When a "Good Person" is Bad For You
Despite the reality that most things in life fall in gray areas, I’ve always found it easier to understand things when they are black and white. This preference has created in me, as it has in most of us, a tendency to simplify and to generalize. As soon as we learn the words, we create a “good” bucket and a “bad” bucket and try to put just about everything in life in one or the other. The first time I tried Brussels sprouts as a child, I hated them and for years, I told myself that Brussels sprouts belonged in the bad bucket, when I should have been telling myself that while Brussels sprouts can be delicious and while my mother was a pretty good cook most days, the way she made Brussels sprouts was pretty gross (sorry mom!). While this Brussels sprouts realization is entirely true, it is a reality that cannot be expressed within the dichotomy created by these buckets that so many of us swear by.
As I’ve gotten older, the elements of my life have fallen increasingly in the gray areas. As a twenty-something divorcee who is grateful for both the existence and the end of my first marriage, I’m constantly reminded that to most people divorce still falls firmly in the bad bucket. And sure, divorce is bad - it’s messy and complicated, it’s painful and, at times, embarrassing, and in an ideal world, it wouldn’t happen - but we don’t live in an ideal world and so sometimes a thing that is“bad” in most circumstances might be the best thing for you.
But despite my acknowledgement, that things like Brussels sprouts, divorce and the Kardashian empire, are just a little too nuanced to fit entirely in a good or bad bucket, it still takes everything in me, to resist the urge to categorize people in this black and white, good or bad, way.
This is a realization that hit me a few weeks ago when a friend of mine asked why I was so hesitant to cut someone (DISCLAIMER: this was not a conversation about my ex, it pertained to an entirely unrelated toxic friendship) out of my life who was so clearly “bad for me”. I tried to defend myself by telling her that I just couldn’t let myself believe that “he’s a bad guy” - to which she rebuffed, “I don’t know him, I have no idea if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, but I do know that he is nothing but bad for you”.
The following mantra replayed in my head for days as I tried to let the concept really sink in; Someone can be a good person, and still be bad for me.
Ultimately, it was watching my best friend eat a bowl of lobster ramen that made it all click. The fact that, due to a pretty intense shellfish allergy, the lobster sitting in her bowl would literally kill me if I took a bite of it, doesn’t make the lobster bad but it does mean it’s something that I should never ever consider putting into my mouth.
I think we’re hesitant to categorize the people we’ve let in to our hearts, even if only for a moment, as “bad” for two reasons. First, labeling someone you once delighted in and held in high esteem as “bad” forces you to reevaluate all the joyful memories, moments of comfort and confidence boosting affirmations that came from that person. Were those moments forced? Were those sweet texts manipulative? Were those compliments backhanded? How could you believe all these positive things came from someone who was inherently bad?
Secondly, it means, or at least heavily implies, that we made a mistake. If we’re investing in bad people, it means we don’t have good enough security at the doors of our hearts and that our judgement is just all the way off. Putting someone you spent time with in a “bad” bucket, leaves you to ask questions like “what is wrong with me that I let this bad thing into my life?”
Drawing boundaries in toxic relationships became a lot easier for me when I stopped trying to put people in the good or bad buckets and started asking myself “Is this person good for me?”. This question allows me to make healthy, self respecting decisions and set meaningful boundaries without robbing me of beautiful memories or forcing me to second guess my own initial instincts.
Boom - problem solved. Except there's one last issue. How do I even begin to answer a question like that? I've spent my whole life putting people in good buckets and bad buckets - reframing the entire question also means reframing the way I assess the people in my life. How do I even know if someone is good for me?
Here are a few of the things on the very new and entirely in progress "Signs That (possibly) Good Person Is Actually Good For You" list.
Your interactions with this (possibly) good person leave you feeling confident, as opposed to ashamed or insecure.
This (possibly) good person challenges you and supports you, empowering you to achieve your personal and professional goals - as opposed to someone who makes you second guess yourself, your capabilities and your worthiness.
You have seen this (possibly) good person take ownership of the ways they have hurt you and genuinely apologize, as opposed to someone who will shut down in response to criticism or make you feel guilty for being "sensitive" in the first place.
This (possibly) good person is willing to love you in the ways that you feel love (your love languages, if you will), as opposed to someone who doesn't care if you feel secure or cherished because "you should just know" how they feel about you.
That's all I got so far - but I'd love to hear your thoughts.
What signs am I missing? Help a girl out - like, seriously. I need help.