Are you the kind of person who has relationships totally figured out? Are you that person who spends all your time with the right people, your energy toward the right relationships, and your efforts toward a peace of mind for self and others? If you are, you’re probably lying. Relationships are difficult, yet they are the very center of our humanity and all our hearts’ desire. If you are anywhere near as mediocre as I am, you have failed several relationships over the years. I am finding truth in the phrase, “relationships are about tear and repair,” as time drags on and my relationships deepen, lengthen, and disappear. Though relationships are the center of our lives, we should spend less time stressing over them, less time letting them dwindle away, and more time building and repairing connections.
In my profession, I work with individuals struggling with an assortment of issues, but they all have this in common: a search for connection. No one is comfortable in his or her own skin in an environment of isolation. Whether the struggle is pride, anxiety, depression, abandonment, traumatic stress, irritability, or low motivation, all the individuals I face agree that life is unbearable when facing it alone. The most interesting aspect of relationships is though we all long for connection and acceptance, we are so quick to “cut and run,” isolating ourselves when we experience even the smallest dose of vulnerability.
Can I share a real flaw of self? I have been an anal retentive, anxious perfectionist as long as I have owned the capability for verbal communication. My mother says I came out of her womb witty, sarcastic, and critical. I would clean my room day after day in Pre-K (needing no prompt from my parents) lining my stuffed animals in order from tall to small at the foot of my bed. When I made a mark in school below perfect, I would crumble and serve myself a sentence far greater than my parents deemed necessary. While these traits and characteristics may have served as tools for foreshadowing the struggles that would lie in my future, I never saw my epic fail coming. Hi, my name is Ashlie, and I am a terrible roommate. I completed my undergraduate years smashing relationships with all three roommates. It’s not that I’m particularly inconsiderate, loud, or with obnoxious tendencies. I believe my epic letdown as a roommate lies in my trait: “hard to please” or even “impossible to please.” I’m not certain what happened with my first roommate. From my perspective it went fine. We cohabitated, had some mutual friends, and had some pleasant interactions. Maybe she didn’t like how I consistently urged that dishes should never be left in the sink over night or how I pushed that laundry should be completed the day it is started. The friendship failures of my other roommates leave me totally at a loss. They were fun and entertaining. I guess maybe they didn’t like that I went straight hermit mode and avoided them when they were around “loud friends” whose presence cranked up my mediocrity and insecurity to a ten. With each of these relationships, I never held any malice, only shrunk away at the smallest sign of discomfort. Apparently not only am I anal retentive, when the going gets tough I sometimes get going (into hiding emotionally and physically).
After decades of failed relationships and years of soul searching, I have accepted that holding grudges only hurts me and holding high expectations of others only sets me up for failed relationships. My current friendships work because when I am hurt by the actions of a friend, I state my truth and expectations. They also work because my loved ones meet me in the middle. When I am frustrated in my marriage, I list my needs and wants to my husband, and he musters up energy to follow through (or shut me up and put me in my place when needed, and I can admit I often need to be shut down). When I am frustrated as a parent, I have an honest encounter with my children where I let them know how I perceive their actions, what I feel in the moment, and how I see us climbing to a higher point in our relationships. Even my youngest child can meet expectations when I let her know WHAT THEY ARE. Friends, I have realized that I (we) travel through life expecting other people to read our minds, agree with our ideals, and make us happy when this expectation of relationships is unrealistic.
It is okay to disagree with people and love them anyway. It is okay to argue with people and be the first to reach out with an apology. It is okay to see an epic flaw in a relationship and choose to work for growth instead of creating distance. Friendships, romantic relationships, professional relationships, and familial relationships all have one thing in common: “tear and repair.” To be connected, we must face those moments of discord with courage and humility. We must learn from our past shortcomings and treat our current relationships with the respect they deserve. Connection to our people is the driving force that encourages us to face a world full of brokenness every day and continue to fight for beauty. We cannot achieve perfection. It is a standard that does not exist, particularly in dealings with feelings. In fact, most of us are mediocre so naturally our relationships are mediocre as well. Give your people a break, forgive them, and love them through the relationship tears. The importance of swallowing your pride and loving others through their flaws lies in the reality that you are going to need them to love you through yours as well. Be the person who builds an unbreakable bond amid another’s personal storm. Don’t be too big or important to forgive and see the person beneath the behavior. Don’t fear the vulnerability that arises in needing connection. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.
Photo by Jeff Perry
“Tear and Repair”-Phrase learned working under the supervision of Heidi Nelson