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Posts Tagged ‘connection’

Almost every day, I take a walk with Nala. We have a couple of regular routes that depend on how much time I have and what the weather is like and how my toe feels and how long it’s been since I last picked up the mail. In the past, this walk has also been a time to catch up with significant others, but for the last few years, it’s almost always been just for Nala and me.

Nala on her leash

Nala on her leash

I don’t take my phone on these walks. This wasn’t a mindful choice; it began because in the summertime I often don’t have any pockets, and it was a mindful choice not to have to lug a purse around for a simple walk in my neighborhood. But lately I’ve noticed how much I enjoy not having my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. It tells me how to get where I’m going. It lets me access my schedule. It lets me keep in touch with a host of lovely people. It gives me information exactly when I need it (and yes, I did check a recipe in the grocery store today in order to choose the correct size of cranberry bag). It lets me take photos that help me remember what I have done and where I have been.

I love my phone too much. I want to check my phone. I want to see what’s happening on Facebook and Twitter. I think of things to google. I flip into schedule mode at the drop of a hat. I want to see if anyone has texted me. I want to text someone. Hell, I simply want to know what time it is.

But I also don’t like my phone. I go to social events, and I notice when everyone has their phone out, and everyone is talking to people who aren’t there, via texting, instead of talking to the people who are there. I don’t think I judge (I know what it’s like to be shy, to want to avoid an awkward moment), but I do notice. Sometimes, when I am not at my best, I think, “Aha! This means I’m allowed to look at my phone too.”  But more often I think, “What’s going on here? How can we re-establish a connection right now?” Because that’s really what’s happened. The social connection has gotten difficult or a little slow for some reason, and instead of waiting it out and sitting with the slowness, we’ve retreated into our phones.

I like noticing. I like having some daily time when I remember what it’s like not to have the impulse to check. I like not always being available.

I revel in the opportunity to be actually alone. When my phone is there, it is a constant reminder that I don’t have to be alone. But sometimes the company provided by my phone can feel hollow. I remember that according to Facebook, my life is an uninterrupted stream of exciting events and cute outfits. According to Facebook, I live a magazine kind of life, and yet that isn’t actually what my life is like at all. My life is so much more complex than that.

I like having uninterrupted time with the people who are important to me when we just…talk. And sometimes we sit in silence. And sometimes the conversation is not the most scintillating thing ever, and most likely there’s something really exciting happening somewhere on the internet. And I don’t care.

Because it is in that space that conversations deepen. It is in that space that conversations spread out to become some of the most interesting I’ve ever had. It is in that space that I learn things about the world, and about the people in that world.

It is in that space that I get to feel what it is like to be you.

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A few months back, I made a new friend, and we spent a fair amount of time chatting and getting to know one another. And I was struck by something he was doing.

He was asking me a lot of questions.

He asked me my opinion about a lot of things. He asked about my past. He asked about my work. He asked random questions, about my favorite color and Nala and what I like and don’t like. He asked follow-up questions. When I referred to something obliquely, he asked about that too.

In general, I have tended to be the one who asks a lot of questions. (More recently, I’ve been deliberately pulling back so as to strive for more conversational balance.) So I was fascinated by this turn of events, and I resolved to sit back and observe. And what I realized is, it is super flattering when someone asks a lot of questions. I was basking in the attention. And since I was asking questions in return, it built connection and rapport comparatively quickly.

And the result is now I have this new friend who, no joke, knows more about me than friends I’ve known for years.

That is the power of asking questions.

Photo Credit: Ann Douglas via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ann Douglas via Compfight cc

Okay, now bring this knowledge to dating. This is a bit more complicated.

Asking questions can potentially turn a date into an interview, and personally I don’t think this is a desirable outcome. However, I think the interview date isn’t too hard to avoid as long as you’re paying attention. As long as the questions are more or less organic (as opposed to sounding like a list you’re trying to get through), and as long as you are also speaking about yourself (which will be easier, of course, if your date is also asking you questions), the interview effect isn’t as likely to happen.

