I was leaving coffee after meeting with a client when he mentioned that he and his wife would love to have us over for dinner. This was not the first time he had asked, and not the first time I responded idiotically with a “er, a, yea, mmhmm.” It was as though English was not my native tongue. We side-hugged, I got into my car and I sat there for a few minutes. I picked up my phone and slowly typed him a text; words I should have spoken just inside the door of Starbucks minutes before.
More on that in a minute.
Are Your Relationships Running A Little Thin?
About a year ago I gave a presentation on friendship. It was a thirty-minute power point on the importance of true, deep friendships and how culturally we have lost our way. I used the example of how not so long ago you moved into a house and, wait for it, you actually stayed. Like, for your whole life. You had a neighbor lady to your right and a neighbor lady to your left, and you did life together. You birthed babies, hung out laundry and sipped lemonade on Sundays after you got back from service. This was a world where you had only a few close friends, but you had them for life.
Now you have work friends, play-group friends, soccer-mom friends, social media friends and personal friends. We are not talking about a few; we are talking about hundreds or thousands of acquaintances. We are simply stretched relationally too thin.
In his book MARGIN, Richard Swenson writes that perhaps anxiety and prevalent diseases of our time have nothing to do with genetic miscoding and increasingly to do with a much more significant issue. He blames our present day troubles on “lack of margin” in our schedules, finances and you guessed it, our relationships. He suggests we are trying to balance way too many social relationships at once and not enriching the ones we already have.
We are getting back to my client. Hang on.
Mario Forleo recorded a Youtube Video entitled “How To Say No To People Who Want To Pick Your Brain.” In it, she talks about “valuing” your services and not giving your energy and expertise away for free. She uses the example of saying no to “free pick your brain” dates with people who potentially should be paying you for your services. She suggests using a statement like “If I haven’t had personal time to take my mama for coffee, I don’t make personal time for other coffee dates.” This stuck with me. Not the whole thing about brushing off freeloaders with vague excuses, the part about, “if I haven’t had time for mama, or a dear friend, or my spouse…”
We are getting to the text, I promise.
I love meeting new people. That is why waitressing was one of my favorite jobs. Wow, ‘em with my sparkling personality, and leave them duly impressed without ever having to give anything of my deeper self. The truth is new relationships are fun and exciting. Seasoned relationships are deeper, more intimate, scarier and easy to take for granted. But it is the seasoned relationship you call at three in the morning on your way to the hospital, or from your couch, through tears, surrounded by Kleenex. Seasoned relationships are the solid foundation upon which we navigate life’s trials. This foundation of friendship cannot happen unless we dedicate time together like the neighbor ladies drinking lemonade.
I had been failing at this concept miserably. People that needed me, my ear, or my time, were being left for weeks or months because I had created a marginless social calendar.
I became aware of a deep conviction. A leading, if you will, to passionately protect the integrity of relationship to those with whom I was already close. So I made a commitment.
Now, the text.
“Dear (Client who’s name I am protecting)
I am so sorry I behaved like an idiot in response to your kind offer to host my husband and me for dinner one night this summer. Recently I have been convicted about some of the close friendships I have and my lack of attention to them. The result of that conviction is a firm decision to nurture the relationships I have, instead of creating new ones. I have been neglectful of those in my inner circle whom I love deeply. It is important for the health of those relationships that I check in with them first and make myself available should I find myself with discretionary social time. Thank you so much for reaching out. I adore you and your wife. I appreciate your understanding in my decision.”
I got the most beautiful response.
I got your message. I completely, completely, completely understand. Like, completely. Friendships and family are the most important things we are placed here to respect and love. It is so important to set boundaries so we can give those relationships the energy they need. When you come up for air, let me know. We would love to see you.”
What friendships need your attention? What relationships do you “coast” on knowing that you will just “pick up where you left off.” Do you need to allow a little margin in your social agenda to give breathing space for those relationships most dear? This week, instead of coffee with the bus-stop moms, is there a special someone you need to call?
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