Have you found yourself going to a person you love feeling lonely or frustrated seeking comfort or a place to vent and then coming away feeling entirely unsatisfied with the response? The boyfriend you called to vent to was preoccupied, the parent did not hear your feelings and yet again gave you terrible advice. I call this ‘Going to the hardware store for milk.’ You go to the hardware store and say “do you sell milk here” and the store keeper says “No, we have nails and hammers and drills, but no milk” and you leave feeling disappointed and not getting any milk. A few days later you return to the store “Sir, do you sell milk?”, “No I’m sorry, we still don’t sell any milk. I can offer you building materials” and again you leave with no milk. This time you may even leave angry at the store for not having the milk, despite the fact that have now told you twice that they don’t have milk. Maybe it is you that needs to find a grocery store.
The problem we face in relationships is knowing who can give us what. Some people are supportive and kind, but they aren’t that useful when it comes to career advice. Others are great for a night out to have fun with, but they would not know how to help you cry after a break-up. For some reason we are better at knowing that our friend Will is good for cheering us up, and Sarah the best listener and choosing the right friend to go to. We, however, aren’t so good at seeing that mum for some reason really can’t take our career seriously and then are left wondering why she gives terrible career advice or offers us some money despite that fact that we make a very decent living. There seems to be a part of us that longs for the time when our parents were like superheroes, and they could do everything.
Real maturity is reached when we have successfully individuated from our parents. Individuated, a term first coined by the psychologist Carl Jung, it means to become a whole, unique and separate being. When this individuation hasn’t been reached we often return to our parents believing they are omnipotent beings that have everything we want and need, and then leave disappointed that they are only human beings. An example would be going to a father for acknowledgement of achievements and being completely overlooked and dismissed, or going to a mother for positive reinforcement and encouragement and leave being told that you won’t succeed anyway so why try. It would be easy but also very painful to stay stuck in pointing a finger at the parents for not being better parents, but at what age do you need to take ownership and therefore responsibility of your needs and look for someone that can meet them?
Now this is where some make a mistake of looking for a romantic partner to meet ALL of their needs. They don’t just want a grocery store for their milk, they want the hardware store as well, and the department store filled with clothes, and the toy store, and on and on, they want a store that has everything in Cash n’ Carry amounts! Can you imagine how overwhelming it would be to be that for someone? I am sure some of you have tried. The flip side of that coin is the disappointment and frustration of being in a relationship where all those needs aren’t met, and blaming the other person for not providing you those things?
So what is the solution? Do we just not try for each other in relationships? Do we just say, “Hey, I don’t have that milk for you, go elsewhere!” No, all relationships should encourage us to grow as people, to extend ourselves further for those we love. However, we all have limits. If we could meet ALL each others’ needs all the time there would be no need for friends. However, when your boyfriend is busy on a Friday night and you want to vent about your incredibly frustrating day or week then call your friend! That way you will get your need met, you will not end up having an argument with your boyfriend that leaves you not only angry with your week but furious with your boyfriend. And when your girlfriend is busy at work and unable to talk to you about your frustrations with the job hunt, call a friend. Just because the person you are with doesn’t necessarily have any ‘milk’ right now, doesn’t mean they are not wonderful and great, it just means that you need to go elsewhere for that item. Relationships would feel so much better if we didn’t expect quite so much from them.