“Last year I felt confused and sad because someone told me that I was ‘unapproachable.’ This sort of thing happens to me often.
I used to feel upset about it because I thought the world perceived my quietness as unkindness. That made me feel misunderstood.
I called Elizabeth Gilbert And complained to her about being called unapproachable. She said this: ‘awesome. well done, Honeyhead!’ And I said, what? This is terrible! I don’t want people to think I’m unapproachable! Liz said: wait, why? Do you want to always be approached? And I said: Um. No. And she said: Exactly. Well done. Carry on.
Love you, my introverts. We love deeply don’t we? For example: We will die for you, but we won’t, like, meet you for coffee.
Carry on, quiet Unapproachables.”
– Glennon Doyle
The older I get, and the more I look at the lives of those I admire most in this world, the more I see a common thread. In the words of Brene Brown:
“[In my years of research on compassion] I found that the one thing the most compassionate people all shared in common was they were very boundaried. They happened to be the people who had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on.”
I would add, and I think Brene would agree: the most compassionate people are also very boundaried regarding who they’re willing to associate and spend their time with. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which Oprah brought up an incident where Dr. Angelou kicked someone out of her home for making a racist joke, Dr. Angelou responded:
“I’m convinced that the negative has power. It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over. So when the rude or cruel thing is said—the lambasting, the gay bashing, the hate—I say, ‘Take it all out of my house!’ Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.”
Perhaps Glennon Doyle and Liz Gilbert and Maya Angelou are onto something. Perhaps we ought not be approachable to everyone. Perhaps a friend of mine was onto something when she told me years ago:
“I don’t want any more friends.”
Does that sound bad? Does it sound horrible, to limit friendships? To choose a relationship with this person, over that one? But… is it? If time and energy is finite (hint: it is) then maybe one of the most loving things we can do, both for ourselves and for those around us, is give those finite resources to those whose presence we cherish, opinions we value, and who contribute to our own well-being just as diligently as we attempt to contribute to theirs.
“Do you enjoy your friends? If not, dump them. Seriously. Why spend time with people you don’t enjoy? There are plenty of people out there (about 6 billion), so surely you can find a handful of people you enjoy spending time with. I have a personal policy that I won’t spend time with people I don’t enjoy. That means I don’t go to parties or to dinner with people I don’t really like. At times that makes me very unpopular with others, including my wife, but very popular with myself. I just won’t compromise my personal happiness to put myself in the presence of people I don’t like. Selfish? You bet! And I suggest everyone do it.”
Sound harsh? Maybe it’s not. Haven’t we all had relationships with people we dread spending time with? Whose presence leave us mentally and physically drained? Who make us feel bad about ourselves, are unsupportive, or even actually make us worse people? Maybe we find ourselves gossiping more when we’re around them, or judging people more harshly than usual, or participating in activities we would typically avoid. Maybe, as Maya Angelou says, that really does climb onto our skin.
What if our presence in the world matters? What if the way we spend our time here on earth, and who we spend it with, matters? What if spreading ourselves thin in an attempt to be “nice” or “helpful” is not only limiting our ability to make a difference toward those we care the most about, but also limits the ability of others to find their own way? If someone irresponsible with money is consistently bailed out of financial crisis, are the rescuers helping or hurting? When we fake our way through unpleasant interactions, rather than allowing people to suffer the consequences of their destructive personalities, are we helping or hurting?
I have a theory that God is always waiting to whisper direction to us, but can only communicate through a line held open by honesty. Honesty about who we are, what we think, how we feel, and what we want. How can God give us “the desires of our hearts” if we’re not honest about what those desires are? Using the theory of the law of attraction, how is the universe supposed to bring us the things we want and need most, if we’re too afraid to allow the universe (ie. those around us) know what those things are? And how is the universe supposed to stop bringing into our lives those things we don’t want, if we keep opening our arms to them?
When you force yourself to spend time with someone or pretend to have a good time you are either lying to yourself or lying to them.
This is not truthful living.
– Vanessa Van Edwards.
Maybe, unlike the popular facebook meme I’ve seen floating around, lately, my door shouldn’t always be open. Maybe I shouldn’t be available for everyone, at all times. Maybe the most loving, supportive thing I can do is be honest about who I want in my life, who I want to spend my time with, and who I’m willing to drop everything for at a moment’s notice.
Maybe limited approachability is a gift. A gift to ourselves, a gift to those who need to find another way, and a gift to those for whom our limits with others grant us time and energy to love more fully.