One of the lessons I seem to be forced to learn over and over and over again is that just because I consider someone important to me, that does not necessarily mean that I’m important to them. That’s always a heartbreaking realization. Upon discovering this, I’m learning to reduce that person’s importance in my life as well. But it isn’t easy. I am loyal to a fault.
I tend to take the initiative in friendships much more often than I should, for example. I seem to forget that I deserve to be prioritized as much as the next person does. All relationships should be give and take. Not that I think one should keep score, but sometimes the imbalance becomes blatantly obvious. This lesson has intensified, for some reason, since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Freeze is real.
If you trust someone and they do not trust you, then they don’t think much of you. Not really. And if someone is quite happy to do things with you only if you come up with the ideas and make the plans every single time, then clearly they’re not seeing you as someone who is worth the effort.
So the lesson for today, for me, anyway, is to never forget that I have value, and that value deserves acknowledgement.
Sometimes I see this big old world of ours as a gigantic pond. We all sit along its banks, so far apart that we struggle to make an impact on each other’s lives. But if we gaze at that glassy water long enough, if we think about how it stretches out before us to distant shores, and if we are just the tiniest bit creative, then we start to figure out what we have to do.
We simply have to drop a tiny pebble into that pond. Make an effort. A small gesture. It doesn’t take much to cause a ripple that will spread out to those near you, and cause them to drop in a pebble too, and so on.
And we each have different pebbles. We can be kind to a stranger. We can donate to a charity. We can write a blog or start a little free library or pick up garbage off the side of the road. We can recycle and compost and carry our own reusable grocery bags to the market. We can teach and we can learn. We can let a car in ahead of us during rush hour. We can listen to a troubled teen.
There are so many little things you can do in the course of a day. You may already be in this habit, to the point where you don’t even realize the ripples that you put out or the impact that you make. Or you may be in despair, thinking that nothing you do really matters or is noticed. But keep it up, because it does matter and it is noticed, and it’s appreciated more than you will ever know.
Well, here’s something that took me by complete surprise: Getting married teaches you who your friends really are. I’m not talking about the people who could or couldn’t attend my wedding. There are quite a few legitimate reasons for people to make that choice. Distance, expense, health, timing… I’m okay with that.
I’m also not referring to the people who might have disagreed with my decision. That’s fine, too. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.
I’m talking about those who could not or would not emotionally support my decision, and my happiness, whether they agreed with it or not. I’m also calling out those who were offended by how a fundamental shift in my life goals and priorities had impacted them, as if they had staked claim to the center of my orbit and I had no right to deviate, ever. I’m talking about those who made a concerted effort to rain on my parade, as if they were the grand master thereof.
I admit it. Barb isn’t going to come out and play quite as often. At least, not with them. The center of my world is now the person I am sharing my life and my future with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an awesome friend to have.
Personally, I can’t imagine saying to someone, or even thinking, “Now that you’re getting married, we can’t be friends because we no longer hang out twice a month.” How absurd. I’d like to think that my friends are grown-a$$ adults who can survive with a little less of me, and yet remain secure in my unwavering esteem.
I fully expect to have friendships outside of my marriage, as I expect my husband will. We are a team, but we’re also individuals. We’re not fused at the os coxae (look it up).
But for that to happen, it will require people to be just a little bit flexible. It will oblige people to make a tiny bit more effort, just as it will necessitate more effort on my part, because the logistics will be more complex. It will also demonstrate that the friends who stick around think I’m worth it.
So, as painful as certain realizations have been of late, I choose to look at this as a winnowing process. The wheat is being separated from the chaff. And what lovely wheat it is, too!
I am very, very lucky to have the amazing friends that I have, old and new. I am grateful for them every single day. Those who don’t have the staying power were apparently never true friends in the first place.
And to that, all I can say is… Namaste.
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I will never forget the people in my life who have shown up for me. I can still see the faces of those who have visited and/or driven me to hospitals. I remember promises that were kept. I will forever be loyal to people who have stepped up in my moments of greatest need. Those who have loaned me money are wonderful, and so are those who have leant me an ear or a shoulder. More than once I have been given a place to stay or sincere feedback when I’ve needed advice.
The fascinating thing is that you can never be sure who those people will be until you are thrust headlong into a moment of truth. It might be someone whom you’ve always considered a mere acquaintance. It’s not unheard of that these heroes will be total strangers. And hopefully you have a few old reliables—people who are always there for you, no matter what. It’s wonderful to know there are people you can count on.
Sometimes people can’t be there for you. Life happens. But if you have people in your world who regularly stand you up, or make promises that they don’t keep, or make wild excuses for outrageous behavior… those people are not your friends. It’s best to kick them to the curb.
