dont just be good to othersvia A Siren Song

From the time I was very young, I’ve had this complex where I feel the need to save people. It’s almost a physical need, like food and water and air. I can’t turn away. And it’s exhausting.

This trait is absolutely connected to the fact that when I was in fifth grade my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I spent the next four years watching him deteriorate while trying to will him into recovery. It didn’t work. Cancer is sort of a bitch that way. But aside from leaving me fatherless, the experience also left me with a faint feeling of failure and an unshakable desire to save the wounded.

Since then, I’ve been like a momma bird, herding the injured under my wing with hopes of willing them to salvation. As you can imagine, this led to a string of less than stellar choices in boyfriends. Most had serious issues rooted in their childhood that presented themselves in either emotional issues or addictions—sometimes both. Still, I flocked to them—even those prone to violence and emotional abuse. Maybe especially those prone to violence and emotional abuse.

I should be clear here. None of them physically hurt me. And I never found these particular traits attractive. But the whole wounded creature deal that lurked behind it all sucked me in each and every time. I saw kindred spirits in these suffering men. I saw traumatic experiences that could only result in altering a person. And I could relate. I could relate even when I really had nothing in common with them.

I also saw my dad. It makes me nauseous to say that now, because they were nothing at all like him. But their pain somehow reminded me of his and I felt an insistent need to save them. To not desert them. To see things through, even if I didn’t know what that meant.

This trait was never tied solely to romantic relationships. Oh no. I’ve never been able to shake the soul suckers who constantly need and never give. The people who can’t get out of their own way and are constantly in need of saving. Somehow, their problems become my own.

I’m slowly beginning to see how flawed that thinking is. You can’t make someone else’s problem your own—no matter how badly you wish they didn’t have to suffer. You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. You can’t will someone into being better if they don’t feel any urge to put in the effort themselves.

The only thing you can do is love someone for who and what they are. Don’t cling to them because of some twisted fear of failing or being disappointing. The only person you can make better is yourself. That’s who you should focus on. Anything else is exhausting.

And I’m so tired.

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.