changing seasons8:14 AM
Now that I'm almost thirty (how???) I have had relationships that I've had my entire life, relationships that I started as an adolescent, relationships that I began as a young adult and then there are some fairly new relationships as well. What I've learned from all of these above anything else is that - people change. A lot. People go through seasons - good seasons and bad seasons. Sometimes people are changed for the better after the bad seasons, and sometimes for the worse. Sometimes a person's life is hard and people react negatively by withdrawing or lashing out. Sometimes life is hard and people react by reaching out and drawing closer. My dad said to me many many years ago "If I can tell you one truth about human beings it's that they're always changing, sometimes for worse, sometimes for better, but they are always moving." Keeping this perspective in mind has helped me navigate relationships so much over the years.
My early twenties were very tumultuous when it came to my relationships with people, as I'm sure they were for most. I loved the popular mantra of "cutting out toxic people" because it felt so good ice people out. I know better now. If we're all honest I think we can admit that we've all been toxic at any given time. With the idea of "toxic people" comes the presupposition that we ourselves are the paragon of human perfection and thus must protect and isolate ourselves from everyone that does not match our level of excellence. Separating people this way is futile and will only confuse you down the road because spoiler alert: those "toxic people" may actually just be working something out for themselves. Ten years down the road you may begin to question "cutting them out" and the whole ordeal will begin to seem pretty perplexing.
However, do I believe that we need to give ourselves space from certain individuals at certain times? Absolutely. I think a better way of looking at it is to understand that often times the season of life that we are in is incompatible with the season of life that someone else finds themselves in at any given time. Sometimes it's because they still need to grow a little, sometimes it's because you need to grow a little and sometimes (most often) it's because you both need to grow. And that is ok. The need for growth or change is not a character flaw or deficiency it is simply a part of life. Giving someone the space and time to do that is generous and being honest about the fact that often we need time and space to do that ourselves takes humility and courage.
I think all too often we place incredibly unrealistic expectations on our relationships with people. We feel frustrated when we have a negative experience with a friend because we want two things simultaneously in our friendships - vulnerability and perfection. Those two things are completely incompatible. We understand that when it comes, to say our marriage, there will be negative experiences (big or small) and we are forgiving and understanding and yet we don't cut our friendships the same amount of slack. We want depth in our friendships, openness, honesty, understanding and vulnerability but we need to be cognizant that by allowing for complete openness and vulnerability we must also allow for mistakes. If we're always on our best behavior with our friends and vices versa then there is probably not a lot of openness going on. To really get deep in a relationship you need to allow for the possibility that that person will open up areas of themselves that are not so perfect in order to see if you will accept them as they are, unconditionally. Because we're all human and because there are so many factors that affect how we feel or behave whether it be work stress, stress stemming from other relationships, our health or even simply the weather. Sometimes you may catch a friend on an off day - they may send you a snappy text, they may be shutdown emotionally, they may even act out but to say that we've never been guilty of the same just wouldn't be fair. I think it's ok to cut everyone a little slack every now and again. But for full disclosure if any of this becomes a pattern then perhaps it's not a bad day but a "season" instead and that's when it may be healthy to consider pulling back.
I've come to realize over the years that I never want to close any doors, or--as I often did in my early twenties--nail those doors shut. I want the people in my life to know that sometimes I need to just close the door a little bit for my own peace and health but it's technically always open. I'm always there to talk, to try again, to ask for or grant forgiveness or just to talk. Relationships are messy and ever changing because we as humans are messy and ever changing. We go through seasons, bad and good, and sometimes we are the good friend and sometimes the bad friend. We've all needed forgiveness and will continue to need it and I think it's only fair that we grant it generously to those around us. There are times when knowing that you can start again is exactly what we need to usher in a new fresh season and I think that is beautiful. Knowing that we can give and receive that gift is what makes relationships sublime.