Adult Friendship – Finding, Keeping, Letting Go

Adult Friendship – Finding, Keeping, Letting Go

Every Sunday night I go to a church in a bar filled with people with stories, all kinds of stories. Stories we believe are “the word of God for the people of God,” because God is still speaking in and through our lives. This month we’ve been talking about adult friendships – finding them, keeping them, losing them, and starting all over again. In a world full of lonely people, we don’t talk about friendship enough, or even make room for it in all the things competing for our attention and priorities. And as adults? We often are at a loss when it comes to making the kinds of friendships we want. (The Nancy podcast has done some great stuff recently on how queers can find a “gaggle” of friends, but I think we all need that help.)

This is the story I had the opportunity to tell this week. It’s one that’s still going…

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It was Easter Sunday 2014. We’d had the sunrise vigil, and the Easter breakfast, and I’d just finished leading the liturgy I wrote for our Easter service. I was walking with my friend Angela to our cars in the parking lot, and I remember telling her, “I think maybe this should be my last service. Everything is good, but if I want my life to be different – and I do – nothing’s very likely to change if I don’t change something.”

I was 41 and tired of being tired of being single. I hadn’t had a date in seven years, and I wasn’t meeting possibilities. Something needed to change and church seemed like the most doable thing.

And that was scary to say, because church meant more than the place I went on Sundays. Church meant six years of friendships, of lives lived together with a group of families and a few singles who lived in my neighborhood. We had dinner together every week. I’d known most of their kids since they were born. When I was sick, they brought me extra plates of dinner and DVDs. When there was a birthday, we threw a party. Some of their children were the only kids I’ve ever felt move and kick and squirm in their mama’s belly.

I spent the years after seminary building my life around these relationships, and now I was going to change that, and I didn’t know what would happen. What all that would mean.

So I started visiting churches.

At the first one, I met a pastor – another single woman – who came from a conservative background not too different from mine. We had lunch and met for coffee and started sharing our stories (she didn’t tell me then about her dream of starting a church where people could share good food and tell true stories and make beautiful worship together!).

At the second one, when I told a work acquaintance and his wife why I was trying to make changes in my life, Judy – a woman who is five feet (maybe) of major general, cheerleader, and CEO all rolled up together – gave me marching orders: “I’m proud of you! And I want you to go home and sign up with a dating site online! You need to go where the men are, and that’s where they are! And I mean today! Report back to me with a text this evening.” And like I imagine everyone in her life, I obeyed. (And had ten first dates in the next three weeks!)

At the third church, I found a community of gay couples who also knew what it meant to be a deep disappointment to a conservative family, as well as how to be a chosen family who could keep me afloat through that storm. I ended up landing in that church, and they gave me the support I needed as I started dating, then moved into the city, changed jobs, and even as I got involved in the queer, quirky new church in a bar my pastor friend was starting.

And when my last birthday came around, I looked across the table at the improv club where we were laughing and celebrating. There was my first friend from my new job, a beautiful friend from that new church, and two of my closest friends in the city – both of them men I met dating. And one of them came with his girlfriend of the past year, who I’d enjoyed hanging out with on many other occasions.

Those friends from my old neighborhood in the suburbs? They weren’t in the city celebrating with me that night, but they cheered me on through it all. I still go up north for the breakfast we all have together one Saturday a month. And I’m still a part of their kids’ lives. And this summer, they all loaded their kids up one Saturday morning (no small feat!) and hauled them into the city to have breakfast at my place.

One of the hardest thing I’ve had to do, the thing that never seems to get easier, is knowing how to keep friends in my life as a single person when life is changing for everybody. It turns out that sometimes that means letting go.

Shower Curtains and Happy Yellow Cars

Shower Curtains and Happy Yellow Cars

There are two kinds of people in the world: those for whom stuff is, ultimately, just stuff, and those for whom stuff has an existential connection to who we are and the emotional world we inhabit.

