New Year’s Resolution #1: Boycotting the Monkey Exchange

By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. Public Domain, wikimedia commons.

My motto for this coming year: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

There is nothing we humans like more than to surreptitiously gift our monkeys to someone, and taking on other people’s monkeys can become second nature if we don’t watch out.

The problem with monkey gifting is that it affects our circus ecosystems. We have enough monkeys of our own, thanks. Any more, and it will throw everything off balance: they will take over the elephant show, the poor circus dogs will be lost in a flurry of tails and chatter and nobody will see the poor pups jump through the hoops. The acrobats will have to compete for the trapeze, causing some near fatal accidents. Chaos, I tell you. Circus chaos.

No. I hereby declare that I am against any exchange of monkeys.

What the hell am I talking about? Let me give you a couple of examples.

Example #1:

Monkey exchange: Your daughter eats the last piece of chocolate covered peanut brittle in the box. You get angry, feel hard done by, are consumed by a sense of loss and unfairness so great it makes you start to growl and moan in equal measure. Doesn’t she know that peanut brittle is your most favourite thing ever? Doesn’t she know that you were looking forward to that last piece and how much deprivation you have been putting yourself through to ration the box, to make it last so long? Doesn’t she care about you? She must not love you at all!

So, yeah, you might have told her to go ahead and eat the last peanut brittle. You told her it was okay, she should go for it. But…but she should have been reading between the lines! You shouldn’t have to tell her no! she should not have asked in the first place!

The rest of the night you sigh loudly every time she looks at you. You guilt trip her by picking at the crumbs of the box and looking forlorn.

Result: You have just foisted your martyr monkey on your daughter. Now she has to carry that particularly chattering package of guilt on her back. You see her stoop a little more. She looks equally exasperated and upset. But she loves you and you are her mother, so she doesn’t want to return your monkey.

Action step: You must take your monkey back and stop acting like a five-year old. It’s not only unfair to your daughter, but it’s affecting her posture.

Example #2:

Monkey Exchange: The whole high schoolish break up thing that so many do. Ahh, yes. This is a classic. Everything is going seemingly well until one day your boyfriend stops answering your phone calls. You don’t see him for days and then when you do he is very distant. Things go on like this for a while, making you feel more and more insecure. What did I do? What is going on?

You can sense him slipping away, but when you try to talk to him he insists that everything is fine. You are not sure what’s going on- your instinct tells you something is not right, but you have no idea what it is. When he denies it, you start to wonder if you’re just paranoid.

Until one day, when you have the conversation. It goes something like this: “You have to admit, we’ve been growing a part lately. There’s a disconnect between us. It just isn’t working. Come on, you know it isn’t working. I think it would be better if we were just friends.”

Result: You are left with your mouth wide open, your heart trampled in the dust, feeling like you just got hit by a mac truck and having this odd, contradictory feeling that you are somehow at fault and yet not knowing exactly what you did.

Action steps: It is not your fault. That, my friend, is a classic gifting of some very tawdry monkeys. Do not accept it. Instead of telling you the honest (yet probably brutal) truth that he is feeling dissatisfied in the relationship, that his needs are not being met or maybe even that he met someone else, he is going to blame it on “the distance” that, let me remind you, he created by, um, distancing himself. Or in the case of many years of marriage, on the fact that you are too controlling, that you are not fun enough, that, I don’t know, you never take the garbage out and therefore deserve to be left.

I say no more. No more accepting other people’s monkeys. No more trying to foist mine on other people. I am just saying no. Nada. Not going to do it.

I encourage you to do the same. To help, here are 5 easy (well, not so much, but with time they get easier) steps you can take to disengage from the whole sordid business.

  1. Are you trying to give away your monkeys? Are you angry? Sad? Hurt? Are you blaming the other person for all of the crap you are feeling? Chances are you are about to try and gift your monkeys. Take a minute. Do some deep breathing. Look at yourself and your feelings with some loving curiosity. Why are you reacting that way? Identify your own monkeys. This will help you to not foist them on the backs of your loved ones.
  2. Monkey triage. Mostly, the monkey exchange is a vicious cycle. Someone gifts us their monkeys and we react by gifting them ours. Our monkeys are getting vertigo from all the back and forth. It is important to take some time and figure out which monkey belongs to which person. Doing step 1 will aid greatly in the identifying of other people’s monkeys, just by simple process of elimination.
  3. Take responsibility for your monkeys. Because they are your monkeys. Love them, nurture them, but don’t try to foist them on others in a cowardly attempt to excuse and justify them.
  4. Do not take responsibility for other people’s monkeys. You can’t care for them. You don’t have room (remember your circus ecosystem). Plus it is impossible; sooner or later those monkeys always return to their owner, fatter, heavier and with larger, more fanged teeth than before. You are not doing anybody a favour by taking them on. So politely, respectful refuse to take them on. Repeat over and over the mantra, Not my circus, not my monkeys helps.
  5. Let your monkeys go. Eventually, our circus will not need so many monkeys. We can set them free one by one, and feel the blessing of a lighter load. This will come from practising #1-4 repeatedly. Because the sooner we recognize our own monkeys, the sooner we can catch them, hug them one more time, and set them free.

This new year, join me in boycotting the monkey exchange—I swera the world will be a better, calmer place.


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