In previous blogs, I encouraged you to view your life as your own unique story, written by only you, although influenced by your family of origin and other significant relationships. In today’s blog, I’d like to explore the influence of other supporting characters in your story. Who are they? How long do they stay in that role? How do we manage their changing roles?
A long time ago, there was a TV series called The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It was a delightful series following the life of fictional Mary Richards as the associate producer of a television news show. As the years progressed, her fictional best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern, got a spin-off show of her own called Rhoda. While both series are highly entertaining, my point in bringing them up is to illustrate how the story of our lives intertwine with others’ stories. In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary is the protagonist whose life sometimes includes her best friend Rhoda whose portrayal is merely as a supporting character to Mary’s story. After four years, Rhoda’s story develops to the point that she becomes the protagonist of her own show in another State, with Mary making infrequent appearances as a merely supporting character role in Rhoda’s story.
Our relationships are similar to Mary’s and Rhoda’s. Viewed from one angle, we are in a supporting role; viewed from another angle, we are in the leading role. As the main character in our own book, the spotlight is on us: this is our story. We get to decide which characters participate in our story and to what extent. Our families of origin are already written into the storyline as characters. We cannot choose their role, whether supportive or antagonistic, but they are there and we are stuck with them as our main cast of characters as we grow up.
By the time we get to Middle School, however, we begin to have a greater say in the characters we allow in our story: who will be our friends, who will be our best friend, and who will be mere acquaintances. Some of these will be replaced with others, some will be written out of our story altogether, some will continue into High School, and a few relationships will continue on our grand adventure of life until we die. These relationships are ours to pursue, ours to cultivate, ours to determine the nature of.
As mentioned in my last blog, sometimes our family or other individuals seem to pressure us into pursuing relationships that we have very little interest in pursuing. (“I don’t know why you don’t like him – he’d be perfect for you!”) No one else can manufacture an intimate connection with another person for you. More on intimate relationships in my next blog. For now, however, suffice it to say that only you can choose those individuals who are important to you and whom you want as part of your story.
The thing about relationships is that we alone can choose whom we want to be supporting characters in our story, but we cannot force that person to play the role we want them to play. We also cannot force another to allow us to be a supporting character in their story. Many times, the choice is mutual, and we develop a long-standing relationship. Unfortunately, more often than not, the choice is unilateral; our romantic partner breaks up with us, a friend chooses to live in a way incompatible with our lifestyle, one of us moves to another distant location, or other circumstances make it difficult to continue a relationship. We can control and are responsible for our own choices; we cannot control and are not responsible for anyone else’s choices.
This lack of control over others’ roles in our story can be distressing, even grieving. Just as we have the freedom to choose our relationships, we must give others the same privilege of choosing their own relationships. When we are not chosen by someone we had hoped would choose us for a relationship, or worse yet when we are rejected, this can be devastating!
As adults, physical distance, separation, divorce, and death are realities impacting most of us, all the more as we age. Regardless of whether the loss was anticipated or sudden, rejection, abandonment, and loneliness hit at the core of our longings. Numerous authorities have suggested that the longing for belonging is the core yearning of every person. Loss threatens that sense of belonging and throws us into a turmoil of grief.
If you are struggling from the loss of a relationship, please reach out to a counselor for guidance and support. Each of our counselors at Summit is equipped to help people work through the distress of loss. I am an expert on grief and loss, and on divorce recovery, and I would love to come alongside this journey with you.