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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

I want a beautiful friendship based on a shared love of The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

The Hours is maybe one of the best books I’ve read. I love this book. I never want to be finished reading it, and as the percentage creeps up…40%….52%….67%….I must have more of it and I already regret its end. I can’t think of anything better than reading this book. I resent the fact that I have little time for it, even while I relish the longer duration of my life this means I get to spend wrapped up in it.

I want everyone I know to read The Hours, but I know it is not a book for everyone. It is not a book for most of you. First of all, I don’t think you should read it unless you’ve read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I read it two years ago, and that is perfect. It would also be perfect if I had read it two months ago. Possibly even more perfect, but is that a thing? More perfect than perfect?

And then it is a very literary novel. The language makes me want to cry, but a lot of readers don’t care about language. And the themes….many of you wouldn’t like them, or you wouldn’t understand them. You wouldn’t want to understand them, or you’d lack the experience or tools to understand them. I don’t think this is the easiest book to understand. I am sure I don’t understand it either, not to the depth I would like. But that’s okay because I will read it again someday, and maybe I will understand it a bit more, and in the meantime, I will savor the anticipation of that re-read.

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But let us imagine that you love The Hours the way I love The Hours, shall we? Then this is how our beautiful friendship would go.

We would read this book out loud to each other. We would take turns. I would want to be the one to read the Virginia Woolf passages, but I would be willing to compromise. We would let the language trip from our tongues, and sometimes we would pause to savor it in just the way we’d pause to savor a particularly exquisite bite from a fine meal.

We would read this book in the park. We would forget to bring a blanket so we would lie straight on the grass, and it would tickle our necks and our elbows, and we would hope it wasn’t freshly mowed or our reading would become punctuated by outbursts of sneezing. The sun would make us sleepy, and sometimes we’d be listening more to the cadence and inflections of the other person’s voice than to the actual words. 

We would repeat ourselves.

We would read this book on the floor in front of the fireplace. The lights would be dim, the crackle of the fire sometimes overtaken by wind blowing through the trees outside, and into this scene of contrasts–warm and safe versus brisk and wild–we would speak these words and we would feel them more deeply.

We would read this book over the phone when we were far apart from one another. It would remind us of who we are. It would shrink the distance.

I would bring you roses. You would bake me a cake. There would be crumbs in the icing, on purpose. We would go to a hotel, and we would read Mrs. Dalloway there in silence. We would put candied ginger into our tea, and we would wish we were in London. And then one day we’d go to London, and our wish would explode like a dandelion blown by the lips of a child, as all wishes do when they come true.

Just as the three viewpoint characters of The Hours are linked by Mrs. Dalloway, so would we become linked by The Hours. Maybe we would transcend that link.

Maybe we wouldn’t.

Either way, our beautiful friendship would send ripples through time. I would think of you again when I was eighty-three years old. I would think of you with fondness.

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Last weekend my friend apologized to me.

It hadn’t been that big a deal, the thing for which he apologized, but the timing was bad. I didn’t think about an apology. I didn’t ask for one.

He gave me one anyway. He made amends, and then he offered the apology up to me like an unexpected jewel, and then he made some more amends. I watched him take responsibility for his actions, and I watched him not have to take credit for doing so. He did it without any fuss.

The apology was actually for me.

I accepted it, and I took it in, and it changed me. I hadn’t realized how hungry I had been for that very thing until I sucked it down and felt a palpable relief. I had forgotten such a thing was possible. I am used to being asked to dance in a mirror maze in which I am a mere spectre. And here I was, being offered the chance to be me.

I said yes, of course.

I’ve gotten pretty good at being me, in the privacy of these temple bones, in the sanctuary of this muscle heart, in the safety of this rib cage.

He could have said, “You’re too sensitive, Amy.” He could have said, “Well, it only happened because of x and y and z.” He could have gotten angry at me. He could have thought I didn’t think he was a good person. He could have thought for himself that he wasn’t a good person. He could have asked me to comfort him. He could have asked me to pretend nothing had happened, and I might have, because I have larger battles to fight.

He could have left me sitting there alone. The only consequence would have been me staying in my cage of bones, unwilling to come out where I would not be seen.

But he didn’t do that.

And so I have a stronger friendship than I did before.

And so I can begin to see a path to being myself outside these temple bones.

And so I have hope.

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I was thinking the other day about how so many of my interests have been influenced by friendship.

Certainly not all of them. I’ve been a reader, writer, and musician since I was seven, and those interests have remained steadfast in the intervening years. But even those interests were encouraged by someone, only the someone in this case was my mother, who made sure we had a piano and piano lessons, who took me to the library twice a month and read aloud to me every day, who came into my first grade classroom and taught us all how to write stories using those newfangled personal computers. Likewise, I started hiking as soon as I could walk because it was a family activity. I started playing board games and computer games because my dad and sister liked them, I started liking travel when my dad took me to Paris, etc.

