“So we seek lovers and mentors and friends that we may be seen, and blessed.” James Hillman.
A friend remarked about my last blog post, “That was a good post, but I wonder if you’d write about friendship. I know you’re interested in sex and desire in relationships, but what about friendship? I see my partner when she is with her friends, having fun; we don’t have too much of that anymore. What about friendship with your partner?”
Ah… friendship. I would argue that my last post on desire and the need for mystery stand side by side with friendship. For what is friendship but the ability to be seen by one you love, to have one who is consistently compassionate and honest with you? When we feel seen by one we love, we are more able to open into the energetic spark of desire, of creativity, of mischief, of loving kindness!
But once again, the story of the one romantic partner bound to fulfill all unfulfilled needs often sets us with such a bevy of expectations, that the lightness that is needed to tend to our friendship can crumble- leaving us bitter, tired, and resentful- singing the same old song. However- that spark of light and laughter my friend sees when her partner is with her friends is what needs to be paid attention too.
Each relationship we have comes with different expectations- whether we are aware of them or not is another story. If you are questioning how to bring some joy back into your dominant partnership, begin to ask, "What are my expectations of my partner?" "What can I do to feed my partner what she/he needs?” The answer to this latter question often takes a deep plunge into the heart of vulnerability, because so often what we need is simply more softness. The answers to these questions, when asked in a deep honest way can bring up discomfort- could it be you are not too good at asking for help? Is there an old hurt that needs tending too? Is there an appreciation we are holding back from saying? So often we hide behind work, kids, family obligations; we tune out and numb out through drink or drugs or media. When we begin to ponder these questions, we begin to step back from the clandestine hold of the dominant partnership and see ourselves in the bigger story of our life- where does this relationship factor into my life story? How does our relationship feed our greater community? Coming to the table from the vantage point of the bigger picture, immediately there is space for some lessening of the hold of expectations- you can come to your partner as a friend and ask, “How are you?” “What can I help you with today?” Together then, perhaps you can begin to wonder if your current model of relating is good enough for the two of you! There is not one model fits all! Some partners want a relationship where sexual activity, mystery, exploration and desire are key. Others are content to have friendly companionship day in and day out, where maybe the spark is no longer there, but you have a deep love and regard for the one by your side. Others sacrifice much for their children, veritably waving to the other partner from across a pile of soiled diapers, muttering, “See ‘ya in eighteen years!”
If only we each had the ability to rise every morning remembering that we made it through the night!
Not all of us are so lucky. That simply remembrance thus roots us in gratitude reminding us that our partnership could turn south at any moment, our friend could take ill, a loved one may end up in a freak accident. When we orient ourselves to that knowing, imagine how your day might go! But we are only human! And humans forget sooo easily. This is why we need to cultivate many relationships outside our dominant one, so that our soul is filled and we can be reminded of the goodness of life, and the fact that we are not alone. For as my son’s father used to quote, “shared sorrow is half sorrow. Shared joy is double joy.”
What makes for a good friend?
Earlier this fall the theme of friendship kept coming up in many of the conversations I had. One friend was pondering her relationships, asking out loud, “Who are my friends? You’re my friend, so and so is my friend, and yet I am so busy I rarely have time for my friends!” Many years ago I had the privilege of exploring the good work of community building with a gray haired man who’d had a stroke; given this and his deep love of life, he began to call himself “Lucky,” for he knew that indeed he was Lucky to still be granted his life, despite how, in certain ways, the stroke incapacitated him. Attuned to the troubles of our times, he wrote extensively about community and relationship; summing up one of the greatest heartbreaks of our time, writing, “The economy depends upon our isolation.” And so it goes- many of us stretched thin, living paycheck to paycheck, with needs for safe housing, consistent loving touch and affection, health care, good whole food, mental health, and the like going chronically unmet, we struggle just to get by, leaving little time to nourish ourselves or heaven forbid our friendships! Thus, friendship must be prioritized- despite the cost it comes with, we simply cannot thrive without it.
With the question, “what makes a good friend?” Courtesy and etiquette beg to be wondered after.
