I have a contrarian in my life. My contrarian isn’t necessarily someone who goes against popular opinion. Instead, they are someone who almost always goes against my opinion. Basically, if I say “a”, my contrarian will say “z”. They constantly second-guess me on every level. No opinion of mine is too small to escape notice and question. My contrarian loves to tell me I am wrong about … well, everything. I know you probably think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you, I am not. If I say I like something, my contrarian immediately speaks up to tell me — in painful detail — why they do not like that thing. If I say I don’t like something, my contrarian is happy to share with me all the reasons why I am wrong, and why I actually like the thing I have said I do not like. If I am stupid enough to share my hopes and dreams, my contrarian will tell me why these things are silly and why none of them will come true. And so on. I don’t want to bog this post down with examples, but I think you get the idea.
I don’t ask my contrarian for opinions — ever. Instead, I will make the mistake of mentioning something in passing conversation, and my contrarian will seize upon it and offer opinion after opinion after opinion. It’s almost like I can’t have a normal conversation with my contrarian. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s like my contrarian wants to be too embedded in my life. They want to offer opinions and “helpful advice” even when I have plainly said I don’t want any advice. And even when I have said the advice is not helpful.
The thing is, when you have someone like this in your life, it makes you second guess yourself. Constantly. Because my contrarian has been part of my life for my whole life, including my formative years, I developed a habit of second guessing Every Single Thing. Every thought, every opinion, every feeling was always fair game for my contrarian. It often felt like my entire life was laid bare, like someone had taken a knife to my soul and split it wide open for the entire world to see and criticize and comment upon. It was emotionally and mentally exhausting. I never knew who I truly was. I never knew what I wanted from my life. I never even thought of those things. I fell into this pattern of floundering around, feeling lost and like I could not make up my mind about … well, anything. I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, other than to say I came into my adulthood feeling like I was always wrong and like I would never be able to make my own choices.
I bet you are sitting there, reading this and thinking to yourself, “What the heck is wrong with you? Cut that person out of your life right now.” We live in such a cancel culture that I think cutting someone out of our life has become the advice of the day. It’s kind of an automatic reaction, isn’t it? However, in this instance, it is probably also the correct advice. I’ve gone through years of therapy, and I have received this advice many times. But the truth is that I’m not willing to do it. I don’t have it in me to do this, because I know it would hurt my contrarian so very much.
And so, I have tried to learn to live with it, instead. Is this the best choice? Honestly, I don’t know. There are times when I feel bitter about it. There are times when I feel angry about it, because I think about all the things I missed out on or all the things about myself that I have needlessly questioned or all the times I felt like a horrible person because of things my contrarian said or made me believe. Sometimes, I wish I could cut this person out of my life. Sometimes, I feel like not cutting them out is a sign of weakness. But, in the end, I know I could not live with myself if I took that step. I know I would not be honoring the type of person I want to be if I shut the door on this relationship.
In some ways, the wisdom of age has helped. Physical distance has also helped. I have learned, over time, to be kind but blunt with my contrarian. I have to temper my bluntness with kindness because my contrarian is sensitive to criticism. (Oh, the irony!) I have learned to tell my contrarian to stop offering opinions and second guessing me when these things feel too hurtful. When the opinions and second-guessing are not too hurtful, I have learned to ignore them. I have learned that I can nod my head and pretend to take all the advice, but then go off and do whatever I want. I have learned to remind myself that I am a good person and that my feelings and opinions have value. I remind myself that my contrarian loves me, in their own way. I remind myself that they think they are helping, and that they believe they are coming at all of this from a place of love and support. In reality it doesn’t work out that way, but “reality” can be a fluid thing, in my experience. And, if it all becomes too much to take, I have learned to cut off conversations that make me feel bad about myself.
Is this ideal? No. I don’t think it is. But I think it’s the best I can do for myself under the circumstances. In particular, I feel sad to know that I will never be able to sit down and have this conversation — the one that I am sitting here, typing out in my blog — with my contrarian. Because my contrarian can’t hear the things I need to tell them. Like, they literally will not hear them; they are not able to listen with an open mind and an open heart. Allowing my contrarian to remain in my life means I will never have resolution or peace for this swirl of emotions. But, maybe, in some ways, having to think through all of this has made me a stronger and better person. Maybe, it has taught me to approach others on even ground, and it has taught me to listen with an open heart and mind. My contrarian could never give me these things. But, just maybe, I can give them to myself and to those around me.