Saturday, August 18, 2007

the "giving away" of the self (not a good thing)

OK, so I have this problem. I am hoping that somebody out there says, "Oh, I understand this. I do that too. You're not alone, Betty." Or better yet, "Oh, I understand this. I used to do it and here's how I stopped...."

Here's the problem, as demonstrated during tonight's dinner at my house. It all began when the phone rang while I was kneading gnocchi dough. Jennifer, who had been invited to dinner, was calling to say that her husband got off work early, and she wanted to know if it would be OK for them to arrive early.

OK, that's not enough to send me into a tailspin, right? I'm a mature, flexible adult....... it's only gnocchi, after all. So I instructed The Child, who had been ordered to answer the phone, to tell her that it would be fine. Then, to ease my feeling of guilt for not dropping everything, dough and all, to pick up the phone myself, I hissed at him to explain to Jennifer why I hadn't answered the everloving telephone myself ("because I was kneading gnocchi!")

Somewhere in my background I apparently learned that I owed the world an explanation, even for actions such as continuing to knead messy, sticky dough when my phone rang. It's as if I perceive myself as guilty until proven innocent. And I constantly try to prove myself innocent.

Additionally, I automatically, without the slightest thought, said yes to the question as to whether they could arrive early. Mind you, I had carefully planned and timed the meal preparation. Why did I so disregard myself that I immediately took on the burden of guests arriving while the meal preparation was in its infancy, with only a young child to entertain them while I scrambled madly about, trying to prepare pasta, meat (The Child and I are vegetarians), salad, garlic cheese bread and dessert with guests unattended?
The doorbell rang 3 minutes later. Shocked, I yelled at The Child to "See who the *&%# is at the door!" (Surely whoever it was would go away when they saw how busy we were.) With an audible gasp, my eyes popped out as I saw Jennifer and her out-of-work-early husband entering our house, which hadn't even been vacuumed yet! The Early Arrivals (hereafter known as the EA's) live in a suburb 40 minutes away, and this was Friday rush hour! She must have called from around the corner. Aghast, I half screamed , "Oh My GOD. I didn't know you meant you'd be here THIS early....."

My house is small, no, actually, it's SMALL. It's not one of those setups where the guests can contentedly sip wine in the vicinity of the food prep area, while the host(s) chat while calmly chopping cilantro. My kitchen could fit into most closets. And I had to use my tiny dining room table to roll out the gnocchi dough, so I couldn't invite the EA's into the cooking area. Instead, I directed The Child and the EA's into his (tiny) bedroom.

I have no idea what transpired in the bedroom. I was too busy frantically trying to throw things together in record time to accomodate the EA's. My carefully written list of what to do at what time went out the window. In my haste, I stopped forming the gnocchi pillows into their usual shapes, with the trademark fork tracks imprinted on each one. I just hacked them off the dough ropes with a fork, without regard to form or fork. I hurled them into the boiling pot, splashing doughy water all over the kitchen. Timing hopelessly off, I had to remove the bread from the oven prematurely to make room for the hastily boiled gnocchi which had been thrown into a casserole dish. The bread, the one thing I hadn't made from scratch, ended up being served with the middle still frozen solid, much to my embarrassment. Adding to the chaos, I accidentally dumped a huge pot of home made tomato sauce onto the stovetop, with some of it draining down into the bowels of the stove.

Eventually I called them in to eat. I had lost my appetite by this time, so all I could do was try to referee the eating of the EA's and The Child. The Child rejected the gnocchi casserole, so I left the table to cook "Plan B" (parents of finicky eaters always have "Plan B" food standing by) for him while the EA's ate. That was actually a merciful event, because it masked the fact that I wasn't eating, thereby eliminating the need for an explanation.

