Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Act Like a Grown Up

Relationships Require Work

Handling Issues in a Mature Manner

Act Like a Grown Up
As I have said in earlier posts such as, Release Your Inner-Child and Child-Like Enthusiasm, I am most definitely an advocate of catering to the needs of your inner-child and behaving in a childish manner for the sake of fun. However, sometimes situations demand us to act like grown ups and behave in a mature manner. This past week has shown me that I can't always rely on the adult within me to handle issues appropriately, specifically with respect to a number of relationships in my life. For me, building connections has always been the easy part of relationships. It is the sustaining aspect that proves to be quite difficult. No matter the type of relationship- boyfriend, sibling, best friend, therapist- issues will always arise. Sometimes these issues are as mild as a simple disagreement or a miscommunication. However, often these problems come in the form of dramatic, blow out arguments. These complex and often personal issues test us as well as the relationship itself. 
Good relationships demand a level of maturity-
Are we willing to put forth the great amount of work required to mend the relationship? Are we able to handle issues in a mature manner in order to move forward with the relationship? Can we act like a grown up and face the problem head on or is it easier to just give up on the relationship and walk away?

"It isn't sufficient just to want- you've got to ask yourself what are you going to do to get the things you want."

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

I think that Roosevelt's words are perfect in answering the series of questions that I posed.
Friendships Require Work
Our willingness to work for relationships and resolve issues in a mature manner is truly dependent upon what we want. Our decision of whether or not to act like a grown up when grappling with the task of sustaining a relationship is directly connected to the amount that we value it. We deem some relationships less significant or important than others and often come to the conclusion that they are not worth the amount of work required in order to maintain them. In these cases we may let a small disagreement break apart the relationship because we just don't "want" it enough. We don't care to work in order to continue the friendship nor do we desire to display the effort that is needed when handling issues in a mature

manner. Instead, we choose to let the friendship go, and we move forward with our lives, feeling relatively unscathed. While we may have many relationships that we are not too afraid of losing, we also having a number of relationships that we ascribe value. These important relationships can come in the form of a best friend, a spouse, a sister, an aunt, etc. The relationship title is not what matters in this scenario. What is significant is the amount of care that we have for the relationship and the other person involved. These connections are what we "want" and wish to maintain and protect. But as Roosevelt says, it is not enough to simply want; we need to come up with a plan in order to achieve or obtain what it is that we desire. I feel that this quote can be applied to the want we feel with respect to sustaining our valuable personal relationships.
This past week it was necessary for me to figure out what it was that I needed to do in order to protect two separate relationships, both of which I regard as important to both me as well as my life. My life circumstances have changed the way I think about friendship, and has forced me to reconstruct my view of best friends or close friends. I have about five, maybe six, friends who I refer to as my best friends. They range in age from 17-40 and they live all over North America, from Montreal to Los Angeles to New Jersey. I don't get to see most of them a lot of the time. We can go over a year without seeing one another, but, that doesn't change the fact that we are good friends. Time and distance does not matter when you truly connect to and love a person. Time and distance may not threaten our friendships but other factors can. Last weekend my best friend from New York was supposed to visit me in Philadelphia. We hadn't seen each other in 8 months and I could not wait for her to arrive. I prepared everything with pain staking attention- cleaning my apartment, stocking my refrigerator with wine and diet soda, stashing a bottle of Grey Goose in the freezer, and carefully
"I prepared everything..."
wrapping a number of little gifts for her to open upon her arrival. However her arrival date continued to get postponed for a variety of reasons, none of which were my fault. The final straw came when she chose to stay in the city and party instead of boarding the bus to come and visit me. I was absolutely heart broken and angry. Maybe it would have been easier or even wiser for me to simply say forget it and toss the friendship away. But, I couldn't do that. Throwing away the relationship would not have been the
mature way to handle the issue. Not to mention that I didn't want to lose the friendship, because despite the disappointment and anger that I felt, I still loved and cared about her. This is one of those special and valuable relationships. This is a friendship that I want. So, after collecting myself and gathering my thoughts, I needed to decide what I had to do in order to sustain the friendship i.e. "get what I want." My friend did ultimately arrive that following Monday, and although I was beyond ecstatic to see her, I knew that I needed to act like a grown up and address what had transpired in a mature manner. 
Time to handle the issue in a mature manner-
It wasn't an easy or fun conversation for either one of us. It would have been nice to be able to set it aside and just forget, avoiding any potential discomfort or tension that could result from the discussion. But real relationships require work, even though it is not enjoyable, in order to sustain and substantiate them. Although the conversation was not pleasant, it was necessary to have so that we could move forward and feel as if we were both understood. Needless to say, after our discussion we ended up having a wildly fabulous time together, as we always do. The work that we put into the friendship has strengthened it and will hopefully prevent similar issues from arising in the future.
"...I ended up having a blow out fight..."
Later that week I ended up having a blow out fight with a second of my dear friends. (This was a very odd week for me considering I rarely find myself in altercations with my friends.) Our outrageous and alcohol fueled argument resulted in hurtful words on both our halves and I ended up kicking my friend out of my apartment in the middle of the night. All in all it was a tumultuous evening and I found myself wondering if the situation could ever be truly remedied. We were both angry, hurt, frustrated, vulnerable, and sad. I was truly irritated and outraged because I had felt that my apartment, my safe space, my home, had been violated or tainted. My usually calm and peaceful space had been filled with negative and harmful energy. Even my own demeanor and behavior were unrecognizable to me. How could I forgive this person who hurt me and damaged my sense of safety in such a significant way? I awoke the next morning to a series of texts from my friend and I decided that I owed it to both of us to act like a grown up and at least try to work through the problems that we had been encountering. I spend a great deal of time with this friend and we have become exceptionally close in a very short period of time. She stays at my apartment nearly five days a week and I have become accustomed to talking, relaxing, eating, and going out with her. We have a deep level of trust and understanding. It would not have been fair to either one of us for me to simply write her off after this crazy fight. We both still wanted the friendship, but we needed to figure out "what [we] [were] going to do" in order to sustain
"What are [we] going to do?"
it. It was evident that we were both very willing to do the work that is required in order to maintain relationships. The concern was: could we manage to handle the issue in a mature manner and calmly and honestly discuss the problems at hand? We chose to meet for coffee (a very grown up behavior if I do say so myself) in order to talk about the argument, what prompted it, what we need to do moving forward in order to prevent future blow outs, and offer each other apologies. After our conversation I had no concerns regarding the status of our close friendship. We may hit more bumps along the way, but I am confident that we will be able to handle any issues maturely, and that we will continue to be good friends for the remainder of our lives. (As we always say, we will be adults together, sitting by the pool, drinking margaritas, and watching our kids play.)

