal with it directly -- that you can lie to yourself and pretend you didn't actually hurt the other person -- it doesn’t mean that the pain won’t creep in for them. Sometimes that creeping pain hurts more, and longer, than that harsh, rip-off-the-band-aid, stinging pain of being given a tough message directly, with respect and honesty.

Long before I met my husband, I had a couple boyfriends in my time who played that game of slowly but surely allowing our relationship to dwindle until I finally broke up with them. Of course, each of these boys from my past wanted to end our relationship, but they took the coward’s route and tried to make things unpleasant or lonely enough for me to make that break-up decision, so they wouldn't have to. They were afraid I’d be upset or mad and would have a few words for them. And in almost every case, they didn’t want to be “the bad guy.” They were right, of course, about my potential reaction (damn skippy), and sure, by not initiating the break-up they avoided looking like they were hurting me. But in reality, those weeks of emotional turmoil and confusion were worse than a day of “ouch!” and the ability to start healing. And when I realized what they had done, that they hadn’t been direct and honest with me – because it would always come to light – that pain kicked right back in all over again.

These days, in my life this same advice applies to work and home and friendships. My husband used to try to address challenging issues with me “sideways” to avoid conflict, but now he just hits me over the head with both the compliments and the challenging discussions. And I do my best to give him the respect he deserves for treating me with such respect. My boss also is very direct with me, as are many (most?) of the people I work with, and for that I’m immensely grateful. 

My best friend… ah, what can I say about her? There are too many reasons to enumerate why I love her so much and why I feel so fortunate to have her as not only my friend but my BFF. But one of the primary reasons is that she is unfailingly honest with me. There have been many times during our long friendship when I have reached out to her with some admission or confession, looking for someone to help me feel better about whatever rough spot I’ve managed to create for myself. And you know what? While she has always stuck by me, she has never been afraid to tell me if she disagrees with me or is disappointed in me. She doesn’t pretend to be anything or anyone she isn’t. Not for my sake. In other words, she treats me with respect; she trusts and loves me enough to be honest, even brutally so. And I love her for it.

Well, this post has wandered through advice for break-ups and advice for treating someone with respect and has ended up on why my BFF is such a great friend. There’s a theme here that ties it all together:  honesty.  And considering that my BFF inspired this book-end post, ending this just after the paragraph about her seems fitting to me.

Do you have any advice to share for someone who needs to deliver tough news?

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