With my own Shut-Off Valve always at the ready, it’s worthwhile to lay out the ground-work of a stage exit. As with all matters of the heart, what follows appears very clean and clear in writing, though we all understand that it is anything but. Human interactions regarding conflict resolution and (possible) endings are messy and painful for both players, so approach the following with great caution. [This caveat, by the way, is far more important for me than you, because (thanks to my poor choices over the past years) I am currently facing an overwhelming need to self-preserve and protect.]
Q: When do we exit stage left?
A: When we have been mistreated and only after we have signaled the mistreatment, given the individual a chance to recover, but they then choose to instead continue issuing the mistreatment.
There are a few very simple ground-rules for emotionally intelligent behavior, the top five of which are: consideration, respect, empathy, kindness, and honesty.
Without these five, the possibility of maintaining any sort of healthy connection with someone become near impossible, the challenge of so doing often not worth the pay-off. Absolutely at worst when it is imbalanced, with one party being emotionally intelligent and the other, dropping all kinds of balls because they have chosen to be incapable.
This being capable of emotional intelligence, as all things, it is a choice. No matter one’s trauma-history and heart-hurts, the work necessary to become capable, is a choice which must be made, and subsequent articulations engaged with actual follow-through. Like all behavior patterns, exercising emotional intelligence is itself a muscle which can only become a natural part of one’s daily life when used and strengthened repeatedly through training.
Sidebar: Please don’t confuse one’s high intelligence elsewhere – like, in a work or academic environment – with emotional intelligence. Increasingly, we are seeing high-functioning executives fail completely and utterly at a personal and human-interaction level. Great in the boardroom, completely shit at home.
Right. Now, as always, when we are being hurt by another, the onus is on us to first signal that their behavior is unwelcome and painful. Explain our position honestly and with care, while taking into consideration that individual’s own pains and reasons for behaving as they did. This taking into consideration because you are a good person who would want and expect that such benefit of the doubt and understanding be extended to you in future, either by them or another, because you too will inflict pain. You are human, and so this reality is itself unavoidable. The trick, as always, is how fast you recognize, own and then make amends for your shit behavior.
If this friendship / romance / potential for either is of any consequence, then what you are doing is putting in this small amount of clear and communicative work to ensure that this situation is dealt with gently and immediately.
If the individual refuses to see beyond themselves to what you have put on the table, then that’s an immediate cue to exit because there is nothing more depleting than a self-involved immovable object.
However, if the individual accepts what you have signaled, and chooses to then lean toward a more emotionally intelligent foundation for your friendship, then give them the room to put in the elbow grease necessary to build and maintain accordingly. In this process, there will be an ebb and flow of good and bad, and the decision on how much you are willing to endure is entirely yours. As always, approach with compassion and remember that a great part of the legacy you leave behind should hinge on your treatment of others, an extension of the kindness and strength of your character.