My sister and I had a terrible fight on Saturday night. It was about my relationship. In the end, everything got all worked out but the thing that bothered me the most about it was I let something she said bother me when it wasn’t true in the least. She planted this seed in my head and I started questioning if there really was a problem in my relationship. She made many accusations in the long car ride where our conversation occurred and one of them was true so she brought up a good point but the others were completely ludicrous and eventually when I gave her more of the facts, she even agreed with me. But why did I ever question myself based on her spurious accusations? For a while there, I was pretty upset and wondering if she was right about everything. Why were her words simply enough for me to start doubting myself. I knew part of what she was alleging was just ridiculous but I couldn’t help but take it seriously. It was like she had said you know what your relationship problem is, you’re gay. And instead of saying, actually I know I’m not gay but thank you very much, I said hmm, maybe I am gay…That never occurred to me before but if she thinks it’s true maybe she’s seeing something I’m not.
We live in a time, where everyone and anyone wants to give you a psychological diagnosis. But just because a smart friend thinks she knows what your problem is, doesn’t make it true. We read magazines that have quizzes and articles that make you question your relationship with absolutely no accountability. We tell some women they are pushovers and need to stand up for themselves when really they’re just compromising. We tell someone who are just asserting what they want, that they are bitchy. We call some bossy and some too meek. We tell some not to settle and others that nobody’s perfect. We tell girls to have self-esteem and love themselves and women that they are too self-absorbed and vain. Some women need to be more honest and communicate and some need to know when they are being disrespectful and keep their mouths shut. Did it ever occur to you, that you don’t have any of these problems?
The problem is this, most of us are all of these things some of the time. So when we diagnose our friends and say, it seems like you make all the compromises in your relationship and he doesn’t do anything for you – we may have planted a seed that is completely unfounded so that our friend might start thinking maybe I do make too many compromises and demand that everything suddenly be her way. No one knows what goes on between a couple except the two people in a relationship. Everyone else’s opinion is going to be unreliable because it is an opinion that is not based on all the facts.
But of course, we love the idea of an easy answer to our problems. It’s very hard to keep a broad view of an entire relationship and then make nuanced judgment calls about behavior when you’re in the relationship – it’s practically impossibly when you’re not!
This problem is exacerbated by all of our TV and movie characters. As a screenwriter, it is very difficult to write nuanced balanced characters but one of the ways we do this is to make our characters flawed. We gave them a negative character trait – like hubris or being lazy or being a workaholic. And stories usually involve this character confronting this trait and eventually changing into someone who has shed this negative character trait. But in real life, no one is that one dimensional so while the diagnosis works for female characters in movies, it’s not necessarily true in real life.
I recently overheard two girls talking about whether or not they close the door to the bathroom when they’re peeing in front of their boyfriends. One did, one didn’t. Now it occurred to me that if this were an episode of Sex and the City, this would be a metaphor. The girl who closed the door would have an issue with letting men get close to her and she’d constantly be trying to be perfect in front of men. The episode would be about how she finally lets the man see the messy side of her and the credits would run while the door was open to the bathroom. I was thinking about all of this because the girl in front of me who leaves the door open was making a case to her friend and telling her she had to get over her fears of letting men in and how she finally had to allow this boyfriend to see the other side of her. The other girl was agreeing saying you’re right, I need to do this.
I desperately wanted to interrupt these two girls and say you’re not on tv! Maybe she has no problem letting men in or connecting with her boyfriend and letting him see the imperfect side of her; Maybe she just wants the door closed and it doesn’t mean anything! Psychoanalyzing our friends and their relationships has become so common that we all do it to each other all the time. But it’s dangerous to be haphazardly giving out these diagnoses.
If you’re worried that you really have fallen into a pattern of behavior that’s not healthy, see a therapist and get a professional opinion. Otherwise, stop convincing yourself that you’re a psychopath because your friend called you one after reading a Women’s mag that said psyhcopaths are reclusive and don’t go out Saturday night. We all think we know what everyone else’s problems are. But really, unless you’re a character on TV, none of us have it figured out. Especially the people trying to tell us that they do.