it took me roughly 13.5 minutes to drag myself out of my warm van, through the torrential rain, and into the gym this morning. i. did. not. want. to. run. nor lift weights. at all. it wasn’t until i received a text that reminded me just how much better i’d feel when i stepped on the treadmill that i actually got out of the car.
a birthday or so ago i was struggling with feelings of guilt over time my friends had taken to come to my home for a dinner my husband had invited them to. i was “i’m sorrying” and “you shouldn’t have taken time out to come overing” and hemming and hawing when a friend looked me sternly in the eyes and said, “get over it. seriously.” she meant it. and i did.
another friend and i have an agreement. we can leave rant, sob, or enthusiasm filled messages on eachother’s voice mail any time of the day or night. neither of us needs to drop anything, do anything, or even return the call. we are simply eachother’s go to venting place. no follow up required. it’s become a solace for both of us.
support systems, “cuddle groups,” go-to counselors/advisors/mentors, and friends empower us as we move through life. our humanity, it seems, binds us to such people...if we will let it. which is where i witness struggle of so many kinds.
we are hesitant to “bother” other people. we are quick to assume that everyone else has all that they need in the way of community and are slow to reveal our own needs and wants. we recognize how lonely we feel and yet fear being known for who we truly are. on the flip side, we stop ourselves from offering our selves to others. we don’t know how to say “no” when we’re not available to help or listen so we don’t say “yes” when we can for fear that it’ll open the door to demands we might not want (or be able to) meet in the future.
our internal dialogues are filled with unchecked assumptions. “if people knew what a slug i was they’d be disgusted.” “if i invited someone to go to a play/movie/concert with me they might think i’m desperate.” “if i admitted that i have no clue how to cope and that i longed for help they might think i’m nuts.” or, my personal hot button, “if i have to ask my friend to listen to me/tell my husband what i’d like for my birthday/remind my girlfriend that my love language is touch (or the myriad of other things we don’t like to say outloud), it’ll mean less when they provide it for me.” let me say that again in another way, “if i have to ask for what i want, it won’t mean as much when i get it.”
further, we think, “if i tell him that he can call me when he feels unmotivated he’ll call all the time and i’ll have to talk for hours.” “if i invite her over for dinner this week i’ll feel like i have to do it every time she has a bad week.” we stop ourselves before we start. over and over and over again.
here’s the deal, however. it’s up to us to align our own expectations and to set and enforce our own boundaries. us and us alone. instead of doing so, we fall into patterns of unconsciously expecting too much from others, leading us to feel disappointed when they don’t live up to our inflated wishes. similarly, we fear (and sometimes resent) their expectations of us rather than working to communicate what we are and are not able to provide in the way of companionship. if we worked to become better attuned to both of these dynamics the resulting heterogeneity in our support systems might help us to feel like we have what we need.
every one of us needs a few friends that are fun. a few friends that push us and a few that love us unconditionally and provide “soft” support. we need a friend to go dancing with and a friend to talk about faith with. we need a friend with 10 tattoos and one who is morally opposed to them. we need to provide support to some people and light hearted fun to others. it’s o.k. to make limited offerings and to hold yourself to your boundaries. it’s crucial to have realistic expectations.
if you begin to notice that you are resenting someone for not being who you need, check to make sure that they ever offered you what you hope for. do a quick review of your expectations and align them. don’t be a victim and yet don’t hope for that which was never offered or negotiated. similarly, if you find yourself offering things to others that would lead you to resent them, stop. only offer that which you can provide without it costing you too much. sure, stretching yourself is important, but not to the point where you either hold grudges or get yourself in over your head.
the truth is, we really do need eachother. in all sorts of ways comfortable and not. small and large. soothing and not. stretching and not. it doesn’t hurt any of us to practice that which we are inexperienced at, whether that be small talk or deep conversation, casual friendship or intimate connectedness.
this week, today even, i encourage you to push past your independence, your desire to do life alone, your dependence on others, or fear of asking for, or offering, a little support. do this in small ways like inviting someone to share something you enjoy or go big by offering to accompany someone on a task they fear or dread. offer yourself to a friend to be the person they can call (or text or i.m.) when they simply need to blow off steam. set it up with them that you’ll simply listen to the message and offer a two or three word response. no big time commitment, you’re just offering to hold their frustrations with them...not take them over or on. determine who in your life might be such a person for you and go out on a limb and ask them for the favor. or go bigger and commit to a person or two that you meet with on whatever time frame you like in order to talk and connect and grow. learn to set your expectations appropriately about which friends offer which kinds of connection and let those with whom you are less intimate off the hook for not being so. don’t expect what others can’t give and don’t offer what you can’t offer without resentment setting in.
we are only as connected as we allow ourselves to be. we are only as connected as we intend ourselves to be. connection grows in meaning when it is both given and received. allowed and intended. given and received. and all done mindfully.