Going beyond transactional relationships

It is surprisingly, achingly, difficult to push past the transactional in our relationships, and into the transcendent. Yet we must try.

Everyone craves connection.

But so often we exist on the level of the transactional.

What is going on with you?

How was your weekend? 

I want to move into the level of transcendent relationships.  What is beyond my normal experiences.

How are you. Today? Right Now?
It is surprisingly, achingly, difficult to push past the transactional in our relationships, and into the transcendent.  After all, the transactional is a lot of what we do: sleep, eat, wake, talk, do.

There is beauty in the transactional, I won’t lie to you.  I want to tell my friends how fun my weekend was, the birthday parties, the beaches.  I want to tell the story of how Ethan got stuck on a playground in a playhouse window, like a little monkey, screaming “Mama!  Save me!”

But it’s death to leave our relationships in the transactional level, where all of life is a calendar of activities.  Where you are stuck looking at the world from the perspective of causality.  This happened and this resulted, plain and simple.

I want to live in a world where I talk about the birthday parties, but also the wisdom we’ve gained getting older. I want to talk about the absurdity of parenting, but also the effort I’m putting in trying to shape a moral human being, one who cares about his friends.  I want transcendent relationships, rising above the clouds of the mundane.
I want to be able to say “I’m [physically] tired because I work now.”   But I do myself a disservice if I don’t also talk about the possibility that I may be existentially tired because I have not learned how to nurture my soul during the soul-sucking 10hr/week  commute.  I truly believe the answer to tired problem goes beyond “Go to bed earlier.”

I still cannot believe how difficult it is to live in the transcendent, despite the time I spent reflecting in worship at a church service every week, the time I spend journalling, and the blog posts I love reading on lunch breaks about the more of life. After all, this is a world where I may only see true friends once or twice a week, and possibly only for an hour or two at a time, it is hard to get beyond the transactional.

If it’s hard with old friendships, it’s triply hard with the new friendships, where you need to joyfully spend the time in those early conversations with transactional conversation such as “Where do you live,” “What are your hobbies?”

This isn’t a blog post with a tidy solution at the end – I wish it was. For all of my desires to live beyond the everyday, to read about the best questions to draw out friends and family, and my active attempts to practice it, I still catch myself going days without looking under the surface of my experiences, or prying the lid off glib responses of “good” to “how was your day.”

But I try.


If you liked this reflection, you will also enjoy – A midsummer reflection on spiritual gifts, and advice for the inbetween times.

Age-Blind, Experience Rich.

I was obsessed with my RA in college.  She was equal parts friendly and sarcastic,  her humor was at times sophisticated and other times involved a lot of poop jokes.   She had a phobia of feet, and the fact that I can remember this twelve years later, but hardly any of my freshman year classes, amuses me.  I lived on her floor for 2.5 years, only spending one semester in off-campus housing.  Because I ended up graduating a year early, we were in the same graduating class.  Still, she seemed much older and wiser, and I looked up to her.

In much the same way, I met plenty of other people who were a year, maybe two, ahead of me at college, and they all seemed laden with knowledge I would never acquire, always scrambling to catch up to their achievements.

Then I graduated, and suddenly the artificial construct of grades fell away completely within a few short years.  In the closeness of the North Shore I met plenty of people who had also gone to Gordon College, had been a few years ahead of me, behind me and we hadn’t managed to meet during our time on campus.  I felt that we were all in this together, all the same age, all sharing a similar past experience.

I also started making plenty of non-Gordon friends, some who were 4 or 5 years older than I, even 10. Others were 3 or 4 years younger.  Age started to blur even more as other significant milestones took their place – marriage, baby making, house buying, promotions, second degrees, business starting.  The type of things that happen to different people, at different times.

MSGraduation

Still, I sometimes run into those people I had classes with who were, like my RA, seemingly older and wiser during our college years.  The senior in the lit class, when I was only a sophomore.  It will come as a shock that they were often only six months, maybe a year older than I was, that in fact, we were the same age.   I find myself still somehow mentally believing in their extra wisdom.  Turning to them for advice, checking my assumptions against their vast experience.

The older I get, the more time I spend making new friends, and then the more I find myself to be strengthening ties with wise and mentoring people, regardless of their actual, or perceived ages.  I’ve also been happy to find myself able to be the “wise” friend some of the time too, although this role still scares me.  More and more, I want to become like a woman I know who someone described as “age-blind.” Her friend’s ages span decades on either side of her own.

