Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Halfway support

I was talking to my brother yesterday about two friends, Portia and Josephine (names changed), who have both been housewives / stay-at-home moms for many years. Portia is very confident and talks about being the star of their family, whereas Josephine voices identity loss from giving up her career and mourns buried dreams. Both women have similar backgrounds. I was wondering how a similar situation has produced two widely differing levels of satisfaction and confidence.

Tom said that it is probably in large part due to the husband's behavior. Some people really value their home, so they would perceive a spouse who handles chores and home remodeling as adding a lot of value. Others don't value it as much, so they would perceive their spouse as not adding value to their lives.

He also said that Portia's husband probably encourages her more.

I said, "But Josephine's husband is always talking about how much he respects her and wants her to pursue her dream."

"It's different to support someone by saying 'i found a community college class you can take' versus 'I will work fewer hours and move to the city where you have more connections in your field, so you can follow your dream'."

I thought that was a good point. When I thought about the cases, I could see it. I can imagine Portia's husband moving to a new city to help her pick up her career, whereas it is harder to imagine it for Josephine's husband, despite how loudly he praises her abilities. He talks the talk but won't walk the walk.

Then I was thinking about the effects if someone claims they support you but won't put full action behind the words: "halfway support".

I have experienced this long ago, when two male friends / former romantic interests were very enthusiastic to help me when they perceived me as being in a less successful position than themselves. They would drive over to my house and spend hours helping me analyze career options and prepare for interviews. (This was many years apart, not both people at the same time!) In both cases, as the months went on, they learned new facts that revealed my job was more impactful than they thought, and potentially more successful than their own job. Suddenly they were making skeptical comments and sulking. It is a different variant of halfway support: "I support you unless you surpass me."

In both cases, I never actually entered into a relationship with the people, partly because I sensed the lack of full support. Actually having a relationship with them would have been a disaster. But I stayed friends and continued talking to them for years. I wonder now if even being friends with someone who does not fully support you is a waste of time. There is so little time and so many wonderful people in the world. Why not focus on the ones who fully support you?

I wonder how much of the "halfway support" is due to a person's natural disposition toward being competitive. My theory is that if a person is born noncompetitive, then they can easily be fully supportive. If a person is born very competitive, then their level of support depends on how happy they are with their own life, and how much they consciously train their mind to quell the competitive urges. If you are a competitive person, leave a blog comment with what contributes to your jealousy level versus ability to truly be supportive.

In the meantime, I think I will stop spending time with the partly-supportive friends in my life.

The next question is whether making harshly negative comments about most other people is a sign of insecurity and a red flag that the person is competitive and cannot be fully supportive. I have friends who voice negative thoughts on the vast majority (like 98%) of products, startups, and company founders. Toward me, they are thoughtful and encouraging. But I wonder if it is still a sign that if I ventured outside their narrow expectations, they would reduce their support of me down to halfway support too?

1 comment:

Clare said...

Thank you for writing this post. The concept of halfway support is quite useful naming a problem that I see all to often. I postulate that to balance honesty with support it is important to be critical of concepts and encouraging to people.