It gets worse. After the toffee dessert had been rejected by The Child, he shouted, "Let's go for a walk in the park!" (There's no "Plan B" for desserts.) So, with gnocchi-caked dishes still on the table, large amounts of perishable food scattered about, and spills and splashes everywhere, we took off into the park for an extensive outing in the deliciously cool evening, with the child riding his motorized cooler.
Halfway through the walk/motorized scooter ride, I realized how exhausted I was. In fact, everybody acted tired, yet when we got back to our house, we just kind of hung out and kept talking, and even after somebody said, "OK, we're leaving now," nobody left..... The Child kept asking first one EA, then the other, for help with a computer game, over and over.... there was something I wanted to watch on TV, and I had forgotten to program the VCR....I hate to say this, but I wanted the EA's to leave...... I tried to hide my impatience and fatigue...what can you say when you're eager for your guests to leave.....sometimes doesn't it seem as if your guests are afraid they'll insult you by leaving, when in fact you desire their departure?
Well, the EA's FINALLY left. The TV program I had hoped to see was finished. The house was in complete shambles, with hardened food bonded to every dish I own, food rotting from being left out of the refrigerator, the table heaped with dishes, dirty napkins, stray gnocchi, rejected toffee. The countertops appeared to be permanently stained with home made tomato sauce. The stove looked unrecognizable from burned stains. A mound of leftover gnocchi dough, hardened like neglected Play Dough, made a poignant statement.
I sat down in a chair in my bedroom, dazed from the experience. I panicked for a moment, and felt as though a robber had been in my house. Alarmed, I actually checked to make sure my wallet was still tucked away in my drawer. I felt violated, as if the very friends I had invited in for dinner tonight had robbed me of my self. Of course I know they didn't do anything offensive, in reality. They didn't show up early unannounced- they called and asked if it was OK, and I'm the one who gave them the go-ahead. They didn't force me to leave the kitchen in complete chaos while we went outside- I failed to be true to my self and my relatively newfound desire to have my house in order.
OK, now that I've told the story, please bear in mind that this sort of thing happens to me with alarming frequency. I tend to sell out, to disregard my self when in the presence of others. Once, in fact, I had dinner cooking on the stove when I stepped outside to take the garbage out and got caught in conversation with the wife next door. I knew full well that by the time I re-entered my house, I'd likely encounter a fire on the stove. Yet I stood there politely, in a stupor, while she rambled nonsense. I am the common demominator- it's not about the EA's, or my neighbors, or any other people. I seem to experience confusion regarding my boundaries, regarding appropriate social behavior and expectations, and regarding the value of my self.


GarnetDavid said...

what an awful thing to do, call from around the corner and then show up right away! I would have given them hell. If they are friends they would understand how rude that was to do to you. My God!!

Betty said...

Dear Garnet,

I never thought of it that way. I totally thought it was my fault for not setting my boundaries and standing up for myself. I thought this was a stellar example of how I disregard my self.

Thanks for a different perspective.


Kacey said...

You just lived through a nightmare and survived! I think you passed the test. ONe of the things you can do after the fact is quickly scrape the food into the garbage and stack the dishes, silver on the bottom, glassware on the top in the sink and fill with hot water and soap and cheerfully go to bed. They are ready to drain in the morning and stick them in the dishwasher. The bigger stuff can wait their turn in the soaking sink, while you and the child take a walk and smell the roses.

Bloghead said...

Well, crap happens. Just get on with it.

Betty said...

Dear Kacey,

You sound like a woman who has a good healthy perspective on things, including domestic disasters. And thank you for reminding me that I did indeed survive!

Many hugs,

Betty said...

Dear Bloghead,

Thank you for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment. I have gotten on with it, as you suggested. To tell you the truth, I failed to make my point in this post, and I might just add a paragraph or two.


Lisa said...


I would have done the same thing. Honestly. God forbid I say "no" to someone and then they stop liking me. This is something I'm STILL working on in my forties.

I think it's all a matter of trusting the people in your life who are close to you. Ask "Simply Me." She is by far the best person to ask advice from regarding this. When she's had enough of us, she simply says, "Okay, I'm exhausted, you have to go now!!" And then we make fun of her, we laugh, and we leave! And guess what? We come back the next time she invites us (and her door is always open)!

I'm just appalled that your friends didn't even bother to say, "Let me help you clean up!" THAT was rude.

Lisa said...

You know what? I just had to sign back on, because something was bothering me.

You need to start defending yourself, and you need to start today by realizing that you did not owe "bloghead" an explanation to his rude comment. He was being impolite on his first visit to your blog, and his comment was condescending toward something that was clearly upsetting to you.

