I kind of have the blues today. I’d been ruminating on a blog post I wanted to write about friendship, an essay that was taking shape in my mind based on a situation that arose with one of my best friends. Why blue? Because my heart feels worried about someone I love. Specifically, that I may have done something to dishonor the friendship.
While it’s definitely true that my manner of living is to basically throw my heart into the world, I am selective about those I hold dear in my inner circle. I am fiercely protective of my children, my partner, and my closest family and friends.
My idyllic childhood meant I learned to trust easily. I grew up counting on my attachments and as I grew into adulthood, I had expectations around those attachments. As a kid, I had no idea what it was like for many (most?) people. Sure, I had friends with far less cozy home environments, but I assumed theirs were exceptions.
The single biggest WTF of my adult life was learning that those expectations I’d developed had heartache built right into them. The first friendship I had fall apart in college was truly shocking to me, but I am certain I took very little responsibility for it even as I suffered over its loss. And of course, the disillusionment I experienced around my less than happy marriage was rooted in these expectations.
“Disenchanted” is probably a better word for the kind of growth that came from those experiences. After all, freedom from enchantment is a gift.
When you have expectations from your attachments, there is a tendency to operate from a place of entitlement. There is little motivation to nurture relationships because you assume they can be taken for granted.
In losing a marriage, I learned that I want a partner, and I need to like him, which sounds like, well, duh. But I just assumed my marriage was bullet proof for so many years that I didn’t notice the disengagement until it was too late. From that loss I learned that love is a verb, and I can choose the (in my case) man I love every day. And that conscientious choice makes a difference.
In losing a friendship, I learned that I only have so much time and bandwidth to give, and I want to give that time and heart to friendships where the nurturing is a two-way street. But also, where there is a respect and understanding that we all have busy lives, and if I choose to spend my time with you, it’s because I genuinely value your presence in my life. I don’t have any expectation beyond holding space in my heart, and knowing the friends in my inner circle do the same. I make time for each friend and nurture those relationships because they matter to me. I have dear friends I see only once a year; a few I see even less. But their place in my heart is secure.
In walking away from a family member whom I’d assumed would always be part of my life, I learned that you do not need to be an audience to toxic people. You do not owe it to anyone to allow them to take more than you can give. It is not your responsibility to absorb their negativity, even if the person is family. You can choose to walk away, or establish a boundary with that person and stick to it.
In experiencing the end of friendships or relationships, I have learned that I will naturally be affected when an attachment I value is severed, because that is who I am. But I also recognize that there is no relationship that is bullet proof. This means I will do my best to honor relationships in my life that I want to keep. I will try to live with my whole heart and to be a good mom, partner, daughter, sister, friend. This doesn’t mean I’ll be perfect, but the awareness of the impermanence of relationships gives me a reason to value the close friendships I have all the more, in a way I simply couldn’t when I was taking them for granted.
Since recognizing some of my idealistic ways of thinking and letting go of entitlements around relationships, I believe my life has blossomed in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I have dear friends that go back thirty years, and one very important person I’ve only known a little over a year. The length of time is less important than the knowledge and acceptance of “choice”. This is oddly comforting, if not empowering. I still fear loss, yet choosing each other is also pretty sweet. Yes, I still worry, feel things too deeply, and struggle with anxiety over things I can’t control.
I still have far too big a heart than is probably good for me. But a decent chunk of this heart holds pragmatism and a fairly well-tuned bullshit-meter. Yes, an occasional bad apple has gotten through, but overall, I believe I have excellent taste in the people in my circle.
I am deeply grateful for the people in that circle. Thank you.
Featured art cred, Shawna Erback “Under the Tree of New Beginnings”