Recently a patient of mine reluctantly flew home for her sister’s whirlwind wedding. Reluctantly because, as is often the case with adult siblings, she and her sister don’t get along. Over the years she’s felt taken for granted, and history repeated itself as plans came together for the wedding. Without even receiving a proper invitation, she was put on the program to read a bible passage at the ceremony. In spite of the less-than-warm welcome, I supported her decision to make the trip anyway, for no other reason than, as she put it, “it’s the right thing to do.”
A few days before she left she called me, frustrated with pre-wedding drama and second guessing her decision to go. “I have to take time off work, I’m not going to be able to have any fun, I don’t even like most of the people who’ll be there. I don’t even know why I’m going!” We talked about whether or not she wanted to back out, but agreed that wasn’t the best choice. What she needed was to change how she was relating to the whole weekend; she needed to see it as a work weekend.
A work weekend
If you’re making it happen in New York City, you probably know how to work. Of course I mean work at your job (whatever it is). Too often, though, we relate to work as something we do, at work. When we go home, or head out with friends, or visit family, that’s not supposed to be work. We roll out a lot of anti-work phrases:
“It’s just so much work to be around them!”
“I don’t want to have to work at my relationship with her.”
“I’ve been working so hard all week; I just want some time off!”
The irony, of course, is that in making work off limits, we resign ourselves to taking things just as they are, letting others shape the course of our time together, and not giving all that we have to give to grow our relationships and make our evenings and weekends as successful as our Tuesday afternoons.
There are all sorts of biases in this. We come to relate to work as a bad thing and something to be avoided. We see it as antithetical to fun and relaxation even though it’s the very attitude that might help make our outside-of-work experiences more meaningful. We see it as a sign of problems in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) if the relationship needs work. And usually work is the very thing that’s needed.
Conservation of energy
Many of us follow the “conservation of energy” approach, wherein we see work as draining of limited resources. The reality is, showing up (to dinner, to the wedding) ready to work is an awful lot less exhausting than expecting everything to be fine without any effort from you.
So how was the wedding? I got an email confirming our appointment later the following week, and replied, asking “How was the wedding?” Her response: “It was a work weekend. Let’s leave it at that.” Which sounded just right to me.