And then there’s knowing which questions are appropriate. There is more than one opinion on this subject. There are those who try to keep the first couple dates on the lighter side, and those who want to dive more deeply right away. I don’t know that there’s a right answer here, but I do know a few subjects I don’t want to talk about right away:

  • Money. I hate when people ask about this on a first or second date. Obviously I am solvent and, you know, doing stuff like paying rent and feeding myself and Nala, and we can discuss the details when I’ve spent more than a couple of hours with you.
  • Past relationships. A little of this is okay, but being on a date with someone who goes on and on about an ex….means this will be the only date. And I’m certainly not going to ask detailed questions right away.
  • Asking questions for the purpose of then being able to deliver a critique on how I live my life. Just…no.

But there are so many potential questions to ask, whether you’re looking to go deep or stay lighter. Movies, books, the article you read yesterday, music, pets, travel destinations. What makes you the happiest. What makes you sad. How you’ve changed over the years. The favorites game. What you’ve learned this week or this year. And on and on.

And yes, I’ll even take my least favorite question over no questions at all.

Now, there are some people who seem to rarely ask questions in conversation. And, um, I have eventually asked them the question of why they never ask questions. (Of course I have.) The answer, inevitably, is this: “I figured,” they say, “you’d tell me if you wanted me to know.”

No. Maybe this works for some people? But it certainly doesn’t work for me.

Having been in a huge number of conversations with people who don’t ask questions, I can tell you the stuff I never talk about tends to have very little to do with my desire to talk about it (with a few exceptions) and everything to do with whether I’m given an opportunity. I find myself looking for a moment where I can drop in a morsel of information so someone can actually–*gasp*–get to know me better. But looking for those moments, well, it takes effort, and it’s never as good as a conversation in which I don’t have to look for those moments because, hey, the other person is actually exhibiting active interest in me.

Now, I know sometimes conversations on first dates in particular can be…awkward, to put it mildly. And I know sometimes a good question simply doesn’t present itself. Even as a lifelong question asker, I sometimes come up empty.

But asking questions gets easier with practice. And it can be a powerful tool, in dating and in relationships in general. Questions allow us both to get to know someone more deeply and to make that person feel special.

What questions do you like to ask when you are getting to know someone? What questions do you like being asked?

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If Not Me, Who?

Once upon a time (last week, if you want to get particular about it), I wasn’t in the best mood. I’d slept poorly, so I was very tired, and I’d just gotten my flu shot, so my arm hurt, and I’d been feeling socially disconnected and it didn’t seem to be getting any better, so I was grumpy.

I was perusing Facebook that afternoon, and I saw a friend’s status message. It was obvious she was feeling as disconnected as I was, and that she was dealing with a lot of hard emotions. I made a comment about my own desire for a tribe and left it at that.

Later that evening, she made a long, clarifying comment on the thread. It was a pretty long thread at this point, with many of her friends offering love, support, Skype time, etc. And I thought, she still sounds pretty upset. Maybe I should call her.

I immediately thought of lots of good reasons why calling her was a terrible idea. It was almost ten p.m., and I’d be putting her on the spot, and I hadn’t phoned her up in years (mostly seeing her at group events), and some people hate talking on the phone, and I was tired, and it might be weird, and she obviously had all these friends from this thread who were offering support, so she didn’t need mine. Who did I think I was, anyway?

But then I thought of Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism, which I had watched earlier in the week. She’d talked about how she questioned why it was her standing up in front of the UN talking about feminism. And then she’d asked herself these two questions:

If not me, who? If not now, when?

Photo by Amy Sundberg (Hey, that's me!)

Photo by Amy Sundberg (Hey, that’s me!)

Those two questions echoed in my mind. They aren’t particularly original, perhaps, but more importantly, they are pertinent and simple. If I wasn’t willing to reach out to my friend in need, who would? And what did that say about me? And did I really think some vague Facebook comment was sufficient support?

I was afraid of looking stupid and awkward. But was that fear really what was important? I didn’t think so. And I picked up the phone and called her.

I was the only friend that day who did so.

If not me, who? No one, that’s who.

