The Answer

We all crave “the answer”.

What made a relationship with a friend end? What made a relationship with a significant other end? Why did (someone we know but don’t particularly like) end up with such a great partner? Why is school so hard? Why am I always the one who gets in trouble? Why don’t you ever yell at (insert sibling name here)? Why did I – or someone I care about – wind up with a chronic or terminal illness? Why am I alone? Why can’t people leave me alone? Why am I unhappy? Why don’t people believe in climate change?

So, what is the issue we need to consider? It is that there is no the; there is no one factor that could account for the event in question. The answer really rests in accepting that we must seek out answers.

Let’s start with a fun one.   Why am I always the one who gets in trouble? We have all either said that as a child or heard a child say it. From the child’s point of view, it is a fact that he is the only one who gets in trouble. The reason he will give for that fact is that the parent favors the other sibling. Of course, parents see it very differently. Parents will say, “Yes, I do reprimand ________ more often because he/she is older, knows or should know better, is the one who takes it to an extreme, is the instigator…” In other words, the parent is considering multiple reasons. Why? Again, one might be tempted to give one reason, but I can think of a multitude of reasons: the parent has a broader view of the situation, the parent is older/wiser/more experienced, the parent is trying to justify their unfair practice. Yes, that last one is a bit of a game changer. It opens up an entirely different path of possible reasons for why something is happening.

Let’s consider another. What made a relationship with a significant other end? Over the years, I have had countless clients grapple with this question. Again, the search begins with a quest for the thing that went wrong. I was too pushy. They were selfish. They cheated. I was young. Drugs/alcohol. I wasn’t ready. The timing was off. Finances. He didn’t give me flowers. She gained a lot of weight. The sex wasn’t the same. I lost interest. We had kids. Monogamy isn’t natural.

Each one, at first glance, seems like a reasonable explanation. Once we consider the reason as reasonable, our search for understanding comes to a close. However, when we decide to examine the answer in greater depth, we quickly see that, once again, many paths emerge. For example, “I was pushy” leads to another question: Why were you pushy? The answer to that one can be: my needs were not being met; I felt like I was not a priority; our energy levels were very different; we enjoyed different things; we had different goals; I thought he/she was unmotivated. Each of these answers lead to further questions such as: Why would you want to be with someone who did not meet your needs? Or did it make you happy to be with someone who had a different energy level? What does it mean that they were unmotivated? Each question represents different problems and different categories of issues that would have had to be addressed in order to keep the relationship alive or justify its end. The questions represent the futility of looking for the reason.

I will add a little psychological science here too: correlations are a common tool used in the social sciences. A correlation represents an association between two variables/events. For example, there is a relationship between number of hours one studies and success on an exam. However, that is all we can say. We cannot say that number of hours studying causes success on an exam. It is tempting, but it is not what a correlation allows us to do. After all, a person can spend hours studying the wrong material and therefore do poorly. Or someone can spend hours studying, then become so anxious that one’s memory is negatively impacted and therefore performs poorly. Or a person can have an eidetic memory, not have to study at all, and do very well. It is far more productive to search for the multiple factors associated with success on an exam because causation is more likely to rest in the grouping of factors.

Why am I going on about this? Well, in part, because it demonstrates our desire for simplicity over complexity and for causation rather than association. To bring it back to our earlier examples, a child associates getting in trouble with a parent favoring a sibling and then comes to see that as the cause because the child is unable to understand that is a combination of factors – none of which have to do with favoritism. A person hurt by the end of a relationship associates “I was pushy” with the breakup, attributing causation to that single factor of pushiness, rather than looking at the whole picture.

So, when we are tempted to find the answer, let’s remember that real life is not based on multiple choice and the identification of a single correct answer. Let’s remember that even sophisticated multiple choice tests give us options – you know those answer options we so dislike such as “all of the above”, “only B and D”, or “none of the above”. The fact is: life is more like that. Even more so, it is like an essay question where we choose the facts to consider and present and with those choices, we select a path for our response, a path for our future. So, embrace the question, generate even more questions, and have fun finding the answers that will bring you satisfaction, acceptance, and, hopefully, a joy-filled future.

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8 thoughts on “The Answer

  1. Having a true friend is something that needs much to be desired. A True friend sticks closer than a brother. Sometimes we are able to share our deepest secretes with our true friends even more than our blood relations. However, there are certain factors that can break up this friendship if they are not taken into consideration.

    One of the factors that’s leads to a break in friendship is Lying. when a person realizes that His/her friend lies, that person becomes careful of what kind of information to receive from that friend. when this lying habit becomes repetitive, it leads to disloyalty. without loyalty there will not be any good foundation for true friendship

  2. Glad you wrote about this! Think many of us hv experienced this! Trying to look for answers can sometimes be frustrating, even futile. Sometimes things happen and it’s worth letting the why go because we need to move on. But I also realize that the depth to the why is a higher level of thinking and your article helped show the depth of the “why”

  3. Reading this really made me think. I was in a relationship for almost 5 years and it ended horribly. Throughout the relationship we were on and off and through all the break ups I thought to myself “Maybe, I expect to much from him” or “Maybe, he feels like I am too smart and mature for him.” I even thought I was being way to pushy because I wanted him to go back to school and at least get a high school diploma and/or GED. The arguments were never ending. In a result, we finally separated for good and that’s when I found out he was unfaithful. This is when I began to think that maybe I just wasn’t good enough or fun to be around. Reading this article made me realize that the reason “WHY” I thought I was to smart and mature is because I was doing well in school, juggling 2 jobs, and doing extra curricular activities; While he skipped school to smoke or hang out with his “friends”. I was young and trying to grow up so quickly and he saw that. He wanted to have fun, create memories, do risky things just to say “I did it”. I think that if I would’ve thought like that back then, then maybe we would still be with each other now, but I do know that if I thought that way then I would have a lot of trouble staying focused, getting a job, and being independent. I’m glad it didn’t work out and I’m glad I wasn’t “fun enough” to be around because I know everything I have done got me into a good job, school, and better friends.

