There have been a few times in my life when I’ve heard people say “I’m done with them!” with great finality. I’m not talking about deep interpersonal relationships. I’m talking about longer term friendships, usually a mutual friend to the person I was speaking with. I’ve heard all manner of justifications for eliminating connections from someone’s life. “She’s just too prejudiced” or “He’s got a weird connection to his dog” and “She is always complaining about her child/significant other/family member but is continually enabling their bad behavior!”. Now admittedly these aren’t exactly ideal behavioral traits especially for someone who is in a position of influence in your life. The most recent time I had this conversation, it got me thinking about the fact that we all have flaws. They come from the needs we have that originate from our genetic wiring or imprinted in on us in our early childhood. Examples include low self esteem or an addiction personality. I’m personally an oversharer.
Here is the challenge in a nutshell. When younger we are fast and loose with friendships as they come and go quickly. I recall when my daughter was going through high school she had a new ‘best friend’ about every month. They would talk all the time, hang out together, and then there would be an issue. The conflict was usually about a boy but sometimes it was because something was said at school. The relationship would quickly end and there was another new best friend. From what I could tell by interrogating my daughter her behavior wasn’t aberrant. All the kids at the school would trade best friends like kids trading candy with their buddies after a huge Halloween trick or treat outing. But then age happens. Life happens. As we get older and our commitments expand there simply isn’t as much bandwidth in life to make new connections. Even if you happen to be able to go out every night and socialize the vast majority of the world doesn’t have that type of flexibility which limits the population you can interact with. Mostly friends are like musical tastes. If your lucky enough to have made some good ones when your young, they stick with you forever. But like I said, restricted life opportunities make it tremendously difficult to create more of these types of deeply compatible connections when you are older. The ultimate result is that rather than having a huge population of people who really align closely to you, they tend to have ‘flaws’.
As I said, we all have flaws. The human condition is fundamentally and universally flawed. We have this complex series of life experiences and influences that combine with our biological wiring that ultimately result in our individually unique personality quirks. This is why you will run into someone who looks down at people of a different color or ethnic background. It’s also why you may see someone in their 30’s who’s entertainment tastes tend to be the type of thing a teenager would be interested in. This isn’t really an article about the psychological underpinnings of someone’s prejudice, their choice in a life mate or their fascination with anime culture. It’s really asking the question of should you maintain some sort of relationship with someone who has these personality quirks that you don’t share or have an ability to tolerate easily. The quirks may not specifically be with your friend but in some of their choices, for example, should you remain friends with someone who has a tremendously strange and immature spouse that gets on your nerves?
The thing to keep in mind is in addition to having quirks, we all have tolerances too. It’s not that our life long friends don’t have issues, they just have issues that don’t bother us or we have learned to manage them. Understanding your tolerances is the key to the answer to the question of should you accept people with personality flaws.
When you should absolutely not accept people with personality flaws
Thinking about it, the only ones that you should absolutely and immediately drop are the ones who are dangerous in some way. When I say dangerous, I’m talking about dangerous to your person or loved ones. Examples include going out with the person who religiously gets completely trashed yet always insists on driving. The person who remains in the caustic relationship with the violent and unstable control freak. I would drop somebody in a New York minute who thought it was a good idea to let young teenagers use controlled substances at home beyond the occasional tasting of a beer. It’s really hard to recover from being flattened on the highway by a semi tractor-trailer or shot by an emotionally unstable person who thinks you’re going to encourage their girlfriend to leave them. So these personality flaw filled relationships are definitely off the table.
When you take away the possible danger to your person and immediate family then everything else really is an emotional response. Just because somebody thinks that only idiots would vote for that political candidate, i e the one you voted for, does not mean that they don’t have other hugely positive things to contribute to your life. Sometimes the ones who take emotionally but never give can eventually have something positive to share with you even if it is reminding you of who you don’t want to be.
The trick is to learn to manage them.
Managing people is an art form and it takes time to learn. When we reflect on the connections we have with our childhood friends what we’re not thinking about is how we have learned to manage them over time. We know how to engage them in the enriching aspects of the relationship and deflect the more caustic elements without having to be actively doing it. Managing the relationships that we developed over years and decades is second nature to the point where we are not even aware of it yet there was a time when everyone had to figure the relationship dynamic and set appropriate boundaries that allowed the connection to continue.
What do I mean by this? Well a recent example includes an extrovert friend of mine. When they made friends with someone who was so introverted that they only liked to go to movies, the extravert had to come up with a coping mechanism for the relationship. They started just becoming more involved in social events and invited the introvert to come along. The introvert didn’t very frequently but the connection was somewhat maintained and the extravert still has someone to go to the movies with.
There is a temporal element to relationships to people with flaws. Human beings are dynamic individual’s and we do change over time. There is something to be said for sticking a relationship out through the bad times or early developmental periods to get to the good ones or the ones that are more emotionally aligned. An obvious example of this is how a relationship changes between parent and child when the child grows up. Who wants to hang around with a five year old who likes to throw temper tantrums? Add twenty years to that kid and a degree in your industry and all of a sudden the relationship has changed dramatically to one that is tremendously enriching for the rest of your life. If you weren’t the parent who was obligated to stick it through to the culmination then you would have never gotten to the enriching part. This is admittedly an extreme example but there are other non-familial illustrations. Helping the friend through the bad relationship choices until they eventually find a decent partner or remaining connected to the one who can’t manage money enough to ever seem to have enough to go out until one day they learn to manage better. One day the introvert may learn to be extroverted enough to go to social events and they will have my extrovert friend to thank for modeling successful behavior. That shared behavior will help connect the introvert and extrovert in ways they wouldn’t be able to if it wasn’t for the investment in time.
It’s the professional world too.
I haven’t really touched on this too deeply but it’s not just the interpersonal and private life that is affected with maintaining relationships. We have professional relationships with all manner of personalities. These work relationships can get tremendously complex as well. They are also more delicate in that it’s harder to recover from a bad situation at work then it is with your buddy who you hang out with on Friday nights. Yet the same foundational principles still exist. Unless the relationship is dangerous there’s really not a point to severing ties with the quirky, weird or sometimes disagreeable person at work. You can still be friendly and try and engage them beyond just a professional connection. From a practical sense you don’t know where they are going to wind up and you don’t know what your own career is going to look like in a work world that’s as unstable as our professional environment. From a more personal sense, there most likely is something you both can learn or benefit from each other.
So the rules are: 1) Don’t sever ties unless you have to. As I said: Serial bad relationship friend, don’t sever ties. Serial bad relationship friend who dates violent druggies, well that’s that’s when you say good by. 2) Learn to manage the relationships that may take more work or fortitude on your part to maintain. Over time there may be unexpected benefits. 3) Have compassion. Always try to be understanding that everyone is flawed and you have your own flaws. The more you have compassion the less you will feel the need to sever ties when someone frustrates you. Also, compassion will allow you to be able to see your own quirks more clearly.
In the end you will have to eject some people from your life and some will reject you. But the more friends you make the greater your network will be. The greater your network the more opportunities you will have, both socially and professionally. Yes, you can be highly selective with your connections but if you constantly reject people who are flawed, there won’t be anyone left and your life experience will be diminished. I guess you always have an English Bulldog as a best friend because they are flawless in my considered opinion. Thankfully my wife and circle of friends who don’t believe in the perfection of English Bulldogs are accepting what they consider a unique personality quirk of mine.
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