But even now as an adult, I find my interests evolve and deepen in interesting ways based on my friends.

I’d gotten kind of sick of board games. I really liked BSG, but otherwise wasn’t very enthusiastic. But then a friend of mine invited me to a game night and introduced me to Dominion, which I enjoyed, and I made other friends there who introduced me to other games I really liked too. And then I began to seek out games myself and talk to other people who also liked games and gave me their recommendations. And before long, I knew a fair amount about board games.

I’ve always loved music, but I didn’t used to go to hardly any live shows. I didn’t go to my first proper rock concert until I was twenty-three, and in one of the greatest serendipitous acts of my life, bumped into a friend of mine in Vienna who was going to get tickets to see U2, who were one of my very favorite bands.

But it wasn’t until much later that I began to go to shows more regularly. My friend invited me to one, and I tried it out and discovered I loved it. So I went to another, then another. I asked how he kept track of all the dates and he introduced me to Songkick. And now I go to a show probably every month or so.

Same thing with theater. I liked theater a lot, and once I taught musical theater, I made an effort to go to more shows. But I started liking theater even more when I made a friend who is hugely knowledgeable about theater and always knows what’s playing and can discuss the show at length with me afterwards. And so I started going more.

And we mustn’t forget dancing. I started dancing originally because of musical theater. And then I stopped. And then I began dancing when I lived in London because my stepmom at the time knew of a good class she thought I’d like. And then I moved back to the States and I stopped. And then I heard about blues dancing multiple times, but at first I thought, “Oh, partner dancing,” and then later I thought, “Too many injuries.”

But then I was no longer injured (hooray!) and my good friend had started dancing a lot, and I became curious. So I told her to let me know sometime I could come with her. And I fell in love, and that was a year ago now.

Somehow my friends even got me to sing karaoke. I don't know how THAT happened.

Somehow my friends even got me to sing karaoke. I don’t know how THAT happened.

Thinking of all these interests I’ve rediscovered and/or deepened through my friends, I feel very lucky. By sharing the things they love, they’ve made my life so much richer.

Next up? I’m on the lookout for a movie friend. I can usually find someone to watch the latest action flick with me, but none of my three favorite movies from last year were big blockbusters. I heard about one from a new acquaintance by chance, and by chance I was also with a friend who wanted to see it at the time, so we went (What We Do in the Shadows). And at that movie I saw the preview for another movie I wanted to see (Mr. Holmes). And at that movie, I saw the preview for another movie I wanted to see, and that movie ended up being my favorite of the year (The End of the Tour). So having a friend (or friends) to help with the discovery of these types of movies (and talk to me about them afterwards) would be incredible.

And in the meantime, I will continue to marvel at the way our friends end up influencing us in so many different ways.

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I will be single on Valentine’s Day this year.

Actually, I did some quick math, and I’ve been single for about 70% of all the Valentine’s Days in my life, so this is actually nothing new or unusual.

In general I’ve always been fairly sanguine about Valentine’s Day. A few years ago I spent the evening with a friend of mine who was having trouble with their relationship; we talked about it a fair amount over sushi, and I felt kind of relieved I was single rather than being in a relationship that made me unhappy. Then we watched a silly action flick and all in all, it was one of my favorite Valentine’s Days. I mean, I wish my friend had been happier. But personally, I had a nice time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also not anti-Valentine’s Day. I mean, it’s a weird holiday. If someone were proposing it as a new holiday, I don’t know that I’d be in favor. But since it exists, I am not opposed to putting aside a bit of time to feel happy and appreciate a significant other. Plus sometimes I get big bouquets of red roses for Valentine’s Day, and I like roses, so that can work out pretty well.

This year I might get myself flowers, but maybe not roses. I wonder if tulips are in season? I’ve been wanting some tulips ever since I saw this beautiful display of them at Pike Market, but I couldn’t get them then because I was staying in a hotel. And that was almost four years ago, so I’ve been waiting four years for tulips.

Whatever, they’ll totally be worth the wait.

Anyway, a lot of my Valentine’s Days blur together, and since it doesn’t have the strong foundation of tradition that, say, Christmas does for me, it’s hard to get too worked up over it. But I do remember both my best Valentine’s Day and my worst Valentine’s Day.

Worst one first, shall we? I was in college; it was in the first year after my mom died, and she always got me an adorable card for Valentine’s Day, and sometimes also a stuffed animal or sugary treat. Our last Valentine’s Day together, she’d given me a stuffed tiger I’d named Marmalade. So this Valentine’s Day wasn’t going to be good no matter what.

