Friendship and the Serious Introvert

This post is a feature article in this month’s Be Zine. To view the entire blogazine, click HERE.

I had all but disqualified myself from writing about Friendship this month. “I have no friends,” I thought, envisioning ladies’ magazine coffee klatch groups, beer commercials and Facebook statistics. I don’t have the requisite exercise buddy, shopping buddy, or the Oprah-sanctioned “5 Friends Every Woman Should Have”. That little childhood rhyme started playing in my head: nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I’ll go eat worms.

I’ve decided to re-frame the topic.

I do not have a lot of friends. I do not make a point to get together with acquaintances to socialize. I am an introvert and was raised by introverts. I didn’t have birthday parties or play dates as a kid. I had one good friend who lived two doors down, and we played together almost every day. He was a year younger than I and a boy. When I was in 5th grade, a girl joined my Sunday school class, bringing the class total to three – myself, the rector’s son, and this new best friend. She still sends me Christmas cards. When I moved from Illinois to California the summer before high school, I had to start all over. After a year, I had made a good friend who was a year older than I. She was a bit bossy, but she connected me to the Girl Scout troop, the school choir, the Italian club, and my husband. I was 15 when she introduced us. I was 45 when he died. Later that year, I met someone online – a bookseller who’d just finished a course in Spiritual Psychology. I’d found my new best friend. We’ve been together for almost 8 years. 

photo credit: Carol Toepke

photo credit: Carol Toepke

What I know about Friendship is not about quantity. It is about quality. I think I have enjoyed all the important health benefits that Friendship adds to life distilled into a few precious draughts. To feel that freedom that creates well-being, we have to be able to establish a trust that allows me to be completely myself; we have to create a safe vulnerability. Honesty, copious communication, time, and kindness are the key ingredients. For me, this doesn’t happen easily. It takes concerted effort. More often, I find myself in relationships with mentors or students. I feel quite comfortable as a student or a teacher. Those are roles I can hide in. To be in a true friendship, I have to come out of hiding and operate in an arena of wholeness and equality…which is far more risky. A tremendous accomplishment of my 24 year marriage is that I know that I can survive and thrive while being fully open to another human being. Still, I suppose it has to be the right human being. And those are rare.

The love of a true friend is extraordinary. It goes beyond the giddiness of fun, beyond the pleasantries of companionship, beyond the nobility of human kindness, beyond the affirmation of attraction. The love of a true friend is challenging. It asks you to be entirely forthcoming. It asks you to question your habits and assumptions. It asks you to change and react to change. It asks you to be the best you can be. And it asks you to challenge your friend in return. Because of this dynamic love, life is never boring and your relationship never goes stale. Because of the trust you build, you can enter into the most intense realities of life with some security and the sense of adventure. As my husband used to say after another trip to the hospital, “Never a dull moment!”

My calendar is not full of lunch dates or parties; my phone doesn’t ring for days at a time. Still, I have tasted the best of Friendship and grown braver, healthier, happier and wiser. And no worms were harmed.

Advent Day #18 – Honesty

Honestly!

Where is there dignity unless there is Honesty?  — Cicero

Today I’m parading Honesty around the block, free for the taking – a gift for December.  Does it cost to be honest?  There definitely are consequences to being honest.  Integrity, for instance, but sometimes something much more harsh.  Here’s a Socrates Cafe question: is it ever morally defensible to tell a lie?  Here’s a Biblical philosophical question: what is truth?  (For 3 pieces of cheese, tell me who asked this question to whom?  For all the cheese in Wisconsin, tell me why that person never answered?!) *n.b. – My father used to play a game with us that we called “Bible Questions for Cheese”.  He would quiz us on our Biblical knowledge after dinner and reward us with bites from his cheese platter as he finished off his bottle of wine.

Which kind of honesty is the most difficult for you and why?  Telling yourself the truth about yourself, telling someone else the truth about yourself, telling yourself the truth about another, or telling your truth about another to that other?

Self-deception can be pretty intractable.  How do you even know that you’re not telling yourself the truth about yourself?  Do you have to depend on someone else telling you the truth about you?  How would someone else even know the truth about you?  I suppose I approach this by going the second route first.  I try telling someone else the truth about myself to see if they can believe it’s the truth.  This would seem like madness to some people.  Why are look looking outside yourself?  Why wouldn’t you trust yourself to know yourself?  How could anyone else know you better?  I have heard quoted many times, “Lean not on your own understanding”, and I suppose I took that to heart.  So now, I’m working on trying to be honest with myself and to trust myself.  This takes some courage and a lot of forgiveness.

