Wednesday, April 1, 2015

10/52 :: when surface is okay.

"I do weekly Bunco games in my neighborhood," she told me. "It's not like those women are necessarily going to become my best friends. But now I can wave and ask about their kids. It's nice."

This is where I struggle. Maybe it's my personality type (INTJ, if you're curious), or maybe it's my calendar or how I set boundaries or what I'm willing to do with my time. But this aspect of friendship and community is where I have the most difficulty. I am not good with surface-level relationships. 

And "surface-level" doesn't even sound fair to me. I think I'm subconsciously giving it a derogatory name because I struggle with it. I am naturally a person who is better at the deeper things than the shallow things. This doesn't mean I'm deep and other people are shallow; instead, I am terrible at small talk and meeting new people is painful. It's not ideal. (Though if you'd like to discuss theology or sit down for a lengthy heart-to-heart in which you need honest, occasionally blunt advice, I'm your girl.)

In her new book, Gretchen Rubin asks if we're openers or finishers; are we better at starting new things or wrapping things up? I had to think for a while, but when I read the segment aloud to Jordan, he immediately identified me as a finisher, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it's true. I am great at finishing things. I meet deadlines; I conquer my goals. I am a finisher. 

But life requires a lot of opening. And I am not so good with the opening, the starting of something new. 

Gretchen may not have meant for her questions to apply to relationships, but I think the principle of opening versus closing certainly can found in friendships and in community-building. 

I have several friends who are great at meeting new people. They are comfortable inviting strangers into their home; they are confident in conversation and adept at networking and small talk. They set people at ease and know how to be hospitable in their hearts and their homes. 

Those are things I become excellent at... with time. I am, I think, a great friend. But I am not always a good acquaintance. And the truth is, if possible, I'd like to be both. 

Back in February, I finally started a book club in Thomasville. We've met a couple of times, and although, right now, the group is still forming and growing comfortable with one another, I think it's got potential. I need to give it time to reach that potential, and I learned, quickly, that I'd need to curb my expectations and my enthusiasm. 

In Tallahassee, I met and grew close with several girls from book club. In many cases, it's how we grew from acquaintances into best friends. To this day, those women are some of my favorite people on the planet, and we've maintained not only our friendships, but our loyalty to book club (this is why my long-distance book clubs make me so happy). 

Of course, those relationships took time to percolate and grow. And lightning doesn't always strike in the same place twice. And what worked for one group of friends might not work with another.

I went into my Thomasville book club saying I wouldn't have high expectations, but secretly hoping I'd meet a couple of kindred spirits. My Shauna Niequist-inspired community would finally start building itself. 

What a terrible way to enter into relationship! That's a lot of baggage to put on any one person or group, and if I'd continued with that attitude, I might have been disappointed in what book club actually is: A fun monthly gathering of a diverse group of women who talk about books. Period. That's what a book club is, what mine here in Thomasville is becoming. 

Last week, I chatted with a girl I've met through the store (a lot of my relationships start this way now). She lives in Tallahassee, but even she has found it difficult to make close friendships. Unlike me, though, she doesn't seem to mind. She's got a community. A Bible study. A church group. A neighborhood Bunco gathering. Those relationships tend to be surface level, but they might grow into something more. And if they don't? She's still in relationship with them. She knows their names, their stories, can wave and visit and interact comfortably. 

Surface, I am learning, might just be okay. It might even be enough. (I started to add "at least to start," but then I realized... There I go again. Putting pressure and expectations on new relationships that simply can't withstand it.)

What I am learning, as I near my thirtieth year, still adjusting to a new town and a new career, is that surface-level relationships make the world go 'round. Some of those relationships might grow deeper, one day. But that day might not be today. It might not be ever. And book clubs and Bible studies and neighborhood block parties might have to be enough for me. 

I don't like the idea of settling for anything. It's against my nature. But maybe surface isn't settling. Maybe it's just how relationships start. And maybe it's not just okay. Maybe it's enough. 


Leslie said...

Great read, Annie, and I can SO relate. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all of the surface relationships I have with people and lonely when I realize how few deep relationships I have. Work in progress!

Feisty Harriet said...

I really appreciate this post, but I can only partially relate. I need some surface relationships, and I cultivate them on purpose. I cannot have a deep and meaningful relationship with everyone in my life, but I also feel like I need these people in my life for a variety of reasons, (and not all selfish reasons, which is one way to interpret that previous statement). I need someone who will go to an indie movie with me on a Tuesday; I need someone who will agree to try Korean food with me; I need someone who will go on a walk with me on Sunday afternoon to look at the spring flowers.

Actually, that's only partially true. I don't *need* someone for any of that, but I know that if I don't make the effort to include people in my life for the small and seemingly unimportant things, when the big things happen and I truly am in need of My People, I won't have them; I won't have invested enough in building something with these seemingly "surface" things. And for me, the Next Big Crazy is always just around the corner.

.....I think I need more time to process this...which is a fantastic compliment to you, the author. :)

Excellent post.

Annie said...

@FeistyHarriet --

I actually completely agree with you -- that's kind of why I write the post. I wish I had movie friends and foodie friends and friends to go walking with. I have to get better at those kinds of relationships, because people (including me, ironically) don't always have the time or energy for deeper conversations and relationships.

After moving, I've discovered I am in desperate need of "surface" friendships. And I'm with you: I'm comfortable being alone, and I don't "need" someone to hang out with 24/7. But, like you, I need to build my community here and re-define "my people" in this new place.

Anyway, I wanted you to know I appreciated your comments and am right there with you. It sounds like you've really built those "surface relationships," and I need and want to do the same!

(P.S. Have you read MWF Seeking BFF? I think you'd enjoy it!)