I hope the conversation we had helped my friend, but it ended up being exactly what I needed. It got me out of my head loop and back into reality.

Here’s what I learned or was reminded of:

  1. Appearances can be deceiving. Just because a person looks like they have a million and one friends does not mean they’re getting the support they need. Just because a person looks happy does not mean they’re doing great.
  2. Active reaching out matters. When we’re in a state of overwhelm or emotional overload, sometimes even picking up the phone and deciding who to call or text can be really hard. Making an offer to support a friend is great, but following it up with something concrete is better. (Especially something concrete that can be easily refused, like with a phone call that the person doesn’t have to answer.)
  3. Sometimes helping someone else is the best way to help yourself.
  4. Connection takes courage. I’ve been feeling unsafe in some of my usual social spaces. And it’s so easy to allow that feeling to leach into feeling unsafe in general. And feeling unsafe is such a deeply icky experience. But at some point, I needed to open myself up to the possibility that not all connections will lead to a lack of safety, and to trust in my own ability to deal with inappropriate circumstances should they arise.
  5. Conversation is a give and take. My friend really wanted to hear about similar problems I have been experiencing. Me being willing to be open and vulnerable with her helped her to do the same with me, and vice versa.
  6. Connection starts with me. I can’t expect meaningful connection in my life if I’m not willing to take a risk and give what I wish to receive.
  7. Connection is a state of mind. That phone conversation cracked me wide open, and then I could more easily appreciate all the connections I’m so happy to have in my life.
  8. If not me, who? If not now, when? 

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Definition of kindred spirit:

“A bosom friend–an intimate friend, you know–a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I’ve dreamed of meeting her all my life.” – Anne to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomerie

Theodora Goss recently wrote about soul mates, and when I read her post, I recognized what she was talking about. Her idea of the soul mate is my idea of the kindred spirit. And when we use either of these phrases, what we’re really talking about is connection.

I really like the idea of practicing being a kindred spirit, both to yourself and to others. Because if you are not a kindred spirit, how can you expect anyone else to be? And being your own best kindred spirit plays right into the idea of loving ourselves, which is incredibly important.

And there are so many different kinds of kindred spirit. One of the things I like about the Anne books is that we get to see Anne discover many different types as she grows up. There is the romantic kind, the kind we’re most likely to think of when we say soul mate. And there is the best friend kind, in whom we are perhaps most likely to confide. But there are many other kinds as well, just as there are many different ways to support and appreciate each other.

Some of them run deep, right through the core of who we are. Others (like Mrs. Josephine Barry in the Anne books) are closer to the surface but still marked by the hallmarks of a kindred spirit: a sense of understanding or kinship, along with a sense of appreciation for who the person is. What this sense of understanding revolves around and how widespread it is will vary from relationship to relationship.

It interests me that with many people, we never have the opportunity to share our entire souls, or even a large portion of them. But we often have the opportunity to share a piece of our soul, to shine a ray of ourselves or open one of a hallway of doors. Even if it’s a very little door, its opening still has meaning as it creates its feeling of connection.

I wonder if this is why we sometimes think it’s harder to make friends as adults. With old friends that you’ve known since childhood, we share the understanding created through a shared past. When we make friends in school, it is often also through a shared context and experience (taking place during a period of transformation, oftentimes), which can persist for the rest of our lives. When we’re adults, we have to work harder to find that shared understanding, but it is often still there if we decide to go looking for it.

Of course, now I know many kindred spirits with whom I’ve bonded because of writing. A shared passion can be a powerful magnet. Shared passions or interests, shared past experiences, shared personality traits, sometimes even shared social groups can be enough to light the first spark. I even have my blogging kindred spirits: Rahul Kanakia and Theodora Goss. I rarely get to speak with them in person, but I often talk about their posts here, sharing my own thoughts on their ideas.

One thing that most of my kindred spirits have in common is that they LISTEN. Some of them are better at it than others, but at least some listening on both sides is key. That is the only way to create the necessary understanding. It is the only way to actually get to know someone, and we can only truly appreciate someone if we know at least some part of them. Similarly, we can only be a kindred spirit to ourselves if we learn to listen to ourselves and pay attention to what we hear.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” -Anne in Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomerie

What does being a kindred spirit mean to you?