Telling the truth about myself to others is something that I want to do.  It saves me the trouble of having to come up with a lie.  It allows me to get that feedback I need to find out if I’m deceiving myself.  But sometimes, I detect that TMI reaction.  Too Much Information divulged to your own offspring, for example, is not at all welcome.  Especially when they’re young.  I’ve done that a few times.  More often, I told them the truth about things, facts, at an early age that others did not think was appropriate.  For example, I told them that Santa is fictional.  I told them the correct names of body parts.  (My oldest was 4, I think, when she gave a word for the letter ‘V’ that rather shocked her nursery school teacher.)  I told them that their father had coronary artery disease.  (Again, my oldest could draw an anatomically correct heart from memory at the age of 6.)

 

Ducks can walk on water. It’s the truth!

Telling myself the truth about another has been difficult only on a few occasions that I recall.  Telling myself that my father was not God and was not perfect was one.  Telling myself that my husband was dying was another.  However, in those situations, the truth was very valuable, and the difficulty was well worth it.  I guess that means I defend more delusions about myself than about those whom I love.  I believe that shattering delusions about myself will be similarly painful but beneficial, so I’m willing to keep at that.

Telling ‘your’ truth about another to that other is what Steve likes doing the most in relationships.  He doesn’t usually “tell” so much as he questions in order to draw out an opportunity for the person to tell the truth about him/herself.  He calls it “being challenging” or “being intense”, and he considers it a supreme act of love.  And he does it kindly, in my opinion, but more importantly, he is conscious of trying to do it kindly.  It isn’t always received that way, though.   Sometimes, no matter how tactful and kind you try to be, that ‘other’ is not going to want to hear your truth.  Hopefully, that reaction is only temporary.  Getting to the point of engaging with truth in a relationship is an important step to intimacy.  It’s what being ‘truly loving’ is all about.   It takes grace to invite someone to that point in a way that is non-threatening.  I appreciate therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists everywhere who take up that practice in the name of love.

Advent Day #17 – Companions

A truly wonderful aspect of Life: that we never walk alone.  Counting the days and the ways that we are given good things in abundance.

Who Could Ask For Anything More?

Companions.  The gift of friendship, togetherness, to know we’re not alone.

Steve brought me breakfast in bed this morning.  I am having one of my cyclical let-downs, when I have wearied myself in contending with life and death and love and loss.  We were discussing E.M. Forster’s novel “A Room With A View” when this came on.  Hormones, of course, have everything to do with it as well.  Lucy Honeychurch gets “peevish” when she plays Beethoven, and I get “peevish” reading Mr. Emerson’s speech on life and “muddles”.  Steve gets Slavic and moody listening to Mahler, or perhaps he listens to Mahler when he feels moody and Slavic.  We are beginning to know each other’s moods better and better.  And I really believe we are lucky, blessed, in a state of grace in that we accept those moods and are not threatened by the most peculiar of them.  That’s why he’s my best friend.

I’ve never had a lot of friends, and all of my best friends have been male.  Maybe that’s because I grew up with 3 older sisters.  I am a little suspicious of females.  I have a feeling it’s because I compare myself to them far too much.  A sly competitiveness creeps in and makes me uneasy.  I pull away.  With guys, I don’t compare.   I can be ‘other’ and so can he.  It seems simpler.  It’s a mindset that should apply to females as well except for my own perverse insistence that it can’t.   Growing up, I played with a boy who was a year younger than I and lived two doors down.  We were best friends for 9 years.  We played in the woods across the street.  We played house and wedding, and he was always the bride.  He had older step-sisters who kept being married off, and I think he found that really enchanting.

 

Brother & sister and best of friends

Friends to suffer with your moods, enjoy the stuff of life, travel with you through adventures of all kinds.  Old friends, new friends.  Situational companions.  Steve likes to imagine how he’d be if he were stuck in an elevator with a few people for hours.  He would definitely skip the small talk about the predicament and enjoy a captive opportunity to get to know them really well.  He’s kind of intense like that.  Scares some people.  Yesterday, I saw a news video about a policeman who crawled under a bus to hold the hand of a 24 year old woman who was run over and pinned.  The photo of them together on the asphalt and his interview afterward just filled my heart.  I know what it’s like to be so afraid and just to cling to another person for the reminder that we are never alone in our fears.   We suffer together.  We are interconnected.  And if anything is God, it is there as well.  Presence.  Abiding.  Being with each other.  It is the ultimate ‘yes’ of living.  Which brings me back to Forster  and Mr. Emerson.  “In his ordinary voice, so that she scarcely realized he was quoting poetry, he said:

