Friday, January 29, 2010

It's Not You, It's Me...and You


Today it is my pleasure to host the writing of Elizabeth Grant, one-half of the dynamic partnership behind Life in Pencil.  After I discovered Life in Pencil last month, it quickly became one of the first stops each morning on my bloggy rounds.  Elizabeth, a self-described "change-a-holic," never fails to impress me with her introspection and eloquence.  I alternately find myself challenged by her insight and moved by her prose, and I am grateful to her for sharing this piece with the Motherese community.

When you finish reading here, please click on over to visit Elizabeth and Anne at Life in Pencil for another dose of their reflections on "living life amongst the eraser shavings."

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“It’s Not You, It’s Me…and You.”
By Elizabeth Grant

A few weeks ago I received an email from my friend, Anne.  I had confided to her that, over the past several months, a number of friendships had not just fizzled out but crashed and burned, in such rapid-fire succession that it seemed as if a conspiracy was in my midst, and I wondered why that was.  Searching for theories, she offered that, as we move into the third decade of our life, people drift in increasingly different directions and seem to be less tolerant of differing viewpoints and opinions.  And when I thought about these crumbling relationships, I was surprised to discover that, in nearly every case, the root cause was some version of one or both parties maintaining a rigid stance.  Whereas I’d always been able to navigate these relationships flexibly, the middle ground that we’d always stood on seemed to dissolve beneath us.  As adults, we’re supposed to be growing ever-wiser and more mature, using our highly evolved communication skills to put aside our differences for the common good.  And yet, more than ever these days, I feel as if I’m gingerly picking my way through a minefield of primitive emotion, threatening to detonate my fragile ego at any moment. 

Anne continued.  “Or maybe it’s less about tolerance and more about realizing you have a finite amount of time and want to spend it with the people you click best with.”  Huh, I thought.  The longer we’re on this earth, the more acute our sense of mortality, and the less we give a damn.  We marvel at - and even applaud - curmudgeonly old folks who do what they want to do without apology or a sense of propriety.  The older we grow, we’re told, the more we know who we are.  Perhaps, then, our increasing inflexibility is simply our way of saying, “I know who I am and I’m not willing to compromise that.  I don’t have time to waste on people who I don’t connect with.”  On one hand this sounded reasonable, even logical.  In our culture, we accept and find nobility in that kind of self-assured, devil-may-care attitude.  And yet…there was something in that rigid stance that rubbed me the wrong way.  But like an itch I couldn’t scratch, I couldn’t figure out why that stance bothered me so.  Perhaps it’s because I lack that kind of self-confidence, or maybe I haven’t reached that stage where I’m willing to give the world the middle finger.  Perhaps I’m someone who naturally seeks the middle ground, or maybe I just hate rocking the boat?  Whatever the reason, there was something in that attitude that didn’t just set my jaw wrong but made me feel downright sad.  And it had something do, I suspected, with a fear of change. 

It’s easy to sit back and marvel at how much another person can change, to scratch our heads in wonderment at how things that were just-so for so long can suddenly be so different.  It’s easy to point our finger and say, “You’ve changed,” but so much more difficult to turn that finger back on ourselves and admit, “I’ve changed.”  Given the sheer volume of relationships that have collapsed in a finite period – me being the common denominator in all cases – it’s impossible not to take a good, hard look at myself and wonder what part I’ve played in this.  While I haven’t gone around shaking the trees looking for trouble, and as difficult as this is for me to admit, I think I probably have changed.  My response to these situations has changed.  My relationship to this constellation of friendships has changed.  Whereas my 20 year-old self would have turned a blind eye and swallowed my anger, I’ve spoken my peace and held my ground in ways I wouldn’t have before.  What I couldn’t see was that, while I’ve moped around for months bemoaning the fact that everyone else had changed, I was inching my way to becoming that curmudgeonly old woman. 

So have I changed or have they changed?  Who knows for sure, but my guess is that we’ve both changed, each holding our ground for our own reasons.  What I do know is that living a life in pencil asks us to accept whatever life may throw our way as gracefully as possible; and, in order to do that, we have to embrace the changes that are both welcome and not-so-welcome.  I accept the fact that some of these relationships that have fallen apart will be reborn, some will change, some will grow, and some will die altogether.  But, as someone who prides herself on embracing change, I have surprised myself by just how sad these changes make me.  Despite being a champion of change, when it comes to relationships, I certainly haven’t done a very good job of letting people do just that.  I can accept the changes these people make or walk away from them, but I can’t implore them not to change.  To prevent people from changing, based on my own sentimental desires for them to stay the same, is no better than rigidly standing my ground.  Sometimes I just wish things could stay the same forever, even though I know that’s impossible. 