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I love Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and the end of the year because it’s a time that can be filled with joy and gratitude and renewal. It is the darkest time of year for those of us in the northern hemisphere, and we hold onto the knowledge that things change, that the world around us is  in constant motion, as are we. We think with hope of longer, warmer days and the blooming of spring.

But sometimes the holidays can be quite challenging. For many, it can be a time of loneliness, missing people who are not here or not being involved in the hustle and bustle of the masses. We might be confronted with people and patterns that are difficult for us to deal with gracefully. We might be overscheduled, overcommitted, or overburdened with expectations, either our own or other people’s. We might be tired from the year that’s ending.

I’ve come up with a list of tips for my own personal sanity this year, and I’m going to share them with you. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

1. Prioritize and let go. Let go of as much as you can. Figure out what is truly important to you, and be flexible about everything else. This might include letting go of what other people might want from you, too.

2. Treat yourself. For me, this often means yummy consumables: pumpkin spice chai, hot cider, cookies, ice cream, holiday treats. For others, this might mean a massage or a trip to the library or window shopping or playing a video game.

3. Give yourself time. If you’re really busy, maybe this is five minutes at the end of the day to sit and do nothing. Maybe it’s time to take a bubble bath or time to take a walk or time to watch a favorite movie. For me this year, it’s time to read, and it’s truly blissful.

4. Let yourself feel how you feel. There can be so many shoulds, especially around the holidays when you “should” be perfectly happy and want to do all the things. But give yourself space to feel sad or lonely or angry or anxious or whatever emotion comes up. It’s fine to have a multilayered experience. It’s fine if the holidays are hard.

5. Make health a priority. Do your best to get enough sleep, to eat healthy foods, and to exercise to the best of your ability. (With a healing ankle, that means a five minute walk for me, but hey! Five minutes are five minutes.) Wash your hands. Stretch. Dress warmly if it’s cold outside.

6. Reach out to your people. Take the initiative to make plans that make you feel happy and safe. If you’re not able to spend the holidays physically with your people, remind yourself of their existence. Text, call, comment on Facebook. Surround yourself, either physically or virtually, with people who you like and who like you.

7. Hold onto hope. The future is full of possibilities.

This year's TREE. :)

This year’s TREE. 🙂

I hope you all have a peaceful and happy End of Year. But if that isn’t your experience, that’s just fine too. The wheel keeps turning, and the days keep going by. 2014 will be here soon enough.

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Shortly after I published Friendship Can Be Like Dating, I received a text from a long-distance friend of mine. How did internet friendships play into my theories, he wanted to know. He had a point. After all, he and I are good friends and we definitely don’t see each other once a week. If we see each once a year, it’s time to break out the party hats. And thus, an idea for another blog post was born.

Do I think it’s possible to be close friends with people who don’t live locally? Definitely. Do I think it’s possible to be close friends with people whom I’ve met on the internet? Yes, if certain things happen.

Basically, in order to be close friends, you’ve got to find some way to have both time and intimacy with one another. Without these, it’s hard for a relationship to grow beyond a pleasant acquaintanceship. Luckily for us, both of these things are possible using technology, which means we’re no longer as limited by geography in developing friendships.

Photo by Al Bogdan (another long distance friend).

Photo by Al Bogdan (another long distance friend)

I still think the Once a Week theory holds true in the online realm. The friends we interact with on a weekly basis feel like an active part of our lives. The friends we interact with on a monthly basis still feel present. Less than that, and we become less aware of and engaged with each other. (That’s not to say you can’t still be friends; it simply means you won’t be as immediately close and involved.)

But interactions look different when we live far apart. A few of my friends and I are what I call “text friends” because we communicate primarily via text. We might have an entire conversation over text, or we might just send a quick “You are my favorite brand of awesomesauce” kind of text. But what we’re doing whenever we send one is saying, “Hey, I’m thinking about you, I love you, and I value our friendship.” I have other friends who are “Twitter friends” because we mostly chat on Twitter. Still others are e-mail friends or Facebook/Facebook message friends or Skype friends. Time spent interacting is important, but interacting at all also plays a larger role in these LDFs (long distance friendships).

