I think each person struggles with one, singular thing. I learned this when I was a graduate student in English. Each writer we studied actually wrote the same book over and over again. We each have a primary question in our lives.
Rob Toomey, a friend who is an expert in personality type, coaches executives. He sees that it’s always the same problem that holds each given personality type back. ISTPs, for example, (which is the farmer's type) have trouble planning anything in the future. They lack commitment to anything long-term. ENTJs (what I am) have trouble with tact. They lack a sensitivity that many people require in order to listen.
So, anyway, I notice that the farmer and I have the same argument over and over again. And like writers and executives, the farmer has one problem: he cannot separate from X.
A problem we have, which I don't think has actually been a problem until this post, is that I'm not allowed to mention the thing he cannot separate from. So it will just be X. Anyone who has read this post or this post can figure out what X is. And after just a little while with him, I knew that the farmer did not actually need an adult relationship with a woman until he separated from X.
Which leads me to our ongoing battle. He thinks he is separated. I do not feel like he needs me because he has X. I bring up examples. For example, during the first five months I lived with him he lied to me about that he was doing his own laundry. Guess who was doing it?
This is what he says when I point it out: “I'm really sorry. You're right. I'm really sorry.”
But he honestly believes he's separated from X.
In fact, when he reads this post he will think it's unfairly focused on his issues. So let me tell you all the things that are difficult about me:
I want to talk about everything, all the time.
I get anxious that he'll leave me. (Because he has X, and because he has dumped me about 20 times. Here’s an example.)
So this is what we do. We go in circles all the time. I say I don't feel close to you because you have X.
He tells me that I have a problem and I need to get over it.
I get a lot of emails that read like the post I'm writing. People think their work situation is so complicated and I have to understand all the motivators. But look, I'm telling you that even if you substitute X for the problem, in every email I get, it's easy to see what the answer is:
Get off the train or sit down and shut up.
I am not getting off the train. But I'm going to need a really good book or something to get me through the ride.
I answer lots of email from strangers because I learn so much: It's hard to see our own problems but easy to see others' problems. By now, I have enough practice telling other people how to deal with their bad job problems, that I know what I have to do:
1. Make the person I'm dealing with feel special and important so they like being with me.
2. Stop letting myself use the language of a victim. If I choose to stay, then I am picking my situation so I need to talk like I mean to be where I am.
3. Find side projects to make life feel better. I tell people to add things to their job description so that the job gets better—different people, different learning goals. These are all things I can do now. To make things better.
So then we had maybe the 4,000th fight about me being less important than X. And there was nothing to do. He has nothing to say anymore. He thinks I'm crazy and cannot talk rationally.
Trying to take my own advice, I cleaned up the porch. The porch is freezing right now. Even though it’s only October. But I love the porch. I kept the sofa out there because we did our whole courtship on the sofa, and I thought we'd sit on it a lot still. But it turns out we never do. So I threw it out. Sort of. It was really heavy. So I just opened the porch door, pushed the sofa out, and left it there.
And then I turned the porch into an office for myself.
The farmer was pissed about the sofa. And it sat there for five days before we could even talk about it. I worried that we'd have a big fight about it, but I forced myself to put the bad feelings aside, and for the whole week it was our picnic spot for after-school snack: