My problems aren’t your responsibility (and, ahem, probably vice versa)

For too long I expected other people to cater to my needs and whims or work around my issues. Putting our happiness or contentment in the hands of other people is an exercise in managing disappointment. Let's stop. Here's how >>
When I was 12 years old I convinced my parents to let me be a vegetarian.
I’d spent at least five years battling their two-bites-of-everything rule.  If memory serves, my mom finally caved after I theatrically gagged some summer sausage back onto my dinner plate and worked up some crocodile tears + puppy eyes.
I remember her standing in our dining room, hands on hips, and sighing “You don’t have to eat meat anymore but I’m not fixing you anything special.  There’s enough food on the table.  You’re not going to starve.”
In our current state of helicopter parenting, this might sound overly harsh, but I think it’s completely legitimate. To this day, I’ll happily pick pepperoni off the pizza my friends ordered or dig the pork out of the soup.  Being vegetarian is my deal.  Which means I’m the one who has to deal with it.
Because I’m The Most Fun, I have plenty of other deals. Want to hear them? 
  • I get really motion sick and I’ll puke if we’re driving through the mountains (even if I take Dramamine).
  • I don’t like it when people eat cocktail shrimp in my vicinity.
  • There are various exes I’d prefer not to run into.
  • I don’t like amusement parks or the State Fair.
  • Wearing cashmere or angora makes me feel like the walls are closing in.
  • I don’t like to be around large groups of drunk strangers.
  • After about four hours of conversation or group engagement, the light turns off inside me and I need to go sit in a quiet place by myself. And preferably read lady magazines or nap.
And there was a time (um, embarrassingly not-that-long-ago) when I thought it would be really, really lovely if everyone ever went out of their way to accommodate my various neuroses.

You know who likes constantly accommodating one person’s needs?  Absolutely no one. 

If I don’t like it when you eat cocktail shrimp next to me, maybe I should move.

Rather than asking you not to invite my ex to that party, maybe I should go early.  Or late.  Or go whenever I want and then not talk to them.

You’re having a birthday party at an amusement park?  How about I buy you a drink the day before?

If I feel myself reaching my social quota I can just excuse myself and go the eff home.

And nobody’s going to hold me down and make me wear angora.Of course it’s nice when the people in our lives work around our stuff!  When they take into consideration our gluten intolerance or our fear of snakes or the fact that we’re on a really tight budget!

But ultimately, I am the only person who is responsible for myself, my happiness, and dealing with my issues. And I imagine you’re in the same boat.

If reading fashion magazines makes you feel bad about your body, don’t read them.

If a specific friend always brings you down, stop hanging out with them.

If a friend invites you to a cabin weekend that you can’t afford, don’t go.

If you’re a vegetarian and your friends invite you to a steakhouse, either don’t go or go and order a baked potato and a martini.

If you’re gluten intolerant and you get invited to a potluck, bring a dish that you love so you’ll have something to eat.

If you’re having a rough, grumpy day, don’t take it out on your roommate/partner/parent.  Go to the gym, go for a walk, write in your journal is a sulky, dramatic manner.

As  harsh as it sounds, I find this approach really empowering.

Making my wellbeing someone else's responsibility is an exercise in disappointment management. Click To Tweet

When I decided that I was the only one responsible for working around my stuff, life got a lot easier and friendships became a lot more fun.

(People like you more when you’re not asking them to stop eating that shrimp so loudly.)

What issues are you working through?  How do you work around them without expecting everyone to make exceptions for you? (and have you ever been guilty of being too demanding?)

P.S. If you like this kind of stuff, I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to ‘Life Advice’!

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  1. Corrin

    I'll drink to that!

    Personal responsibility has gone out the window and this IS empowering!

  2. Lynsey @ Eternally Wanderlyn

    I couldn't agree more. I think we all need a reminder from time to time that our happiness and well being is our responsibility. I'd say the one I struggled with most was letting go of that one friend that always brings you down. It was hard to do, but had to be done. And now I'm much more content with all my other wonderful and supportive friends. 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! It can be so hard to remove people like that from your life but you get to choose who's in your life and you choose kind, supportive, fun people.

  3. Amanda @ Adventure Year

    I love this! It was an embarrassingly short time ago for me as well. And I would get cranky when it didn't happen. Personal responsibility makes me feel more empowered AND less cranky. And who doesn't want a slice of that?

  4. Nicole

    I agree! When I went veggie, I vowed that I would never be "that" vegetarian. You know, the one who turns up her nose at restaurant choices and asks friends to make her something special.
    I've become an expert at picking out bacon bits in salad — it's practically a one-woman competitive sport.

    • Rhonda

      "A one-woman competitive sport." I *love* that.

    • Amy

      I find that the longer I have been a vegetarian the less I care. I still can't bring myself to pick meat out and eat the rest. But I don't expect anyone to accommodate me (anymore).

  5. Carrie @carrieloves

    Love this! You could have also titled it something along the lines of this is part of being a grown up. Can you imagine how many frivolous law suits could be avoided if we all just took personal responsibility for ourselves.

  6. Gigi

    Amen, sister! It's so much simpler to take our well being into our own hands. That time I was seated on a plane next to a small child who was spitting on people around him? I asked the flight attendant to move me. When people make popcorn (the smell makes me gag), I go to the other room. No biggie.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Though now that I've published my cocktail shrimp neurosis on the internet I'm sure my IRL friends will tease me by following me around eating cocktail shrimp 😉

  7. Chelle Lynn

    This is a really interested perspective for me, because I am trying to overcome the opposite tendency. I will sit and suffer almost *anything* silently for as long as I physically can so as not to inconvenience anyone or come off as needy.

    I, too, get incredibly motion sick. I once rode to a conference with a girl who drove very aggressively and ended up being woozy the rest of the day. I didn't say anything, so she had no idea and probably thought I was just an aloof, judgy bitch. I've done the same thing with my personal trainer, letting her push me too hard, causing me to throw up and be ill. Same with the doctor and getting blood drawn (which always freaks me out) – I would insist that I was feeling ok and once ended up passing out when I could have just asked for juice and been fine.

    So, I'm trying to be honest without transferring responsibility for my Stuff to others. Although, the motion sickness thing is still a hard one to get around.

    • Lydia R. Powell

      I, too, have problems with motion sickness. Normally, it's easiest for me to either offer to drive or just drive myself. My friends know that it's because I get sick riding in the passenger seat, but if I'm with colleagues or others, I just try to mention it up front. Most people are pretty understanding (and reluctant to be potentially puked on!). 🙂

    • Sky

      Yes! This is exactly what I do as well. I am always so worried about others that I will be uncomfortable myself before I speak up and inconvenience them.

  8. boilingwok

    Love this. So spot on.

  9. Tricia

    Well said! I completely agree with you.

  10. Jenn Wisbeck

    I don't expect people to go out of their way for me- but at the same time, I am not going to eat food that has/had meat in it (strict vegetarian)- but I will have brought my own food to a potluck or Thanksgiving that is veggie friendly, and can always find something I can eat in a restaurant.

    I try and set myself a rule- no complaining about something (life events, a friend who isn't being a good friend, a job, going to an event I don't like, etc) until I have tried to do something to change it.

  11. Kathy @ SMART Living

    Damn! I wish I'd learned all this when I was your age. It would have saved me years of misery attempting to please everyone but myself. But as you say, that was really MY problem not theirs! As you say, "Putting my happiness or well being in the hands of other is an exercise in disappointment management. " thanks for the excellent reminders! ~Kathy

  12. Rosiecat

    In general, I agree with this idea, but I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for what you want either. If you've made it clear to friends and family that you are a vegetarian, then why not ask if everyone can go to a non-steakhouse restaurant? Or if you're at a wedding and there's no vegetarian option being served, why not ask if the catering staff can put together a plate with the veggies, rice, etc. and no meat? I think it's more empowering to speak up than to silently avoid the problem.

    I think on the spectrum of what's important, acting in accordance with your values ranks far higher than not inconveniencing another person.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I think it's okay to inconvenience a *few* people *once in a while.* But (I've found) when you regularly inconvenience a lot of people, a lot of people don't want to hang out with you anymore 😉

    • Rosiecat

      I agree! I think I've been fortunate that when I tell people I'm a vegetarian, no one seems put out by it. My friends have been accommodating and amazing. I don't want to be treated like a special snowflake, but after all these years, I think people can tell the difference between a person who is seeking special treatment versus a person who is trying to be honest and upfront about their needs. Maybe there is a way we sniff out someone who needs to feel special versus someone who needs a vegetarian entree 🙂

    • Rosiecat

      And by the way, I can't stand the sight of shrimp (they look like embryos to me), but I never complain if other people are eating them 😉 My boyfriend calls them "cockroaches of the sea." And he loves 'em.

    • Leah

      In this day, it’s fairly rude (in my opinion) to not have a vegetarian option at a wedding. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking about that (and in advance).

      I think what Sarah is getting at is that you don’t want to be the person who expects everyone to always go to the restaurant you like/prefer etc or to remember something specific about you. For example, I don’t drink coffee and don’t particularly like the smell. But if my friends are having a coffee date, I will still go if I want to hang out with them. I skip it if I’m not in the mood. When I initiate, I make it an ice cream date instead, and my friends who are lactose intolerant can choose to come or not.

      There’s definitely some push and pull here. Friends shouldn’t be purposely choosing things their friends merely tolerate just like I shouldn’t be expecting my friends to remember my every desire and accommodate it. It’s a two-way street and it is okay to take ownership for your own thing.

  13. Erin

    PREACH! Girl, just yes. Both ways. My problems are my deal, your problems are your deal. It's nice when someone else cares about your problems, but it is absolutely not a requirement. You are a sage of the highest order.

  14. MartinaLynne

    I couldn't agree with this more. I have a severe chronic digestive illness and multiple, complex food allergies; potlucks, group dinners, holidays, backyard barbeques, cocktail parties, and the like can be incredibly complicated, and even dangerous, events for me to eat at. So instead of being on red-alert all the time, I find it incredibly empowering to take responsibility for meeting my own needs and eat before, bring my own, make arrangements with catering staff in advance, call ahead for ingredient information, etc.

    My problem comes in when other people won't *let* me do this. Food culture is complicated and personal, so a lot of people really want to feed me and are, at times, insulted that I won't (can't) eat what they're offering. I've had people practically force food into my hands, which I then surreptitiously hand off to my BF for disposal (he'll eat anything). This isn't just coming from grandparents: I've overheard comments made in my direction like "picky picky picky" and "what, is she too good for our cheese plate?" There was one memorable incident where a friend of a friend's boyfriend, upon hearing about my illness, decided I was faking it (or something? who fakes this? I'm still confused) and spent a whole party joking (within earshot) that she was going to "slip something into my food." Just your hilarious, casual threat of poisoning! Even when it's not that worst case scenario, there's still always something: either I have to fend off awkward questions about my digestive ailments (why do so many people ask?), or spend the whole night explaining to guest after guest why I can't eat this or that dish, or deal with the inevitable know-it-all who demands proof of my illness and doubts the accuracy of my doctors' diagnoses, or hear the ten-millionth diet suggestion from someone who has a cousin who has a friend who probably definitely has the same thing I have and became paleo and is now cured. It's kind of exhausting.

    The hardest, though, are the people who are just overly helpful, in a way that's socially uncomfortable to turn down. I've had people *insist* on getting the list of my allergens and food prep requirements so that they can make something safe for me at their holiday party; while I appreciate and am touched by the offer, I just don't feel safe eating something that I haven't had maximum control over that was prepared by someone I don't know well. How do I know that they didn't accidentally use the same spoon to stir two dishes? How do I know they checked the ingredients on everything they used, including spice blends? How do I know that they took my dietary needs as seriously as they need to? It's just not comfortable for me, and I'd rather take care of myself. But then I have to turn down the lovely generosity of the host, which feels unkind and uncomfortable.

    So to make a long story short, here's my addendum to your lovely claim: my problems aren't your responsibility, and neither is my care. I've got this, folks. Trust me.

    • Candice @ Really Allergic

      It's so great to read something from someone who shares my perspective as an adult with a serious food allergy (dairy). It has been a battle for years-either those who have tried to "test" the validity of my allergy by lying to me about the contents of food (which, of course, resulted in an extremely serious allergic reaction), or those who feel like that understand my allergy and are confident that they will not cross-contaminate and will check the packaging (including the facility where the product is packaged) for my allergen. Of course, I can't trust anyone else with the responsibility of making sure my food is safe-even if they say they will. It has taken me years to realize this.

      I don't think that my allergy is anyone's problem but my own, however, I do get really tired of answering the constant stream of questions, or fending off the never-ending list of suggestions (as you mentioned). My closest friends let me go to restaurants with them and never even ask me to eat (since I can't eat at 99.9% of restaurants). My not-so-close acquaintances and family badger me endlessly about why I won't "take them up on their hospitality" or just eat "this one thing that for sure has absolutely no dairy whatsoever…except butter".

      I am just fine with eating my own, safely-prepared food ahead of time or skipping communal meals altogether. I don't expect people to accommodate me, because they either won't or can't. But, on the other side of the coin, it would be nice if these people would take a moment to consider how their (insensitive) comments and defiant attitudes make me feel.

      So, while I agree with the theme of the original post, I also think it is important to chime in and suggest that people should really be as considerate as possible when it comes to a friend or family member's health issues. Treat others how you wish to be treated, and all that.

