Tag Archives: personal growth

Adult Friendships

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Adult Friendships
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Some friends and I in Jerusalem, 2011 (I’m on the far left)

Well, this is embarrassing. For years, I’ve been telling a few choice family members and acquaintances that I find it extremely difficult to establish friendships as an adult. Sometimes, I smile facetiously and announce that I have no friends at all and sometimes, on a good day, I concede that perhaps I have one or two. I must be the only person in the world who feels this way because, so often, listeners respond with an air of disdain. It’s as if they’re thinking: Sorry that you have this problem. Luckily, we don’t.

What was easy at 13 seems so daunting at 33. Do friendships have an expiration date? How much investment is required in a friendship? If we talk this much, share this much, connect this much…are we friends??

How did I have so many friends before adulthood? For me, adulthood began when I got my first full-time job in New York at 21 years old. Before that, I was able to prioritize friendships above all else with nearly endless time and care. Once I began working, I just didn’t have the energy to stay awake late with a friend on the phone. I was too tired to go out with friends unless it was the weekend or a special occasion.  I would often get home from work very late and the thought of using up my little downtime on socializing was too much to bear. I just wasn’t interested. After all, I had to wake up the next morning and work a long day! I was leading a very full life, albeit alone.

Marriage and children only served to reinforce my challenge. Today, now that I work full-time while juggling a young family, I’m thankful for a bathroom break undisturbed (still a rare occurrence). Showering and sitting down for a meal are luxuries. I don’t walk into a store unless it’s for groceries (don’t worry too much though, Amazon has cured me of my other shopping needs). Friends?? Impossible!

But maybe we need to define our terms before I write myself off as a recluse. What are friends anyway? Are they the people who will bail you out of jail or pick you up from the hospital? I would argue that any kind soul would do that for you, friend or foe. Here are three reasons you may call someone a friend and a little push back on that definition from yours truly.

You’re friends because of….

  1. Shared interest, stage of life, or community. Examples: We both have babies and we spend lots of time together on the playground. We love sports and play basketball every morning. We are next door neighbors. In all three cases, these friendships likely take up most of our quota for “friend time” and, I would argue, count the least. Why? Because they’re dependent on something external to exist. Judaism teaches that a love dependent on something is only as strong as that thing. Move out of your neighborhood, stop playing basketball, no longer go to the park and your friendship will disappear.
  2. History. I have friends who I rarely/never speak to but love and they have a special place in my heart. We went to school together or we spent summers together, we talked and talked, sometimes about nothing and other times about everything. While these friends are very important to me, many of them play a big role in my rear-view mirror but don’t really know me as I am today. If I was in trouble, I wouldn’t call them because there’s a lack of familiarity with our adult versions of each other. I have tried to rekindle these friendship over the years and end up awkwardly stumbling in and out of connection.
  3. A safe space. These are the friends that we can really spill to, feel safe with, and share our innermost thoughts without fear of being judged. This category is the one I am most inclined to give credit. There’s just one problem. In a time when privacy is as undervalued as it is today (how many times have you signed off on the privacy terms and conditions of your favorite app?), we may indeed feel “safe” with any supportive, open people in our lives. Also, feeling safe or confident to share is a function of our own self-confidence and not a reflection of friendship necessarily. I have seen some gut-wrenching posts on Facebook and I continue to be surprised by people’s raw vulnerability on scaled social media sites.

You may disagree with me and consider any of the above definitions as entirely reasonable. If that’s the case, I too have friends (yay!).

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Two special friends who visited me in San Diego, 2007 (I’m on the far left again)

Until I have an intuitive understanding, I will have to rely on my intellectual understanding of how the Torah defines friendship. Judaism has a lot to say on the subject but the most compelling teaching, for me, is the story of David and Yonatan. Yonatan was the son of King Saul whereas David was just a young shepherd from a large family who became prominent through a remarkable series of events. Their backgrounds had no overlap, they didn’t have similar interests, yet the Mishna describes their friendship as loyal and devoted, dependent on nothing, and everlasting. Even more remarkable was that Yonatan was the heir to his father’s throne but David took it over- a move that should have made Yonatan jealous and yet he was entirely supportive.

So the Torah defines friendship in very simple terms.

Friendship is simply an outpouring of constant love and loyalty. It may start out as connecting with someone because you both love golf, attend the same school, or share cubicle space. But that does not make a friendship. Spilling your deepest, darkest secrets doesn’t make a friendship either. Being friends with someone in your childhood or teenage years of angst is also not the magic bullet.

The answer comes down to the question: Will you allow your relationship with this person to exist superficially or will you opt to go “all in” and choose to care for him/her deeply? Do you choose to love that person? Do you choose to help that person and invest in that person? Will you allow them to help you?

The lesson for me is that friendship is a choice to prioritize a person outside of myself or my family. In this light, I am starting to wonder if maybe I have more friends than I thought.

