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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Breaking a promise

I know. I said I wouldn't talk about this anymore. But I've reached some conclusions, and after all, this is my blog. I can decide what I want to write and I don't have to adhere to any rules, even if I made them myself.

I made a comment in a forum I read occasionally that I've not figured out how to feel comfortable in close friendships. I've tried for about three years, but I still have intense moments of insecurity and doubt. I mentioned that it's because I know people leave. They just do. It's not about love, or loyalty, or honesty. It's about life.

Friendships are non-contractual--that is, they take place between two people without being sealed by blood or marriage. Either partner is free to come or go as they please. But as in any relationship, when there is no promise of stability, trust is a rare commodity. Under normal circumstances this is a non-issue because people seem to understand that most friendships are fleeting, and even those that last can grow apart, be interrupted, or wax and wane with life events of any kind. Only--my heart doesn't understand that. It wants to love people forever and keep them near me--if only electronically. It's a bit neurotic, I understand, and I'm trying to teach that heart of mine to just relax and let people enter my life (or leave it) without feeling a need for something they cannot, nor do they wish to give.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not about to cling. Quite the opposite. If I feel myself wishing for a closeness that is bound to be broken in the future, I start running. I've tried to curb that impulse in the past couple of years, and I've managed to maintain quite a few good friendships, and three or four that I would tag as "close" friendships. But it hasn't been easy. And as time passes I've found myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with those people. I simply do not know how to trust that they love me, and would never knowingly make me unhappy.

So I commented on the forum, and someone answered my comment. The response basically said that most people feel similarly about friendships, and that's why it's best to only have one close, intimate friend. I don't know (and I didn't ask for clarification) if that means one friend for your whole life, or just one close friend at a time. But I've been thinking about this a lot.

Therapist used to say, "In the end, Darrin is the only one who really matters." I cringed each time he said that, because I knew he didn't understand. Darrin is incredibly important--so much that we have contracted to live together forever. He won't leave me, and I won't leave him. I'm pretty comfortable with this, and I trust him. I'm not saying that being married is always easy, but for me I find little vulnerability in my marriage--I trust that Darrin loves me and will always be with me. Even when there are difficulties, there is a part of me that cannot believe Darrin will ever leave--no matter what.

I felt that Therapist was saying, in essence, "Your friends might all leave--but if they do, you'll always have Darrin, and any other relationship is not really that important."

But I think he's wrong. I also think the forum person was sort of agreeing with Therapist with the comment about only having one close/intimate friend--inferring that person would be a spouse/significant other. I think we need more.

I watched a group of four women, probably in their late forties, enter Blockbuster video a couple of weeks ago. They were chatting about their upcoming movie night. They'd spent the day together shopping and going to lunch. They'd booked a hotel room and were going to have a pool party and end with some chick flicks to play while they tried to stay up all night. They were having a slumber party.

I eavesdropped. These women obviously had been friends for awhile. They talked about how they walked together three or four times weekly. They discussed their husbands and children (some had grandchildren). They touched each other frequently--quick hugs, stroking an arm, a hand on the back. At one point a couple of them clasped hands. It wasn't sexual, it was four women who were very close friends, expressing love to one another and sharing joy in being together.

I was fascinated. I've had friends who treated me in the same way, but I have always been uncomfortable--especially with the touching part. It was not a sharing, as these women demonstrated. I was invited to join, but I was unable to accept the invitation. I didn't, and to some extent I still do not, know how.

Part of me wishes I understood this female dynamic. Part of me is just overwhelmed at the prospect of thinking about it. But I think, at some level, all people need to feel loved by a person, or people, who understand their lives, love them deeply, but don't want to have sex with them. And that's where the difficulty begins.

Women bond quickly and immediately. One only needs to touch them in a kind, loving way for that lovely oxytocin to start racing through their bodies declaring, "Hey, this person is a KEEPER!!" And they act like best friends from that moment on--until something upsets the balance and suddenly they're no longer speaking. I don't know how that happens, but I've seen it many times.