I know there’s really a range, but the difference is real. When I was young, maybe four or five, a traveling exhibit of Lincoln memorabilia came to our local mall. I remember they had a plaster cast of his hands (which were huge). But what I couldn’t get over, what I kept coming back to for hours, was one of his hats and a pair of his glasses. These things he’d worn, touched, lived with, gave me literal chills. I couldn’t get over the reality that he’d slipped those glasses off before going to sleep at night. It felt so intimate to me, like these items were a kind of tesseract – a wrinkle in time – bringing Abraham Lincoln and me together across all those years.

To other (many other? most other?) people, those items were interesting artifacts, valuable curiosities. But for me, they had power.

It isn’t just about history. It’s in daily life, too.

A good friend and neighbor of mine once bought a new shower curtain. This is a thing we do on occasion, and not a particularly big thing. But her son, who was three or four at the time, cried brokenheartedly for the old one. He couldn’t remember their bathroom without it, and that shower curtain was part of what made life feel safe and known for him. She finally dug it back out of the trash and found a way for them to work through the transition (she’s an awesome mom).

Maybe there’s something of childhood to those kinds of connections – the favorite bear or perennial “security blanket” (I had both a super soft, threadbare blankie that went everywhere with me and an equally beloved, threadbare pink elephant named “Ellie”).

We grow out of those connections eventually, though maybe some of us more so – or differently – than others.

I’ve been wondering if some of those differences might be about an aspect of being an extrovert or an introvert – that aspect that relates less to our social proclivities and more to the way we process things.

My introverted friends process internally. They go inside themselves to think and feel before they’re ready to speak or write and engage the world. As an extrovert, I process externally. I often don’t know I knew something until the words come out. I engage the world, not because it tells me what to think, but so that I can discover what I think or feel.

Maybe that difference in processing things affects how we relate to the stuff around us, as well. Sometimes I feel like I live my life turned inside out – with the people and things around me shaping and being shaped by the cacophony that’s in my head. That feels like the opposite of how my introverted friends talk about experiencing the world, and I’m wondering if it may evoke or even require a different relationship with stuff.

On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, my happy, yellow Toyota was rear-ended by an impatient Tesla and totaled (thankfully, no one was injured!). When I bought her three years ago, she was the first new car I’d ever had. She named herself “Lucy,” and I loved that car. No matter how gray and dreary the morning, she was sunshine. And I need sunshine!

As I’ve navigated the whirlwind of insurance logistics and finding a new car (a new crimson Kia Niro hybrid is the one, it turned out), I’ve been missing Lucy. Beyond the needless loss of a good car, I miss her sunshine. She was both an expression of a big part of who I am, and something I could count on to brighten my day more consistently than the weather.

It’s never been easy for me to let go of stuff, though I’ve been learning. Losing my father at such an early age gave every thing I associated with him relational value, but I’ve been learning to invest that value differently. Like everything good, it can trap me – tangling me up and weighing my life down with the fear that every time I lose one of those things, I lose another bit of my father.

It’s easy for me to feel that way, but it’s not true.

In the past few years, I’ve been getting rid of stuff. Books, clothes, clutter, even keepsakes (who, indeed, am I keeping them for the sake of?). My life has more room to breathe, and it is still full of things that matter to me – things that both express who I am and shape who I am growing to be.

Happy, yellow Lucy is gone, but I know the part of me she expressed better now, and that’s not going anywhere. And I’ll learn the new car’s name (and pronouns) and what it was in me that made it feel like the right choice, and I’ll grow into that part of myself a little more.

The world changes, whether I want it to or not. And as much as learning and discovery is a part of who I am, the changes that come rearrange my life in ways I don’t always I like. But I think maybe I’m learning how to navigate those changes as myself, releasing what I don’t need to absorb and growing into aspects of who I am in fuller ways.

The stuff really is just stuff. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. For some of us, maybe that just means that, coming or going, it matter more.

