I was reminded today in therapy that “schedules are not set in stone.” That they should be far more malleable, re-evaluated from day to day. Many would agree that this is so.
But why do we give ourselves permission to re-evaluate our schedule, but feel our relationships are often set in stone? As schedules change, so too do relationships, and they require about as much adjusting.
Today, I have relationships that did not exist five years ago, and relationships from five years ago that now do not exist. When I was home with my new baby, I had a friend, a very best friend (the kind I did everything with) come for a visit. She had been hemming and hawing about making the hour-ish trip out for months with excuses after excuse. Getting her to visit felt like pulling teeth, yet I persisted. I wanted her to experience this new and very exciting chapter of my life.
When she was on her way, she called to tell me her father needed the car for something that evening. This meant I would see her for an hour, two tops, before she needed to leave. Something in my heart sank. Yet I still felt great excitement, to introduce her to my daughter, to see her after so much time apart.
I was nursing C when she arrived. I was extremely proud of this fact: I myself had not been nursed, and I had educated myself before my baby’s arrival about breastfeeding, attended La Leche League meetings, and read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. And C was nursing like a champ. But when my friend saw us, her reaction was, “Oh my God, you’re breastfeeding?! I’ve heard that is so hard!” I felt deflated.
I had attached too much self-worth to her approval, and hearing this felt crushing. Yet, from a small place inside, I felt something rise up. A pride and determination in my choice. And a distancing, from this person who could not and probably would not “get it.”
It took many months to slowly come to the recognition that this relationship was ending. Had ended. Initially, I clung on, convinced I was wrong. When she told me she never got my messages, I got angry but didn’t stop reaching out to her. But her reaction at my breastfeeding kept popping into my head. So finally, I stopped. And while I did grieve, it was ultimately short-lived. Because new relationships, with other new moms, rushed in to fill that gap.
Letting go of that relationship taught me a lot. It taught me not to push when something isn’t working. That while we all are on different paths, it’s the ones that encompass the “big” issues that bring the most meaningful relationships.
In other words, while it’s awesome to share the same taste in music, I care way more about those “big” topics: parenting styles, approaches to conflict, and even spiritual views.
At the foundation is always respect. When I don’t feel respect there, it’s time to put some distance between us.
But evaluating relationships also includes investing in them. I have several dear friends, each of whom I’ve known for fifteen to twenty years. We can go several months without seeing each other, but I don’t let it go longer. I make deliberate efforts to reach out, even if it’s just to say “hey” and find out how they’re doing.
Asking questions is another way to “pour into” these relationships, as well as making time to get together. As anyone with little ones knows, doing this requires intention—if not, a year may have suddenly passed, and relationships may suffer. To keep that from happening, I make sure to put some attention into my closest relationships. In addition to not letting too much time pass, when feasible, I like to get small but meaningful birthday gifts, holiday cards, etc. These friends are not all mothers, or even married, but that is not what binds us. Trust, open communication, laughter, respect: these are the bedrock of our relationship.
So what about you? What relationships are feeding you today? What friend do you know feeds you but you haven’t kept up with? Who could use a text or reminder that you care? And who needs to be given some distance?
In this, as in all things, trusting our instincts is key. Listening to our inner wisdom and the wisdom of those few trusted sources can help sort out the places where we aren’t sure about a relationship.
More times than not, I have found that if I’m hesitant or feeling “off” about someone, the best thing has always been to put some space there. I like to think of it as putting the relationship “up on the shelf.” It’s a reminder the choice is a temporary, not permanent one. As the friend with whom I parted paths with once told me, “A friendship can always be revived. There is no reason it can’t be brought back, at any point.”
Who knows? Maybe one day that will be our story, a friendship separated for years only to bounce back, perhaps at the most unlikely moment. Just like I’m open to the daily re-evaluation of my schedule, I’m open to that, too.