There is wisdom to be found in people of all ages, whether six months older than me, or sixteen years, or sixty.  So I hope, pray, that I’ll be able to find it.

A Balanced Diet of Friends

After reviewing my New Years Resolutions in July I realized that I was having a hard time with my goal to “Be a Good Friend.”   I was certain that if I just sat down and thought about this topic for an hour or so, I would be able to pinpoint the trouble and fix this goal.  These are some of my thoughts on friendship in adulthood.

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Good Friends I’ve Had:

I follow along with the blog MWF seeking BFF and the premise of the blog and the honest writing style really resonate with me.  A recent post of hers linked to an article from Self Magazine that reassures me that a shrinking friend circle is normal for you as you grow older.  It also highlights some of the benefits of having many friends to fit different roles in your life.

I’ve really enjoyed having athletic friends to run races with, creative friends to see life in a new way, reading friends to talk about books… and plenty of others.  But one thing that I’ve noticed over the last two years is that I’ve tried to cut back on how many “niche” friends I’ve had and just went with the “well rounded” type of friends.  It’s hard to hang out with people individually (especially with a family) and it makes more sense to multitask by hanging out with groups of people or hanging out with one or two friends that fit a lot of categories.  So I need to focus on being a good friend to these few people.

Two pieces of Good Advice on Friendship:

I also remembered two really good pieces of advice I was given about five years ago about friendship that can help you redefine your ideas of what friendship might mean.

1) You can’t always have meaningful conversations – A relationship can get pretty strained if you want to have soul baring vulnerable conversations about your innermost thoughts and feelings every time you get together.   You’ve got to balance out those deep conversations with stuff at least sometimes.

2) It’s hard to be friends if you’re always catching up – You need to have friends that you see or talk to a lot: that is, you aren’t always filling them in on the last three months of your life, or why exactly you chose to take the new job offer.  They’ve been along with you for the whole angsty period of your current job slowly souring on you, or your increasing dissatisfaction with the tasks, or your new passion for another field.  But you don’t need to be attached at the hip anymore as an adult, to still be friends with someone.

What my Nutritionist Taught me About Friendship

It’s important to have a balanced diet of friends.  Work friends, Church friends, Mom friends, Old College Friends…etc.  But just like any balanced diet there are actually a few powerhouse foods that we count on day in and day out.  Most days you’ll find me eating wheat bread, cheese, tomato (in some form), eggs, and coffee.  And, actually, most people who are successful with their diets don’t vary their foods up too much – that creates uncertainty and uncertainty makes people uncomfortable and stressed, which, well, leads to eating more.  So, even though I agree that I need a balanced diet of friends, I think it’s probably find for me to pull on the same few people over and over again and not create stress running after a dozen different friends.

My nutritionist also told me, If you’re okay with what you’re doing, it’s okay to keep doing it.  Just because the latest research might say that you should live carb free, only eat dessert on alternate Sundays and give up diet soda – you don’t have to.  If you’re living a moderately healthy lifestyle and you have only a “few” bad habits, you don’t have to change them now.  Maybe you will in the future.

As for how this relates to friendship –  as long as I continue to keep in contact with the friends I do have and enjoy, and make new ones occasionally – it’s okay if I don’t have women who I do “girls night out” with, and it’s okay if I don’t have people to go on vacation with to summer houses in the Poconoes.  Even if really really envy other people who do that.

So, what does friendship look like for me as an adult

So, it turned out I was using an old definition of friendship from my pre-baby, pre-marriage, pre-adulthood days.  This definition went something like – if I’m going to have friends I need to see them at least five days a week, talk on the phone,  and pour my heart out to them at least monthly.  (Hello College Roommate!) No wonder I was getting cognitive dissonance about how well I was doing on my goal.

oh wait… plus my husband is my friend too,
and I see him every day.

I think a Good Friend:
Knows what her friends need – coffee, a meal, an idea, a pat on the back, a hug, advice, space.
Organizes parties
Provides a listening ear
Keeps in contact through social media like blogs and facebook

And a good rule of thumb for me:
I need to see women friends at least 4 out of 7 days a week, or I’ll go crazy.

There’s still a lot more I want to discover about friendship, but I think this is a good place to start for now.