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.

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Swiping Right

Swiping Right

Online dating comes with inherent risks – I knew that when I waded in five years ago or so now. Anytime you’re meeting someone you don’t know, your expectations for reasonable human behavior can be upended. And anytime you have an intentional space for people to meet prospective romantic partners, you will have people who seek to use that space for their own purposes.

I knew there were risks, and I decided they were worth the potential benefits. I wanted to meet men who were interested in dating, and that wasn’t happening in my everyday life (and hadn’t been for quite a few years).

I approached online dating the way I approached most things in life, with reasonable precautions. It was a big step outside my comfort zone relationally, since I had been raised to completely avoid even a date with someone I didn’t already know to be basically marriage material for me (evangelical Christian with conservative beliefs, never married, committed to sexual purity, etc.). But in other ways, it wasn’t such a stretch. I’d been building friendships online for my entire adult life. I’m a part of online communities and friendships that are ten or twenty years old. I’d met several of those folks in person when we happened to be in the same city, and even transitioned a couple of friendships to regular in person connection.

So I knew to be careful with personal information – name, address, workplace, etc. I always meet new people in a public place, and let a friend know my plans and who I’m meeting. And I take the “trust but verify” stance – take someone at face value and verify what they tell you about themselves with Google.

It’s not easy to hide your life these days, and a person’s “online footprint” can confirm a lot. I’ve learned to check all the avenues where I protect myself to confirm that a man is who he says he is and that the circumstances of his life are what he has portrayed them to be.

And in five years, I’ve never been surprised by what I found. Until now.

After meeting a man for a lunch date, that went extremely well, we made plans for a second date. He’d told me enough about what he does for a living that I could look him up online even without his last name. I found him and quickly discovered that he has a wife and children and a bit of history that is less than savory.

He never outright lied to me – I never asked him directly if he is married or has a family. He gave a very intentionally crafted impression that he is single, and has to be because of a job that requires constant travel. He has carefully cultivated a way to talk about his life that creates a lie out of the truth (the circumstances of the job) and omission (the family he very much has). It’s not that hard for him to live a double life, it appears.

Needless to say, I back peddled out of the second date, but I didn’t call him out. Part of me very much wanted to, but it would almost certainly antagonize someone I don’t know. And the only likely change in his behavior would be to sharpen his hiding skills. The risk is not worth the possible benefits.

It’s a common cautionary tale, and I’ve heard even worse online dating horror stories from other women. I’m very grateful that I haven’t gotten lazy about those online checks.

But here is what I want to remember: this is the first time in five years it’s happened. I’ve easily met fifty men or more, and nearly all of them have been genuine gentlemen. Most men are decent human being who are trying to make life work as best they can.

Dating is not easy, and there are risks far beyond the one I had lunch with. But there are far more benefits out there, and I’ll never have a chance to meet them if I don’t start with swiping right.

A Love that Won’t Leave

A Love that Won’t Leave

What do you do with a love that won’t leave?

Even when you wanted it to. Even if you wanted it to.

On bad days, like a cobweb you can’t get disentangled from. On good days, like sunshine on the top of your head blessing everything with warmth that fills you to your toes.

Love knocks unbidden, but once the door is opened the house may be filled with something you’ll never get out of the carpets or the air. A fragrance that follows you from room to room, leaving nothing untouched, unmarked. Others may come in, but that love is stubborn and stays, blessing or cursing as the the case may be.

What do you do with a love that won’t leave?

Maybe you take it with you. Breath deeply and hold it in your lungs, accepting everything it can give.

Relax with it. Go with it and it will come with you, keeping you open to so much. A love neither unrequited nor gratified. Making you brave. Daring you to stretch and find more.

Sometimes it will cut open your heart and you will bleed with what is not. But others can enter that wound.

What do you do with a love that won’t leave?

Let it do it’s work, all it finds to do. And maybe one day you will look up to find that you (we) are somehow done.

Or maybe not. But either way, life is bigger, deeper, more unfinished – both full and wanting. Always wanting more.

