I’ve been thinking lately about the relationships in my life that mean the most to me and the relationships that have fallen by the wayside. I’ve been examining how people really treat me, think about me and care (or not) for me. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we all just want to be seen for who we are.
I have my fair share (or perhaps more than my fair share) of people in my life who are not quite genuine. People for whom superficial relationships are the norm. People who pretend to care when they ask how you are, but whose eyes immediately glaze over when you answer. People who cut you off in mid-sentence because they weren’t really listening anyway.
I know that sounds harsh. I know that sounds negative, but it’s something I’ve been dealing with and struggling with for a while. And I’m just plain tired. So I’ve been thinking of what bothers me the most. And thus lies my conclusion that we all want to be seen for who we are.
In that line of thinking, I’ve been thinking of how I want to live my own life. I know what I don’t want to be like. I know the people I don’t want to have in my life, but how does that change me? How do I live life to be true to what I expect from others? Therein lies the rub. Here’s what I’ve concluded.
1. Always listen, really listen. Few people tend to really listen to others. Those with whom I connect the most are those who really listen when I speak and to whom I really listen. A job I had in graduate school included working with a person who had quite a strong personality. My supervisor used to joke that he didn’t actually listen when someone was talking to him, he just waited for them to pause so that he could talk again. I know quite a few people like that. I don’t want to be one of them. Life has many distractions. Life with young children has tons of distractions and interruptions. Listening and making time for conversation can be a challenge, but it’s the best way to connect with others.
2. Pay attention when you’re reading a message. This extends digitally as well. Much of my communication these days is done through electronics. I send e-mails and text messages. I communicate via social media. While these things can be a distraction, when I’m using them to communicate with people I love and relate to, I want to make sure that I’m actually paying attention to what they’re saying to me. Sometimes that means saving an e-mail for after the kids are in bed or before they get up.
3. Ask how someone is doing. This goes along with listening. Pay attention to what the person says. Pay attention to what their body language is saying. Care about what is going on with them. I’ve found the best way to get to know someone is to do what I do for work: ask questions. The people who have become my friends and people with whom I really connect are those who ask questions back.
4. Be honest and real. I loathe social games. I wasn’t good at girl games when I was a girl. I’m not good at them now. I don’t play them. You be real with me; I’ll be real with you. Sometimes I might annoy you. Tell me that. Sometimes you might annoy me. I’ll tell you that. And all of that can be done lovingly. I don’t want superficial friends who play manipulative, passive-aggressive games. Be real with me. I’ll be real with you. I am not a perfect person and neither are you. Let’s be imperfect together!
5. Be loyal. I am the kind of person who values loyalty. As an introvert, I don’t make friends easily or by the plenty, but once you have me in your corner, I will stay in your corner unless you push me out. We’re not all easy to love and be friends with all the time. We’re not going to be able to be in touch constantly because life happens, but the people who show up and stay through thick and thin are the people I want to surround myself with. I will never forget the day my senior year of high school (which is way longer ago than I’d like to admit) when a friend stood up for me and walked away from a lunch table to come find me. She later became my college roommate and then maid of honor. Though we fell out of sync for a few years, we’ve reconnected because that’s what friends do. Loyalty goes a long way.
6. Pay attention. I’m often surprised when people remember things about me that I’ve told them. But, it makes me feel good! A couple of years ago, a friend of ours recalled a story I’d told him years before. Recently, a friend I’ve had for a few years but never met in person shared a recipe with me and gave me suggestions on how to change it to work better for my dietary needs because she remembered what foods I can’t eat for health reasons. Paying attention to the details because you care about someone makes them feel loved. It makes them feel noticed.
I don’t have relationships all figured out. I’ve had people in my life who I thought would always be there turn out to no longer be there. I’ve had others who I thought were casual friends who have shown up and not left, and I’m grateful. Sometimes people hurt us. Sometimes we hurt others. All I can think is the saying really is true: the best way to have a good friend is to be one. While some recent relationships have changed up on me and surprised me, I’m finding my way through them and learning through it all what really matters and how to make myself the best version of me I can be.