Also this guy and I had started showing a mutual interest in each other (actual concrete dating at Santa Cruz was not super common, at least in my experience), and I liked him a lot, and it wasn’t out of the question that we would spend Valentine’s Day together, but then it turned out he was having some issues with his ex-girlfriend that made it sound like she might not remain his ex-girlfriend. So no Valentine’s Day for us, which was disappointing.

And then on Valentine’s Day itself I got an email from my dad announcing that his girlfriend had moved in with him. This news came in spite of the fact that six weeks before I had told him I wanted to come home for the summer and asked him if he could hold off moving in with her until the following fall, and he had agreed. But now magically it was as if that conversation never happened. (I later found out on my graduation trip that she had actually moved in with him maybe a week or two after we’d had that talk, which made for an interesting graduation trip.) When I called up my best friend, I sounded so stricken he thought someone else had died.

Definitely my worst Valentine’s Day.

Now to cleanse our palates with my best Valentine’s Day. I’d taken the day off work to go look at an apartment in San Francisco. It was a great apartment with a bay window and a lot of character, and if I craned my neck enough, I could just barely see the ocean from the bedroom window. Two weeks later I moved in. And after the interview, I drove down to see the guy I was dating at the time. My memory is a little fuzzy on this point, but I’m pretty sure I beat him home, and he’d left all these Valentine’s Day presents for me to find: flowers, candy, a stuffed animal. And I was surprised and thought it was amazing. It wasn’t super elaborate or anything, but it meant the world to me, and really, that’s all that matters.

This year on Valentine’s Day I’m going to be thinking of my friends, and how grateful I am for you all. You shine, you really do. It’s not that I don’t want or value romantic love, because I do, but I find my friendships matter to me more than I ever would have guessed.

So then that’s what I wish for everyone on this Valentine’s Day. May you be loved by some great people. May you be appreciated. May you feel cherished.

I was going to post a photo with human friends, but then I didn't want to leave anybody out, so here is me with my best dog friend instead.

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In the past, I have had people take advice I didn’t mean to give from this blog.

I rarely mean to give advice. When I sit down to write, I’m not thinking, “Now then, let me tell people how I think they should do x or how they should feel about y.” I’m generally talking about my own experiences, knowing very well that people are different and their concerns are different and what works and doesn’t work for me might have nothing much to do with you. I talk about things I find interesting and things I have learned, but they are all very much colored by me being me.

But advice, well, advice can be tricky. I was reminded of this fact by this post about advice, which contains many examples of two pieces of directly conflicting advice, both of which can be valid. It’s really illuminating to read so many examples back to back. I’ll give you just one here to give you a taste:

“You need to be more conscious of how your actions in social situations can make other people uncomfortable and violate their boundaries” versus “You need to overcome your social phobia by realizing that most interactions go well and that probably talking to people won’t always make them hate you and cause you to be ostracized forever.”

I know people for whom the first piece of advice is probably best, and people for whom the second piece of advice is probably best. I even know people who might benefit from both pieces of advice. So yes, advice is not simple.

Ultimately I think good advice depends a lot on context. Generalized advice is all well and good, but nothing can replace the insights of a therapist or a close friend or family member who knows the specifics about who you are and what your situation is. (This person must also be wise and experienced enough to have helpful insights.) Often situations have many factors at play, so one piece of generalized advice can easily miss a lot of nuance.

In learning how to better set boundaries, for example, I found it very useful to have people I call “sanity checkers:” people who know me and my background and who are very skilled at setting boundaries themselves, who I can get feedback from, run things by, or get help with wordings. I find I need their help less and less as I get more experience, but even so, it’s nice to know I can ask for their expertise if I need it. And sometimes I still definitely do!

The other interesting thing about advice is that you can’t force people to take it. It doesn’t matter if you do know them and their situation, if what’s going on seems really incredibly obvious to you, or how painful it is to watch them suffer. People do things on their own timeline. They’re ready when they’re ready, especially when it comes to accepting hard truths and making difficult changes. Sometimes they’re never ready.

Which means I always feel fairly wary of giving personalized advice. You have to find a way to do it that is gentle enough that it doesn’t alienate the two of you when they probably don’t take the advice. And I try not to give advice unless it’s actually been asked for. There are exceptions to this (oh, nuance!), and we all slip up at this from time to time, of course. Some people feel they need to give advice to be useful, which isn’t really true but can certainly feel true. And sometimes it can be really hard to sit and witness the suffering of someone who is simply stuck and has been for months or even years. That tends to be when I’m most likely to slip up.

Advice over milkshakes!

Advice over milkshakes!

