Our friend calls us from New York to tell us that her boss of several years has abruptly fired her. We are shocked as she had been doing so well in that job and loved it so much. As I talk with her, I remember little things that she said about the job over the years. As I comfort her, I begin to remind her of the time when she couldn’t get time off to see her brother in the hospital, or the time she was a few minutes late and they wrote her up. As we continue talking, I remember that they passed her over for a promotion more than once and they hired another person at a higher pay rate. As I console, my friend I help her “build a case” that her boss didn’t appreciate her. We put together all the actions over the years that were unfair, inappropriate or just unpleasant. At the end of the conversation, she is not happy but she is comforted by the fact that they had been unfair to her and she might just be better off without them.
A week or two later we get a call from another friend who has just broken up with his fiance. As we talk, he gives a long list of the things she did that made it impossible for him to continue in the relationship. He “built his case” against her over time so that when he had enough evidence he felt better about breaking it off with her.
Relationships all have a measure of “building a case”. It often has more to do with compatibility, connection and comfort level than actual objective decision making. In my youth, I was passionate, driven, and loyal. That is one of the ways I would describe it. I have friends that have known me for over 30 years who would use that same description, however, another description was also true that I was arrogant, selfish, and manipulative. Those who have known me best will agree on that as well. The interesting thing is that they have stuck it out for our friendship over all these years and seen me leave off some of the more negative traits in favor of more desirable ones. They will still call me arrogant, but often with a smile and a wink. I have many who I have called “friend” in my past who I no longer associate with because of my selfish, arrogant side and the friendship died along the way.
My wife is one of those people who has stuck it out with me. She has a laundry list of things about me that are bad traits that she has “put up” with. Interestingly enough, she also has a list of qualities that she appreciates about me and continues to foster. She has helped me with my selfishness so that I am more likely to extend my selfish “circle of one” to include those closest to me. For example, if I want a new car, I will think about how it will best suit the family as opposed to only what I want. I still get the satisfaction of getting something I want (selfish), but I get the benefit of sharing it with others (generous).
I offer you this. In your life and relationships you will make choices about who to be close with and who not to be. The people in your life will also have those choices. As relationships mature, you “build a case” for those friendships. Lifetime friends will keep a running list of the qualities you have that make you special to them. Perhaps you are “fiercely loyal”, “generous”, “honest”, or “non-judgmental of mistakes”, they can provide you “criticism” without you getting mad, etc. They may well see other parts of your personality, like you are “oversensitive”, “pushy”, or are “always right” in every conversation. In the end, however, they will weigh what they see in you and compare that list against what it means for them to have you as a friend. In their minds, you are valuable and important to them. Your weak areas do not threaten the relationship. Similarly, there will be those in your life that will look for the things about you that they don’t like and they will “build their case” until they can end the relationship without feeling they have been unreasonable or unfair in their assessment of their friendship with you.
The fact remains that there is plenty of evidence “for” and “against” us all when put under a microscope. When we can see how we ourselves build our cases for and against others, we can begin to understand how and why they build them about us. Make no mistake this is often a subconscious process and can take years. At first, it is usually just listing the obvious traits, such as those mentioned above; arrogance, selfishness, intolerance, religiosity, anger, lack of empathy, kindness, caring, active listening, honesty, frankness and forgiveness. After recognizing these traits, it often leads to some thoughtfulness on accepting yourself and others for what it is that you all bring to the table. There are always going to be people that we don’t “gel” with along the way. Sometimes it takes years to realize this and sometimes minutes.
When you find yourself building your cases, take some of the pressure off and consider letting some relationships just be shallow. Recognize them for what they are and don’t set yourself up to be let down or expect more from that friendship than what is reasonable. Remember there will always be losses, and they are usually a surprise, but you can own your own feelings and attitudes which will help you be more honest with yourself and make better choices when looking to “build your case” for a relationship.