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.

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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.

Complicate the Holidays!*

Two years ago I finished Bill McKibbon’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday and received my first Center for a New American Dream‘s newsletter in my email inbox.  They both issued clarion calls to Simplify!

Today I realize, I still want urge other to contemplate something more counter-intuitive – instead – Complicate your holidays.

complicate the holidays

Here’s what I mean.

What both of these speakers want is a reduction of stuff at the holidays, particularly some sorts of technologies, expensive new clothes, mass produced cheap shit, and anything else you might buy on Black Friday.

But, they aren’t alone in those types of sentiments.  Actually, everyone wants a simplified holiday! That’s the advice on the cover of every single magazine in November and December – how to make your hosting simple, cooking easy, and workouts lightning fast, and still lose five pounds!But the real reason you’re trying to cut down on the stuff? So life can be little more complicated. How so?

Because the things we’re talking about replacing those items with are Complicated.  Things like:

  • Friendship
  • Gratitude
  • Volunteering
  • Thought
  • Celebration
  • Peace

The list of suggestions to simplify your holidays starts with something extremely personal and precious, and yes, complicated.

 It starts with giving your time.  Whereas I can always earn more money, and will, I can’t earn back any of my time.  In giving time, suddenly we find ourselves committed to drawing closer to that person.  By engaging with other deeply by sharing our time – we may find out the truth behind the easy veneer we all often paste over our messy lives.  We might be pulled in – and in the process bind ourselves more closely.

Though choosing the perfect holiday gift for someone does require some knowledge of their preferences, so often we don’t think about what we give at the holidays.  We just pull what looks good off the shelf, to fulfill an obligation.  Spending time with others instead, is a surprisingly one-size-fits-all gift that is tailor-made.

And what about using our time to make gifts, something crafted, baked, or constructed?   If we choose to give gifts made of our time and materials we will also need to redefine our values.  Especially the ones we’ve received from unceasing advertising.   We will no longer be able to stomach slick and (worse still) cheap.  We certainly can’t prize perfection, because home made isn’t mass produced with machines.  If we’re complicating things by preparing a meal from scratch, we can’t prize efficiency too much.  No one wants a microwaved TV dinner for Christmas, however fast it might be.  And, if we’re complicating things by purchasing used gifts, we had better not have too much pride.  Giving someone a gift that has been used is a little exercise in humility.

Simplifying Complicating the holidays boils down to community – which is messy, time consuming business. 

So, Complicate on folks, it’s only December 5th November 24th and there is one more month filled with plenty of complication left (and 12 more after that if you like to keep on celebrating past Epiphany as do my Anglican readers.)

*This post was originally posted on December 5, 2011 – but updated on November 24, 2013.

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.

No Dumping – The Complaint Board

I’ve been working my way through the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.  A bestseller in the 1990’s it set out under the premise that Emotional Intelligence (learning to manage your emotions so that you can relate to other people and yourself) is as important (if not more so) than regular old Intelligence.

I just finished the chapter on intimate relationships (ie marriage and/or dating) and some of the pitfalls.  As a general rule of thumb, women like to air out the problems they face in a relationship, and men like to gloss over them.  (As a point of interest, this is partly because men actually don’t experience problems as deeply as women do.  They aren’t “ignoring” the problems, they just don’t rate them as importantly as women do.)

Also as a general rule of thumb, I like to try and prove dichotomous thinking wrong with examples from my own life.  However, in this circumstance, I’m no exception.  When something’s bothering me – man, I want to talk about it with my husband.  Ad nauseum.  Particularly if I’ve been home alone all day.  It doesn’t matter how trivial this problem might be.

This in itself is a problem.  Like most people who are transitioning to a different environment, he doesn’t want the equivalent of a proverbial ton of bricks or metaphorical bucket of cold water dumped onto his head as an entrance gift.

So, this is the solution I came up with last week.  The Complaint Board.

You won’t find one of these on Pinterest – after all, that’s a place for idealized worlds of perfect schedules, Bible Verses, manicured photos, and organized family calendars.  Nothing ever goes wrong on Pinterest boards devoted to home decoration. You know it’s true.

So what we have here is a small eraser board you can pick up for about $10 mounted onto the side of our refrigerator.  I get to write down the things that make me want to tear my hair out.  My husband gets to read them when he comes home.  No bitter discussion needed.  I think it might be a little bit of a relationship saver.

Actions speak louder than words…

Unless of course you work with someone who really needs verbal affirmation.

I used to think it was cheating to try and read people and figure out what they needed to hear.  And I’ve also heard that it’s pretty good advice to take books like The Five Love Languages with a grain of salt.  And whenever I hear the phrase “there are two kinds of people in this world…” I immediately think – and of course the third type that fits neither category.

Bearing all that in mind this book supposes that people really need to feel appreciated a certain way.  It posits that there are 5 ways people feel appreciated.  These are: through physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, and acts of service.  Each person has a way that makes them feel as though they are understood and loved.

Therein lies how I ran into trouble at work the other day, and I think, in a lot of past jobs as well.  I’m firmly in the “no news is good news” category.  If something’s not broken, there’s no need to try and fix it.  But it turns out, my coworker was sick of my seemingly negative point of view, fixated only on the things I want to change and enhance, never celebrating success, or embracing how much progress we’ve made.

She wants and needs to be commended on the things we’re doing that are working well and are changing lives.  She wants to rejoice in each moment of triumph.  That’s a wonderful thing, an awesome thing.

I want to look at the things that we need to improve in order to become better.  I want to make plans and lists and “fix” things.  Enough with the pats on the back, let’s get a move on! Let’s be busy!

So we decided to reach a compromise with each other, to attempt to speak each others language.  I will say “Thank You” many times a day, look for our successes and build on them without noting the things that could also be improved on.  I will notice and discuss the changes with her and talk about how great we are.  Cause, oh, we are.

And she, well, she’s not going to wait three months to tell me things like this anymore, trying to bring about change by focusing only on my positive qualities.   If I’m being a jerk, she’s gonna tell me.

Sounds fine with me.