Null and Void | Rewriting Personal Social Contracts
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The comforting thing about human beings is everyone changes. I don’t mean hair color or a few new smile lines. I don’t mean once coming down on the side of french fries and tequila as an acceptable dinner and now passing judgment across a macrobiotic greens plates as you uphold this dietary tradition. I mean people CHANGE, evolve. And as painful as it can be, sometimes OUR people evolve in diametric opposition to us.
The other thing about human beings is…WE change, too. I mean you and me. We grow, sometimes we backslide, we occasionally even stand still. We celebrate our loved ones as they’ve been expanding, beautifully spreading out and taking up more space. We stand in love next to them as they suddenly need a few more feet on each side to do their thing. It’s ok, one day they’ll ask everyone to back up just a little as we flap our own wings in expansion.
The measure of a strong and beautiful friendship is not in how long it lasts or how tightly you hold onto it. It’s not in saying, “but I showed up…even though I grimaced the whole way”. It’s in the balance of the relationship, the give and, let’s say, receipt, not take. It’s in the level of honesty comfortably permitted to pass between the two of you. It’s in being respectful and awe-struck in your differences, in acknowledging the way your disparities weave a wonderful tapestry together. It’s not in how often you text or call, but in how you show up when you do and how certain the other is that you are there even when you’re not, that you’ll do anything you can to support them when they need it the most. Sometimes, we can’t stand beside our friends anymore, nor they, us with all this evolution. Our social contract is getting rewritten. But how do we manage that?
House cleaning our relationships:
I’ve told this story proudly over the years, but I hope never coldly. I hope never in a way that suggests that I am in fact not only the best human Swiffer in the world, but a woman who greatly enjoys it. I’ve told it to friends and clients who seem to need it, because storytelling is an oral tradition for self-reflection, it’s a currency of growth for those who receive it.
About seven years ago, I held my first proactive spring cleaning of people. I’m glue-like in my relationships – sticky and supportive. I pride myself in my fastidiousness in communications, making sure there’s never a major time lapse in talking. At this particular time, I was going through one of my first major adult progressions. My intuition made clear it was time for me to leave my full-time job and work for myself, something not many of my friends were doing at the time. I’d spent time away that season from the only home I’d known in my adult years and time away from a lot of my friends. Life was altogether changing. But what was not going to change was my steadfastness to my friends, no matter where my travels or occupation took me. Yet, holding onto some friendships was slowly chipping away at my happiness and sanity. Some of my friends had changed, too. Some didn’t appreciate my growth. We were life travelers choosing different forks in the road. So, we locked into a dance of occasional, silent head-butting, quiet aggression, weary love.
This is exhausting. Many of us know this feeling well in romantic relationships, but it’s a little more difficult to pinpoint in friendships, particularly when nothing is WRONG, necessarily. I clung and tugged and shrunk myself and swallowed truths about some relationships for a while. I roiled in the discomfort of it all. But deep down, I knew what I needed to do.
My first therapist was not an orthodox one, yet she spotted the weight some of my stale friendships were adding to me instantly. She urged me to make a deep evaluation of some, and for others to follow the intuition that had been chattering loudly in my ear for some time. I severed cords that year – quite a few – and it led to beautiful new friendships, and in some cases the eventual regrowth of the dissolved friendships. These are some of the lessons I learned that year – tutelage I’ve turned to once again to apply to my past year and a half of hardships, as I grow into my next major adult evolution:
- Not all friends need to be alerted to the end. Evaluate the state of the friendship, and if there’s just been a steady decline in connection, if you’ve floated, then drift. I overheard this lovely European couple while I was traveling recently around Sicily; the woman said to the man, “Once we get to the hotel, we should work on our floating.” Now, I’ve no idea if this is some sort of cultural disparity in language (though she said it in English!), but I chuckled to myself. Floating is one of the few things which doesn’t require work. Embrace that.
- Some severing will require a conversation; the situation deserves a discourse regarding where you are emotionally in your life. Honesty is what will make this ending pure and is how you show up authentically for yourself, no regrets.
- If it’s unclear where some of these friendships sit on the drifting or dialogue scale, get out a sheet of paper and journal about each one of them. You will eventually be illuminated.
- Lastly, do not act rashly once you’ve decided it’s time to rewrite some personal agreements. Emotions and chemicals ebb and flow and can create counterfeit judgements regarding how to handle a situation. You’ve got time.