Monday, March 9, 2015

One of the girls

   Tomorrow is my 35th birthday. The weekend leading up to my birthday was positively delightful, and with Rye’s birthday just three days after mine, the second week of March is becoming a week-long celebration in our family that I thoroughly enjoy.

On Facebook this weekend, my friend Jess posted a picture of a group of ladies from my church who are either currently or have been at one time a part of my church small group. Look at how cute we are!

The picture was taken at my house Saturday, when I hosted a brunch that was only supposed to be a slight nod to the fact that it was my birthday weekend. And by that I mean it was my way of wanting to celebrate my birthday, without making others feel like they needed to celebrate me as well (though the girls really did spoil me). Some friends couldn’t make it, and there are even more people I would have liked to invite, but there is a point where you lose the intimate feeling of an event and the ability to talk to all of your guests (so if you saw the picture and felt left out, I truly apologize--come over and I'll make you waffles).

Fifteen years ago, there’s no way I would have predicted that I would ever be celebrating my birthday with a ladies brunch. For one, I don’t think I was even eating breakfast back then, unless a morning milkshake counts (boy do I miss the metabolism of my college days). But that’s a minor thing. I did not have 10 female friends when I was 20. Really, I had two close female friends, my college roommates (and really that was two out of three so that’s not that good of a statistic, considering the University of Maryland had at a population of like 30,000 students). There were a few younger girls at home that I would still check in with from time to time, but those girls were more my mentees than peers. My female peers from high school and I had had a falling out my junior year of high school, and in my senior year, I had reformed my social circle to include only guys. My college social scene was largely me and six guys rolling up to a party, and me walking home alone by midnight because I had a boyfriend at another college. Actually, it was more like me hanging out in one of the guy’s rooms for the pre-party mini party, and then me not going to the actual party later, but hanging out with another guy friend who like me, had a significant other elsewhere.
And thus my relationship gender balance stayed for the next 10 or so years, with the exception of a few female coworkers I got close to and a budding relationship with my first sister-in-law who is now one of my closest friends. (Liz, you and I may not always think alike, but I think you really “get me,” and I so appreciate you putting in that effort, and thank you for all the grace you've shown me in the meantime).

I think I really held myself back from having deeper friendships with other women because of trust issues. Women can be so competitive with each other, but if that’s not enough, it’s often very sneaky. Things are said behind people’s backs and women are fake-nice. It’s not even that I felt I was a victim to that, but it was just a world I didn’t want to be a part of, a game I didn’t want to play. On the other hand, men’s words and actions are much more out in the open, and I respect that (except for the occasional jerk who says whatever he wants to without any regard to how it will hurt other people; there’s still a thing called tact). So while other women were going to the bathroom together to pee and check their make-up and gossip, I stuck with the guys and enjoyed just being with them, and not feeling like I had to impress anyone or hurt anyone to make myself look better.

But once I got in my 30s, I started relooking at the women in my life and realizing “hey, this isn’t high school anymore.” The women I had friendships with, even if I had kept those relationships pretty casual, were really cool women who were genuinely nice. And not “nice” in the way that means boring, but in the sense that they did nice things for you without any hidden motivations and remembered to ask about something you had mentioned in your last conversation, however long ago that was. If I was out with “Amy,” she wasn’t talking about “Becky” behind her back. Women weren’t bragging or being competitive in conversations, they were merely talking and trying to share about what’s important in their lives. And I realized the things they cared about were also things I cared about, like being a good wife and daughter and trying to manage all the things we had to juggle and balancing work and family time and planning for the future, etc. And if I was hurt by something my husband had said, they understood and had stories of similar situations in their lives. And if I was being a little irrational with my emotions, they could sympathize and bring me back to base.

I now love all my women friends. Especially now that I work from home and don’t get to take part in hours of meaningless chatter (the thing I miss most about my job), I value the conversations I have with my friends all the more. Friendships really do enrich our lives, and yet they can be so much harder to form as we get older in life. I read this fun book called “MWF Seeking BFF” (Married White Female Seeking Best Friend Forever, for those not down with the abbreviations) about a woman who moved from New York (I think) to Chicago and wanted to develop new friendships because it’s hard if all your friendships are based on a long distance relationship. It was a really well written book and funny at all the things she did to seek out like-minded people or just interesting people with room in their lives for a new friend when in their late 20s or early 30s. It’s hard to make a new friend! It takes a lot of effort, and when you already have an established group of friends, sometimes it can seem like more work than it’s worth. The book made me appreciate the way I have deepened my relationships with many of the females who have been there in my life but whom I may have kept at arm’s length or taken for granted in the past. (I’m sorry!)

