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Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
My path has been winding lately, with bends and switchbacks that leave me unable to see the coming terrain. It’s been uphill, and I’m scampering, fighting to keep the progress I’ve made. The pock-marked dirt is littered with rocks that poke through the soles of my shoes. Uncomfortable. I want to get past this part of things, and there’s a part of me that wants to rush through this, and just get it done. There’s another part of me that knows that I need to sink into the discomfort, and BE IN IT.
Every single one of my relationships has been undergoing shift and change – and I know it’s for the best. I know that following this time in my life, I will have found my tribe. I know that I will feel surrounded by people who ‘get’ me and appreciate who I am and what I have to offer – and what they have to offer me. I feel like I have no one to fly to in the night, when I am all alone, and the pressure of everything that I hold up is crushing me to death.
I am seeing everyone around me with new eyes – I misplaced the rose colored glasses that held them all in soft reflection. I see all of their hard edges, all of their faults, all of the places where they take and do not give back. And in seeing it, and taking it in, I cannot return to the time when I chose not to know this about them.
I am making decisions – can I continue the relationships, now that I know what I know, and see what I see? And moreover, do I want to?? Implementing change starts with defining what you DO NOT WANT, so I am doing that. I have a mental list forming, a collection of behaviors that I do not want to put up with anymore. I am trying to be careful not to toss out the baby with the bathwater – a fresh start with something doesn’t require you to throw out all that has come before. It requires you to step forward onto the pebbly path with care and certainty, bearing with you the resolve born out of your growing pains and your fumbles.
I acknowledge that I am not perfect. I admit that there are things about me that become obnoxious, or require understanding, patience, or forbearance. I acknowledge that I tend to hold people to high expectations – I have faith in people, I see their potential, I see the ideal of them. It’s always a little tough when they tumble off the pedestal and turn into the real person that they were all along.
I am actively engaging in the process of excavating my own bullshit and stories to try to figure out the places where I fail others and myself. I am seeking the ways that I could be a better friend, partner, and compatriot. I am trudging along that rock-strewn path because I said to the Universe, “I want to walk the path of mastery,” and that means that you need to get intimate with your inner workings, and pull the wool from your eyes – about yourself and about what it means to be human. So, I’m doing the work – I asked for the work. It’s borne fruit – both bitter and sweet.
I know that I teach people how to treat me – so, I’ve decided to be a better teacher. I’ve identified some of the things that are huge, glowing, red button issues for me. And, I’ve come to realize that just because someone wants a relationship with me, it doesn’t mean I am obligated to return the sentiment – I can be compassionate, and be discerning. They are not mutually exclusive.
For the past few months, I have been trying to get to a place where I could feel good about the evolving nature of my relationships – and I think that I’ve gotten there, but not by the road I thought I’d take. I thought that I would get to a place where I would stop feeling bad for wanting to “prune my friend garden.” That’s not what happened – I got okay with feeling crappy about it, and still being able to step forward and do it anyway – because that was what was good for me. I got to a place where I cared less about ‘what kind of person it made me’ to want to walk away from others – and I got to a place where I realized that self interest is not selfishness, although this society would have me believe otherwise.
So, what follows is partly a wish list for friendship, and partly a manifesto on what it means to be a crummy friend (I do take into account bad days, and humanness – I know that no one can maintain all of this all of the time – it’s a majority thing: can they do this the majority of the time?):
- Do what you say you will do! This is the hugest, glowingest, reddest button issue for me. Talk is cheap – if your actions and your way of walking in the world doesn’t match what you say and how you advertise yourself, I am not interested.
- I am not a free counselor. I am not a sage on the hill, to be sought out to heal your drama, and then to be left alone in the cave again when you don’t need me to straighten out all your crooked thinking.
- I am not a priest – stop coming to me for absolution. I cannot give it. Some things are inexcusable. Some things are wrong, no matter which brush you paint it with.
- I am not a garbage receptacle – stop bringing me all of your emotional effluvia and leaving it in my lap. It doesn’t make me feel kindly towards you. Deal with your own stuff. Sit in your own discomfort, and leave me to sit in mine.
- I am not a fool – stop announcing things about yourself in the effort to get people to not call you on your obnoxiousness. Pulling the curtain off of it doesn’t make it more acceptable – it just exposes it in the effort to appear as though you’re actually dealing with it (I can actually see what you’re trying to do here, and if I can, so can everyone else).
- I am not an indentured servant – stop mistaking my natural helpfulness. I owe you nothing. I do things for others out of a heart-centered desire to be of help – when this is taken for granted, I take it back.
