(Note: All names have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.)
My mother in law recently told me a story about a situation that a friend of hers, Millie, has been dealing with for quite some time. The situation began about ten years ago when Millie attended her 50 year high school reunion and reconnected with a childhood friend named Sadie. Millie and Sadie had been the best of friends in high school but had lost touch over the years. They were excited to reconnect at the reunion and although one lived in New York and the other lived in Florida they began to speak regularly by phone.
It did not take long for an unpleasant pattern to develop. Sadie would call and within a few minutes would shift the conversation to a topic (frequently politics) on which she held a very strong opinion. Sadie would rant, barely allowing Millie to respond. When Millie was able to get a word in edgewise, Sadie would immediately tell Millie she was wrong and list all the reasons why.
Eventually, Millie started to dread receiving these phone calls from Sadie. Feeling badly that a relationship she had once treasured was becoming burdensome, she tried whatever she could think of to change the dynamics of the conversations. Millie tried changing the subject; she tried telling Sadie that she wished their conversations weren’t so confrontational. Millie even suggested that perhaps instead of their regular phone calls they should instead begin communicating via email. Sadie would not be deterred. Finally, out of desperation, Millie simply stopped answering the phone when Sadie called. She assumed, that eventually, Sadie would get the hint and stop calling.
That was more than five years ago, and Sadie has not given up. Sometimes she calls and just hangs up when the answering machine comes on. Other times she leaves angry messages telling Millie that she is a terrible person. Sadie even called Millie’s daughter in law to inquire why Millie wasn’t calling her back and expressing outrage that Millie would suggest that they communicate by email since this would require Sadie going to the library to use a public computer.
I am fascinated by Sadie’s behavior. Clearly, by now, she must know that Millie does not want to talk to her and is not going to answer the phone. I would imagine that this takes a lot of energy on Sadie’s part. Not only does she take the time to make these phone calls, she is emotionally invested every time, despite being able to predict what the outcome will be. To me, this sounds emotionally exhausting. It begs the question- why can’t Sadie just let it go and stop calling.
The only thing I can come up with is this: as long as Sadie keeps calling and Millie continues to not answer, Sadie can justify being angry at Millie. She can put herself in the position of being a victim – after all, she is the one being ignored for seemingly no reason. If Sadie were to give up (or let go) and stop calling, she would no longer be able to comfort herself with the argument that she has been wronged and use it to absolve herself of any of the responsibility she may have had in causing the reasons that Millie did not want to speak to her in the first place.
In my mind, I can picture Sadie going to her weekly Mah Jong game and complaining about Millie- how once again she had called and once again Millie had not answered. I can picture Sadie’s friends’ tutting about how rude it is that Millie has completely shut Sadie out.
As ridiculous as this behavior seems, I see variations of it all the time and I have coined it “pulling a Sadie.” Pulling a Sadie is when someone repeatedly puts themselves in a situation that they know will have an upsetting or undesired outcome and yet they continue to put themselves in that situation and let those negative feelings fester. Or, they spend countless hours complaining about how unfair and upsetting it is that they are in that situation. Perhaps, they continue to put themselves in that situation so they CAN complain about how unfair it is and how they have been wronged.
If I am to be completely honest then I have to admit that I have at some point or another in my life “pulled a Sadie.” It is easy to get sucked into the drama that a Sadie situation creates and with so many emotions involved it can be difficult to see how we share the blame for that situation. But as I have gotten older I have realized that sometimes all I can do is recognize a pattern for what it is so I do not fall into the same trap again and then do my best to just walk away.
When my mother in law told me this story, I wondered if Millie could have done more to diffuse the situation. For example, would it have helped Sadie to get closure if Millie had written Sadie a brief letter explaining why she had decided to end their relationship? I suspect, however, that Sadie would have called repeatedly anyway, being unable to let the situation go. Ultimately, I don’t think Millie had any other choice. By repeatedly picking up the phone and conversing with Sadie she was continuously finding herself feeling upset and angry. Millie walked away because she didn’t want to pull a Sadie.
Maybe it’s time to coin a new phrase- to describe someone who recognizes a negative pattern in their life and decides to break it. I think we should call it, “pulling a Millie.” The next time you find yourself complaining about the same situation or person for the third, fourth, or tenth time take a step back and look for a pattern in the situation. Then decide- would you rather be a Sadie or a Millie?