Potentially Fabulous

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I really want to make something of myself. I know people who have. I know a guy who doesn’t quit. He works around the clock to build up his non-profit organization that he’s passionate about- all while holding down a job to support his family. Another example is my friend who almost never sits down. Not kidding. She seems to feed off of an undetectable energy and works incredibly hard to make her home warm and happy, constantly helps members of the community, hosts countless meals, and somehow has endless time to listen attentively to all sorts of people she encounters.

Another fabulous woman I know – I wish you could meet her because there’s no way to do her justice here- is incredibly generous with her time, energy, and talents. A fellow teacher, since the beginning of the year she has constantly tried to help me navigate through projects, students, parents, and colleagues. “Oh, I’ll do that” is her motto and she has quickly become my first stop when I need help at work. Peeking through her classroom window showed me I’m not unique- this lady gives to many with a full heart. Those who are close with her know that if you need a sympathetic ear, sage advice, help with cutting and pasting, or even a kosher (she’s not Jewish) snack – she provides and a relationship is built. When teaching at a public school in a “bad”  neighborhood, she nearly adopted one of her young students who was neglected and abused by his parents. This might surprise you but if you knew her, it wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong- none of these people are saints. I’ve actually seen them when they’re not being fabulous. There’s no point in sharing their flaws but, rest assured, they exist. What distinguishes them for me is that most of the time, these people have captured something. A generosity of spirit, a strong work ethic, they’re LIVING LIFE and not just living. Thinking of them moves me off of my couch and towards real-world activity and connection.

You know the classic report card guaranteeing that a student is full of potential? That she or he would be FABULOUS if only…. Well what happens many years after the report cards have been signed and the parent/teacher conferences (strategizing about how this vague potential will be actualized) are long over? Do these little rug-rats, exploding with potential, actualize, maximize, LIVE?

Until recently, I considered my life as an extension of my childhood; I felt I was a (incredibly blessed) Youth of the Nation. It took me three years to figure out that the real Youth no longer view me as one of the Nation. Maybe it was my age, or my children, or my maturity (ok, maybe not the maturity) but clearly something changed. This is the next chapter of my life, the one where all the supposed potential unleashes…right?

Childhood and adolescence is often marked by living in the moment (hopefully joyful ones) and self-absorption. As children, we thought the world revolved around us, that our parents’ lives began when we were born, that our needs should come first. As teenagers, we just didn’t think (should I only speak for myself?). Our decisions were shaped by our whims with no forethought to consequences or aftermath. To fulfill our potential as adults, we’d have to break free of the narcissism and selfishness, simultaneously maintaining the joie de vivre that most children have in spades. For me- if not for all of us- it is that happy spirit, appreciation for life, selflessness, and ACTION that largely defines “actualizing potential”. These are the hallmarks of people who are LIVING. Like I said, I really want to make something of myself and not get stuck just potentially fabulous.

Into the Fog

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I remember my friend being jealous of me at 19 which was fair. She called me lucky and I was. I had figured myself out; what direction I wanted my life to go. I knew that I wanted to reach out to other Jews as a career. I knew I wanted to raise a religious Jewish family. My friend, on the other hand, wasn’t sure of what she wanted or who she was. Come to think of it, I had been blessed with complete clarity from a very young age. I knew for certain at 12 of who I wanted to be at 24. I made decisions at 14 that were based on goals for my 18 year old self.

Imagine my surprise to wake up at 30 in a fog. That’s what I feel I have been walking around in for the past year. A haze of thoughts, circumstances, and postponed decisions circling me and for the first time since I can remember, I lack the certainty I’ve always taken for granted. We’re supposed to ask ourselves what God wants from us given the situations we’re presented. Want to know what happens when you ask yourself the same question over and over again? Disconnection from the original question. A white noise whitewashing any hint of my inner voice.

Ironically, I’m jealous of myself at 19 too. Where did that assured girl go? The unadulterated idealism that wasn’t shadowed by responsibility and practicality? It’s as though someone put a thick pair of glasses over my eyes when I could see just fine before. Or maybe someone just took my much needed pair of glasses off.

There is an upside. I’ve learned to live in the moment. It’s the only way to be happy. If I find myself  contemplating the future, I remind myself that worry and stress is counterproductive. So now I just push (shove) thoughts of the future out of my mind. I look around at my wonderful family, my nice -rented- condo, the food in my fridge, my health and the health of those I love. But what if I can’t feed my family tomorrow? What if I can’t afford to pay next month’s rent? These questions are monsters hiding under my bed. They only exist in my mind.

There’s another upside. I’ve also learned that if I turn outward, if I refocus my attention toward people in need (emotionally or otherwise), I stop feeding my negative thoughts. There’s no space for self-absorbed negativity when you are put in the position of being someone else’s cheerleader.

I’m in a fog about many things but of one thing I’m crystal clear: Life is for living and living well. We only get one chance to live this life the way we think best and I’d much rather soak up my blessings than panic that they’ll disappear tomorrow. This silver lining is my lifeboat as I wade through the fog.