I’m a fixer. If someone is upset, I want to fix it. One of my go-to phrases, is “If you need anything, I’ll be here.” As you can imagine, this generally makes me a pretty supportive friend. But I’m not just a fixer when it comes to friendships, I’m a fixer when it comes to just about anything: work, friendships, relationships, personal issues, global disasters, etc. This means that if I feel like there’s something more I could or should be doing, or if someone needs help, I instantly turn into Sam from Holes: “I can fix that”
But instead of only helping people and situations that are in need and capable of fixing, I take it a bit further. I try to fix things that can’t be fixed and I try to ‘fix’ people who have no interest in changing (because you can’t fix people). It was only through a failed relationship that I learned that not everything can or should be fixed.
I met James (not his real name, but let’s go with that) my senior year of college when both of us were in a play together. After a few months of “we just got out of a relationship and want to be single for a while,” we eventually caved into our feelings and started dating. It wasn’t too long before we had to have our first argument. Both of us are the “talking things out” type, not the”‘yelling things at each other” or “bury things until they become worse” types, so even though I was nervous, it seemed like everything could work out. As soon as we got down to the issue, it was very clear to me it was totally fixable! I offered a solution, and it was never a problem again. I felt great! I could do this. This could work.
But not everything is that easy.
I was convinced that in order to make any relationship work, all you had to do (besides like, love each other) was be able to talk through issues and come up with solutions and compromises. That’s true to an extent, but not every problem has an immediate solution. Sometimes things get very complicated, and all the two of you can do is be open and flexible and hope things work out. But I didn’t realize that yet. In my mind, there was always a solution. Perfection may not be obtainable, but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying.
Talking through things worked for a while, but soon there were bigger challenges. The tougher things got, the harder I pushed, the more I tried to fix, and the more I tried to force a relationship that started falling apart. I was applying to the Peace Corps, he was going back to school, and I still wasn’t getting anywhere near the amount of romance, support, and affirmation that I needed. But there had to be a solution. Everything can be fixed. To me, he just wasn’t trying hard enough.
The thing is, you can try to fix things all you want, but if your partner doesn’t want to fix them too, then you’re going to hit a wall. You can’t fix things for them. Sometimes your partner has no interest in changing their behavior, and that’s not something you have to deal with if you don’t want to. And sometimes your partner is already doing the best they can, and if that’s not enough for you then you have to move on. You can’t force it.
But I tried. I forced it. I ignored the fact that my needs weren’t being met, I ignored the fact that I’d be leaving the country and we were horrible at communicating over phone and email, and I ignored the fact that when I wanted to work through the non-fixable things, he wanted to break up.
Then he did break up with me. And though the relationship should have probably ended then, I accused him of quitting, and we got back together to keep forcing it.
In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have gotten back together. But we hadn’t broken up because of a mature reason like we weren’t meeting each others needs, we broke up because he wanted to make things easier on himself and I agreed because I thought that would fix things. Neither of us were mature enough to know at that point that we had deeper issues. We were scared of losing each other and scared of acknowledging we weren’t right for each other. So we got back together.
I tried to force a doomed relationship for another six months before we found ourselves in the exact same situation again. He was moving to Portland and I wanted to go with him (because the Peace Corps cancelled my program and I had nothing else). He started expressing worries about moving in together and I didn’t want to listen. I was afraid he was going to leave me again so I started my fixing mantras again. We HAD to work it out. There HAD to be a solution. There HAD to be a way to fix the worries he was having so we could be together.
But you can’t fix someone’s emotions. You can’t force someone to be in a relationship with you if they are second-guessing it all the time. And you shouldn’t be forcing a relationship that’s clearly not working anyway.
Now I know that relationships shouldn’t have to be forced. If you find yourself trying to force a relationship to happen, then you aren’t getting the kind of reciprocity you deserve. And even though I’m still a self-proclaimed fixer, I know now that sometimes there isn’t a fix for tough situations. Sometimes you have to let go. And in order to let go, you have to be with a partner who you know is still gonna be there for you when things get better.
Moving forward I know that my habit of trying to fix relationships can cause me to try to force one that isn’t working. It’s okay to want to do everything you can help a friend, a coworker, a family member, or a stranger, but if you find yourself doing too much for someone who continually isn’t doing enough for you, then you might be forcing it. It’s okay to be a kind person, just be sure you’re saving some for the people who really matter, and most importantly, for yourself.
[Image via Universal Pictures]