Oh sometimes I think I was born into the wrong century! How liberating to live in a day and age where there were culturally shared understandings of courtesy, etiquette and hospitality. You knew what to do when someone was ill- what medicine to take them, and the in turn they knew how to receive you at the door- certain phrases and pleasantries were extended so neither of you stood about too awkwardly- you took comfort in the form of the ritual of what the visit intended. You knew which songs to sing when the harvest was poor. When someone died there were rituals you participated in, certain dress was called for; certain patterns delineating when and where you found yourselves in the world, so that those around you could recognize you and be recognized. You did not wring your hands mourning, “What do I do? I don’t know what to do!” At a friend’s birth, afterwards, we women attending spoke of our bereftness at not knowing a proper birthing ritual with which to offer our friend-we stood firm in our presence with her, but we each keenly felt a lack- could we have placed a knife under the bed? Sung a bringing down song to the little one as he made his way from womb-space to earth side? Having lost such traditions, we did not know, and a fake ritual was worse than no ritual at all.
Up until very recently there still lived common courtesies about invitations and such. Now it seems we cast a wide net and see who we catch, or we very intentionally limit our circle to only those we feel safe with, all the while heralding our belief in “community.” Say you invite someone new over for dinner, you talk for hours, you have a good time, and you say good night. Weeks go by and you hear nothing from this person. You think at the very least it would be proper to have an email thanking you for the dinner, perhaps extending the invitation, and when nothing comes, you begin to wonder, “Did I do something wrong? What happened?” Now does this make you more or less inclined to reach out to this person, leaving the chance to build a relationship really up in the air. In a day and age where anything goes, more often than not we are having to navigate someone’s personal orientation to the world, instead of navigating a shared understanding of cultural norms. To me these things seem obvious- send a thank you after a dinner, leave a message when you call someone- return the message, follow up. If you are not able too then a simple apology and explanation would be in order. The new age self-help books have pounded it into me, “DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY!!!!” And really I don’t, but I stake a claim in the ground that we, as folks who claim to care about community, begin to ask ourselves- how am I showing up for my community? Who am I letting down by not communicating honestly?”
This is also begs the question- are we really that overextended in our relationships that we cannot return a simple phone call, send an email? Perhaps so, which is another heartbreak. When a shared understanding of these things ruled the day, it meant that village life and the villager’s obligation to the health of the community still stood a chance! Now days, we don’t extend invitations to folks because of our “feelings” or “stories” about them, we bail out at commitments at the very last instant and then don't bother to apologize for letting the person down, shrugging our shoulders to the tune of “going with the flow,” or simply, “I don’t feel like it.”
I am of the mind to be inclusive even at the cost of discomfort. Here in our small community so much of the community mindedness seems to be naively centered on the old maxim, “why can’t we all just get along?” or the even more cringe worthy hippy commandment, “we’re all one!” We cannot get to a place of “we are all one” when we are unwilling to sit together, talk story, and walk a mile in another person’s shoes. We must be willing to spend some time sitting and sweating it out together, and this could take many years, before we come to some semblance of understanding.
My deepest friendships are those I’ve been able to walk through the fires with. Friends I’ve had misunderstandings with, friends who have been unafraid to speak up, get fierce with, extend ourselves in loving kindness again and again. I have also seen clearly the cost of relationship when your orientation is only to the surface interactions you have with people on a day to day basis- you never develop a shared understanding, never make yourself vulnerable by opening up, and the relationship stays stunted, and you stay safe- never fully letting anyone in to love you and see you, making for a very lonely existence, denying that you have any needs or wants hiding behind the other heart-numbing new age cliché of, “it’s all ok.” I know many people were not raised in homes where debate, expression, and emotion were allowed and valued, such as at my family’s dinner table- and I am beyond blessed to be able to speak honestly about deep matters with both parents and my sisters without fear of condemnation or reproach- our dedication to the greater good of the family, our shared value of service for the greater good, a constant thread in our kinship.
Perhaps on some level you don’t think you’re worthy of a good friend. Do you slink away from obligation, making excuses, because you don’t know how to show up? Perhaps you were taught you weren’t supposed to ask for help, as is such a common theme for so many men. Do you fear you might not have much to offer? A wise one I know says, “you’re here on the planet right now? That is a sure sign you are needed! What other proof do you need to go on?” We are mammals, we are tribal folks, our entire DNA is knitted up in knowing we survived this long on planet earth because of cooperation, by working and living and dying together.
Vulnerability takes courage, but without it, our lives become dull and flat.
To speak up, reach out, connect and connect again, to find ourselves laughing after a shared meal, toasty after wine and poetry read aloud together on a blustery dark night, to singing together on a summer’s day- these are the riches of the human way, and we must find ourselves together again.