How Do You Solve a Problem Like Negative Nancy?

We’ve all heard it before. The Negative Nancy. The quips that our non-runner friends may say to us. They might support us…or they might think we’re obsessive. It’s relatively straightforward (albeit not easy) to deal with those individuals whether the topic is running or another goal of ours.

What do you do when you have a loved one or a significant other who not only doesn’t support your love of running, but actively discourages it and pressures you repeatedly to stop because she doesn’t support the benefits or the belief of what running can bring? What if that person makes it the central point in holding your relationship hostage?

The above is just an example, but honestly, I’ve seen countless tweets about cutting out the negative people in your life – and that I have already done to some extent – but that strategy can also backfire significantly when it comes to a spouse, partner or immediate family being the negative one.

And when I say negative, I define it as someone who will consistently and actively discourage you from your goal, not someone who is simply absent as a source of support.

Last week, I told my mother on the phone that I was going to arrange to travel to Florida after the coming holidays as I planned for Walt Disney World Marathon. It would be my first true vacation in almost nine years (yes, nine) and a much needed break as I balance a full-time job with part-time schooling, my life for the past nine years.

Now given the trouble I got from running Marine Corps over a year ago, I should have known better. Then again she also has criticized me for – among other things – not adding her on Facebook and not telling her everything as a daughter. I cannot block her because as her daughter I am not allowed to block her out.

This would lead me to believe that she’s changed her attitude towards my running if she tells me I should trust her right? It’s been a goal of mine to try to repair our relationship, so maybe this is a start right?

Wrong, dead wrong.

When I mentioned Walt Disney, her reaction was…well I don’t know where to begin.

I would like to just block her out. It is a good train of thought. But avoiding her would mean avoiding the rest of my family.

This spreads over to the trust dilemma that I have. I say nothing to her relating to running, though I bring up other goals. One solution is not talking about running at all, but at some point a conflict of sorts will arise.

Should I really lie about flying to Florida on holiday? I tried to bring that topic up sans marathon, her next sentence was asking why January and not in the thick of summer.

Don’t get me wrong. We all have plenty of detractors in life when it comes to our goals, and chances are, most of these individuals aren’t too close to us, either strangers at best, or flat out rivals or adversaries. The ones that are close do it out of fear (rational or irrational) or ignorance.

The start line. 16 Sept 2012

The start line. 16 Sept 2012

To look at both sides of the coin, there are a variety of reasons people may object to our hobby. Let’s name them.

– time spent on training
– money spent on race fees and/or equipment
– threat and/or occurrence of injury
– time away from a partner due to the activity in question (though this can vary if the partner is a runner)
– running is a distraction from other goals (i.e. career, family life, see above)
– unhealthy obsession with diet and/or weight

I’m not defending or advocating on any of the above, but these are the common zingers I’ve either gotten myself, read about as a common problem, or heard others have gotten the same.

The specific reasons my mother has given over the last three years have changed but here are the issues she has thrown at me – and I warn you, some of these are shocking, but you cannot make these up:

1 I’m not spending my money on something worthwhile or saving for the future (similar to the generic money argument above)
2 Running shows my lack of goals and shows I don’t want to get married or raise a family
3 Running puts me at a greater risk for injury compared to simple workouts at the gym
4 You aren’t going to make a career out of it so why do it?
5 The cultural argument: that women don’t have to and should not engage in athletic activity.

Brooks Ravennas. 3 July 2011

Brooks Ravennas. 3 July 2011

Now for the common rebuttals that I have given my mother.

1 The money issue. I’ve had to attack this on two fronts. One in terms of my career and the second in terms of tradeoffs.

First, we all know that in relationships money is a sensitive topic. But my mother knows what I do for a living: I work in finance and I even have my CPA.

Now granted, does this automatically make me Suze Orman? No. However, being a financial advisor in any capacity (which is part of what I do), to not be responsible with my own money (and then advise someone else) is hypocritical at best. If I wanted to make something a priority, I’d budget accordingly.

My common retort to her is quite simple: “If I cannot afford it, without sacrificing another goal, I will not do it, end of.”

The second argument that I have is what I have sacrificed because of running from a behaviour standpoint. Running has forced me to get my diet in line. I eat out WAY less, always pack my lunch, and I rarely, if ever, drink at all. I’ve also gone out less because I need more rest on days around my long runs. Am I okay with that? Yes, I can deal. Guess what that also means though? Savings, even if that’s not a direct objective.

I love my veggies. 2 July 2012.

I love my veggies. 2 July 2012.

The bottom line? I run and make the respective sacrifices because I WANT to. Not because anyone is making me. The second I stop enjoying it, cannot afford certain things or find it impeding other important aspects of my life, is when I will stop.

When I lay these arguments in front of her, she comes up with the excuse that she is my parent and can say anything to me she wants.

That’s fine the first time because she does have a right to her opinion. I DO acknowledge her concern. Unfortunately she wants me to accept it and change. Repeating that opinion (beating a dead horse) does not fly on a perpetual basis, however.

Spinach, baby bella mushrooms, corn and goat cheese. 4 July 2012.

