Friendship, blendship

If you’re ever in a jam, here I am
If you’re ever in a mess, S.O.S.
It’s friendship, friendship
Just a perfect blendship

Perhaps its part of a midlife reflection but these last few months, my thoughts keep coming back to the topic of friendship.

During my trip to India, my BFF and I got on the phone and did a temperature check on our 30+ year friendship. We met back when we were 16, living in suburban New Hampshire, smoking cigarettes and being as punk as we could muster. On more than one occasion, she pulled me out of the depths of heartbreak and provided a judgement-free ear to listen and shoulder to cry on. During a senior year trip to Montreal, she saved us from a potentially hairy situation with the Mounties. When I moved 3,000 miles away, she wrote me funny, sappy cards for my birthday, and made time for me when I came back to visit. She was the best woman at my wedding. And still through the decades, I have moments when I doubt the strength and validity of our friendship. So what’s that all about?

Over time, we have all sorts of relationships and its inevitable that if you’re a seeker like me, you might occasionally reflect, compare or contrast. You may start to wonder – is it ok to have a consistent back and forth with one friend or family member, but with another, years can pass without speaking? Maybe. Is there enough give and take, sharing (aka being vulnerable) and listening (aka shutting up)? I don’t know. Is it ok to be the one primarily reaching out or asking to make plans? And if not, what can be done about it at this stage/age? I’ve had to be honest with myself about what kind of friend, wife, daughter, sister I’ve been in the past. It has been a bumpy evolution of stepping up, determining what I want from those around me, finding a willingness to ask, and then letting go. I might have another good 30-40 years here and I’ve been thinking about where I want to be spending my energy.

So, what’s a girl to do?

1. Find the why. I happen to enjoy my own company so I’d be perplexed if people were agreeing to spend time with me who didn’t feel the same. But people do! We feel guilty, or maybe we like the burden of having to tend to that one friend or family member (I mean, how many times can someone listen to ex-boyfriend or shitty work drama?) because we can pat ourselves on the back later for being a good person. Maybe we simply feel an obligation, especially when it comes to family. But trust, no one likes to be the center of a pity party. It does nothing to move the relationship forward, so if you’re guilty of doing this – or being on the receiving end – take a beat and reflect on your intention. Why continue? What are you getting out of it and giving into it?

2. Radical honesty. This is something my husband and I try to practice as often as is feasible, and something I’ve been acutely aware of most of my life as I have a poor filter between my brain and mouth. But my husband had a mini-panic attack when I said there was a kerfluffle between me and my bestie. “Do not rock the boat,” was basically his advice, because he loves me and her and us. I couldn’t just apologize for my poor behavior, though (I was passive aggressive in a text exchange,) and not address my fear about where our relationship stood. Our conversation was not fun or easy, but it was necessary to gather information and move forward.

3. Step up. I’ve taken some action lately – or more accurately, not taken any action – to set myself up for more successful relationships. After being brutally honest with a family member last month, I feel a weight has been lifted. I no longer feel the need to put energy into a relationship that isn’t rewarding. (I mean, unless I need a kidney or something and then I’ll be eating crow, as they say.) On the flip side, if I’m made aware that I haven’t been showing up and letting my loved ones know they are loved, I can decide to do more if it feels right. At the end of the day, most of us just want to be considered.

4. Know when to say no (more.) Despite our best intentions, through love and honesty and work, some relationships end. Lives split in different directions and we realize we cannot get our needs met. I had a girlfriend for many years whom I thought would be part of my life forever. We were as close as I thought we could be, and then one day in 2005, she wrote me a break-up letter. At the time, I was dumbfounded – I thought I’d been a good friend. It turns out though, that she wanted something more or different (but hadn’t let me know what, exactly, during the previous fifteen years,) so she dumped me. With love, of course. Now that I have perspective, I am grateful for the letter, that she had the courage to explain her actions – even if I was the source of her disappointment. It’s better than being ghosted.

