Duke is our neighborhood cat. Although he has an owner, he spends most of his time outside. Duke sleeps under our cars, sits on our steps, and stares meaningfully at us as we leave for work and return home.
At 5:30, he can be seen running to my neighbor’s place because soft-hearted guy that he is, he feeds Duke supper each night. The rest of us have a much more formal relationship with Duke. Sometimes he will meow as if he wants some loving, and he’ll allow petting and tickling under his chin, but only for a specified time. Then he swats away your hand, gets up, and walks away as if he doesn’t even know you. And believe me, he’s not above giving you a little bite if you refuse to believe that he’s done with the petting.
He can be even more capricious. More than once, he’s given me a heart-rending meow and taken a step towards me only to run off when I reach out to pet him. Obviously, Duke is not an animal you want to depend on for a sense of feeling loved and worthy.
But if you just accept Duke for what he is, then he adds quite a bit to the neighborhood from the occasional pat to the Buddha-like gaze he bestows on us as we come home.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. We spend an awful lot of time wanting people to be other than who they are, even trying to make them be other than who they are. And it almost never works.
Let’s say that we have a friend who is constantly late and often cancels dinners and dates at the last moment. We get mad at her and want her to change. When she doesn’t, we take it personally as a sign that she doesn’t respect us. But we don’t see our other options:
- Tell her to meet for lunch thirty minutes before you plan to be there so that you won’t have to wait so long.
- Never make plans with her alone so that you continue on when she cancels or have someone to talk with when she’s late.
- Admit that the hassle is not the worth the pleasure of her company, and stop making plans with her.
- Admit that the pleasure of her company is worth the hassle and bring a book to restaurants and join Netflix so you can watch a movie when she cancels yet again.
Besides, if you go around telling people all the things they must change to be acceptable to you, they might reciprocate. Yikes!