Sunday, February 06, 2011

Baby Brigade

One of the main reasons that I keep a blog is because I have a strong sense that it helps to mend the world a little when I write about my experiences (both external and internal) so that other people who read them might sometimes be struck with a sense of not being alone because someone else out there had a similar reaction to a similar situation. 

I have not been writing much lately because I have felt underwater.  My job is very emotionally difficult right now and that sucks all of my energy because I continue to care about doing good work there.  Any leftover energy goes to basking in the love my husband and I share, getting as much time with my family as I can, and working through some of the issues that bubble up inside of me and that come out of Jacob because I'M HAVING A BABY IN FOUR MONTHS!

I often think, "I should write about that on the blog because I bet I'm not the only one who feels like that."  And then I think about how soothing it would be to run the sewing machine for awhile while my fingers play with color and I consistent eat the candy instead of the broccoli.

We have had a relaxing weekend and, with the encouragement of one of my closest friends, I think it's time to get some of this out of my head and set it loose into the world.  Also, one of my new favorite bloggers recently wrote on the same topic and this kind of online dialogue really intrigues me.

High school was really hard for me in terms of making friends.  I did not have a group of friends that consistently included me and my best friend was a relationship that existed independently of other relationships so I felt consistently like I was not successful socially.  I was constantly reaching out to kids and asking to be included.  Sometimes I was but often I felt like everything fun and meaningful happened on nights when I didn't want to risk being rejected or being viewed as pathetic and therefore unworthy of future inclusion so I didn't try to tag along.

I am sure it wasn't that bad.  I was active in choirs and theater and speech and spent lots of time with other people in those venues.  I remember a lot of laughter and moments of being deliberately included as someone who had earned a place within some of those circles through my talent and tenure.  I had friends like Tricia and Janstee who would come by and pick me up and just drive around with me talking and talking and talking.  Still, my lack of a designated role within a delineated group made me feel inadequate.  I always felt jealous when Tricia or Janstee or my best friend talked about experiences they had where I had not been invited.  I wanted to be essential to someone else's experience or the group activity.

When I got to college, I began to really explore social dynamics and my place within them.  I read books with titles like Making Friends.  The sitcom Friends was in its heyday and when my mother pointed out that real life wasn't like what was depicted there, I clung tenaciously to that truth as an "unthought known," even though the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity continued as I won and lost temporary places in a variety of groups and most of my four years without a best friend on campus.  Again, I made good friends (many of whom I remain close to) but was never crucial to anyone's experience.

My ex-husband did have a group of friends and, after some initial friction, I fit in well with them.  In fact, when they turned their backs on me during the divorce without ever asking to hear my side of the story, I felt more betrayed by some of them than I was by my husband.  It was a welcome relief to be valued by a group but they were mostly guys and and most did not yet have female counterparts (we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons) so I knew I needed to continue seeking out my one-on-one female friendships. 

Thus began my adult pattern of practicing the adage: "To get friends, be a friend."  Recently, through my church involvement and my fabulous pastor, I have begun to see this as a spiritual practice of hospitality.  I know now that most people feel as insecure as I do and want to be invited as desperately as I do.  So, now I see it as extending grace that has been extended to me.  In the beginning, though, it was pure survival.  I became socially disciplined under the impression that people would not be interested in me unless I took risks and sought them out.  Based on those early experiences, I consistently make lists of people I haven't seen in awhile and reach out to them to set up coffee or dinner.  My ex-husband used to joke, "Rebecca sees all of her friends twice a year, whether she needs to or not."  I throw parties with themes and mailed invitations and fancy fonts to make them seem like events not to miss  (lately, I've let evite take over this task).  As my friends began to have children, I made sure to be flexible to accommodate their new schedules and to make it as easy as possible to get together by driving to their houses for dinner so they wouldn't have to get babysitters.

