MY RELATIONSHIP with relationships has always been a little convoluted (as convoluted as the word convoluted). My boyfriends confused my friends, my friends confused my family, and my family confused my therapist. But I wasn’t ignorant of that fact; I just saw benefits they could not. People play different roles in your life and as long as the relationships aren’t unhealthy ie: Toxic Friends in Your Tribe? , it’s okay to benefit from people what they have to offer and give to people what you have to offer. Also known as, nobody can be everything to everybody!
Two years ago, my relationships all changed drastically. My best friend and I went our separate ways and haven’t spoken since, a trusted mentor hurt me resulting in the end of a lot of close connections, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and I fell in love. During that time, my relationship with myself was changing the most. I explored some challenging parts of my character and discovered some complexities I didn’t know I possessed. Overall, the massive amount of changes and forced growth made me realize that people fulfill varying roles in your life. Just like you can’t be all, they can’t be all for you. They exist in a space, for a season, or to produce substance. Once you recognize that, you won’t stress about how/ who isn’t’ supporting you or why/ what happened to a friend. You’ll be able to understand where they fit in your life or don’t and how to honor that relationship.
The people you have relationships with exist in a space, for a season, or to produce substance.
IN A SPACE
This is the person who makes the commitment to be there. They recognize the importance of being fully available and present. This could look like showing up to your opening night art gallery or spending hours with you just chatting and sharing good vibes. If you think about it, this person is present in your life’s most important moments. They are invested in your success and gladly prioritize time and energy for your happiness. But be mindful. You don’t want to mistake them for a counselor. You’ll find it easy to not reciprocate their investment when you consider than a mentor rather than a peer. They are not obligated to you so be thankful that they care and return the love. Also, be intentional about pouring back into them. They give so much that they can spiral quickly and won’t even tell you. Make it a priority to treat these people with kindness and remind them they are appreciated. Also, shut up and just listen sometimes. The conversation doesn’t always need to be about you.
FOR A SEASON
This person is available to walk you through a season of your life. Sometimes, you won’t realize they were there until it’s over. Other times, you consciously made a decision to connect with them. Why is this necessary? Seasons are a guaranteed part of life and we often stay in one or another too long because we don’t seek the help of people who can guide us through them. It can seem disingenuous to develop a relationship for a specific period of time but surprisingly, you’re already used to it. Everyone from teachers, therapists, and specialists are relationships you develop intimately but with an end date. Where I don’t suggest you start a relationship with a signed contract, I do suggest you connect with people who serve a purpose while being honest about your needs.
An example: When my son died, I needed help. I joined a group therapy session. For 8 weeks, I connected deeply with people who were experiencing the same thing as I. After it was over, we all stayed connected and would chat regularly. Eventually, our lives developed into happier seasons and we no longer needed each other. We’re still Facebook friends but other than a casual comment here and there, we rarely speak. It’s all love but we were for a season. Now that season is over.
TO PRODUCE SUBSTANCE
The person who helps you produce substance is someone you’re going to admire and also someone who challenges you. They are most likely in your field or of your expertise and will have knowledge about your path. They will be honest with you about the work and your progress. They will let you know when you can do better and remind you to keep going. Also, they might be a muse. They will inspire you or point you to the inspiration. This shouldn’t be someone you’re jealous of though jealousy might slip in nor should they feel like competition even if you might compete. They will be happy for you, support you, promote you, and even recommend you. Don’t forget to do the same. You will grow because they water you.
Now that you understand space, season, and substance you might be wondering why these aren’t all the same people or why that person isn’t your spouse/ best friend. Because! People are wells, not water fountains. When you take from a person, they need time to refill. When you give to a person, they need time to digest. It is not reasonable to expect someone to be everything for you nor should you attempt to be everything to anyone.
In all this, people are complex and nuances. A person could be your best friend on day and you might not recognize them the next. People grow, tragedies happen, life evolves. While we can acknowledge the changing tides, we shouldn’t treat people like chess pieces either. Recognizing a person’s ability to give to you and vice versa allows you to have a more fulfilling relationship, not simply an exchangeable one.
It might be necessary for you to have an honest look at your relationships. How are they benefiting you? How do you benefit them? Maybe you need to tell your mother to seek professional help or your spouse that you need a private space. Maybe you’ve been too heavily relying on a casual relationship to provide substance or a intimate one to be for a season. The only way you’ll be able to make these determinations is to be honest about what you need and who you need it from. Then, invite the people in your life to do the same.
Here is a link to an amazing Ted X Talk by Stacey Flowers: The 5 People You Need to Be Happy