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One Degree of Separation

Or we could call this, "The Feeling is No Longer Mutual"...

(photo courtesy of Unsplash)

I just threw a great party. On top of that, the house was extraordinarily clean. The kids were happy and expectant all day and willing to help. A new tablecloth, fresh candles, figs and burrata cheese… and great people. This is my favorite flavor of Life cereal.

I enjoy my friends. I’ve always had the ability to reach out to anyone, to make strangers feel like they belong and I have a desire to know more about the one in front of me. As a person who enjoys giving to others, I am the sort who gives of my heart more than anything. I connect and I pour my whole self out. I pursue intentionally and I always give the benefit of the doubt. When I call and a friend doesn’t answer, I don’t think she is avoiding or rejecting me. I assume life is happening and she will get back to me when she can. Even when I’m possibly wrong I choose to believe better.

In the past this was a sometimes a painful problem because just like anything, when a personal strength is overused it can become a liability. And the reasons behind why I had become so good at connecting were not necessarily the healthiest. My childhood was hugely lacking in emotional care and comfort so I took to trying to fill that void with friends.

Over the years I turned into someone who really knows the value of a strong friendship. And since my adult life has recently given me 17 addresses in 17 years, with four of those years in my current home, I have met many people. And yet, I have few close friends.

From the narrative of a 7 on the enneagram, I can’t get enough of people energy. I’m not just an extrovert (meaning I am energized by being around people), I am a verbal extrovert. So yes, I am the one everyone expects to throw a party but I am also the one the less assertive personalities wish would shut up. Over time I have become more disciplined and learned where to extend my energy and when it is appropriate. I’ve come to realize that not everyone is hoping Peter Pan will walk through the door and sheesh! is that good to know. Because sometimes this Peter Pan just wants to curl up in the corner and take a nap covered up with my Shadow blanket. Flying can be so exhausting.

I love meeting new people, cultivating relationships with them, leading them and teaching them, but I never enjoy losing them.

Years ago I left my hometown of Kansas City, MO and moved to California outside of LA. A year and a half later I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii. In fact we moved to the most southern point of the United States in a town called Naalehu made up of a whole 800 people. Beautiful? yes. Isolated and raw? Yes. Extrovert’s path to depression? Definitely.

I began to fall straight into hopelessness after six months of trying to fit myself into a place that was made of locals who hadn’t prayed for me to show up in their backyards. Warm temperatures don’t guarantee warm invitations. I was so lonely and I really needed my friends who were scattered across the mainland. It wasn’t the first time I’d lived in a place where I was the minority in many ways, but it was traumatizing to be in such a desolate mindset in the midst of it. I had three young children and a very busy, and HAPPY, husband. Alone isn’t even the right word.

My phone was constantly in my hand, hoping for someone to call me with even bad news. I would text and call my friends always believing better about them that surely they were just busy but would call me back soon. I had moved away from Kansas City for good two years prior so they’d had plenty of time to move on. I was on a different time zone as well so often they were sleeping or working when I wanted to talk.

One day, I was sitting on a wall made of a’a (lava rock). In a moment of terrible struggle I had called each person in my contact list who I absolutely loved being with. Eleven favorite people, to be exact.

I still remember the moment of revelation. Many if not most of these friendships were not real anymore. Would I answer if they called? Surely. Would I still want to see them if they came through town? Of course. But were they still my people? The ones who breathed life into my lungs when I found it hard to breath? Places of refuge to turn to when pain was enveloping me? Not anymore.

Recently I saw a quote with no one’s name associated with it and I felt that it summed up what I have often felt in my life.

“Sometimes we expect too much from others
because we would be willing to do that much for them.”

I made a major life decision that day. Because my heart had always sought to find my place in people outside of my bloodline in order to define my family of choice, I had misplaced my expectations. I had to make a choice that changed what I was expecting and draw boundary lines in order to protect those wise choices. So I let go of each of those good people, I released them from the pressure I had put on them to fulfill any of my needs. I knew I would need to likely start over. I didn’t know who I would come through this season with by my side but I was willing to accept that it wouldn’t be most of them.