One of the great things about LDFs is that it is often easier to get one-on-one time. Although there are group-focused ways to communicate, many of the most common methods require forming a personal one-on-one relationship. Whether I’m sending texts to my friends in Ohio and Washington or Skyping my friend in Boston, we’re focusing on each other.

Some of the communication techniques are also great for balancing friendships to be more two-sided. In both e-mail and text, for example, both people will get a chance to speak, talk about their lives and viewpoints, and be heard. And because there’s an inherent delay built into the communication, it’s a lot harder to be interrupted in a way that’s truly disruptive.

I do find that my LDFs are greatly enhanced by any amount of face-to-face time. Often, in fact, they begin with face-to-face time and grow into something closer over the internet. Many of my convention writer friendships have started like this. In person time can be hard (and expensive) to arrange, but when it works out it’s worth its weight in gold.

What do you think? Do you have close LDFs? How do you maintain these friendships?

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A friend recently shared an article entitled “The Curse of the Connector.” Its tagline? “It’s easy to never be alone and yet very lonely.” The writer describes a glamorous Gatsby whirlwind of life in his social circle, in which everyone is supposed to always be doing something exciting and “crushing it.” But, he says, “The world desperately needs more “connections” to become true friendships.”

I live in the Silicon Valley, and I’ve experienced the culture the author is talking about. The “crush it” culture exhausts me because, on the surface at least, it seems to focus heavily on appearances. In addition, there is the “always busy” mentality. Meanwhile, we like to speculate on whether social media is making us more lonely. All of these ideas are interconnected, as they relate to the type and depth of connections with which we surround ourselves.

I’m going to rush right by the fact that the first mention about true friends in this article is that they make excellent personal brand consultants. (Really?!? That’s the first thing that comes to mind about friendship? Really?!?) At its heart, this article is about the realization that our lives are better when we have close friends as well as a large number of acquaintances, that friendship isn’t a numbers game or a mere ego boost.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Yes, friendship takes time. Yes, it takes work. Yes, sometimes it can be quite difficult to find kindred spirits with whom to be close. Since last year was the Year of Friendship for me, I spent a lot of time thinking about these things, and now I have a few theories about friendship:

The Once a Week Theory: The more often you see somebody, the more likely you are to become close friends. Once a week or more is optimal. Once every other week is adequate. Less than once a month and the friendship probably doesn’t have the time to form right now. (For long distance friendship making, texts, emails, and Skypes can be substituted for in-person time. For established friendships, you can sometimes get by on less, but eventually you won’t be as close.)

It is no coincidence that many of my close friends get together every week for game night. I think of other close friends I’ve made, and there is generally either a concerted effort to see each other regularly, or a steady stream of texts or emails.

The One-on-One Theory: Sure, I can have good times with people at parties or group outings. But for me, a friendship becomes closer when I spend time one-on-one or in small groups (probably no more than four or five). The more one-on-one time I spend with somebody, the more likely we are to become close friends.

The Diminishing Returns Theory: Not everyone is going to be a perfect friend match. Maybe she’s too busy, maybe he’s going through a rough patch, maybe the two of us just didn’t click (or it was a one-sided click). Maybe there’s something in the friendship dynamic that isn’t working too well. It doesn’t mean you aren’t both great people, it just means you’re not going to become close. Happily, there are many more fabulous people out there who might become good friends. It works better to invest time with the people who will invest their time in you and can be part of a balanced and positive friendship. (Yes, friendship can be surprisingly like dating.)

Taylor’s Party Corollary: The closer the friend, the earlier you plan to arrive at their parties. It’s nice when a close friend arrives close to the start time. They can help set up, chat comfortably, hang out before the party picks up speed, or occupy early-arriving acquaintances and help the conversation flow. (Note: I am not good at this. I almost always arrive late to parties.)

How about you? Have any theories of your own about friendship?

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