Sunday, March 11, 2007
Someone recently wrote me and told me they had been expecting me to contact them for several years. I wrote back that I had written and called but got nothing in return and that when I get a lot of nothing I quit writing and calling. I explained that relationships are a two-way street.
That brings to mind a good friend asking me recently why someone I once called friend was my friend. From his point of view, the person took a lot but didn't give much back and we didn't really have too much in common. Looking back on that--and other relationships--I realize that I tend to give more and expect less while the reverse is true for the other person. However, that doesn't mean I don't know when to leave a party. Disconnected phones, bounced emails and answered calls tell me the other person isn't quite so interested in an honest and reciprocal relationship. That doesn't mean time can go by without contact and the relationship is ended. Case in point, my best friend from high school, Connie.
Connie and I go months, and sometimes even years, without talking but when we connect again it is as if no time has passed. She updates me on her life and I tell her what has happened in my life. We keep in close touch for a while and then life takes us in different directions and we don't talk for a while and the cycle starts all over again. That is the way it has been for nearly 40 years and we are still closer than sisters. During the time of my father's death and all the trouble that followed, Connie has been right there with me giving her love and support. I have done the same for her when things with her family have been difficult. It seems to come in waves for both of us, but each of us is a solid support in times of trouble.
People are complex and no one is all good or all bad, with a few exceptions. We all have within us doubts and fears and lots of scarred baggage that can get in the way. Sometimes that baggage makes us judgmental so that we see the baggage and not the person. We hear stories, half truths and outright lies and because we never took the time to get to know the person, we judge them unfairly, taking their most innocent remarks and comments and twisting them into something hurtful and mean. Words are inexact even though there are so many of them. Strip a sentence of its tone and the person's facial expression and a humorous or innocent comment is twisted to reflect the listener's judgment and often bears no resemblance to the truth.
For instance: A picture of a child who has reached the age when they're losing their teeth will prompt the viewer to ask: What happened to your teeth? Get into a fight?
Write that out and send it. The parent will take it one of two ways: humorous or nasty.
Meet the child in the picture and ask the same questions and the child might hold their hand over the mouth or smile or giggle and laugh and the parent will smile with their child because the person asking the question is being playful and noticing the child is growing up and losing their baby teeth.
As I've written so many times, it's all about perception. It's also about personal feelings and animosity -- or the lack of animosity. Basically, it's what you want to make of something. You can take offense and attack the person or you can--if their meaning is unclear--ask them to explain. Most people prefer to take offense because they think they know the person. Unfortunately, they seldom know anything about the person but they know what they have been told.
Good relationships are a two-way street. Like conversations, relationships don't last if only one person is making the effort. Like the first few dates or meetings of strangers, a lot of information is exchanged in a short space of time, but eventually people fall into a rhythm, an ebb and flow of information and support. However, it starts, in order for a relationship to continue and to be fruitful there must be give and take. Offering a phone number or an email or street address is a start. It takes time and conversation and being open to learning about the person without the background noise and judgment of others who often have something to protect or hide getting in the way.
I always keep the story of the scorpion and the frog in mind but only after I have been stung by or seen the scorpion sting the frog before I pass judgment. Even then, while I will avoid the scorpion's sting I don't expect a scorpion to become a frog or to go against its nature. The world needs scorpions and frogs. I simply prefer the scorpions to keep far away from me because I always have a bad reaction.