The Shapes and Spaces of Love

The Shapes and Spaces of Love

Love changes us, or at least it does me.

Being loved has changed me. It’s helped me recognize who I am and dive deeper into who I’m meant to be. Seeing myself as capable of inspiring love, regardless of how life may get in the way, has been profound.

It’s impossible to quantify, but sometimes it feels like loving has changed me even more.

Loving someone makes room in my heart for them, a space that grows to accommodate and welcome a particular person. And the thing is, that’s not a generic space – it’s a space uniquely shaped to who they are. Other things get adjusted and changed to make room as the space takes shape.

And it goes beyond the person themselves.

I notice things I would have missed before. I ask different questions – of myself as well as of the world. I’m continually inspired to try to see things through a different perspective that is not my own.

And in the process, how I see changes. What I see changes, and how I understand it. I’m stretched and grow into – not someone else – but someone who is both a broader and a deeper me. I become more myself in ways I never imagined, and I find things in myself I never knew were there. I love that journey (even while it’s scary as anything).

Venturing into love is always stepping out into the unknown. It will always show us things we didn’t know about ourselves and the world. And all those things won’t be pretty.

I’ve discovered things within myself I’ve wanted to look away from and forget, but love means facing them and dealing with them, as hard as that may be. I’ve encountered things in our world, things that wound and shape others, things that should never be. But love doesn’t look away. Love steps up and steps in closer to embrace it all.

Kiss the demons and name their lies.

But I also discover profound beauty, both in myself and others. Strength, kindness, generosity of spirit, courage, forgiveness, hope, longing. Minds that are dreaming a better world and turning those dreams into reality.

Love is always an adventure. If you’re in it for an outcome you already have all the architectural drawings for? Well…then you’re in love with an idea that’s dead. Life is always changing – growing and fading and creating something new along the way.

Love creates shapes and spaces that weren’t there before. It recreates our lives and it recreates the world. We can enter and embrace that with wonder or with fear (mostly we can’t help but have a mix of both).

But if we can let the wonder win out…the possibilities of the journey are glorious.

The Art of Riding the Wave

The Art of Riding the Wave

I have a secret ambition to be a beach bum – a Sea Doo rental shack with a hammock in back. Living with the rhythm of the waves and the sun and the seasons.

It’s completely unrealistic. I love the beach, but that would never be enough for me. I’d get restless and antsy for something new all too quickly, for something that mattered.

But there’s still something there that draws me. It’s the reason I have a collection of surfing movies – mostly documentaries. The waves and the sun and the laid back thing are all part of the appeal, but it’s more than that.

There’s something that connects with me about the predictable unpredictability of life.

We plan. We read the tides, the rhythms of the waves, the seasons, and our own capabilities. But in the end, we have to dive in and just ride the wave we catch, and this – now – is the only moment we have to catch it.

We’ll never control the wave, but we can learn the art of dancing with it. Learn to feel the water and how to meet it. Sometimes we will wipe out, overwhelmed by something impossible to plan for.

But sometimes…sometimes we get it just right, and the curl of the wave comes at just the right place, and it propels us to greatness, to something beyond what we could ever do on our own.

There are tides to learn, and seasons, and reefs just below the surface to beware of. But the ocean will always be the ocean, and it will always surprise us.

I’ve never actually been surfing. I’ve never had the chance, and odds are I’d be terrible at it. But there’s a reason I love those documentaries, that dream.

Planning is important – you’re not going to get far if you show up without a board or with a sprained ankle. You need to know the beach and what’s below the surface and how the waves brake. And never surf alone, without someone to know if something goes wrong.

But at some point you’ve got to stop planning and just ride the wave.

Life, as consistent and unpredictable as the ocean, will never fail to surprise. And all the planning in the world won’t teach you how to improvise with the waves.

I planned for a long time. I planned for waves that never came and for wipeouts I couldn’t control. And I learned something from all that planning and observing.

But that’s nothing compared to what I’ve learned since I dove in and started trying to catch some waves.

Love in a Multiverse

Love in a Multiverse

So many things could have been different.