How do you deal with the inevitable change (or evolution) of relationships, romantic, platonic, or otherwise?  Are you a proponent of cultivating more like-minded or more diverse relationships?  Do you think relationships get harder or easier as we get older?  Do you think we become less flexible, or simply less tolerant of spending our time with people whom we don’t ‘click’ with, as we grow older

24 comments:

  1. Thanks again, Elizabeth, for sharing your writing with us today.

    My big excuse for not joining Facebook is my belief, like yours, that friendships are organic, with natural births, evolutions, and, sometimes, deaths. There are friendships that I've lost and I think of them fondly sometimes, but there are not too many that I mourn. More often, I think of the other people that have come to fill the space, people who challenge me more, comfort me more, or simply "get me" more where I am now.

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  2. I have had a couple of spectacular friendship burnouts this year, which is interesting because I have actually found it easier to make friends as I get older. I just am unwilling to play mind games, and if you ratchet up the intensity to get me to play, things are going to burn out.

    I actually think I am better able to understand another's perspective and more willing to tolerate differences as I get older. I am, though, more willing to step back from a relationship that isn't working and make it more of a casual friendship where it was once intimate.

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  3. You are brave to so willingly examine yourself in the midst of your friendship crises. Your question of change is an interesting one. I hadn't considered our more-evolved sense of self (coupled with awareness of our own mortality) as a reason for the emergence of the curmudgeon within.

    On one hand, it is so gratifying to spend time with people whose view of the world validates our own. But as we age I think it is equally important to find people whose views challenge ours. These types of friendships mandate our ability to agree to disagree, otherwise we come to a head and it all blows up. But given a "live and let live" philosophy, I think non-like-minded friendships keep us open-minded and flexible.

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  4. Really thoughtful post Elizabeth...and yes, it's hard to examine our own role in the relationships that fizzle. I think one more thing that changes is what we need from relationships. As those needs change, our friendships change. Could "rigidity" also be self-awareness??

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  5. What an interesting post...I think we are more tolerant of differences if the relationship is new, but expect the people we've come to know and love to be more like us. Sad, but I think it's true. Thanks for sahring this. It has given me much to ponder today.

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  6. very interesting questions, all. And good for you for observing that all people are subject to change, it's not always just the other person, but we ourselves who take on our share of change.

    As I get older, I am more in touch with my own values and am trying to improve my connectedness with my life and the world in which I live (and love). While it doesn't mean that I have no interest in appreciating that others have views that oppose mine, unless I'm on that path, seeking that grown, I doubt that I would have much interest in spending my time in those pursuits. I am seeking to spend my time nurturing the bonds that I have and appreciating those people for who they are while cultivating relationships with new friends who share some similarities of interest.

    Last year, one of my closest friends backed off of participating in our friendship. I had to just let it go and release my expectations. I still consider him a friend, but my expectations of the complexion of that friendship are now different than they were before. And it's ok.

    Thanks for the thought provoking essay!

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  7. I'm in my fourth decade, and have recently had a devastating friendship "detonation." Not unlike you, it was spurred by my refusal to continue to swallow my anger. My refusal to always be the doormat or the person who makes the concessions.

    It didn't go over very well. I'm still in the very raw state of mourning the loss of the friendship; however, a part of me realizes that this is an opportunity to reach out and give other people a chance. I'd spent most of my time investing in this one friendship and ignoring other opportunities to connect.

    But I'm still licking my wounds :( Thank you so much for this timely--for me--and thoughtful post. It's helpful to know that I'm no alone is suffering the seismic shift in my relationships.

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  8. *NOT*, sorry!

    And thanks Kristen, for introducing me to a writer who I know I'm going to love.

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  9. Thank you ALL for your thoughtful words and reflections on this dull, grey New Mexican morning (a rare thing here). Now you've given ME something to think about with respect to the changing nature of friendships.

    First, that there's nothing wrong with redefining the terms of a relationship. I tend to be an "all or nothing" sort of gal -- usually much to my chagrin -- and sometimes fail to see the shades of grey. Sometimes, I realize, you don't have to cut someone out altogether; you just redefine what the relationship is and means in your life. Why I hold onto relationships with a deathgrip or blow them away like a puff of smoke is the subject of another entire post.

