Remember when we'd begin the new school year and excitedly anticipate (or dread) all of the new potential relationship encounters we were going to face? Or we start a new job carefully evaluating the social environment to determine who we're going to select as our new workplace bff?
It always felt like there was an endless capacity for new relationships. Somewhere along the line, however, I got spoiled by how saturated with potential -ships my life was. It's almost as though I didn't have to try, relationships just happened.
But as we navigate social distancing and the lurking, subconscious feeling that other people are infectious threats to my safety continues to grow, I find myself lamenting over how social dynamics used to be. People are moving on to who knows what and going who knows where doing stuff whom knows with - and none of it includes me.
Why are my relationships falling apart?
We can think we have more impact in someone's life than we actually do
I'm one of those people who has struggled with insecurity regarding my value. Because of that I have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on others to validate how I feel about myself.
It's so self defeating.
We all know that person (or maybe we are that person) who cares a little too much about what people think or seems a little too bought into certain relationships. Their commitment level far exceeds the current level of intimacy. And when the commitment isn't met with an equal dose of intimacy we tend to seek quantity over quality. (oof!)
Hmm. Maybe that's why it hurts so much when we see these relationships slip through our fingers like sand.
I think I've hit that point in my life where I'm starting to see that it's impossible to effectively maintain more than a certain amount of healthy relationships. It's a scary place to be since, in the past, I've tied my value to quantity. But honestly, learning to let go of things that were never truly mine in the first place has been so freeing. It's almost as though all my energy was rationed just enough to the point of meager sustenance - just enough for the relationships to survive. People don't really need me that much. And I don't need them.
In order for relationships to be healthy they require mutual freedom. Healthy relationships are intentional priorities that we choose to nurture.
Intentional or happenstance?
When I was younger I couldn't wait until I could drive. When I could drive I couldn't wait until I could get a job. And when I had a job I couldn't wait to get to start my life.
The cool thing about maturing is that we start to see how we get to choose what is going to be a priority in our lives. Like Forest Gump, as kids we had an idea of the things we wanted for our lives when we finally came to a point of growing beyond our restrictions. Back then, our perspective on time and responsibility seemed endless. We simply couldn't comprehend the reality of choosing how to navigate the hours of our day by our choice rather than following a predestined course of 'this is how it's going to be'.
As I've made decisions for my life, priorities have developed that require my time, my focus, and my energy. Where am I going and with whom? First and foremost is my relationship with God followed by my marriage. I'm navigating my role as a life coach and focusing on how I can invest my resources into the people God brings into my life for that purpose. I'd say that God, my wife and my purpose constitute 75% of my resources.
In the past seven years of my life I have encountered an incredible amount of people. A vast majority of those are relevant to my worldview, who I am, and where I'm going. A smaller portion of those have any kind of -ship potential and an even smaller portion not only consider my potential in their lives mutual but are also in a similar life season to be relevant to my needs and wants.
What does this have to do with happenstance and intentionality?
If you're an adult and you're taking responsibility for your life, there is a finite capacity you have for other people. And you need relationships. Frequently, however, we (or at least I) spend that remaining 25% of our resources on relationships that are serendipitous. They're relationships I just kinda pick up along the way - and not by choice. There's often little qualification or expectation in those relationships because they're simply 'available'. It's easy to feel like we have to invest into everyone.
And that's exhausting!
How am I going to spend my resources? I can spend a little here and a little there because I feel like it's my responsibility to be everything to everyone. I can also spread myself thin because I don't think I'm worthy of another person investing their resources into me; so, I fill that void by trying to get the same satisfaction from fifty superficial relationships that should truly come from five sincere, intimate relationships.
Risk, intentionality and vulnerability
Intimate relationships can be scary. And just to clean up the language, by intimate I don't mean sexual. I'm talking about close, thorough, vulnerable connections with other people.
We all have an intense desire to be known. Unfortunately, some of us have been burned by relationships in the past where in some form or other our value has been discarded by someone for whatever reason. And it always hurts. So we put up walls and resign to being okay with the safety of insincere relationships.
We are not designed to be safe.
There is a cost associated with everything we do even when we decide to do nothing. The cost of growth is as equally expensive as the cost of stagnation. However, the difference between doing nothing and doing something is our choice to engage risk. There's a subtle comfort in the deceptive way risk plays into stagnation. We feel like we're risking nothing when we're at a standstill because we aren't intentionally pushing ourselves to make a decision. There's nothing being tested.
Risk during stagnation is like a cancer. We are often unaware of its presence until the result manifests painfully.
The risk of being intentional, however, is more akin to mountain biking. You never truly know what to expect and there's always the propensity for pain. But there's also the propensity for lots of fun, exercise, challenge, and exhilaration.
When it comes to relationships the decision to be intentional and invite someone to truly know us is a risky endeavor. There's always the chance they won't see value in us, will choose to be selfish and put themselves first or possibly and simply not reciprocate our desire for engagement. Ask any boy who has even been turned down by his crush or who's been hit with the "...we need to talk."
The need to be known
Needs and wants are similar yet so different. Much like we can often confuse the relation between love and sexuality, we can confuse what matters and what doesn't.
My wife and I have a weakness for retail therapy. Specifically, we enjoy thrifting for clothes. The fact that we have closets full of them and even more bags in our basement awaiting the day we finally decide to let go. There's just something inside of us that thinks, "Man, if only I could get that feeling of excitement of finding something new."
We have greatly exceeded the actual need for clothing but our wants often go unsatisfied.
Similarly, at one point I wanted to have lots of friends. I wanted to be surrounded by people because I really didn't understand my needs. I don't need tons of people in my life. I don't even have the capacity for tons of people - nobody does.
But I do need to be known. I need quality relationships. And when I say quality relationships, I'm talking about mutual relationships wherein we help each other grow, instill value in one another, have each other's best interests at heart, and allow each other the grace to be completely vulnerable.
In essence, I need to be loved. We all have that desire. We were created first for relationship with God - to love and be loved by. And secondly, we were created to love those around us. It takes risk. It takes time. It takes investment. Sometimes it takes pain.
Sometimes you have to 'try on' thirty or more shirts before you find the one that fits just right. You might try on some that make you look fat, others that make itch, and still others that rightly may not suit you or your needs. Trust me, I've bought some clothes in the moment thinking it was going to change my life only to discover later that I'd made a stupid decision because of the way I felt in the moment. (I'm lookin at you $150 pair of leather pants and silk shirt from 7th grade.)
But it takes the decision to try until you find something that fits your needs and then it takes the decision to buy.
Why are my relationships falling apart?
It always feels that way as we let go of the 'extra' in our lives.
I've recently been purging boxes of things I've kept from my childhood. Over my lifetime there are just things I've accumulated that have given me a sense of value satisfaction. Eventhough I haven't touched them since we moved into our home two years ago, getting rid of these things has been tough. Object permanence has a knack for giving us a false sense of security.
Just because <object> is here I feel good about myself and can't let it go.
But why? Why does it feel like I'm betraying my value to get rid of stuff that I haven't used, touched or even been aware of for years? Why does it feel like my relationships are falling apart just because people are moving on into seasons of life where I'm not included in their process?
The truth is that my relationships aren't falling apart. I'm just becoming more secure in the truth that I don't owe everything to everyone nor does my value depend on being tethered in more places than is realistic. The resources I've spent striving to maintain those relationships should be reallocated to being fully present in the mutual relationships in my life that are life-giving and not life-stealing.
I just need to let go and allow myself to enjoy my priorities in their fullness and the extra in its own fullness.