  4. I was intrigued at the examples you used because although, basic questions they really reflect on people’s lives growing up as adolescents. The example of being a kid and asking “why am I always the one who gets in trouble?” is something I can relate to after remembering the amount of times I’ve asked myself that question as a kid. Growing up with what seemed like Middle child Syndrome, I had a constant feeling of falling between the cracks of not having a place or status in the family. Not being the child with privileges like my older sister had or being babied and catered to my every desire like my younger brother. Not having the leniency and cooperation of my parents that both siblings shared was even more frustrating and it’s a feeling that still hasn’t grown off me, with respect to at least some changes.
    In a way though, I feel like sometimes I liked the idea of being left out, being with just myself and my own thoughts. Looking back, the positive side to this was growing to be a little more independent and having the space and time to recollect all my thoughts and just sit and think. There are also many other negative things, things I’m not proud of. Things such as not being able to channel my anger or emotions in a healthy way. If things don’t go my way or if something isn’t as I’d predicted it to be, I would get very upset and I would throw this tantrum in my head, blaming whatever, or whoever for ruining my plans, ultimately changing my mood for the next few hours. Within those few hours if somebody tries to talk to me I’d shut them down, or disclose the conversation by saying something rude or condescending. Growing up and opening my eyes to newer experiences and different settings.
    Now, I can’t blame everything on the fact that I felt neglected or singled out, but I can change the way I handle things. Maybe the thought of my other siblings having certain privileges was just a way to cope with my short temper and how maybe my parents only really yelled at me because I was the only one causing trouble. Who knows, maybe I’ll ask my parents sooner or later and get their intake on how I was as a child, and find “the answer”.

  5. I found this piece to be interesting, Having all these question ” why am I always getting in trouble or why does my relationships end its important to know that your not the only one asking the same questions. The key to relationships I believe is trust and loyalty without that the relationships is going to fail

  6. This is an interesting piece. It makes me think about my past relationship with my former friend and I sometimes think to myself why did my friendship end so horribly? I was friends with this girl for 4 years since sophomore year of high school. We were there for each other and supported one another. we would text each other every week but we sometimes don’t talk to each other personally. I guess that how our relationship worked. but somewhere around the beginning of our senior year, she didn’t want to talk to me, even though she had work to do, she would always say that she would talk to me later on. but she never did.
    During that time, I was going through hard times and I just wanted to talk to her so that she could help me through but she didn’t want to. Then a few days later I just found out that she was saying rude things about me on social media and I decided to talk back. I was really mad and upset because she was a girl that was trustworthy and very respectful and I’ve always kept her secrets for her whenever she would talk to me about her issues and she would promise me to never speak to anyone about it. And I kept that promise. so, during that time, we went back and forth with one another and as a result, she blocked me.
    When she did that, I thought to myself, why was she talking all that smack about me on social media when I never did anything to her? was it the amount of trash-talking? was it our lack of communication? my personality? like, what was it? We were best friends. She would always speak to me whenever she is feeling sad or angry, but I would want to know why she was hesitant and scared to say something to me if she was the one who was mad at me for no reason?

    As I look back, she was a girl that was not loyal and she was untrustworthy as a result of our friendship. our relationship was going really well until the backstabbing. As you mentioned in the blog about finding “The Answer” to why a relationship ended so horribly and the example of “being pushy”, I think that we were both pushy to one another in this situation because the amount of trash talking that was going on. As a result of her walking away from our friendship, I would sometimes feel left out or lonely. If there was a way to fix this situation, we would still be friends.
    Overall, I am very intrigued by this piece because I think that as human beings we all want to find answers to why we would get in trouble by our siblings and why the relationships with our friends failed. We would sometimes feel left out or lonely and there is no way that it can be solved. I think that we just have to move on and use our issues or failures as a reminder to never make the same mistake again.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this article. It brought up a lot of different memories I had with old friends that I don’t speak to anymore. I always thought it was me that was in he wrong. I would replay every moment and memory we had to figure out what happened and why it happened. I never accepted some of the reasons why. I would try and try and realized I was getting no where. Then I was always told that people come in and out of your life for a reason, either to help with your confidence, moral support or show you what else is out there and to experience it. I knew why we went are separate ways but sometimes but I can never accept the pain it caused me. I never got to thank them for what they did for me because I really don’t know where I would be if I didn’t meet them.

  8. I had to share this beautiful comment that a student of mine made via email to me: “So, I decided to give in and read your blog. For now, I only focused on “The Answer” which, ironically, applied to our class discussion today. I couldn’t agree more with the overall message – somethings, if not everything, never have a single answer. I find it quite common how often people, myself included, expect a straight-forward solution to every problem. But as I’ve grown, it’s become quite clear that it’s not that simple. Whether good or bad, it is rare it happens overnight. If I was asked why I chose to attend WCC, I couldn’t possibly just answer with “I graduated high school and needed to pick a college”. I’d be selling my answer and myself short because there are endless reasons that, together, helped me make my choice. Same thing with a bad situation, such as a break-up. Yes, the entirety of a relationship can end with just one sentence, but what led up to that? What brought someone to their breaking point? Definitely not just one thing that happened the night before, but more like something that happened because of something else that happened because someone did this and so on and so forth. Straight-forward answers are only given in pointless math conversations; you can only explain to someone how 2 + 2 = 4 so many times. People aren’t that simple” I could not have said it better!

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