A long time ago, back when people would mass email surveys and stories to everyone on their mailing list because no one had even heard of social media yet, I read a story that stayed with me. I can’t remember who sent it to me, or the exact storyline, but essentially, it went like this:
A young girl had just met the man of her dreams and was talking to her mom about it. She was dreaming about the things they would do and the life they would live, just the two of them. Her mother listened patiently then offered her daughter a little piece of advice: she counseled her to love this man, but also stay close with her girl friends and continue to cultivate those friendships. The young daughter laughed and said that she no longer needed girlfriends–her had her man now! The mother listened again and repeated the same advice, adding this time that there would be time in her life when she would need both the love of her husband AND the support of girlfriends. The story flashed forward many years and became reflective, as the young woman became a mother herself sharing that same advice with her daughter, recounting the moments in her life when those friendships had become a life line for her.
I think I was either newly engaged or newly married when I first read it, and while it certainly made an impression on me, I don’t think I really understood it until recently.
The first few months of a baby’s life are so bizarre. On one hand, you are so overwhelmed, exhausted and busy, but I also find you are given an incredible amount of time to sit and think. The many, many hours spent feeding a baby or quietly rocking in a chair (afraid to move or breathe loudly in case you wake the baby you’ve been trying to get to sleep for the last several hours) leave you with little else to do but retreat into your thoughts. And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships.
There are a ton of those “Scary Mommy” articles about this very topic, I read almost all the ones I see shared on Facebook and see elements of myself and my life in them. It’s an area where I have always struggled–I know I often neglect my friendships. It’s not deliberate, and I hate that I do it, but it just tends to be the thing I end up letting go when life seems so overwhelming.
But I think that maybe I’m doing it wrong.
I know some incredible, incredible women. Honestly. When I look at many of the people I know and associate with these days, I am often awed by their strengths, their humor, their passions, their successes. I see connections that have stayed strong since high school–friendships that have weathered many storms but stayed strong. I see that, and I can’t help feeling… jealous.
I know I’ve written about this on and off in the past, but I have always struggled with letting people in. I’ve been burned once or twice in the past, and I guess the scars from those experiences run a little deeper than I’d care to admit. If we’re going for the truth here, I’m often afraid to let people in because I’m afraid they won’t like what they see. I’ve always been accepted into groups of friends, but have quietly spent much of that time standing on the fringe. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling… different. I always knew that the way I lived my faith and my life was not the same as many of my peers, and felt a small divide as a result. I see these close friendships where people seem to really know one another, and I feel this little ache in my soul. I want that. In this season of my life, I finally understand what the mother in that story meant.
When life is crazy and overwhelming, and you feel a bit like you’re drowning in a sea of spit up, potty training, Paw Patrol and mashed cereal in your carpet, more than ever I see that those friendships offer a life line–a connection to someone who will see you through the storm.
I sometimes long for the days of high school when there were endless hours to build and strengthen friendships all around you–letters passed through classes all day long, three way phone calls and ICQ all night, and hanging out at the mall all weekend. I find it so much more challenging as an adult, but I know I can be a better friend than I’ve been. I know I need to be a better friend than I’ve been.
I really want to be better at letting people in, at not being so afraid of rejection. Isn’t that silly? I’m a 31 year old mother of three, and I am still afraid that someone might not want to be my friend if we aren’t the same, or disagree on certain things, or if our beliefs are different. So I throw up these walls to keep myself at a distance, to keep myself from getting hurt.
But now as I reflect back on that little story, and on that wise mother’s sage advice to her daughter, I think what she is really saying is that she needs to let people in, and continue to support those around her. This is one of those seasons in life when friendships keep you sane–knowing that someone else out there is thinking, feeling and experiencing the same joys and hardships that you are. To help someone find the funny in a situation that might otherwise make you cry. To have a shoulder to lean on, and to be leaned on.
So, the moral of today’s long-winded rant is that I want to be a better friend. I want to feel like I have a place somewhere, that I fit in. I want to be the kind of support for someone that I have spent much of my life longing for. I don’t really know how I’m going to do this, but I need to make some better habits and better choices with my time. I just started a new book club, and I’m hopeful that maybe this time I’ll find my place.