In conclusion:

Generalized advice: can be helpful, but must be considered in context

Personalized advice: can be helpful, but must find people who are insightful and get you

Giving advice: can be helpful, but usually only if asked to give it and if not too attached to the outcome

So yes, these are my thoughts (but not advice!) about advice.

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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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I write a lot about friendship.

A few days ago I saw someone share an article about friendship, and someone else responded to their post by saying that this was literally the first article about friendship they’d ever read. This made me feel good that I’m already writing about it, and also sad there is a relative dearth of information and thought about friendship out there.

When I write about boundaries and friendships, I know some of you are wondering what kinds of boundaries are common to need to set in the context of friendship. I think this varies a lot from person to person and from friendship to friendship, but I do have some general thoughts on what I look for in my friends and what kinds of boundaries sometimes come up.

Kinds of issues that come up in friendships that sometimes require boundary setting/enforcing:

  • Responding to invitations
  • Responding to favor requests
  • Having to cancel plans due to illness or emergency
  • Arranging logistics (including scheduling, timing, transport, choosing restaurants, choosing activities, issues of payment)
  • Addressing mobility/health issues
  • Asking for empathy instead of advice
  • Negotiating the flow of the house guest (either being one or hosting one)
  • Figuring out frequency of communication/visits, response time, safeguarding work time, etc.
  • Seeking safe spaces at public (or semi-public) events
  • Dealing with problematic behavior in communities and friend groups
  • Responding to sexual requests
  • Responding to peer pressure
  • Asking for and giving emotional support
  • Speaking up on issues of social justice
  • Asking for consideration
  • Taking someone into your confidence

I’ll be honest for you: I look for friends who don’t need much boundary enforcing because that’s the part I find the most difficult and tiring. I can often set a boundary now, especially if I have a little time to consider, but enforcing it against push-back wears me out extremely fast. And no wonder. Boundary enforcing means your boundary has already been crossed (or is not being taken seriously after being stated), and it often involves hurt feelings, or at the very least disappointment, especially if it’s a repetitive issue. So it’s much easier to reach a point of diminishing returns if you’re having to enforce regularly. (Also, one way of enforcing is to introduce space into the friendship, and if you have to introduce enough space, you’re not interacting much with that person anymore anyway, so selecting for low levels of enforcement tends to happen at least somewhat organically.)

I look for friends to whom I can say no. Sometimes that will be no to a favor, and sometimes that will be no to an invitation. In an ideal world, I could say yes to everything, but the reality is that I have lots of commitments to fulfill, as does any adult: in my case, to my work, to my own physical and mental well-being, to my dog, to my boyfriend, etc. I have idiosyncracies to work around for maximum well-being, like my general dislike of driving too much, especially in traffic, and my sleep issues. I have budgetary restraints. I get sick and injured. All of these things mean that sometimes I have to say no, and I look for friends who will understand that it’s not personal and that I would help them or hang out with them if I could.

I look for friends who will make a commensurate effort. This doesn’t have to be equal in an obvious sense: for example, I have friends who always come over to my place and other friends who I always visit at their places, and as long as everyone is cool with that, it works fine. But both people have to be willing to find time for each other and to care about how the other person is doing. And both people have to be getting some of their friendship needs met.

I look for friends who are generally kind. I used to think, oh, it’s okay if my friend is sort of an asshole, as long as they treat me well. But I’m not as on board with that line of thinking anymore because it’s so easy for that kind of behavior to eventually spread out to include you. Obviously no one is perfect, but I think kindness is probably the most important trait I look for in friends.

And in that vein, my closest friends are generally pretty good at empathy. I become closest to people with whom I can be honest and genuine about myself and my life without fear of judgment, with whom I can share openly and who will share openly with me, who can listen well, and where there is interest and care on both sides.

Finally, one of the great part about friendships I’ve learned while negotiating these things is that they can be flexible. They do not need to be all things, all at once. While my closest friendships are usually built on empathy, I also have great friendships based upon a shared interest (shocking, I know!) and great friendships based on compatible senses of humor. I have friends who I get to see one-on-one and friends that I almost always see in groups. I have friends who I talk to all the time and friends I only get to see once a year. I have friends who I don’t ask for certain things because I know they cannot give them to me, and I appreciate what they do bring to the friendship and ask for those other things elsewhere.

I used to think friendship came in one certain mold, but in learning the many ways friendship can present itself, I’ve found a lot more interest and connection with the world. I thought by setting boundaries I’d be limiting myself, but instead my boundaries allow me to be more present and more accepting of who my friends are.

Even myself. Maybe especially myself.

Oh look, it's my best doggie friend.

Oh look, it’s my best doggie friend.

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