Ms. Fixit: Nobody likes a know-it-all
This past weekend, I trekked into spider-infested, gator-crawling swamplands of Arkansas to be with my best friend of twenty years and my two badass nieces, god-children, kiddos from another vagiddos. Aside from the hand-sized tarantulas that made a home on my tent, it was a weekend filled with campfire s'mores, fishing poles, and walks in the woods. The nieces and I even found this perfect pelvic bone near the shore where we assume a gator had death rolled the poor wild pig this probably belonged to.
But there was a moment in which one of my habits muscled itself into our conversation and made everyone, including me, uncomfortable.
Hi, I'm Jamie, and I'm a fixer. No, like a fixer. I will insert myself into every aspect of your decision-making process to tell you how you should do something even if you're not even thinking about how what you're doing might need to be done a different way. For years, I called this "helping." Because who doesn't feel super motivated when her mother nags her in that condescending, know-it-all voice?
This part of myself is most apparent when I'm on the phone with my mother. For years, no, let's back for real, probably in utero, I've attuned myself to my mom's every shadow, change in temperature and mood, and basic need. At six years old, I was proofreading her college papers because it needed to be done. At 15, I was advising her on her marriage. By adulthood, my hubris was sealed and our relationship cemented. It was my job to fix her every feeling or situation.
This is how it played out: On the phone, she'd tell me about some decision I didn't agree with, and I'd start rattling off all the things that were, of course, more right than her own decisions. In that sharp-edged tone of the certain, I would tell my mom what to do.
Stop for a second. Think about that. Think about every time you've just wanted to talk something out, try on possibilities, hear someone empathize with your difficulty. Then imagine my bossy face barging in with all the things you should do.
This is not how I want to love people.
Fixing Is Not the Same as Loving
I have this other friend, a woman older and wiser than myself who many years ago brought me close and slowly taught me what it is to listen in love. Years of introspection and examination had made her comfortable to talk openly about her emotional needs. She patiently explained that what she needed most often was not solutions but an empathetic ear. Someone to just listen and say, "I hear you."
Of course, this is what I want, too. I hate being told what I should do. It makes us all feel like Really? You assume I'm too dumb to think of that? It makes us close up, push back, shut down that little part of vulnerability we'd just opened to another.
This obsession with fixing manifests in everything in my life. It only took a full decade with Mike to get that he didn't need me to improve every little aspect of his life. I catch myself constantly clicking into Big Sister with my brothers, who are grown and deserve my respect and trust to make their own decisions and learn their lessons on their terms.
The Fixer Strikes Again
Back to that friend. On our camping trip, the Arkansas skies cracked open and dumped rain on us in the middle of the afternoon. The kids ducked in their tents while we dragged our camping chairs under a canopy she'd built.
We were talking money, a topic I have no room to say anything about. Like, no room. But there I was with my beautiful, generous friend who has loved me through everything for 20 yearstelling me about how hard things had become. She's about to find herself the single mother of two teenage girls, and she's understandably afraid, her husband's income suddenly gone from the house.
This is my learning my moment. A woman told me recently that character defects are just coping mechanisms we've outgrown. This phrase grabbed me by the throat. In that moment with my friend, I'd let my fear - for her, for her precarious situation, for her children I love like my own family - get the better of me. It was painful to sit with the uncertainty and pain of the situation, so I reverted to fixing to feel safe.
What happens in these moments, I think, we reach for the action that feels most safe, and what feels safer than knowing exactly the right thing to do. We move from that one moment - fear - straight into false safety - I know what you should do. This fixing doesn't simply rob us of the opportunity to listen openly and lovingly, but it also robs the other person.
When we fix, that person misses the opportunity to learn the lesson they need to learn. When we come up with solutions we think are right, we take away the critical process necessary to adapt at our own pace and on our own timeline. We say this a lot in recovery: if I'm here fixing the problems created by addiction, the addict never has the opportunity to learn and grow from the consequences, our necessary teachers.
In the case of my friend, I robbed her of my compassion, unconditional love, and full trust that she will find the right solutions for herself and her life. I'm here to be support. I'm here to offer advice when asked, not unsolicited. I'm here to listen and to say, "I'm sorry. I love you. I'm here."