I recently had a deep realization that will forever change the way I cultivate and value relationships.
And, with every earth-shattering self-discovery comes a backstory. So let’s kick it off with a chapter from the tragic tale entitled Mistakes I Have Repeatedly Made in Relationships. Sounds fun, right? 🙂
I did this twice, once for most of my teenage years, and then again for all of my twenties so far. For the sake of relevancy, (and of what’s currently grinding my heart like a lemon being squeezed into homemade lemonade at a carnival stand) —
–— I’ll reflect on the early-twenties situation.
What did I do, you ask? Well, from the surface, it doesn’t seem that bad.
It’s a simple story, really.
Girl meets boy, then girl meets boy’s friends and family.
Girl loves boy, then girl loves boy’s friends and family just as much.
If you know me, you know I truly value family and friendship. It’s at the very core of my being. So, when I fall in love with a person, I want to love the people in their life too. And that’s what I did.
I built strong relationships with everyone in his life. Bonded, connected and went out of my way to really know them. From immediate family to best friends to aunts to college frat boys to cousins to casual acquaintances, I didn’t leave a stone unturned. I became besties with every friend’s girlfriend, coordinated for every event, hosted and included everyone. And then I intentionally kept the relationships strong, because they really mattered to me. So, I sent them letters and cards. Made them cheesy sentimental gifts, invited them to every holiday, party and event I could, and repeatedly went above and beyond to let them how thankful I was to have them in my life. Because I was. Because that’s what you do for family. They showed me the same love too. They welcomed, guided, included and supported me. And even when things got unbearably difficult, instead of shying away, I dove all the way in, without hesitation. And I’d do it over again if given the choice.
Because, well, I loved them. And I thought they loved me. I really, really did.
But while this was happening, I was so wrapped up in nourishing relationships with the people in my significant other’s life, that I failed to realize two very important things.
First, the people in my life were sort of getting the shaft. He certainly wasn’t reciprocating the same amount of personal effort towards relationships with my friends and family that I was with his. And with me spending so much time trying to accommodate, I wasn’t investing enough time in my own either.
Second, I was building my community, very diligently I might add, around relationships that weren’t mine first. Which sounds silly and childish, but trust me if you’ve ever been through a divorce, or a serious breakup because lord knows long-term splits are damn near just as devastating, you get what I am talking about. If it wasn’t your’s first, it’s theirs to take.
Soooo, back to the tragic tale.
Boy randomly leaves girl stranded in the castle (although I’d think NYC better resembles a dungeon to be honest) and never speaks to her again.
AND, ya guessed it, most of boy’s friends and family pretty much ended up doing the same.
WAM. BYE. THANKS FOR THE MEMS BUT SEE YA NEVER GURL.
(Ok, very summarized, but ya get the picture)
No problem guys, my heart just broke like 18 times over, but it’s like, totally cool.
There went a giant chunk of my community. Pretty much all of it, I believed at the time. Freaking POOF. Out the window in a flash. I didn’t just feel abandoned and rejected by one person I loved and invested in, I felt that multiplied by every person I had come to love that I felt I’d lost, even it wasn’t intentional on their part.
And damn, did that hurt. I immediately had to watch videos and photos of these people I adored going on without me to places I was supposed to go or traditions I loved to do with them like I never existed. And I still do. Some things on social media are like watching a slideshow that repeatedly punches you in the gut and makes you choke on air every time you see the stupid image pop up. Thanks a lot, Zuckerberg.
And at the time this was all happening, that slideshow was on a constant loop in my mind. “But, I didn’t do anything wrong,” I’d sob at each slide.
PUNCH. PUNCH. PUNCH.
Worse yet, I didn’t know where to turn, because I thought I’d squandered away my community trying to build one that could only exist with him.
That is the cardinal sin. The fundamental flaw. The one thing I want you to take away from this article.
It’s good to care about the people in your significant other’s life and try to connect with them, of course. It’s an important, kind and committed thing to do, and a pillar of a healthy partnership.
BUT. In any relationship, you have to in some way be true to a community that exists for just YOU.
Not you and your latest bae, past bae or future bae, YOU.
Not you at one job, in one city or under one circumstance. YOU.
No contingencies. No circumstantial factors. No ifs, ands or buts. YOU.
Friends. For. Always.
Family. For. Always.
People that love you no matter what happens. People that won’t leave you. People that will cheer you on through all of the phases of life, the good, bad and the ugly. People that will listen to you. People that will fight to be in your life, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable that may feel through changing circumstances.
Because the reality is this: If any community is entirely contingent on your relationship with one other person, it can be temporary.
It’s circumstantial. It’s situational.
I know that’s really harsh to hear when you love the people in your partner’s life like they’re your own flesh and blood. And trust me, it’s taken a lot of girl-talk and therapy dollars for me to come to terms with this. But it’s true.
That’s just how the proverbial cookie crumbles.
And likely, the people you have lost in situational communities were not trying to hurt you. It wasn’t vindictive or cruel. They distanced themselves for their own reasons, which usually come back to what I said earlier, they were someone else’s loved one first. Even if you did nothing wrong, they can still feel like they have to cut you out. Because for a lot of people, that’s just how loyalty works.
If love is blind, freaking loyalty didn’t even have eyeballs to being with.
These people had to make choices, tough choices, based upon what made the most sense for them. They ignored your sappy voicemails because they felt they had to. They stopped talking to you to avoid conflict. They didn’t include you because it would be uncomfortable. They did what they could to support who they care about, and sometimes, that just can’t be you.
They’re just humans, and there is no rulebook. No one knows how to handle deep connections that end up being short-lived when you built them to last forever. It’s hard for everyone.
Maybe some people in that community feel sad about losing me too. I try to believe that. But either way, the outcome is the same.
Life goes on. And sometimes it’s heartbreaking and absurdly discouraging, but it goes on.
At some point, we have to accept that not all love and friendship is meant to last forever, and not all people turn out to be who you thought they were. You just have to forgive them and forgive yourself enough to move past it. And focus on the people you do have.
Because luckily, there is a happy ending to this story.
Even though I felt I had squandered away my community, when I came climbing out of that tower all ragged and alone, my forever people showed up. There they were, arms outstretched, ready to take me in like no time had passed.
My family was still my rock. Like my Dad always says, “People will come and go in your life, but we are family, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
Many of my friends were too. Old friends, new friends, and even a few from my lost community showed me indefinitely that they were there to stay.
And since I learned that lesson, I have been closer than ever to these humans. I’ve opened up to them in ways I hadn’t before, done everything in my power to express how thankful I am for them and made incredible memories with them at my side. And my door has since stayed open to any and everyone from all communities of my life that want to be forever friends. Come on in. I’ll always be building up my remarkable inner-circle, and want to be a part of yours. My heart is still an ocean, welcoming to all the love that wants to flow in, and committed to all the love that I can give from it. I just realize I need to construct that in a realm that exists only for what I have to offer alone.
I now understand in my heart, (third time’s a charm), that no matter what relationship comes my way, I will truly cherish, consider and trust the people in my forever community, for all of my life. That is so freeing, so unimaginably special, and something I hope every one of you finds as well in this world.
Because they will always be at your side, and you at theirs. And that is the only way you know you’ll always have a happy ending.