I’m not a perfect person but I am a good person, capable of growth and change where desired. I am still learning how to be the best version of myself, and right now that means investigating my relationships – starting new ones, working on present ones, or ending those that aren’t serving me any longer.

To healthy relationships all around!

Sidenote: pity parties are, in fact, ok with me but only if I’m home alone, in my most comfy jammy bottoms, favorite tank top, massive soft wool cardigan, hours and hours of Lost and Alias episodes, and mini-peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s. THAT is an acceptable pity party.

Back to life, back to reality

Six weeks ago I left on a journey. While my intention was to spend the whole time in India, I listened to my gut when after three weeks, it felt like that leg of the trip was over. My friends in Italy welcomed me with open arms, and gave me respite to process everything I’d seen and done. And then a quick visit with family in London prepared me to come back to the real world, my life at home.

I’ve been reminded that travel is essential to human understanding. It doesn’t have to mean taking a trip to a foreign country. It could simply mean driving to a neighboring town or visiting a church that isn’t your own. You’ll be surprised. Just veering slightly from your daily routine by exploring different gas stations and grocery stores can provide the opportunity to open your mind.

Some other things I’ve learned or have been reminded of along the way:

In general, people are the same wherever you go. They want good jobs and fair wages, safety and health for their family and friends. They have dreams, big and small. And despite our current administration, people around the world still have hope and love for America. So ask people questions, truly listen to them, and you’ll find you have more in common than you can imagine. Case in point, the doctor whom I saw in Agra for my dysentery has a daughter who lives a few miles from me!

You may not be able to make it better but you can always make it worse. Spending time in a developing nation can give those of us who won the birth lottery all kinds of ideas about how things could be done better there. It’s easy to look at good hygiene, for instance, as a no-brainer. But when a country has had decades, or centuries, of culturally accepted behaviors, its going to take a lot more than a middle aged white lady with a big mouth to change things. Be respectful and hear all sides of a story before sharing any thoughts.

Take only what you need, everything else will be provided. I can’t tell you the number of packing lists for India I read online. I can, however, tell you that half of the things I packed, I didn’t need. Yes, its important to feel comfortable… I packed my just-in-case medicines, I brought an old Valentine’s Day card from my husband to remind me of home, and I used my travel yoga mat almost every day. What I didn’t need was the mosquito net, water purifying tablets, water filter, multiple pair of sandals, permethrin treated clothes, and sun hat. Consider the season – is it winter? Do you need 10 travel size DEET dispensers or just one? Are you staying in a hotel or hostel or homestay? Do you get a sunburn when its only 70 degrees? Not having a particular item can also encourage you to get friendly with your neighbors and fellow travelers. Or in my case, when I arrived in Europe to an arctic storm wearing tennies and linen pants, I got to take advantage of 70% off winter sales.

Pet peeves don’t disappear when traveling. Here are a few of my least favorite: People talking on phones or having the volume up in quiet or small spaces like museums, art galleries, planes – unless you’re an on-call doctor, turn it down or off even if you’re old and hard of hearing.  Many cultures find it acceptable to cough without covering their mouths, blow snot out of their nose while they’re walking next to you, or chomp on their gum, lips smacking, while talking to you. Bottom line? Annoying people are annoying everywhere. And finally, the bathrooms in airports and public spaces say a lot about a state or country, so pay close attention to your first introduction.

So now that I’m home, what happens next?

My previous career already seems like a lifetime ago. Last year, in the past. Now I’ll focus on writing projects that I’ve put on the back burner for years. I’ll try and make some new friends out here, strengthen my other relationships, and stay healthy.

Its tough to keep the fear at bay, though… the catastrophizing that comes along with taking risk and not knowing the future. But isn’t that always true? We can’t predict what will happen but we know that some things will never happen if we don’t act. Now. Life is short. It feels more like a clock is ticking now, I’m halfway through my life already. And beyond having the people I love know that I love them, I want to come to the end of my days and know I made an impact, that I have ‘done love‘ as Jennifer Pastiloff says, that I created something that resonated.

So. To fresh starts and new beginnings. Onwards and upwards!