A friend once shared with me words from her husband on their wedding day about how his heart was like a big messy mud puddle and if she wants in, she better go get her galoshes. I’m paraphrasing, but I hope I’ve done justice to these raw, tender words – the visual has always stuck with me.
I’ve thought a lot about the messiness of friendships and other relationships over the years. A LOT. I’ve read books about it, I’ve watched lots of Oprah back when there was Oprah. I’ve gone to therapy about it. I’ve felt some people have been amazing friends to me when I didn’t deserve it. And I’ve felt others have not been amazing friends when I did deserve it. Galoshes people, friendships are messy.
When I was younger, I remember being taught that some friendships are “for a reason,” some are “for a season” and some – that hard-to-reach friendship fruit at the very tip-top of the tree – are for a lifetime. Blessed is she who has even one of those.
I think “seasonal” friends are the most common variety. These are the friends that get us through clearly defined life stages: childhood, high school, college, our ‘single years,’ etc.. I think all of us can name friends who meant everything to us in one of these stages, but for whatever reason faded away when we moved along to the next one.
I think sometimes our friends have a little too much mud in their hearts, and we feel scared, or burdened, and we judge them and decide we’re not having fun anymore and they’re not making our lives better or easier. We drift away and without even knowing it, we neatly file them into the “Seasonal Friends” file drawer – maybe to be revisited again, maybe not.
I’ve been this muddy friend. I’ve been less than my best self and have lost good friends because of it. In these moments I think I have blamed them for not giving me “the benefit of the doubt” and I have struggled with feeling betrayed and abandoned by friends who have let me down when I let down my guard. In retrospect I know it was my own insecurities that caused me to be shallow, fickle, judgmental and aloof, amongst other things. It’s so much easier to distract ourselves with picking apart others than it is to do the painstaking work of picking apart our own hearts. It’s taken me a looong time to point the finger back at myself in the face of these broken relationships and say, “What can I learn from this?” “How can I be a better friend – the kind that makes someone’s life better and easier and sweeter?” Because that is who I want to be. That is the kind of friend everyone deserves.
I’m a big fan of Glennon Melton. She is a smart, sassy stay-at-home-mom who started a small blog a few years ago, writing honestly and painfully and humorously about mothering and messiness and recovery and relationships. Now it is a very big blog and she has fancy titles after her name like TED guest speaker and New York Times bestseller. Pre- or post-fancy titles, she’s pretty awesome, and clearly has a God-given gift for speaking to women through her writing. I would go so far as to say it’s changed my life. But,I digress.
In the opening chapter of her brave and beautiful book, Carry On, Warrior, Glennon discusses an encounter with a new friend, Tess, in which she decided to experiment with what would happen if she bypassed the socially-accepted and “safe” new mom friend topics like soccer practice and temper tantrums, and dove right into talking about who she really was – addictions, insecurities, shame, secrets and all. Tess did not know she needed to bring galoshes to the playground that day.
Glennon writes that she “stared at me for so long that I wondered if she was going to call our minister or 911 … But at the playground that day, Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect.” It remains to be seen whether it is of the reason, season or lifetime variety, but I think it’s safe to say a friendship was born that day because two women dared to walk through the mud together.
Friendships are tricky. Unlike our birth families or our chosen-through-marriage families, friends are the only people in our lives not bound by legal documents to love us, like us, or even pretend that they do.
Recently I have felt very blessed by what I consider to be an abundance of new, flourishing friendships. Friendships from past seasons had gotten increasingly stagnant, and I had been praying for a new crop of friendships, to meet me, the current me, right where I am, right now. I’ve met incredible women in all sorts of pockets of my life – through church and PEPS and family ties and my neighborhood and through our business. I realize that most of these new friendships have cropped up, at least in part, due to yet another shared “season” of life – motherhood. But I hope that at least some of them stick around beyond our shared ties of new mom-hood, simply because they like me for me.
In addition to these new friends, I’ve also been surprised at how many old friends have circled back into my life on a deeper, more meaningful level in recent months. Just this week I was spending time with one of my very oldest friends. We have had our “seasons” with each other, and have walked through some mud together. But we’re still here for each other, and who knows? We might even have one of those “life-long” gems on our hands.
This friend and I were talking about how we’ve both struggled with feeling “burned” by people in our lives who we felt we were very kind and generous to. I think we were both feeling a bit victim-ish in this conversation, and I’m not sure it accomplished a whole lot.
The next day, my friend called me and told me she had been thinking about our conversation, and had an “epiphany” while leaving pilates class. I’ve never met an epiphany I didn’t like, so I was all ears. She told me, “Beth, I just had this epiphany that people have been so much kinder to me, than I have been to other people.” In essence – while it’s easy to want to lick our wounds when we feel our kindness to someone isn’t returned, it’s harder, yet probably healthier, to focus on all the kindness that is in our life. Like most epiphanies, simple, yet oh-so-complicated to arrive at. In other words, here comes that index finger again, rounding the corner right back at me.
I’m turning 30 (THIRTY!) in just over a month, and I can honestly say two things:
1) I am 100% a work in progress
2) I am more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been. Not only that, but I am more okay than I have ever been, with other peoples’ choices to “take me or leave me” just as I am. Not to say I wouldn’t be hurt if my friends all stopped calling me tomorrow, but I’d be more at peace with it than I would have been 10, 5 or even one year ago.
There are a couple of timely quotes that have been swimming around in my mind as I write this. The first is a (new? old?) saying that seems to be circulating amongst my friends and things I read lately and it says:
“It is none of my business what other people think about me.”
I scratched my head the first few times I mulled this over. What does that mean? Don’t I have the right to know what others think about me? Shouldn’t I care? If I were a celebrity could I really resist reading the tabloids?
I think what it means is that what others think of us should not be the driving motivation behind how we live our lives. Which brings to mind another of my all-time favorite wise words: “What’s right isn’t always popular and what’s popular isn’t always right.” Live a life that feels right to you, and the right people will follow suit. Chicken before the egg.
And then there are these words, from the great Maya Angelou (and borrowed from a friend’s Facebook page):
“When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.”
Especially the good stuff. And the galoshes stuff. If people always lived by those words with us, and us with them, I think it could save us all a lot of heartache and preserve some of those file-drawer friendships.