My apologies if you actually know this person.

Loving Annie said...

Oh Betty, honey, i SO get it. It took me YEARS to establish healthy boundaries for myself. And even now I'm not always quick on my feet.

They were rude, innocently or not.
And it wrecked what might otherwsie have been a nice organized evening for you.

Okay, take a deep breath. Know that you aren't at fault for wanting to please, and that simply NEXT TIME someone wants to incovenience you, that you can say "no, that just doesn't work for me."

I promise you that the world won't end, people will NOT think you are a bitch (unless they are trying to manipulate you), and you two can always renegotiate your plans if need be.

p.s. if you e-mail me your e-mail address, I'll send you the picture !_

*Big cyber hugs*
Loving Annie

simply me said...

Oh Betty - that was awful. I will say this ..... my whole life (truly) I was an over-extender and in some ways I can still be that way. I had great difficulty setting boundaries, saying NO, and often would say yes when what I really wanted to say was "NO &^%$# WAY.
Now, and you can ask Lisa (a comforter is not a bedspread) and she will tell you that I am very comfortable telling people " I am tired its time for you to go." This change came about from a long illness in 1998 where I learned that I just sometimes need to put my needs first.
I found that people still like me and accept that I am honest.
I just got off the phone with my husband where I told him "I believe I have reached my social peak, and cannot see anyone for a couple of days" - I really mean it.
It is hard to set boundaries when we have been told that it is rude and just plain not nice. Well, guess what, boundaries help us to be healthier, happier people therefore making us better friends.

Try it. I hope you've to you and your little boy.

simply me said...

This really so freaking funny - I did not read the other Posts and I see that Lisa has already told you about - That should give you a good laugh....

Betty said...

Dear Lisa,

This turned out to be quite comical, with Maria and you both telling me how she deals with this issue! I had a good laugh over that.

And thank you for noticing my ridiculous apology to bloghead. You're right. It was a perfect example of what I do, and it's time for me to stop!!!


Betty said...

Thank you, Annie, for your support and direction. One of the main reasons I blog is to discover that others have struggled with my issues, and to find out how they did it. And it's ongoing, I know. (I can't imagine ever having this problem totally "licked"!)


Betty said...

Dear Maria,

Well, there's no doubt in my mind that both you and Lisa are telling the truth! Unbelievable!!! Such great advice, and to think it was told by 2 different people! I'll be chuckling about this for a long time!!!


Priyamvada_K said...

Dear Betty,
Don't beat yourself up for this disaster. True, disaster happened. But at least you could analyze it and find the root cause for it.

You are not alone. I had a boundary problem with my ex. My wake-up moment came some years ago when a friend said during an argument "You know, my feelings are also important!"

THAT's when I realized I should have said that to my husband long ago. And stood up for myself instead of caving in all the time. So now whenever people get mad at me for not saying yes to an unreasonable demand, I take a deep breath, remind myself that my feelings are also important and then answer.

Sometimes you can also buy time by saying "Give me a few minutes to think about this and I will call you back".


Betty said...

Dear Priya,

It's so great to see you again! And your words of wisdom are very helpful. It makes perfect sense when you say "My feelings are important too" yet it seems like a revelation. I've spent my life worrying about respecting the feelings and boundaries of others, while ignoring my own. It should be simple to fix, once one realizes what the problem is.

Many hugs,

Loving Annie said...

Just came by on Thursday the 23rd to say hello and see how you and The Boy were doing, Betty !

easywriter said...

Aw Betty...that's too bad about your "friends" sure was thoughtless of them. I struggle in the same way you do so I can appreciate your predicament.

Scarlett said...

Hi Betty,

My first time here, came here through Priya's blog and I so loved your posts and your blog.

You know what, I would have done exactly what you did. I am trying to learn the lesson that "Friends dont expect justifications and enemies dont believe them" but it is such a hard lesson to learn. Someday we will get there, someday we will stopping put ourselves last.

Take care, I will be back to read your other posts soon.


Betty said...

Dear Scarlett,

Welcome! Thank you for your comment- it always helps to know that others understand and struggle with the same issues.


Anonymous said...