The best gift in the world is simply showing up, emotionally, for the people you care about. It’s a gift of consideration, and time, and effort. It doesn’t have to cost a dime, but it will be priceless for the person on the receiving end.
In this fast-paced era, it’s so easy to say things without thinking. We’re in too much of a hurry. We can fire off an insult to the other side of the world in mere seconds. This is not progress.
Yes, I have been known to say what I think, to my detriment, but at least back in the 70’s there was usually a waiting period. No e-mails. I had to write it down, find an envelope, address it, stamp it, then find a mailbox. By then I usually calmed down and didn’t mail my rant.
There is a reason wars were less deadly prior to gunpowder. If you actually have to approach someone and look them in the eye with your sticks and stones, if you have to tramp for hundreds of miles before engaging, you have some time to think. But when you can easily reach your destination and shoot from a remove, there’s more room to act rashly. Semi-automatic is always more impulsive than flintlock, and flintlock trumps boiling oil every time.
Time calms you down. Effort wears you down. These things have been taken from us. We no longer get the time to ponder while heating up the oil.
Have you ever heard of someone getting into a fist fight right after chopping a cord of wood? Me neither.
We need to remember to slow down. If we lose that ability, we’re in big trouble.
I just got back from a fantastic trip to Southeastern Utah, in which I shared my sister and brother-in-law’s motor home, and we did quite a bit of outdoor dining. It reminded me of something that has been reinforced again and again and again during my travels: food always tastes better when it’s eaten outside. Why is that?
(This is by no means a scientific essay. If you’re looking for something that’s peer reviewed, you may want to look elsewhere. But as usual, I do have my opinions.)
I suspect that one’s attitude greatly enhances one’s taste buds. Generally, when I’m eating outdoors, I’m surrounded by people that I love, and the scenery is usually spectacular. (You don’t often hear of people picnicking in the town dump, do you?)
Also, when vacationing or just having a picnic lunch in the park across the street, there’s an opportunity to set stress aside. That has to enhance one’s appetite. I know that when I’ve been forced to eat in highly-charged situations, I’ve often felt sick to my stomach. So it stands to reason that the opposite would be true in times of relaxation.
And then there’s the effort factor. If you’re eating outside, chances are that you’ve gotten a little more exercise in than usual. In other words, you’ve “worked up an appetite.” (Well done, you!)
And cooking over a campfire or a grill tends to take a little more planning. It’s not like you’re popping a TV dinner into a microwave. So by dint of the extra preparation, you have really earned this meal. Even with the simplest of foods, that feeling of satisfaction is a good psychological sauce, indeed.
I’ve also noticed that food seems to taste better even in outdoor cafés. While traveling in Croatia, for example, more often than not we supped at tables located in quaint little alleyways filled with potted plants. I think I gained 10 pounds on that trip. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I’ve been looking for you for years. I often wondered if you were right under my nose and I just wasn’t seeing you, or if I wasn’t looking in the right place. More than once I thought I saw you, and you just couldn’t or wouldn’t see me. I always wondered if you were reading my blog, which was the only way I knew how to show myself to the world.
Did we pass each other on the street without recognizing each other? I’d look into the faces of strangers, hoping they’d see me, really see me, and consider me worth the effort. I’m sure I looked like every other face in the crowd, but inside my head I was screaming, “Where are you?”
It’s been a long, lonely, painful slog. I know you’ve been looking for me, too. If you’re reading this, I’m just glad you’re finally here. All during the search, precious time was passing; this was time I could have been spending with you. It felt like such a missed opportunity.
Every time I saw something new, I wanted to share it with you. Every time I got good news, I wanted to tell you. Every time I hit a rough patch, I wished you were there to comfort me. And there were a lot of amazing experiences I passed up, simply because I didn’t want to go it alone. I hope we still have time to do those things. I hope you’ll want to.
All I’ve ever wanted, really, was someone to travel with, and take naps with, and be playful with and have intelligent conversations with. I’ve wanted someone brave enough to win over and love my psycho dog as much as I do (that alone will weed out the vast majority). I’ve wanted someone who looks forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing him.
I wasn’t looking for glamor or perfection, just mutual acceptance. I want us both to be able to be ourselves. I want someone who gets me. I want us to be able to count on each other. I had that once, and it was abruptly taken away. (I just hate mortality, sometimes.) I miss it.
I want to create a safe and peaceful harbor, together. So if you’re reading this, thank you for showing up. I’m sorry for almost having given up on you. I should have had more faith. But having said that, what took you so long?
