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How to Live in Isolation, But Not Exactly

April 17, 2020

I thought isolation meant alone. I haven’t had a second by myself in three weeks. For most of us, isolation means an inordinate amount of time with our families and/or roommates – even our pets. (I found my cat backed up in the corner of a cabinet the other day, unwilling to budge. I pulled him out only to realize that he was desperate to get back in. It occurred to me that he needed some space.)

Before all this happened, we wished for more time with our families, (and maybe in some ways, we still do), but after three weeks of total “togetherness,” things start to get a just little too cozy. The annoying habits and bad behaviors come out of the woodwork.

Case in point: After 16 years of marriage, I have suddenly noticed that my husband makes really awful coffee. He pointed out the other day that I “chew too loud” when I’m eating. Little arguments are springing up about who took out the garbage last, why we have to eat zucchini so much (from my daughter), and whether or not we should watch yet another Adam Sandler movie (absolutely not).

In short, we’re all getting short.

Yet, these are “our people,” our “tribe,” the ones we chose or were given in life. We’ll most likely never be blessed and cursed quite like this again. So, how do we actually find a way to make it good, meaningful…or at least tolerable? I asked myself that question all weekend, and then had a business-related call with Key West Operations Manager, Clinton Curry, this morning.

Without meaning to, he answered my question. We were making small talk at the beginning of the call, and he was describing his extremely smart, but very “teenagey” daughter, Parker’s refusal to do anything. “She won’t play a game; she doesn’t want to wear a mask; she won’t try the new meals I’m cooking,” and the typical teenage list went on.

I chimed in about my sassy 9-year old daughter. “She’s not even hormonal yet, and she’s driving me crazy,” I whined.

I thought I’d get more commiseration from Clinton, but suddenly he launched into the advice I so desperately needed to hear.

“I tell myself all the time that I need to stop expecting her to be like me,” he said. “I even need to stop expecting her to be the way I want her to be.”

Suddenly a light went off in my head. In one sentence, he nailed it. What a revelation: To meet people on their terms, instead of ours.

It isn’t that I haven’t thought of that before, but really only intellectually. This crisis is giving me that lesson in a much more visceral way. Often in life, I am so busy working and running from one thing to the next, that I never really think about my expectations of the people I love. But Lord knows I have them. Lots of them.

So, maybe that’s one of the blessings of being in isolation, but not being alone: We have to learn to meet people where they are, and not where we want or expect them to be. I guess I could serve something besides zucchini, and maybe chew a little more quietly. (Do I really do that?) But more importantly, I could use this exercise to be more compassionate than demanding; more curious than critical, and more forgiving than judgmental.

Thanks Clinton (and Parker.) Maybe I don’t want to be alone after all.

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