One Step Over the Line; Can I Be Happy By Myself?
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have a friend who is a Realtor. When it came time to list my home for sale, I felt uncomfortable combining business and friendship by asking her to be the listing agent. After all, business is business, and it could have possibly ended our friendship. So to protect that friendship I listed the house with another Realtor—and now my friend’s mad at me for not choosing her. It seems like whatever I chose to do, I was destined to lose her as a friend. Was there a better way to handle this?
Dr. Hurd replies,
In hindsight, you could have given her advance warning. Something like, “I don’t want you to take offense. I’m hiring another Realtor. Not because I think you’re a bad one, but because I don’t want to risk our friendship.” You might even have added, “In all honesty, I’d rather have you as a Realtor. But not risking our friendship is more important.”
That might have helped, assuming that her anger is over the fact you didn’t tell her. However, it’s also possible that she would have been hurt and angry no matter what you said. You might not ever know.
A wise saying suggests that you should never do business with friends. Think about it: Why are we friends with people? Usually it has to do with trust and respect. You can’t maintain a healthy friendship with somebody unless you have trust and respect for him or her.
Business relationships come with a completely different set of expectations, and have the potential to be adversarial. Money stirs up primal feelings and emotions as basic as self-preservation. These emotions aren’t usually part of a friendship, and as people react to these emotions, you see a different side of their character and personality—for better or for worse.
Every situation is different, and I’ll stop short of saying never do business with friends. But I do advise making sure you have a strong friendship—and a policy of full disclosure— before doing so.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
At a wedding reception over the summer, one of the wedded partners used the phrase, “He completes me….” For some reason it stuck in my head and has bothered me ever since. The comment suggests that he was incomplete, or perhaps flawed, before he met his true love. Isn’t that sort of a backhanded insult to the other partner; that he perhaps settled for somebody incomplete or flawed? Maybe a better word would have been “enhance?” And then I wonder if I’m just not overthinking the whole thing….
Dr. Hurd replies,
People sometimes tell me that their relationship completes them. Though it could just be a figure of speech, it’s interesting to delve into the implications if the phrase is taken literally. If your relationship completes you, then what becomes of you if something happens to your partner, or if he/she changed his or her mind about staying with you? Do you go back to being an incomplete self? So many relationships struggle and ultimately end because of this never-stated assumption on the part of one or both partners.
We’re all responsible for our own selves, our own well-being, and management of our own psychological needs. If you decide that someone else is not only responsible for him/herself, but also for you, that seems like an awful burden to place on that person. Particularly a person you claim to love! I believe that the key here is whether love is a celebration of the life you already love, or whether you cannot enjoy life without the presence of another person. In other words, does your love add to something that is already fulfilling and rewarding, or is it the only thing that can make happiness possible?
If you feel that the love or connection you enjoy is the only thing that makes happiness possible, it begs the question as to what is it about your life that keeps you from being happy – simply for being alive. If you thought you had a terminal illness and then discovered it was a testing error, you’d be relieved and joyful, right? Think about why you’d feel that way.
People who desperately seek completion often find differences between partners intolerable. More than once I have been told, “She (or he) has to be more like me. Otherwise, there’s no way to fill the void.” Why is there a void in the first place? The word suggests an absence of self. If there’s no self, what is there for anyone to love?
In the end, the common ground in a healthy relationship must be that you and your partner, however otherwise different, want to love and be loved. As long as you find things to love, and exhibit qualities the other finds lovable, then something fundamental is probably working. The best relationships are between two strong, complete and self-sufficient individuals. Otherwise, it’s not really a relationship; it’s simply one person living through another.
By the way, after my dissertation on workplace bathroom habits in the previous issue of Letters, your relatively philosophical question was refreshing. Thank you.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.