That was the first day of the next six months in which I chose to not call or text any of my favorite people. I told myself that I would continue a close relationship and pour myself into those that called me without my pursuit of them. This accomplished two great things: firstly, a detox from all of my disappointment management and secondly, I acquired a quality list of three people who I knew in my heart cared enough to reach through time zones and inconvenience to love me well.

I used to think that friendship was like addition and that the law of reciprocity always applied, “2+3=5 and 3+2=5”. No matter which way you lay out the problem the answer is still the same. My process helped me see that friendship can sometimes be like subtraction instead, “3-2=1 or 2-3=-1”. Depending on how you write it you can end up with a positive number or a negative one.

I had always felt that I poured myself into all of my favorite people but it is so painful to not benefit from reciprocation. When you pursue connection with someone and choose to be the kind of person who would be there anytime someone calls on you, you hope for an invitation to come in when you show up at the door. The issue is that not everyone is in a season or has the same drive to show up at your door for the same reasons.

Sometimes the people you think you want in your life turn out to not be the people you need. I am not everyone’s favorite kind of cookie. And that’s OK because I have my own specific tastebuds too. I can choose to stay self-confident regardless of others wanting me flavoring their lives, mostly because self-confidence is different than other-confidence. When I place my confidence in others in order to find my value I will suffer more when they aren’t available to fill up my milk jug. Fortunately this cookie is learning to get her own milk, lol.

As you get older you begin to realize that quality is of much greater importance than quantity in mostly everything (I would say with the exception of maybe... fun earrings?). But when you are closer to 20 than you are to 60 you still need to search the world and what it has to offer by way of connection. You are still searching for your people. Through the years and decades you begin to recognize them more easily. You know very quickly when you walk into a room and none of your people are there. In that moment you do one of two things- adjust your expectations or leave.

Not every relationship stage or season is mutual. If you enter a job that changes your schedule, your friendships are impacted by change and new friends at work. When a friend has a baby before you do, more than just her schedule changes and she begins to need others who give guidance from a different perspective than what you are able to offer. Maybe you move across the country and while you need your best friend more than ever, her whole life didn’t just change and she finds her way forward without you.

Most of the time this disconnection is not personal or intentional, it’s just natural. We all go through seasons when we need people in our lives that are different than who we’ve had previously. And that is OK. It has to be. And it needs to be OK not just for us but for those in our lives who need someone different than us. We aren’t usually looking for better friends, just different for one reason or another. Lives ~and hearts~ change; and we can move forward more smoothly when we acknowledge and accept that this natural cycle is real.

Maybe you need to reflect on where your expectations lie and who is under the pressures of them. Are you disappointed often by your relational situations? Take a moment to ask yourself if each of your friends are ‘IN’ your friendship. You will always hear me say that teaching is only happening if learning occurs, otherwise it is only considered talking. In the same way, friendship is only happening if two people are being ‘friend’ly. If you find that you are giving more of yourself on a consistent basis then you may want to consider giving less. I wouldn’t tell anyone to start cutting people out or burn any bridges. That is reserved for harmful and unhealthy relationships, and yes, do that if this is the case. And in some cases you need to go to your friend to clearly and kindly communicate how you are feeling and what you need. Often that will turn things around.

And in other cases, it is time to recognize that sometimes there’s just one degree of separation that changes everything. It’s like two ships who are traveling side by side, both going over the same waves, basking in the same sunlight. Over time one ship sets a course only one degree to the Northeast but the other ship didn’t get the memo. One ends up in Ireland and the other in Morocco. And when they dock they wonder what happened, having hoped that the other ship would show up eventually. They can still be friends, but they are not in the same friend “ship” that they used to enjoy.

There are more people out there that are your people, don’t worry. You will find your village. Recognizing these significant changes in your story allows you to write your future chapters from a powerful place of understanding instead of bitterness and disappointment.

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I love the way you tell a story... I could almost picture your home, rumbling with the sound of friendship and the smell of some great appetizers waiting to be devoured. Maybe some fresh squeezed strawberry lemonade in a crystal pitcher or a glass with salt on the rim..... And, to reveal your heart in some of the painful process of your own life so that none of it is wasted, but instead serves up a helping of hope and encouragement..... So inspiring... Thanks for sharing.

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