Everything, really.

Sometimes I think of who I might be if my daddy hadn’t died. It’s an entirely different life, an entirely different me, so different I can’t imagine.

This universe with this particular me is only one of an infinity of possibilities. So many choices –many mine and many not – have created this one. But the others are there, too.

There’s the one where I died, as I nearly did, before I was even two.

There’s the one where I went to the secular university I wanted to, a completely new world, instead of the Baptist university I’d grown up at. I wonder who I’d have turned out to be.

There’s one where the first boy I dated in my mid-twenties decided I might be his type after all and I married him as I was ready to do. I don’t doubt we could have made a good life together, a good family. But I would be a very different me – a far more conventional me.

There’s the one where the first boy I kissed didn’t have the sense to recognize that we fit in all the worst possible ways. I wouldn’t have had the sense to walk away myself, and we would’ve been a disaster.

There’s the one where I never stopped and went back to check out the book with the scandalous title – “A New Kind of Christian” – on the new non-fiction shelf at the public library. Who would I have been had I not found others were asking the questions I was? Thinking the thoughts I was? And that there was somewhere to go with those thoughts? Had I not found a path out of fundamentalism?

It gave me life but it was smothering the life out of me.

There’s the one where my seminary boyfriend wasn’t so afraid. I’d be different had we stayed together. I would’ve held myself back, and I don’t know that we could’ve made it.

There’s the one where I never got that shove into real dating. Never got past the fear of that unknown. Never found my way through the risks to know who I am and the freedom to explore who I can be.

And there’s the one where I never met you. Never was challenged by our conversations, never shaped by the dance of our friendship. Never had to figure out who I am in just the ways who you are pushed me to. Never had to think about your questions and change because of the answers. Never learned to love in the particular way you were there to love.

You’re the reason this is the universe I’m in instead of so many others that could’ve been.

(Inspiration owed to the brilliant ending of La La Land and the songwriting of Heather Styka.)

Meant to Be

Meant to Be

“When it’s meant to be, you’ll know it.”

“It just wasn’t meant to be.”

After 44 years of being single, I long ago lost count of the times I’ve heard these kinds of things, from both loving friends and clueless acquaintances, about all kinds of circumstances, but mostly about dating.

And no.

“Meant to be” doesn’t exist, at least not in that way it’s used.

There is no fate. There is no “God’s will,” at least not in that fatalistic, stand-in-for-fate sense.

God’s will is simply God – the beginning and the end of all things – drawing all of our chaotic randomness to that end like metal shavings to a magnet. The path will eventually get there however we twist and turn it in the meantime.

The only sense in which “meant to be” is true is in what is. Now. This moment. With no guarantees of where it will or won’t lead.

So many things that are meant to be never will be.

Sometimes you do know. In those first moments, there’s something that says, oh, this! This I was made for!

And you’re not wrong. But one or a hundred choices along the way – both already and yet to be made – mean what was meant to be won’t be.

Life is a series of grievings for what was meant to be. It is more than that, but it is that.

The denial may help some, but it’s never comforted me. It denies the often crappy reality of choices and their consequences. Some of those choices were mine. Some of them were about me, and some weren’t about me at all, but the result is the same.

Someone chose to walk away from what was meant to be. Because they are afraid of it. Because of some lie their past has taught them. Because of what they are afraid they’ll miss out on. Because they’ve bought what someone is selling about what they’re supposed to want. Because, for whatever reason, maybe even a good one, they’ve chosen a different possibility.

But sometimes, for this single moment, we can hold what was meant to be in our hand, just by recognizing it.

We will only be able to grasp it if we can let go of – grieve – what we want it to be in other moments, what we want to make it.

But if we can let go, it can be beautifully and imperfectly what was meant to be for this one moment. And whatever may come cannot destroy that.

Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, not height or depth, not any powers, not even the future, can separate us from the gift of love. Even the gift of love that is only a moment.

The only thing we ever really have, the only gift we’re ever given, is now, in this moment and in its memory.

What good to turn away because it isn’t guaranteed to be there tomorrow?