  15. Sky

    I think this is my favorite post of yours, Sarah! It's definitely true. I tend to bounce on opposite ends of the spectrum – getting frustrated with friends who KNOW about certain things but don't accommodate it or letting myself be uncomfortable/do something I don't want to just because I don't want to inconvenience anyone. I am also guilty of being that friend that tries to make everyone else's problems my responsibility and take care of them.

  16. Tracy


  17. Claudia Pippy Browneyes

    I couldn't agree more with you. I am a vegan and whenever I go out with friends and family they are always worried about what I am going to eat. I don´t mind going anywhere, as long as it isn't a stakehouse or barbacue style restaurant, because the choices really do suck there. I am perfectly happy going out and ordering my pizza or lunch asking for them not to include the cheese or eggs or whatever. The fact that I don't eat any of that doesn't mean that I expect everyone to follow my beliefs and ethics, specially in a world where eating meat is the normal standards. I get a lot of weird faces when ordering, but I take that anytime instead of choosing not to spend time with the ones I love.

  18. Sarah @ Marvelous-Darling


    For me, it's also been an embarrassingly short time. I also realized that in the past, I have been a terrible roommate, which is related to making my issues other people's issues.

    Anxiety has been the big issue for me, mostly social or crowd anxiety. I also hate being late or having my schedule messed up. About 2 weeks after my husband and I moved to Germany, we were invited to see a concert in Hamburg, but we had to take the train there. Since we were invited by new friends, obviously we were trying to put our best foot forward. This became intensely difficult when, at 2:30 am, we found ourselves stranded in a town halfway between Hamburg and our home, with no train coming for 3 hours and no where to be sheltered from the cold. I knew we had to get back home to let the dog out, I had to pee, and I was reaching my social limit. After a little grumpy spell in which I may have shouted "MY GOD SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT IS HAPPENING IN ENGLISH," I realized that, oh hey, literally everyone else standing at this train stop is in the same position you are.

    Remarkably, the girls who invited us are still friends of ours. I have not since shouted in their presence, except in excitement over food.

  19. Jennifer

    Although I completely agree with the empowering message of your post, sometimes you do have to ask others to accommodate to your needs when you're struggling with chronic health issues. I go out of my way not to nag or complicate anyone's life, but unfortunately if you want to hang out with me, there are a lot of things I physically just cannot do, no matter how much I would like to adapt to your plans. Luckily I have the coolest friends & relatives in the world who don't mind finding creative solutions we all like to overcome certain limitations!

  20. Stacia, the Homey Owl

    I love this post, it's a great reminder in so many ways. I think the most helpful part for me is applying it in reverse and reminding myself that I'm not responsible for all of my friends' problems. I can support and be there through some of them, but there are some things that I just can't be expected to take care of every single time. I'm a notorious people pleaser and I hate being the inconvenient one. I brought all my own food to our Thanksgiving gathering with my husband's family this year because I found out I have celiac disease (severe allergy to gluten), and there was no way I was going to expect the family to double check that no cross contamination occurs. There are 40 plus people in that house, and it's just so much better if I can say I'm taken care of, please just talk with me and enjoy your day. Even though I really appreciated my aunt calling to grocery store to make sure the turkey they bought didn't have any wheat injected in to it (no prompting from me.)

    I think the most loving thing people can do consistently to work around my issue is to just let me eat what I'm eating. If I know what you're cooking, I'll try to bring something to blend in because I don't want to be the center of attention, but I don't appreciate being teased about not being able to eat the bread. I'm happy to take care of my own problems, but I do wish people would not make them feel like a bigger deal than they need to be. I'm not preventing them from eating gluten, so don't make me feel guilty for eating gluten free. I *already know* how good that pizza is and what my taste buds are missing, but I also know that I will end up doubled over in pain after a single bite.

    Everything requires a bit of give and take. I am perfectly fine feeding myself and politely smiling and saying "No thank you" when someone offers me something I can't eat. I'm not going to scold them for forgetting my allergy, that would be cruel, but I do appreciate some level of grace and just leaving the situation at "no thank you."

  21. Jessica Brown

    Such a good post – and it's amazing that it's not something I've ever actually thought of before! I think this post will come to mind a lot when I'm in similar situations 🙂 xx

  22. sogugu

    Talk about a wake up call!!! I could certainly learn how to be less anal. Sometimes my personal opinions should remain safely tucked in my head.
    Thanks for sharing this, Sarah!

  23. Andrew Miguelez

    Wow. You nailed it. I've felt this way for a long time but couldn't express it without negativity. You managed to describe it without even a hint of anger or aggression. Very impressive and thanks for putting this out there.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thank you so much, Andrew! What a great compliment!

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