Yesterday my friend, Christiane, and I talked at length about engaging with our communities. For both of us, there have been times when we've been more engaged than others, and here are a few things we discovered about this:
- It's easier to invite people to help us if we're in the midst of a Big Event than it is when we're just experiencing every-day kinds of difficulties or needs. You can say things like, I'm planning a wedding, or I'm finishing my PhD (Christiane), or I'm moving in a week, and you feel more confident that your request will be seen as legitimate or understandable under the circumstances. But what if you ask a friend to come help you with the kids while you clean the house for company and she arrives and says it already looks clean to her? Your reaching out for help won't feel legitimized or understood, and if fact you may feel embarrassed that you imposed unnecessarily.
- We often worry about seeming too needy for asking someone to contribute something to us, yet we would happily oblige the same request from a friend.
- We respond to the previous fear by either outright hiding or just "not bothering" our friends with our struggles, which creates the image that we're doing better than we are. Sometimes we do this because we think we're supposed to be able to handle our load without assistance, whatever that load may be. Sometimes we do this in an attempt to manage our image so we can look strong and capable, like we have it all together.
- The more we try to tough it out on our own, the more distant our friendships become. Our friends might decide they aren't needed, or feel shame about their own struggles in light of our fake competence and they may drift away. If I really think about it, it probably brings my friends great satisfaction when I let my weaknesses show because it probably humanizes me and helps us both see our common ground. We all have joys. We all have struggles.
- We're going to now call this way of being I just described, "How to Look Good and Be Alone".
Togetherness, however, requires a different way of being. I used to worry that if I had local friends, they would have needs that were inconvenient for me to meet. I have found this to be true in a way that surprises me. Sometimes things are cut-and-dry, like, No, I can't pick up your child at school today because I'm across the country on a trip today. But when I can do something and it just seems inconvenient, for now at least those inconveniences lie in the "I'm Busy Looking Good and Being Alone" category, and exchanging looking good for togetherness actually leaves ME being the one who was rescued, in the end. It reminds me that being just as I am and just as I am not is enough.
Being loved and being together free me from all kinds of unnecessary striving. The double standard mentioned above is still in my head, so to help myself re-program I'm going to write little notes to myself and post them around my place. I'm going to pretend my best friend just confided in me that she's struggling with asking for help and I'm going to write down the very true things I would say to her. Things like: You can ask for what you need, or, Your needs are not too much. Then I'm going to hang them up and receive them as things that are just as true for me as they are for my best friends or for my children.
These are my first steps in recovering from "How to Look Good and Be Alone". I'm trying to recognize each baby step I take and feel proud of the journey. I started by confessing these things, first to my friends and then to you, so please use the comments section if you want to say how these things or others affect you.
There is a way that love--real, true love--can unlace you and leave you undone if you are ever so lucky to be submerged in its deep waters. It sometimes takes a community to convince you it's not just one person being nice. It may take days or weeks for your defenses to be dismantled before it has an opening to get through. All your good ideas and all your hard work aren't needed here; washing the dishes is enough. The only job you get is the job that anyone can do, because otherwise you might confuse your acceptance with your contribution.
You know this, because you do it all the time. You think if you cook good meals, if you keep the apartment looking good, if you're good enough in bed, he will keep loving you. You think if you call on the right day and stick to the script you can stay in their good graces. If you keep writing, keep producing, keep selling, you might be seen or heard or wanted.
You might not be standing alone at the end of the story.
You spin and labor and try, until the day you are wrecked by love. Then you remember the things you always forget--that you don't actually know what to do. That sometimes no doing is required. That you can stop, lay your weary head on the pillow and rest, and the world will hold together even without your tight grip. Your timing will unfold without you driving it with a whip. The affection for you in the universe will not not dry up so easily.
You listen to music and relax your face. You let it all catch up to you, and feel your own exhaustion. The people who know you best know the real work is happening now, that only good comes when you let your soul be mended by being undone.
Only courage lets you be seen in such a state. Only love got you into it.