Spinach, baby bella mushrooms, corn and goat cheese. 4 July 2012.

2 Lack of desire to marry or raise a family. Where do I even begin? First off, I didn’t even know this was an either/or issue. I cannot even count the number of people that have some combination of family and active lifestyle and some of those people have those AND their careers.

This argument comes out of ignorance, but again, we are from a culture that promotes family and procreation, so this is a problem I would have even if I was not a runner.

My first defence will be to cite the number of people and the names of those who are doing it all.

Her argument: This is my concern for you as a parent.
My response: That’s fine and dandy, but at this point in time, that’s not a priority for me. School is.
Her response: Well look at all your friends from high school, all married and having families, and look at you.
Mine: There are many you know who can do it all and still run. As for me, children is not a path I want to take in my life. My lifestyle decisions are made irrespective of running. Right now, school is the biggest responsibility. If my grades dropped, I would have stopped ages ago.
Her: You can be in school and get married you know.
Me: Your point? Runners do not sacrifice everything to run. Some do, but the vast majority do NOT. I feel you are missing the point here.
Her: I’m keeping quiet while you are in grad school but we are going to hammer home your lack of family and hope the message gets through to you after you graduate.

After that, it will start to break down, but that’s the premise of my rebuttals.

At one point, I was advised by someone else on Twitter to tell her what I am doing to help my social life: meeting people through running events and/or graduate school. As good as that sounded, that also failed.

Her response: You can meet others who don’t encourage that [running], look at where your friends met their significant others.
Me: And some of them run together. Again look at (fill in examples of married runners).
Her response: Are you going to be running for the rest of your life? What is wrong with you?
Me: Nothing’s wrong with me, unless the doctor or trainer says so.

Smart-alecky on my part, I know, but I’m running out of options.

3 Injury. I have been running for our years, competitively (in races) the last three. Number of self-imposed injuries I’ve had? ONE. July 2010. Nothing since.

I focus on injury prevention in my training through my stretching exercises and an appropriate amount of weighttraining focusing on my core and quads. I rest 1-2 times a week depending on mileage, change and rotate my shoes accordingly.

Within my control, I have been fine. I pick up a few knocks here and there, but nothing that requires nothing more than RICE and possibly an extra rest day.

Outside of my control – two impact injuries sustained during races – have not occurred since MCM (October 2011). I’ve learnt from my mistakes and potential hazards. Does this mean I can prevent everything coming up? No, but I can read up, take advice from the veterans, and I reassure them that I clear everything every year with the pros.

Finisher's Medal, 30 October 2011.

Finisher’s Medal, 30 October 2011.

In this case, she has no rebuttal. She is not a physician and she herself is reluctant to argue with a doctor. As a result, she usually switches off to one of the other excuses.

4 Career Importance. The fitness career argument is relevant if I want to make it so. Plenty of people have had second careers as fitness professionals or personal trainers. I’ve kicked around several times wanting to be a spin instructor on the side, but this won’t be feasible until I graduate and don’t have to commit to schoolwork.

Overall though, this is irrelevant. It is a hobby that plays to my strengths and interests. People have hobbies, I tell her. Unfortunately, it rotates to the same argument given in #1 or #2, either I’m wasting money on something where there is no benefit or that I should be focusing my time on having a family.

“Your family will and should be your main focus. No need for a hobby.” she would say.

I’m not against family values, but last I checked, I thought mothers even tried to forge out some “me” time?

5 Culture. This is not something she explicitly states to me but many women of our culture emphasize physical relaxation and that sedentarism is the way to go. Thin women are seen as unattractive, and the diet is drastically different. She does not lecture me on my diet as she has lived in the States for a considerable amount of time however and also because I was raised on sports in my youth.

I have told her in the past that American culture is different and that my career requires a fast paced approach to living. The problem is that when I bring up culture, she either straight up denies it or goes back to the “I am the parent and what I say to you goes” mantra.

The reason finding a solution here matters is because unlike other “naysayers” I particularly cannot avoid my mother nor can (or should, really) I kick her out of my life. I also have a very good relationship with rest of my family that could also be an issue if I do truly kick her out.

At the very least I’d like to get her to leave me in peace, but even that seems like a big ask at this point.

That all said, I know it’s hard for some people to envision or discuss family matters or anything negative about family. I fully understand that in many cultures, family is and should be always numero uno.

Unfortunately not all of us were born with the same deck of cards and we’ve got to play what we have the best we can.

What are some of the ways you cope with a family member that does not support your running or other goals?

It’s a real kick in the teeth for me, because I vowed I would try to repair an increasingly frayed relationship with her. It is looking less and less likely now, this year, or even ever. My values, hopes and dreams are ever divergent from hers.

Your feedback is much appreciated. Post, tweet or email your observations, it’s all good. That’s all I’m aiming for – not a bashfest, not even a pity party. I am only looking to solve the problem at least with respect to the running.

Hopefully I can run the Walt Disney World marathon in peace, that’s all I really want. It’s a tough topic for many but one I felt I had to put out there.

Thanks for your understanding and I look forward to reading your responses.


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