I had an epiphany last night. Loneliness is basically saying, “I miss you, but I haven’t met you yet.” When viewed from that perspective, it seems like a monumental waste of time. When I think about all the hours, days, months I’ve spent feeling longing and angst because of the absence of total strangers, it kind of makes me cringe.
The reason I was even able to lift my head out of that bad habit long enough to have this epiphany is that I realized that here lately I’ve been too busy to be lonely. I’ve been hard at work getting my first book published. I’m trying to get rid of the clutter in my life. I’m experiencing some intense stuff at work. I don’t have time to be lonely.
And to be perfectly frank, the mere thought of adding someone to my life right now exhausts me. Having to compromise sounds like a lot of work. Accommodating someone else’s schedule doesn’t hold much appeal. Making an effort seems like too much effort.
That caused epiphany number two: Loneliness isn’t a condition, it’s a choice. If it were a condition, like, I don’t know, a staph infection, then no amount of distraction would cause it to go away. But when I get busy, it does go away. And the beautiful thing about being busy is that it tends to put new people into your path, which is another balm for loneliness.
So, there you have it—my cure for loneliness. Now the trick will be to actually keep it in the forefront of my mind.
I have this amazing friend who lights up a room whenever she enters it. Strangers are drawn to her. Joy just seems to ooze out of every one of her pores. I’d love to be like that.
But when I pointed that out to her recently, she got a serious look on her face. She told me that she does get sad and worried and anxious just like everyone else. Well, of course that’s true. As a matter of fact, she’s been through quite a lot in her life. I’m sure her joyful outlook isn’t always as effortless as it looks.
I guess it’s just simpler to imagine her as Little Mary Sunshine than to scratch the surface and actually have to deal with her humanity. That’s my fault entirely. And I’m sure she gets it a lot.
I can kind of, sort of, relate. All through school I was a straight A student. Because of that, no one considered it to be a particularly great achievement when I brought home that perfect report card. It was almost like a physical feature. Barb has brown hair and blue eyes and she gets straight A’s.
This, to put it mildly, frustrated the hell out of me. I mean, thank you for acknowledging its existence at least, but just because I got straight A’s doesn’t mean that I hadn’t put considerable effort into it. Even if you have a high IQ, getting good grades takes organization and planning and memorization and, well, work.
Just because someone consistently demonstrates an outstanding quality or ability doesn’t make it less remarkable. Try to recognize the effort behind those wonderful things in your loved ones that you’ve come to take for granted. Even if they seem to come naturally, they’re quite often hard-won. No one should be discounted, even, and perhaps especially, if it’s for something wonderful.
There are very few things that irritate me as much as watching people wallowing in their own misery and doing nothing to get out of it. There are a lot of awful situations in this world, and many of us have every right to be miserable. But if the universe is lobbing rotten tomatoes at you, the least you can do is try to duck and dodge. For God’s sake, don’t sit there and passively take it. Try your best to do something about it.
I was profoundly unhappy for years. Decades, to be honest. But I was always trying to change that. If I wasn’t in therapy, I was in school to try to educate myself into another career. If I wasn’t doing that, I was breaking out of toxic relationships, or working on my health, or relocating. The vast majority of the things I tried didn’t work at all. Some things made my life even worse. I have a rare talent for mucking things up. But there was no denying the fact that I was trying. I was doing something. I was making an effort.
And it wasn’t easy. A lot of the time I wanted to give up hope. It takes energy to dig yourself out of a dark hole, and when you’re unhappy, you don’t have any to spare. But you have to find it.
So, if you’re in an unhappy relationship, don’t just sit there and suffer. Position yourself so that you can move on. It might take you years, but you won’t regret it.
Not happy with your financial situation? Don’t resign yourself to your current job. Research careers that will be more lucrative. Learn something new. Put in some applications. Network.
Don’t like the way you’re living your life? Figure out how you would like things to change, determine what you’d need to do to make those changes, and start making plans. One thing I can guarantee you is that the world owes you nothing, so sitting around and waiting for it to pay that debt is an exercise in futility. You need to blaze your own trail.
I’m not suggesting that everything you attempt is going to be a huge success. That only happens in the movies. I’m not even implying that you will be happier 10 years from now than you are at this moment. But at the very least, you’ll have earned your misery. You won’t have felt sorry for yourself. You can dance in the eye of your storm and shout, “Bring it on!!! I can take it!” If you’ve tried and failed, well, then you can be miserable with your head held high. That counts for something.
But then again, you might surprise yourself. Things might just work out. Hey, it took me 50 years. But I can now say with all sincerity that it was worth it.