Dancing Reality In

Dancing Reality In

It’s so easy to walk around reality like it’s full of things, like I am an object in a universe of objects. Bouncing off some, rearranging others. Things change – flowers bloom, the trees turn green and then the leaves turn and are gone, I change my mind – but things change. That’s how I think of it.

I’m learning it’s closer to reality to say things are change.

Physicist Carlo Rovelli says the world consists not so much of things, like stones, as of happenings, like kisses. (He has a marvelous interview at On Being.) By high school I’d learned that matter mostly consists of space, no matter how solid it may seem. And reality continues to astound me – there is a sense in which electrons only exist when they interact.

I remember first encountering physics in the “children’s” fiction of Madeleine L’Engle. Later, my college English Lit professor started class with a devotion on chaos theory. Physics has always felt a lot like spirituality to me. And maybe that’s exactly what it is.

I’m not a spirit with a body; I am both body and spirit. Both are me.

And I am at every moment a happening. A laugh, a meeting, a passion, an argument, a grief, a conversation, a dance, a race, a rest, a longing, a kiss.

So are you.

And I confess I don’t always see you that way. I spent too long in books, and it’s too easy for me to see you as a character, already written and bound by what is there.

It’s too easy to see everything as an unfolding story, pushed ahead by what’s already been told.

But the story starts today. Every day. The story is what we make it as we happen to the world. As the world happens to us. As we happen to each other.

And we happen to each other a lot, for good and for ill. For blessing and for cursing. For life and for death.

That’s what reality is.

I’m sorry when I forget, when I start trying to write your story, or think I know how it ends. I don’t.

I hope I can keep hoping, though, for the good endings. I hope we can collaborate – I think we do, even when we’re trying to ignore each other. But I’d like to do it with joy, and with gratitude.

I’d like you and I to dance our way into reality.

Not What I Ordered

Not What I Ordered

One of the greatest challenges in life is what to do when what you got ain’t what you ordered.

It happens in so many ways, large and small. The party you plan doesn’t turn out like you wanted it to. Your job takes an unexpected turn. The person you love chooses something different. An election goes haywire. It rains on your beach party. Something arrives you never saw coming.

What do we do when life serves us up something that’s not what we ordered – not what we wanted?

Most of my life the church taught me that what I got was what God meant for me to have, and he knew what I really needed better than I did. While I can believe that God might know me better than I know myself, that does not mean everything that comes to me is something he ordered. When life brings you evil and death, you can be sure those are not from God.

We live with the consequences of evil in the world, and we suffer because of other people’s choices – some of them long gone. We construct systems that are bent in ways that hurt people, sometimes intentionally, often blindly. We make choices to hurt each other, to lash out in frustration, pain anger, hatred. And sometimes we hurt people because of ghosts from our pasts we’ve never dealt with.

Everything that comes my way was not sent by God. Everything that comes is not in some way “good for me” or anywhere near what I need, much less want. And sometimes what comes is just different – not what I had in mind.

So what do we do? As much as I’ve learned since those days when I thought the only faithful thing to do was accept it all as from God, I still struggle to figure it out.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I go back to that prayer over and over again to remember both the agency I have and its limits.

Sometimes I can say no and refuse to accept something in my life. I can create boundaries, and recognize what is healthy and what is not.

Sometimes I can choose to try it and be open to being surprised. To accept the gift that’s given, even if it’s not the one I was asking for.

Sometimes I can choose to wait and see if things will change. People do change sometimes, and how I feel can change, too.

And sometimes I can choose not to wait.

Sometimes I can choose to get moving, to change myself, my mind, or my circumstances. To do my best to move towards goodness, love, beauty, peace, joy.

And sometimes I can step back, look at all the pieces, and choose to tell a different story with them than the one I was given.

That’s hard. The stories we live and believe shape the way we see the world and the way we understand ourselves. The stories we see ourselves in produce the choices we recognize. Letting go of the stories that made me who I am is scary. I can’t know what the new story will look like or what it will create in me.

But sometimes, it’s time. If I could just be sure when.