Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Seeing Signs: Is Pessimism So Bad?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 28, 2013

Relationships evolve, with foreshadowing in the beginning, honeymoon stage, where upon reflection, we are usually not surprised when a dear friend, a loved one, lets us down. Heather and Claire are new girlfriends. They were off to a club, but Heather forgot to write the address so they never made it to their intended destination. Claire was angry and disappointed with Heather and they had a verbal altercation. Weeks later, Heather has “forgotten” the incident and feels that Claire is a deep and close friend, even though they have known each other for two months. “I think you should be thoughtful about Claire and understand her sensitivities,” I say, trying to help Heather have a clear view of the dynamics of this friendship. “Why are you so pessimistic?” Heather asks me, as if I had said that since Claire was intolerant of your mistake then the relationship is going to have problems. “It is interesting that you call me pessimistic, since I was not thinking in those terms, but I do think that seeing a sign that says ‘potholes ahead’ does not make one pessimistic.” Heather understood that, but she also expressed how much she wants to be close friends with Claire. “Wanting a friendship is not the same thing as having a friendship, so you will see how things deepen over time,” I say, trying to help Heather see that relationships are a journey which need to be monitored, but  can’t be controlled.  Heather knows this, but she also is yearning for the security of a loyal relationship. This yearning is both shameful and exciting for her. She is happy to have a new connection, but her neediness makes her feel bad about herself. A part of her wishes she did not need friends, and in this shame, she is hoping she can have a ‘fast friend’ so that her yearning does not scare anyone away. Heather’s  wish and  fear for  connection are fighting internally. Consciousness of this battle will help. Heather, reluctantly, would agree.

8 Responses to “Seeing Signs: Is Pessimism So Bad?”

  1. Ashana M said

    The warning sign for me is really that Heather sees the friendship as deeper than it really could be in 2 months. Attachments that form quickly tend to be shallow and are as easily broken as they are created. I don’t really understand why people develop these intense and shallow attachments or how Heather can develop feelings that are deeper. Maybe it involves not being able to truly see the person you are relating to and becoming attached to an image that doesn’t exist. Maybe Heather is right in thinking it’s pessimistic–if Heather can’t tolerate a friend who will be frustrated with her mistakes, then perhaps it can’t work. Perhaps Heather is choosing not to see who Claire really is in order to maintain the illusion of a friendship with a person she has only imagined. A lot of maybes and perhapses…

    • Shirah said

      I agree that so much of relationships are about fantasy, particularly in the beginning. Thanks.

      • Ashana M said

        Are they? It seems to me they shouldn’t be. If we develop an attachment to someone who doesn’t exist, we will be continually distressed by the intrusion of the person who is really there. If we want fantasy, there are plenty of books to read and films to watch. If we don’t like those, we can always write our own. But we don’t need to involve real people in our need to escape from reality. Real people are hurt when we fail to see them–including ourselves. And on the other hand, what simply is is often quite good enough. Only, when we want something that isn’t there, we usually render ourselves incapable of appreciating what we have. And we usually have more than we realize.

  2. Shelly said

    In some ways, I agree with Ashana in that it is difficult to know if one has a deep and meaningful friendship with someone in the space of only two months’ time. Perhaps Heather may yearn for a close friendship with Claire, but as you say, wanting and having a close friendship is not the same thing. Heather may trust too intensely too soon in the relationship, telling more heartfelt things to Claire than Claire is willing or ready to hear, and perhaps Claire is not ready to reciprocate. I understand that Heather may be embarrassed to need a friendship so badly that she fears scaring Claire away. I certainly don’t feel that in your fictional blog you were expressing “pessimism”, only realism. Consciousness of another’s mindset which often people need reminding of.

    • Shirah said

      Yes, I agree with your comments. In every relationship there are wishes, or fantasies, which sometimes collide with reality, causing terrible distress, but before that, in the “wishing phase” there can be tremendous hope and optimism. My voice which looks beyond the moment, and hits with Heather’s hopes for the future in her relationship with Claire, and hence she called me pessimistic, rather than seeing her need for a strong connection. Thanks.

  3. Jon said

    The discussion was broken down to along the lines of optimism and pessimism. The question is whether pessimism is so bad. Really, as has been discussed, the question is about the yearning for friendship. In this light, I would change one letter and the nature of the question. The letter changes from “b” to “s” – “bad” to “sad.” The question then changes, again, as has been discussed, to why is there this yearning which and its current realization which is in some conflict with what is happening.

    • Shirah said

      Wishes are colliding with reality, as so often happens in relationships, so the ‘bad to sad’ experience will come, but at this moment, fictional Heather would like to portray me as the pessimist, and she as the optimist, rather than understanding the nature of her wishes. In essence, as you say, the question is “about the yearning for friendship” and I agree. Thanks.

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