    Secondly, I'd never considered that as needs change, so does the relationship -- that what we perceive as a "rigid stance" could simply be the process of change at work.

    I also think it's a fascinating insight that we're more apt to be tolerant of differences in new relationships, before the "rules" have been set. I am certainly guilty of saying, "Hey, you can't go and change the rule on me after all this time!" We cut people way more slack in the beginning - and why is that?

    And finally, I have a major lesson to learn in releasing my expectations, which tend to be too high, especially when it comes to other people.

    Thanks, everyone, for reading and commenting! And thanks again, Kristen, for inviting me to be "your neighbor" today. It's been a pleasure.

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  10. Great post! Thanks for joining Won't You Be My Neighbor this week! I think you're right about the 30s being the decade we solidify ourselves to some degree, know who we are, and are less willing to compromise (or put up with crap!). I've certainly seen some friendships drift as we both realize we have less in common than we used to.

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  11. Thanks so much for hosting Elizabeth, Kristen.

    I am with TKW on having recently had a very important to me and my life friendship stop. I am still at the point where I want to work on it more but the other person is not so sure. Until I can get past that, the mourning of its demise is not going to happen.

    Friendships are living organisms and evolve and change as we do. Once we accept that, things may be easier to accept the demise and morphing of what we have.

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  12. Love, love, love this post! And I couldn't have read it at a better time. I'm currently wrestling with a disintegrating friendship that *I'm* not ready to let go of. It's nice to know other people out there are experiencing similar struggles.

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  13. OK I just wrote a long post and then it disappeared. Is this the universe telling me that I'm too old to be commenting on 30 something year old's Blog? Well, I don't give up that easily.

    Now that you can tell that I am your curmudgeonly but dedicated reader, I can tell you that I love change, too. It's just that over the years some of my friends didn't want me to change. But everybody changes in their own the time and pace. BUt when you are my age, and with the help of facebook, you reconnect back with old friends.

    When it comes right down to it...a friend is a friend. And with grace and tolerance we allow them to change or NOT to change. We give them space, we accept their idiosyncrasies, we allow them to change at their own pace. We forgive their jealousies and understand their insecurities.
    But those are FRIENDS, real friends.

    Get as old as I am and you know who your friends are. Some of mine I lost in my 'thirty something decade' but found them in my 'fifty something decade'(early, really early in my fifty something decade) Note any insecurity here?

    Don't be afraid of the space in your friendships. It's inevitable and probably very healthy.

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  14. Wonderful post, Elizabeth! And wonderful questions, Kristen. This is a topic on which no one can boast expertise, and yet it affects us all. I think growing up is about embracing the harsh and humbling truth that change is the only constant. Is it us? Is it them? It's both. It's neither. Life is a furious flux. And the questions will always outnumber the answers. But the questions are so vitally important, so instructive, and I thank you both for asking them.

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  15. I am also going through a massive change in structure with a good friend whom I have known for eons. It's heartbreaking, but I know that this happens all the time. Others have told me that I need to lower my expectations, and I suppose I should. I just never thought I would have to. Excellent insight, thanks so much for letting me know I am not alone!

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  16. Terry, I gracefully accept your perspective as my "curmudgeonly but dedicated reader!" As I said in my post, I'm not sure how much of this is simply being where I'm at in life, knowing that will change, but I really appreciate the idea that REAL FRIENDS let their friends change. Unfortunately, I realized over the past few months that I'm not very good at this, but I'd like to be better. I realized that I AM afraid of space, which makes me feel needy, and I wonder why that is? Again, the topic of another post altogether.

    I'm so glad to hear from everyone that I'm not the only one struggling with change in friendships out there -- whether you're on the "giving" or "receiving" end of things. I'd never thought of a friendship as a "living breathing organism," but it really is, isn't it? As Nicki said, perhaps once we understand that it's easier to accept the changes endemic to all living beings.

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  17. I think I am more tolerant as I get older. I've had many friends much older and much younger than myself. I've got a few friends whom I've had most of my life, a lady who took care of my mother, and a girl I worked with on my email....I don't know what that says about me. I've culled the addresses through the years though, your instincts tell you who to keep and who not I think.

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  18. I am most likely the youngest person here, so my comment derives from only a few years of "friend experiences."

