You may have actually said it, and it’s true. Taking care of a person with a Problem gives meaning and purpose to your life.
Your life needs meaning and purpose. It makes your life worthwhile; it indicates your existence matters. That’s important. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that keeps you going. It’s something you can be proud of.
Meaning and purpose will organize your life. You know what you have to do when you wake up in the morning. It dictates the things you do during the day. It determines the choices you make and makes those choices easy.
So, where do you find meaning and purpose?
You could cure cancer but you’d have to go to college for decades, apply for grants, and perform hundreds of mind-numbing experiments. Then you might not get any closer to a cure. Not everyone can cure cancer. You could start a company that employs thousands and performs a useful service. You could invent something that makes life easier. You could become president, achieve world peace, or speak out for social justice.
One of the more popular ways of finding meaning for your life is to take care of others. It’s not easy to take care of others, but the start up costs are relatively small. If you decide that taking care of others is going to give meaning and purpose to your life, all you have to do is find someone to take care of, do something kind, and, by the end of the day you have accomplished something.
Not everyone can endeavor to cure cancer, start a company, achieve world peace or social justice. Most people don’t have the resources available. They’re poor, so they can’t afford college or the grubstake necessary for even a small business. They don’t have a lot of time, so they can’t study or perform thousands of mind-numbing experiments. They don’t have the ingenuity, the imagination, and the courage to invent something new. They’re too honest to become president. They don’t have the tremendous emotional fortitude to keep at it until world peace or social justice is achieved. No, to have meaning and purpose in their lives they have to start small, with little initial capital outlay, and get quick results. They become caretakers.
If you’re going to become a caretaker, then you start by finding someone who needs taking care of, someone who cannot take care of himself. The more hopeless and helpless they are, the more they need help, the more they need you. You get more points for taking care of someone who is majorly messed up, than for someone who is only a little messed up. If you volunteer to be a caretaker, it’s seen as more meaningful than if you get paid for it. In fact, if you devote your entire life to it and, like, marry the person you are taking care of, then it makes you totally heroic. The tougher the case, the more you’re a hero.
I use the word hero in the most complimentary, non-sarcastic way possible and I don’t mean the sandwich. Being a hero is the whole idea.
Of course, being a hero really grinds you down; but meaning and purpose ennobles the sacrifices you make. You forget yourself, put your own needs on the back burner and do whatever is necessary. It’ll kill you and you know it. It wouldn’t be heroic if it didn’t.
Your friends will look at how caretaking is grinding you down and they won’t like it.
They’ll try to warn you. They’ll say you’re crazy to be taking care of someone and getting so little in return. They’ll call you codependent; but, they don’t understand this is what you do to have a meaningful life. They’ll go on about how majorly messed up your partner is, how he never gets better, thinking that’ll convince you to leave him; but it’ll only make you more heroic and more attached. They’ll say they want to see you happy; but you don’t want to be happy, it’s not about being happy. It’s all about being someone who matters.
I would never try to talk you out of being a caretaker. You may need to be a caretaker. Lord knows, there are enough messed up people in the world who need caretakers. But, if you’re going to be a caretaker, be an effective one. Be one who makes a real difference.
Effective caretakers solve problems. Ineffective caretakers create them.
To be an effective caretaker, you have to stay humble even though you’re truly heroic. You remember it’s a privilege to be in someone’s life. Effective caretakers foster growth and independence, even though it means you’ll work yourself out of a job. But, most of all, you take care of yourself as well as your partner, even though it seems a little selfish and uncaring.
Your caretaking starts to be ineffective as you wear yourself out. You secretly resent the sacrifices you make. You have your days when you’re enraged that you get nothing in return. You feel entitled to collect on kindness. You feel threatened if your partner doesn’t need you, you start belittling and disparaging any attempts your partner has towards independence. You create needs that only you can fill. You need to be needed, so you start meddling, hovering, and guilting, and call it love.
When you start thinking you’re indispensable, you’re making things more messed up than they would be without you. Keep going and you become so intent on propping up a fiction that you’re a caretaker, you can’t see that your “caretaking” is completely manipulative and self-serving. You have no idea how domineering and coercive you can be. You’re no longer part of the solution; you’re part of the problem.
Be a caretaker, please, just be an effective one.