The pursuit of these friendships has been worth every minute of planning time I have dedicated to it.  I have countless hours of meaningful connection with good people that has shaped me into the person that I am.  There has been laughter and joy and great excuses to make gifts for them.  I learned that I am a person of value to some pretty neat people.  When I was planning my second wedding, I realized that it would look ridiculous to put all 15 of my girlfriends into matching dresses and parade them down the aisle and instead formed them into a Bridal Brigade and gave them matching brooches.  Who has 15 girlfriends close enough to be bridesmaids? 

I do. 

None form a Sex in the City-style group but individually all love me as much as I love them.  It's hard to be more blessed than that.  I have also gratefully noticed when these folks have reached back to me, deliberately including me or seeking me out.  When I get an email with dates included for potential dinners or a request that I be a bridesmaid or that I assist with a birth, I just about lose it because it utterly refutes my unshakable belief that I will always be on the outskirts of others' existence.

Now, the pursuit of these friendships has not been without its bumps.  I have had to figure out when folks were making me feel worse about myself because they demanded more than I was already giving or because they weren't putting even a little energy into maintaining the relationship.  That was usually painful to resolve in my heart.  Sometimes, I could let a person slide from my life knowing that friendships are made of equal parts effort and circumstance.  So, when circumstances change, I learned not to take it personally when my emails and phone calls weren't being returned. 

I know that I have not been a perfect friend.  There are times when I couldn't reach out as much as I'd like or when I couldn't give what someone needed and so avoided them just a little.  Not blatantly shunning them but not going out of my way to connect, either. 

Which brings me to one of my fears about having a baby.  I am afraid that my friends are so used to me being the one to organize get-togethers and used to me being the one going over to their houses for dinner that when I am no longer able to be as proactive with scheduling or as flexible with location, we will fall away from one another.  Maybe I am having "delusions of grandeur" about my role but I am afraid that when I am no longer pursuing friendships with practices developed by a desperate twenty-something, the circumstances will be so different that my friends will let me slip away rather than stepping in and shouldering some of the responsibilities that I have been willing and eager to own in the past. 

Intellectually, I'm pretty sure that this worry is totally needless.  Emotionally, it makes my gut twist to think about being isolated like that as a new mom.

It makes me want to brainstorm what practical things I can do not only to alert my friends to this vulnerability but also to empower, encourage and affirm them in changing the way they interact with me regarding the logistics of our friendships. 

Are there other responses to this worry that I should be considering?  Is there some other angle from which I can look at the situation?

At the practical level, are there any suggestions for how I can deputize my friends into a Baby Brigade?  I trust that they will want to help me out (this is a huge step for me) but, like anything, I know that folks often feel more able to help if they have concrete suggestions.  What types of support could I ask them for?


Rachel said...

From another side of it, I've thought a few times that people who have babies, get married etc. don't have the time (or energy to have interest) in pursuing friendship with me anymore. So, I celebrate their joys and often mourn the loss of what was, though that should get much less energy than the celebration. And then try to move on and hope for the best. Maybe it will come back around in time, I guess.

No solution here. But I guess I believe your friends will understand.

PrincessMax said...

Hey Rachel, I totally get where you're coming from. That was exactly my experience when I was single, which is where I think I got in this pickle to begin with.

I don't know that I was right to do this, but when it seemed like my friends didn't have the time or the energy, I got very proactive about making it easy for them to hang out with me. This helped me determine which ones actually weren't interested and which ones were just adjusting to a new stage of life.

Once I took on the lion's share of the burden to maintain our friendships, this dynamic became normal and I wrote this post because I don't what will happen now that I will need them to split the work at a different ratio.

Was it worth all that effort even if now our time together diminishes in frequency? I think so. I think that I got paid back for my efforts then because . . . well . . . I got to spend time with my friends and we had amazing experiences that we wouldn't have had if I had made the decision to move on and hope for the best.

And, like you said at the end there, I am coming around to the idea that my friends will understand and, in fact, some of that energy that I invested in making it easy for them to hang out with me will get paid back now that I need the favor returned.

Who knows, though? I don't have any solutions, either. :-) Only hope and an ability to ponder, which - amazingly - seems to help with the hope bit.

It's great to hear from you!