Today, I told The Who he was a “tough customer.”
As a kid, I was called “bossy” and “stubborn” and while I’m not saying those terms didn’t fit, something about them seemed so…limiting. Like, they didn’t encompass the whole of me. Or they only spoke to one or two parts of my personality. The Who is a tough customer. So was I. So am I, in fact, which is why we butt heads all day long sometimes. His friend X, on the other hand, is an EASY customer. Everything is always a-ok with X. We sort of joked about it on the way home from basketball tonight, The Who, X, and me. Two tough customers and one easy one.
“You are a tough customer!” he said back to me. Like he was telling me something I didn’t know.
“I know! I am!” I responded. “And my best friends through the years have been easy customers. Tough customers need easy customers — otherwise you’d fight all the time.” He took a minute to think about this. “Like with Y (another good friend of his),” I continued. “Y is a tough customer. Y wants what he wants and you want what you want and you both demand to get what you want. Two tough customers.”
“Yeah!” he said, nodding. “That’s why we fight all the time.”
I want to find a way to convey that I don’t value one kind of “customer” over another. And that being an “easy customer” doesn’t mean being a pushover. Nor do I want to suggest that he can’t have friends who are tough customers, too. Because, honestly, while many of my friends are very laid back, I have some very opinionated friends, too. Those friendships, while more volatile and complicated, also bring me a lot of joy. There’s value in hanging out with all kinds of people. At the same time, I worry that this personality of his will challenge him in all the ways it challenged (and continues to challenge) me over the years. It has not been easy to be a perfectionist, to believe your way is the best way, to want to be the leader of everything, to want an ear in every conversation. It was not easy on me and it was not easy on the people around me and I often feel like I should change who I am so I can be a better model for The Who as he develops his friendships. But, every time I wish he responded to situations differently or eased up a little on what is important to him, I recognize that I am sending him a message to change who he is. To try to change the kind of “customer” he is. And that is not the message I want to be sending. To him — or to myself.
So, now the challenge: how do I help him to be his authentic self, yet not allow his opinionated inflexibility to make enemies wherever he goes?