- I do not exist in a vacuum – stop neglecting the relationship, and believing that it will exist there, as you left it. Relationships cannot be sealed neatly into time capsules. If you think your neglect of me makes you a bad friend, it does.
- I am not dull-witted – stop peeing on my leg and telling me that it’s raining. I am a frigging writer. I am intimate with stories – the ones I tell myself, the ones I tell others, and the ones I try to live out. The difference? I know, or try to figure out, which of my stories serve the highest good, and which ones I just tell myself to decrease my own discomfort. Why are you telling them?
- I am not blind, deaf, or dumb – I see you, no matter what you choose to clothe yourself with. I hear you – what you do say, and what you don’t. Circle-speak, double-speak, and non-speak – I am really good at hearing it when you say a bunch of stuff that really doesn’t say anything at all.
I love wholeheartedly. I reach out to others. My natural instinct is to comfort. I am faithful, and I have faith in people. I am giving. I am trusting. I want to live a vibrant life. I want to live each day of my life as deeply as I can. I take chances – on people, in life.
Once I’ve held someone in my heart – no matter how we part ways – I tend to hold them there forever. I am an elephant: I never forget – but as time passes, no matter the indiscretion, I let it get fuzzy so that I can wish you well on your journey.
One of my dear, dear, heart-friends said something the other day that twanged my heart’s deepest corners: “where are all the people who were supposed to love me forever?” I second that. Where are you? I threw my hat in the ring, I showed up, ready to play – where are all of you?
I want to be able to love the distance between us. I want to be able to look at you whole and unbroken, cast upon the skies that span our outstretched hands.
When I was in the second grade, my best friend was Paul W. We hung out each and every day. We talked – we didn’t play on the playground: Paul, Holly, and I would take her boombox (which dates me right there) out into the field beyond the jungle gym and the swings and the running children and sit there and listen to music and talk. We were eight. I was an odd child – and Paul was a bit odd with me: we were old inside young bodies. The next year, he and his family moved to Indiana. I was crushed, devastated – I bought him some trinkets to remember me by, and I cried every night. It was horrid.
After that, I had a series of girl friends, but none of them matched that relationship. On into high school, I formed friendships within a group of girls that lasted into my mid-twenties. They had jobs and babies: I was in college. At get togethers, they’d sit around the table man-bashing while their men stood in the garage drinking beer and having man talk. I played with the kids – I found the conversation more stimulating. As time wore on, I just didn’t fit there anymore. When I got divorced, inexplicably, all those friendships came to a screeching halt – and I suppose I should have mourned them. In a way, I did – a part of me mourned the fact that I took a different path, and had to wave goodbye to the companions I’d had for such a long time on my journey. I think of them and our times together fondly. I wonder how they are. I hope that they’re doing well.
Preceding my divorce (from my ex-husband and soon-to-be ex-friends), I started forming friendships with girls in my college classes – some were fleeting meetings of the mind and heart, others sank deeper roots and continue to grow.
In the past two years, even those relationships have shifted and changed. I’ve discontinued association with wide swaths of people, and I’ve welcomed newer friends into my life and heart.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – all these shifts and changes, all these goodbyes and welcomes. Today, I bid adieu to a friend who’s going off and away on a grand adventure – I said goodbye with joy for her new horizons, and a small dollop of the bittersweet, because she’s leaving. Later, I gathered with newer (and wonderful friends who I’ve been blessed to have come into my life), and we got to talking about this. One of them called it “pruning the friend garden,” and said that it’s sometimes necessary. I’ve talked to Dani about this, too – and she says that really, “the struggle is that there’s no struggle [in letting them go], and that this makes us wonder what kind of people we are to let go so easily.” They’re both right (totally unsurprised by that).
I’m grateful for all the companions that life and fate has seen fit to bring my way, to all those who walked down any stretch of my path with me. I find myself deeply grateful for the newest group who’ve entered my life – my relationships with them remind me of my friendship with Paul. That I can just sit there and be. That we can say so much without saying a lot. That I can speak pretty freely, and they get it. That they ask me how I am, and actually want to know (instead of asking to ask, and then hurrying to what’s going on for them … and staying with that for the duration).
I wonder about Paul. Is he married now? Does he have kids? If we lay side by side in a field and gazed at the sky, would we have the communion that we once did? I’m sentimental tonight, and while letting go of things that no longer fit feels good, there’s a little bit of grief sneaking in there, too.