I saw a few minutes of some “reality show” program on TV last night involving a young woman, a child born into wealth, who proudly admitted she feels no sense of responsibility or obligation to provide for herself, work or do anything to better herself or the world. She has all the money she wants and needs, and sees no reason to change her carefree, responsibility free lifestyle. I was discussing this with hubby this morning and stated that I could not imagine a life without responsibility for or obligation towards anything or anyone. I believe responsibility and obligations are good things and help us develop more meaningful relationships and lives.
Obligation has always been a driving force in my life, and often the source of consternation and guilt, as I struggle with what, how and with whom I should spend my limited time and resources .
Although there are some obligations I’d be hard pressed to ignore, such as in employment and law, most of my obligations are by choice and I take them very seriously. If I commit to being somewhere or doing something, I feel strongly I need to follow through and honor my commitments. When I join a bowling league, I feel an obligation to the league and my team to show up as often as possible. When I sign my puppy up for training classes, I feel an obligation to show up every week and be prepared. When I accept a job, I feel an obligation to do my best work and, if I am unhappy, to do the best job I can until I find another job. These are all obvious obligations.
I also feel a personal obligation to the people in my life. I feel an obligation to my husband to participate in our marriage, home and life. I feel an obligation to my dog to be a loving and protective owner and provider of his needs. I feel an obligation to my friends to be there when they want and need me to be and to acknowledge their moments, good and bad, which are important to them and, by extension of our friendship, to me. I am lucky to have many people in my life, but it can make fulfilling all of my (self-imposed?) obligations to them hard to honor at all times. I cannot be everywhere at once, I cannot always be there for all the major events or remember when big things are happening, and I cannot always make adequate time to spend with them, consistently. But, to me, there are obvious moments, times and situations when people deserve my best effort to fulfill my obligation to them. Milestone birthdays and anniversaries; important births and deaths and events in their circle of family and friends; new relationships, ending relationships; big moves and life impacting job changes.
Sometimes, I have to prioritize one friend over another, when situations arise that force me to choose where and with whom to be. A friend from out of town, whom I see rarely, may win out over a local friend I get to see more often. A once in a life time event (marriage – well, theoretically, anyway) may win out over a recurring event (birthday.) A friend in an emergency room may win out over a friends Tupperware party. I always try to impress upon the people in my life that when I can be there for them, I will and if I can’t, I really can’t, I’m not merely choosing not to be.
It has taken me a long time to reach a point where I do not feel guilty expecting the same in return from those in my life. If I give of myself, I have a right to expect others to give back in similar fashion. They may not be obligated to give back or feel the same sense of obligation towards me but, if they don’t, it has an impact on our relationship. If I am investing my time and energy into other people, and if I get no or little return, I am going to start investing that time and energy into more mutually fulfilling relationships. I want and need to be important to the people in my life, as much as they are to me. When their words or actions make me feel insignificant, unappreciated or unimportant, then I am learning to let them go and make room for those who value me and my time. This often results in people being angry at me: people who enjoyed my attention, commitment, resources and/or devotion but resented any expectation I had to have the same returned. When I’ve tried to explain that I felt I was getting less than I was giving, I have been accused of being needy, clingy, unfair and unrealistic. Be that as it may, I know who I am and I know what I want, need and expect out of my relationships. If I do not get it, I am no longer wasting my time and energy trying to get it over an expansive amount of time. I am accepting things and people as they are and moving on. In this way, I am fulfilling an obligation to myself: to fill my life with people who make me feel good and special and important; and avoiding people who make me feel bad, common and unimportant.
The bottom line: if you want me to invest in our friendship, then do the same.