People-Pleasing: Today Is Not Your Day


I’m reading, and rereading this archive post this week.

Today would have been a good day for me to wear the t-shirt that says, “I can only please one person a day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.”

As I progress in my recovery, I am a choosier shopper when it comes to friendships–I can now recognize when I’m being treated unfairly, or without respect, and I don’t feel as much need to stick around just to prevent causing waves. Nor can I afford to share myself with everyone who comes along. That’s too dangerous and wearing–with pieces of your soul left out to dry on too many doormats–not to mention impossible (like the saying goes: you can please everyone some of the time, and some people all the time, but not everyone all of the time). I need to surround myself with people who are working just as hard as I am at staying well and positive, resisting the plethora of opportunities to turn to the Dark Side and talk trash and gloom.

I feel much like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who wrote in “Gift From the Sea,” “I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.”

However, even as I’m beginning to know what I need and want, saying no and erecting the proper boundaries to get there still feel as uncomfortable and awkward as wearing a too-big wetsuit backwards.

I say that because I ran into my friend Fran (for the first time since I abruptly ended our friendship in a phone call) on the same day that I tried out a wetsuit I bought online (the frugal side of my brain handcuffed the logical part, and decided that buying a used wetsuit off eBay for my triathlon was the way to go).

“So, how do you think it fits?” I asked a bunch of competitive swimmers–some who had swum the width of the Chesapeake Bay–at the Naval Academy pool, where I was about to test the fit and buoyancy of my Internet bargain.

“Well, I can’t really tell when you wear it backwards,” one the guys said. “Turn it around and then try it out in the water. You’ll know immediately if it’s too big because it will draw in water, and basically sink you. If it fits right, or even if it’s a bit snug, you will love the thing as it will help you sail along.”

After I put the thing on the right way and dove in, I knew after two strokes that I had just wasted $50. (Eric was right again, dang it.) Two lengths of the pool consumed the energy of about 30 laps. This eBay treasure felt all wrong…cumbersome, bulky, restricting…the way it feels for this stage-four people-pleaser to erect necessary boundaries in some of her relationships.

After seeing Fran for the first time in over six months, I knew that breaking off that tight bond was absolutely the right thing to do (hey, there’s progress!)–in my mind, there was no explaining away the breach of trust that I was very hurt by or rationalizing the self-destructive behavior.

But like all relationships, there was a lot of good there that I had to let go of–hanging out downtown or at the parks or museums while our kids beat up each other in Batman and Spider-Man suits. And for those fun times, I wanted to gloss over what went wrong.

In many ways, it felt like my bad breakup with my college boyfriend. I tried to talk myself into keeping him around–because there were so many wonderful and decent things about the relationship. But my gut kept on reminding me about that fundamental rift in values, a nagging that tugged at my conscience.

Like Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, it’s about being sincere–which means hanging out with people who respect me in the same way that I respect them, and sharing meals with girlfriends and couples who motivate you to be better people.

Yes. All that makes sense. But God was it uncomfortable today abiding by the boundary I built last winter. My mouth opened to apologize, and say, “Let’s just forget about it, and go on.” But I closed it before the regret snuck out. I searched for words. Finally, “How are you?” came out.
The two-second conversation was as stiff and difficult and unpleasant as swimming in that oversized wetsuit. My head was buried somewhere in the chest seams with all the chlorinated water trapped in the suit, bringing me down.

But if I keep on practicing my boundary-building skills, one day I will find that, like a wetsuit that fits perfectly, I am staying buoyant with little effort of my own. The boundaries will assist me in conserving energy for the things I love–moving swiftly and freely in fresh water–all the while protecting me from the nasty jelly fish and the chilling temperatures of the bay (or a bad relationship).

One day I will intuitively know how to say no, and not feel guilty. Okay that’s a stretch. One day my guilt in erecting a boundary will last one day (maybe even a few hours), not the sixth months (or more) it does now.

Moreover, this afternoon I took a baby step toward becoming a more sincere person. And even in its awkwardness, that feels good.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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