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Confessions of a People Pleaser

I recently returned from a trip across the country to meet my boyfriend’s parents for the first time. He is 50 and I am 47, but we may as well be 19 and 16. The nerves are the same. Will they like me? What if they don’t? Will it be awkward? The thoughts are the same. Actually, maybe not. It might be worse now because we are both divorced. We had both been in long marriages. We both have kids to finish raising.

He met my parents first because we live in the same town. That was not easy either. I didn’t tell them right away when I started seeing someone new after my divorce. And according to them, I went about it all wrong. When I did tell them, I may have had heart palpitations and I broke out in a sweat. When I introduced them, it was as though I was 17 again and I wanted to crawl under a rock when their reaction was less than stellar.

Why does any of this even matter? We are 50 and 47. I cannot tell you how many countless hours I have spent pondering this exact thought. I can tell you that it matters to a perfectionist like me. A people pleaser. I crave the approval of others about everything I do. I always have. I didn’t always realize this, but I can admit this now. It’s one of the things that has come with the wisdom of middle-age.

This recent trip has me thinking about how much pressure there is for someone like me to be an adult. Especially, to be a good adult daughter. Add to that, being a good mother, a good girlfriend/partner, a good employee, a good friend, a good housekeeper, a good cook. It can be a daunting task at times.

I wonder how this has affected my children. In many ways, I am pretty sure that I have done them an injustice by trying to live such a perfect life. Will they go into the world with the same pressure on themselves? The characteristics of a Worry-Wart, a Nervous-Nelly, a Perfectionist. Do I wish this on them? No. This shit is hard y’all.

For many of us at this mid-life point, we are preparing to have an empty nest. We look forward to the day when our kids have made it to their independence from us. But have you ever thought about how this feels to your children? Have you ever related those thoughts to how you felt as a young adult leaving your parents warm nest?

I didn’t really make the connection between being a people pleaser all of my life to the impact it might have on my kids. I didn’t realize that this could be a negative trait. Until now.

By now, I mean, in the years post-divorce. Divorce does something to a person that changes your entire worldview. At least it did for me.

Before my divorce, I lived by the examples set by my family. I knew that getting married and having a family was the right thing to do in this life. Marriages were meant to last forever and that was that. I didn’t have any reason to think otherwise.

The thing is, I am a rule follower. A people pleaser. And the first people I had to please were my parents. I spent my childhood afraid to break rules. Scared to get in trouble. Worried about any negative consequences. No, I wasn’t perfect, but when I deviated from that in any way, boy was I worried.

After turning 18 and graduating high school. I went to the local community college because that was the thing people did. And it made my parents happy. Before long, I came to the hardest thing I ever had to tell my parents in my short time as an adult. I didn’t want to go to college anymore. I had a taste of earning my own paycheck and all I wanted to do was be with my friends and my boyfriend, who later became my husband.

For the few years that followed that conversation, things were somewhat rocky. I fluctuated between wanting to be a wife and move out of my parents’s home, and wondering if I should go back to college. And if I went back, what would I study. What did I want to be when I grew up. My thoughts were cloudy most of the time because, let’s face it, those years are often just cloudy!

I did get married before finishing college and I started managing my own home. It was so freeing to feel like an adult. And fun! Things were good for a while and I eventually became a mother a few short years later. My life pretty much went on autopilot after that. Why wouldn’t it have when I followed most of the rules?

I was a good wife and a good daughter. And the best mother that I could be. I did all the things that our families wanted. I made sure we visited often. I made sure we went to all of the obligatory holiday dinners. I came through when someone needed me. Even if it meant exhaustion for us. And our kids.

I became so obsessed with doing all the things that I was expected to do, but I always worried that I wasn’t good enough. When my mom came to visit, I wondered if my house was too dirty. When my in-laws came to visit, I didn’t think they liked my cooking and I know they thought I was weird for not allowing shoes to be worn inside our house. I could not please everyone, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Let me tell you something. Living on autopilot is not the way to live. It is not the way I want my children to live.

My marriage failed. I gave it 20 years of autopilot. I worried so much about everything that I didn’t allow myself a chance to deeply enjoy things that I should have enjoyed. I expended so much energy into trying to make things perfect until I noticed that they weren’t. I realized that we can’t be someone we aren’t. And we can’t make someone else be someone they aren’t. It takes two to make a marriage, so I’m not taking complete ownership of the fail. That’s not what I’m saying. I just knew that this autopilot business made me miserable.

Telling my parents that I was going to divorce my husband topped the time I told them I no longer wanted to go to college. It became the hardest thing I ever had to tell them in my adult life. Getting the divorce was easier. Starting over after the divorce was easier. I’m serious. 

I am still the person I have always been, but I am smarter today than I was as a young adult. I know that much is true. I also know that pressing restart on my life was the best thing I could have done for myself and my children at the time. I still struggle with anxiety about many things, but I am less willing to do what everyone else thinks that I am supposed to do. At least not without thinking for myself first.

It seems that so many of us women feel like we need to put everyone else before ourselves. We tend to hold on to the guilt that comes with trying to meet expectations that are placed on us. For instance, when you live away from your family, like military families often do, why feel guilty for taking your kids on a Disney vacation instead of using time off work to visit family all of the time. What we do with our time and money is up to us to prioritize. Yes, we should visit family, but there has to be balance when resources are limited.

We can still be wives and moms and daughters and employees and friends without forgetting who we are. Even at times that we make choices that our loved ones don’t always agree with, they aren’t going to stop loving us. I know that now.

I know that it is okay to be selfish a little bit sometimes. Don’t you think?


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