    I think there are two types of friends: superficial and long-lasting. My superficial friends are those that feel we need to keep in constant touch or our friendship is ruined. I can group most of my high school friends in this category. Sure, we may be Facebook friends, but my feelings about seeing them ever again are ambivalent.

    My long-lasting friends are those who, no matter how long it has been, are delighted to see me. These are the friends that I can talk with for hours. These friends get me and I get them. It is satisfactory for both of us. I have a dozen or more of these types of friends and I have found them either in church or in school. It has been refreshing to be surrounded by those who care less if I am perfect or not.

    I know that I may lose touch with some of these friends. I am okay with that. I feel that as I move and make new friends, I can use old relationships as a foundation for building up new ones.

    Elizabeth, thank you for sharing. I am excited to head on over and read your blog.

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  19. I have rarely had friend drama, (but I have had it) and as I approach my 5th decade I increasingly find that in knowing who I am I know better who I vibe with, treasuring my oldest friends ever the more and trusting my instincts about new friends.

    One of my most painful friendship breakups was the demise of an entire family to family friendship in the wake of a mutual trip. Travel is stressful, but I never really did understand why it just could not be repaired... at least for a good long time (things are coming at least to neutral after several years, but they will never be the almost like family experience we once shared). I think we were all left with hurt, anger, confusion and sadness... sometimes I think it was about things bigger than all of us.

    I really agree with the importance of looking at ourselves in these things, and also of trying to consciously integrate whatever we did not like about our suddenly ex-friends into our own psyches... Shadow work of a most uncomfortable sort (owning our narcissistic, controlling, anxious aspects, etc.).

    Over the really long time horizon I think we're all in this together, but in friendship you keep growing together or you do grow apart (and this can nevertheless mean that neither party is "wrong"). It's still hurtful, because even though we must be true to ourselves, we can't help but want to be liked for that true self.

    Namaste (and thanks to Kristen and Elizabeth for having a nice friendship in which to host this exploration)

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  20. What a fascinating topic and how great to be introduced to another interesting blogger by Kristen!

    It's funny, the times I've had this happen with friendships, there's this middle time before we "break up" when we have this shadow of our friendship still there, like the memory of the friendship, the fumes. We no longer have the meeting of the minds that we had before and that is essential to a friendship.

    Fascinating post.

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  21. This is for Andrea. (Sorry Kristen to use your site as a message board! Can't leave her a comment on her site.)

    Enjoyed the What Would Wilson Do post. Funny and an appropriate message on parenting older kids (tweens, teens). And fyi, I've managed two rambunctious boys, no doors ripped off their hinges, and other than the typical tiffs that are part of necessary rebellion - it's been fine. So set aside all those horror stories for now. You don't hear about when things go along reasonably well.

    As for the gray (from teens), we'd be turning gray at that age anyway, wouldn't we? And that's perhaps the stage at which the balance of their decision-making and our guidance (and thinking before we speak) is most put to the test.

    Thanks for allowing me this little spot, Kristen. And Andrea - your blog won't allow comments from "dot com" posters unless you open up the blogger option of Name/URL. Anyway - enjoyed.

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  22. Love and friendship in the midst of change is the hardest, but I think it produces the greatest blessing. When you can love someone in spite of change, that's love.

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  23. I've had many fizzled and fizzling friendships, so although they've been mostly slow-burning, these questions still ring true. I know it's bit of it all for me. I have a child, and my husband and I are renovating and building onto our house, and we live in the country (and love it) - all things that make me reluctant to share time with other people and places unless I really want to.
    Our closest friends live hundreds of miles from us, and many of my nearby friends are radically different from me. So I often approach this evolution of friendship debate from a different angle -- when you're of a certain age, how do you make new friends?
    People are friendly, but at some point they seem already to have their people. It makes me wonder whether I've missed the boat, at least locally. So I remind myself of my faraway friends for life, and how little time I can spare to invest anyway - and it all begins to look circular. :)
    Kristen, thanks for sharing; Elizabeth, thanks for writing.

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  24. I heard somewhere that in a lifetime, we are lucky if we have three soulmate friends. I've thought of that often through the years. There are people that I've stayed connected with that, even if we haven't seen each other in years, we can pick up like we'd never been apart. Others fizzle out. I've never stopped to really think about why. I'm just grateful that amongst the relationships that I've had over the years, there are some that are constant and that ground me. People that I've grown to love and know that no matter what, they'll love me. Blessings in human form.

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