To all you women in your 20s who might still be aching with hurts from your peers or women of your past, I want you to know it gets better. People grow up. And can be trusted. And stop competing. And I think for the most part, become more compassionate.

At least I hope I have.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lenten confessions

So we are almost two weeks into Lent, and while I’m not Catholic, which is to whom the “rules” of Lent really apply, I do like to recognize the Lenten season and try to make a conscious effort to give something up for Lent. Why? Because I think it’s a good practice in self-control, which is a character that all Christians are called to exhibit.

A few days before Ash Wednesday (start of Lent), I saw a Facebook poster that said something to the tune of “Stop complaining for 72 hours and see how God will work in your life.” And my immediate thought was “Whoa, for 72 hours!” But then again, it might have been just 24 hours, because I’ve tried looking for that post again, I’m seeing a lot of 24-hour posters. Whatever the number was, I remember thinking “that’s impossible.”

Which is ridiculous. There are people who fast from food for 40 hours on a regular basis (which has always impressed me--I start to get a headache after 6 hours without food), and here I was having a hard time imagining not complaining for 3 days. Or maybe just 1 day.

I don’t think people would describe me as a complainer (at least I hope not), but I think I was being very honest in realizing that it would be a big effort. Complaining is such a part of our culture. It’s almost like we’re happier when we have something to complain about then if something really was perfect. Or almost perfect. Or just nice. Like it’s more fun to complain about whatever little problem there is in something than it is to look past that thing and enjoy the experience. I think this is a casual, destructive habit that I’ve been prone to for a long time.

I’m also very subject to using negative hyperboles. “Ugh, there’s coconut in my mint chocolate chip milkshake, this is the worst!” (True story.) “You know what’s the worst thing ever? Running out of hot water 2 minutes before your shower is done.” (Probably have said that.) These statements are so lame. They make me look petty and ridiculous, and most of all, it is such a display of ingratitude.

So complaining and ingratitude are what I decided to tackle for Lent. And I am failing.

The first couple of days, I did better than I thought. When Josh got home and asked how Rye’s behavior was that day, I’d pause and think it over, and answer “today was difficult.” Because that is a true, factual statement. It’s OK to express when things are negative. It’s OK to say “I am very tired today.” It becomes complaining when you wallow in those negative statements, and it becomes “he was horrrrrible” or “I am exhauuuuuuusted.” Because Rye is a great kid, and unless he is willfully harming other people, he’s just having a difficult day (we’ve started the “Terrible Twos” a little early). And I might be tired, but that’s no reason to exaggerate or make it an end-of-the-world situation if Josh doesn’t get home until 10:30 p.m. I know he doesn’t want to work that late and he’s probably tired too.

But Lent is 40 days, plus those 6 Sundays that technically aren’t counted in Lent (does that mean it’s OK to complain on Sundays?), and 46 days is a long time when it comes to practicing something that is difficult. So I forget. I still catch myself thinking negative hyperboles and catching myself before I say or type them (which has uncoincidentally led to fewer Facebook posts). But complaints still come out, and I literally wince each time they do. It’s like my spirit knows I’ve committed to not complaining, but the heart and mouth are so hard to tame. I was going to start a money jar and make myself pay $1 for every complaint I uttered, but I was lazy and didn’t. I think I’m still under $10, but it’s only been about 2 weeks.

More than just what I say out loud, I’ve also been trying to cultivate a more grateful heart. I’d like to say I started a gratitude journal or something else concrete like that, but I haven’t (maybe next I need to work on laziness). I do think slowing down my speech has helped give more time for keeping thoughts in perspective, and showing gratitude for the many, many positives in my daily life.

Recognizing some negative things as facts has also been very freeing. You can’t just put a smiley face sticker on things that mess you up. But allowing yourself to label a situation as “frustrating” lets you validate your feelings without wallowing in them. And then you move on more quickly.

Five more weeks until Easter. And I’m going to keep working on this not complaining thing. If you catch me in failing, please point it out, because I really am trying to change.

"Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance." Eckhart Tolle (I don't know who this is but I liked the quote.)