Alcoholics are well known for seeing everything as black or white, good or bad, right or wrong, on or off. Seeing in shades of grey is not our strong suit. Learning to live in the grey area is always a work in progress. I think one of the consequences of growing up is that there is less and less black and white. The lines blur with extenuating circumstances. Stealing is wrong. Stealing medicine to save your child when you honestly can’t afford it seems a little…less wrong. Lying is bad, but who hasn’t told their grandmother that they just LOVE that hand-knitted holiday cardigan with all of the reindeer on it? It seems that compassion for others makes it easier for us to loosen the tight grip we hold on what’s right and wrong and view the situation on a scale of acceptableness.
Personal relationships is another area that has more grey area than I know what to do with. After my divorce, I decided that I was going to take on new philosophies and try new things when it came to dealing with the opposite sex. I was going to learn to be so independent that I could never be accused of being needy, but temper that independence with just the right amount so as not so seem standoffish or aloof. I would never punish a new person for the sins of a previous one, yet keep my eyes open for old behaviors or patterns that might arise. I was going to always be just a little bit less interested in them than they were in me. I was going to keep so many traits so well-balanced that I’d nearly be irresistible. And then I woke up. I realized that even after all of the work I had done, I was STILL trying to morph myself into some sort of “ideal woman”.
I have changed a lot over the last couple of years and most of that is for the better, but I still have nowhere near mastered the art of the grey area. I still live in the Land of Dichotomies. I am an independent, single mom who doesn’t need anyone else to financially support her or her kids, but I will still expect you to offer to pay for dinner some times. I will love the fact that we email each other every day and will be quite confidant we are on the same page (or at least on very similar pages), but will then worry when I don’t hear from you for a day or two. When normally page-long emails turn into 3 sentence replies, I will instinctively “know” that I did something wrong and you have changed your mind about me. Then I will follow that thought up with reminders that it is early-on and we’re both busy people and you had plans and that I should just settle down because it’s no big deal. And then I’ll change my mind and flip flop between the two trains of thought until I drive myself crazy.
I have it on good authority (from a male friend of 18 years) that that type of circle jerk thinking drives men NUTS and is a huge turnoff…especially if he isn’t very invested in the girl yet. In my defense, my hamster-wheel train of thought is NEVER spoken out loud to the person I am thinking about. I KNOW what that would look like. Crazy, obsessive, possessive, not worth the hassle…take your pick. In reality, none of that is true. The truth is that after spending the majority of my life as a drunk that never grew up, I tend to keep an eye on my behavior to make sure I’m not going off the rails. It’s not that I sit around over-analyzing every waking moment, but I DO try to take stock of my actions and motivations and make sure I’m still operating in the realm of “responsible, healthy adult”. It's not that I’m insecure and think bad things about myself, it’s just that if I really DID do something to offend or hurt you, I genuinely want to know so I can try to make it right.
Relationships (even in the most casual sense of the word) are not black and white. There is a ton of grey area that causes me to perform mental gymnastics until I’ve worked through it. I don’t need someone to hit the mat and do gymnastics with me. All I need is someone willing to step into the arena and say, “Hey! No need for backflips today, I’m just a little tired and don't feel much like chatting. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”