Men, on the other hand, never seem to really bond unless they share some sort of life changing event...or a lot of booze. But I think they need the touch and caring as much as the women do. I've watched my sons sit beside each other as they play a video game, or listen in church. I've seen Adam respond when DJ puts his arm around him. Neither seems embarrassed. The contact is usually brief but seems infinitely rewarding. "Just checking in, making sure you still love me," it seems to say. And then they're bickering again about who gets to ride in the front seat of the car, or whose turn it is to use the computer, or why Adam was in DJ's room...

I think the trick is to learn how to accept the caring and closeness without feeling afraid that it will be taken from us. Perhaps I should speak only for myself, but it seems the conundrum is universal--most people struggle with how to build and maintain intimate friendships, I don't hold a corner on the market. I've been working on releasing the fear I've battled for the past few years. It's been difficult and depressing. I work to build closeness in a friendship in which I plan to allow my intimate friend to leave.

But I've had a few thoughts. As a parent, I understand that my children love me. They don't plan to abandon me, but they do intend to build lives apart from me. I'll be included in their lives, always, but I won't always live with my kids, nor they with me. I think close friendships are like that. I love my kids so much that there are times I feel I simply cannot hold it all inside me. I've felt that same strength of love within intimate friendships. I believe I hold a special place in my children's hearts--a place no other person can fill--and I think they'd miss me if I was gone. I'd like to believe the same feeling for me exists in the hearts of my closest friends. I don't expect my children to put their lives on hold to make sure I'm cared for emotionally--nor do I expect that from my friends.

I'm not really comparing things that are equal in definition. I understand that. But somehow, in the comparison, I've finally figured out how to stop feeling that one day the people I've allowed into my life, the friends with whom I've shared emotional honesty, will abandon and forget about me. I don't think they will. After all, I'm fairly unique and difficult to forget. :)

I've made a list of things I hope my children will remember when they leave. To complete the comparison I began, I also made a list of my hopes for those with whom I share deep, loving friendships.
1. Remember that no matter how long it's been since we last spoke--I always want to talk with you. I'm always interested in your life, your thoughts, your hurts, your fears, your triumphs, and your dreams. Please remember that I love to visit with you anytime.
2. If you've found someone special, I hope that someday you'll share that person with me, or at least introduce us. We'll have something in common, because we both love you.
3. If I seek you out, but the timing is bad, just tell me. I'd rather have a tiny hurt because you were busy when I wanted to spend time with you, than a large hurt because I didn't understand why you were avoiding me. Or, worse, learn that you spent time with me when you couldn't afford to and that had a negative impact on you. Honesty really is the best thing.
4. If life takes you away, I hope you remember something I said or did that made you laugh or feel joyful. And someday, when you come back, I hope you'll remind me what it was. I'll do the same for you.
5. I hope, always, you understand that your presence in my life has been a gift for which I am always grateful. Even though it's difficult for me to navigate friendships and feelings, I am always glad you shared a part of you with me. And if you stayed when I was at my worst, I will never be able to thank you adequately.
6. If we both believe that our friendship cannot end--it won't. We'll both try to foster it, even if there are times when we need breaks.
7. If I have given offense, please offer me forgiveness. You can give me no greater gift, nor is there any other way that will show me greater love.
8. If you remember nothing else about me, remember that I love you. More than sunrises, more than running, more than chocolate...


  1. When you talked about understanding the *female dymnamic* it really struck a chord with me. I have seen situations like you described and long to be a part of them. I am comfortable hugging a few people in my life, my oldest and one of my dearest friends - the thought of hugging or touching her is very foreign to me. I don't have a problem being there for someone, listening, supporting, I just don't ever expect anyone to do the same for me. I think maybe it is easier and there are far fewer disappointments that way.

  2. More than chocolate? You're sure you're not taking this friendship thing a bit too far? ;)

    I too have trouble with friendships, afraid that someone doesn't like me as much as I do them, afraid that they will turn around and reject me, afraid that I am an intrusion. It's something I've been wrestling with a lot lately. And, like you, I would love to have a group of friends such as you described seeing in the video store. I wonder if it will ever happen. Perhaps friendship is something that takes a lifetime to learn how to do.