“‘From far, from eve and morning/ And yon twelve-winded sky/ The stuff of life to knit me/ Blew hither: here am I’

“George and I both know this, but why does it distress him?  We know that we come from the winds, and that we shall return to them; that all life is perhaps a knot, a tangle, a blemish in the eternal smoothness.  But why should this make us unhappy?  Let us rather love one another and work and rejoice.  I don’t believe in this world sorrow.”  Miss Honeychurch assented.  “Then make my boy think like us.  Make him realize that by the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes — a transitory Yes if you like, but a Yes.”

Ah, Yes.  To love one another and work and rejoice.  Companioned.  Who could ask for anything more?

Wehr Have You Been?

Yesterday, I returned to the Wehr Nature Center where I had volunteered as a trail guide for their school programs before I got a job as a historic interpreter.  It was good to see the place again, the furry and scaly and feathered and leafy friends as well as the humans.  I was helping sell snacks for their Homemade Holiday event.  Families bustled about creating holiday decorations and cookies throughout the building, while a moist, gray blanket of fog settled warmly outside.  When the activities were over, I grabbed my camera and headed out for a walk around the lake.  Dusk crept up, and Canada geese honked loudly from surface to sky, jockeying for shelter for the night.  It was as if I was looking at an old friend wearing an expression I’d not seen before.  Some things had changed: new fences were in place.  The duck blind at the edge of the lake had been repaired.  I felt like we’d both been out of touch for a while.  I sat down on a bench to renew our acquaintance. 

December silhouette

December silhouette

Old and new

Old and new

Wehr

My Best Friend’s Birthday

Yup, today is Steve’s birthday.  He is beginning to get comfortable saying that he is “in his late 40s”.  We are still working on being transparent with ourselves and each other, genuine, authentic.  This morning we talked about how difficult that is for parents to do with their children.  We want to be better people, better role models, especially in front of them.  But we miss the opportunity to be fully present, fully alive, and fully responsive when we hide behind those roles.  That can hurt.  The child may feel like they are not worthy to receive the person they love the most.  I remember how honored I felt when my father asked me to help him with something.  I was the mother of 4 children by then.  He had broken his back and was lying flat in traction in the hospital.  He asked me to help him brush his teeth by catching his spit in a pan when he spouted it straight up.  It was the first time I truly felt that he was volunteering his vulnerability.  I left the hospital in tears, not because I pitied him, but because I was so happy to feel connected to this man I adored for so long. 

A man who had been my spiritual director for years sent me a TED video this week about Vulnerability.  I highly recommend it.  See if you don’t recognize something about yourself here.  It may be a surprise.  Then see if you can find someone to talk to about it.  It may be a pivotal point in your life. 

Today is All Saints’ Day as well.  Here’s to all the truly good friends, the saints in our lives, who allow themselves to be seen, to be vulnerable, to be genuinely available and thereby, help us to find the courage to join them in that important place.  “And I mean, God helping, to be one, too.”

(Steve, dressed up to see the musical “Hair” with me.)

May All Beings Be Happy

Out of the technological complications of internet networking come some of the simplest expressions of human compassion, a wish for another person’s well-being, even if that person is a virtual stranger.  And it makes the sleek, glib, electric world a bit softer  and warmer.  I’ve made some sweet connections this week with a few of my favorite bloggers, all of whom live at least a couple thousand miles away.  I’d like to share them with the rest of you.

Mistress of Monsters is like another daughter to me, in a way.  She is getting married next week.  Here’s an exchange we had.  She turned it into a blog post.

Naomi Baltuck is an amazing blogger and professional storyteller.  She’s also a mom.  I see a kindred spirit in her…although she’s much more adventurous and accomplished than I am, yet.  I echo her wish in this post for the Weekly Photo Challenge prompt: Mine.

And then there’s that rascal, Stuart.  He’s a gritty city photographer who travels to exotic places like Brazil and Spain and has just taken up residence at a farm for the winter.  We inspire each other to keep open to possibilities.  Here’s his post. Our exchange is in the comments section.

I’ll be taking about 3 weeks off from the blogosphere beginning next week, but I will be thinking of all of you.  May All Beings Be Happy.