A lot goes into our decision when we deem a relationship significant and/or valuable. Many elements relate to the other person such as, loyalty, kindness, honesty, generosity, fun, etc. Some aspects have more to do with the way the other person makes us feel. For example my friend from New York makes me feel that I am worth being loved. She helps me see that not only can I have fun but that I can be fun. But a lot of the factors that build the foundation of an important personal relationship are not about the individuals separately, but rather the individuals together, the relationship itself. For example my relationship with the second friend that I mentioned is open and honest, completely mutual, and fair. 
When we ascribe value to a relationship we are making a choice that this connection is something that we want. Like anything else in life that we want, maintaining meaningful relationships requires work, and demands that we plot a course in order to achieve our desired ends. When it comes to sustaining friendships the course is never easy nor is it ever the same. Each friend that we have is unique and subsequently the steps required for holding on to each friendship will be unique as well. However, I believe that there is a general rule to applied when working to maintain, protect, and salvage relationships: Act like a grown up. So you are probably wondering what exactly I mean by this? The following is a list of what I believe to be a few (but definitely not all) of the necessary actions involved when striving to behave as a mature adult in a relationship.

    Sometimes you don't have a choice-
  • Be honest about your feelings. A true friend will listen and try to understand your point of view. Holding back will only lead to hurt feelings and unintentional damage.
  • Listen to the other person. When I say listen I mean really listen. Don't just sit there while the other person is talking while your brain zooms off into outer space. Good friends give the other person in the friendship the opportunity to use their voice and share. A great friend actually listens to their words and responds thoughtfully and appropriately.
  • Give and receive. Relationships must be mutual in order for them to be successful. One-sided relationships usually lead to the giver feeling resentful and occasionally leaves the receiver feeling either guilty or overwhelmed. All relationships involve a give and take. If you find yourself constantly giving (as I often do) then maybe it is time to lay off for a bit and give your friend the opportunity to be the giver.
  • Fight fair. This is a concept that my Mother always tried to force upon during my childhood. So what exactly is fighting fairly? Well I think my Mother was trying to tell me that when we are engaged in an argument or disagreement we should not rely on nasty statements or cruel jabs in order to bring the other person down. Calling someone fat or a bitch may make you feel good in the moment, because you have successfully hurt the other person, but you will probably regret name calling of this sort later on. Additionally fighting fairly allows you to get down to the real problems at hand. It is constructive because it moves the relationship in a forward direction. You may be fighting but you are not wasting breath on words that hold no real value. Instead you can argue about what is actually bothering you, rather fighting over/in gibberish.
  • Face issues as they come. I think that this may be the most importantly guideline when it comes to friendships. Too many relationships dissolve because of grudges or because those involved chose to stew instead of addressing a problem in the moment. If we fail to face problems at the moment that they arise they tend to get thrown into a large pile of already existing issues. At some point the pile will get too large and everything will spill out. A bunch of little things suddenly become one massive thing and can result in the demise of a relationship. Don't let little things slide all the time. If something is bothering you than let your friend know in the moment. Doing so will prevent an emotional explosion later on down the road and could possibly save your friendship.

Can't help but indulge my inner-child !
Ok, so I have spent this entry advising you to act like a grown up and to be mature. I may sound like a complete hypocrite because I so frequently condone indulging your inner-child and even urge you to not take life so seriously, as I did in my recent post, Have Time for a Quicky? For fear of confusion and/or seeming inconsistent, I do want to assert that I believe a great deal of things and situations in our lives can be approached in a light-hearted way. I will still laugh at occurrences that others don't find funny. I will continue to poke fun at situations when others seem to be behaving overly staunch. And I will always buy Hello Kitty stickers when I see them in order to appease my inner-child. But I know that certain situations in my life require a level of maturity. When it comes to friendship, I take it very seriously. My friends are my family and my passion. They nourish my mind and my soul. My closest friends are the recipients of my strongest degree of love. For these reasons I have forced myself to weigh the pros and cons of choosing to act like a grown up. It seems to me that the only way to maintain a strong and true bond (despite time, age gaps, distance, socioeconomic status, etc.) with a good friend is to approach the relationship with a level of maturity. Yes, it is very hard for me to tell my inner-child to go away and let the adult in me reign supreme; but, I know that this is the only way that I will be able to sustain the friendships that I have created, and in my mind my dearest friends are worth that and so much more.

Hold your friends close (even when they are far away),