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Life Lessons in Fear Fighting Love & Friendship

Letting Go of Someone You Love

You know how sometimes you think about if your life would’ve lined up a little bit differently, you might have missed out on something wonderful? 

The stars aligned for me back when I was 22. I was still in college at the time, and I was working just a few hours at the Gap. (Spent all my money in the store, but that’s not the point here.)

I had some extra time in my schedule, and I decided I would stop in to Big Brothers, Big Sisters to see what it was all about. I’ve always had a love for volunteering, and since I was studying to be a teacher, this seemed perfect.

It was summertime, and although I don’t usually wear skirts, I had this white flowy one I’d been saving for a hot day. You’ll see in a minute why it played into the whole stars aligning thing.

I walked into the building and was greeted by an older woman. I explained my interest, and she sat me down to complete the screening.

After a while of talking, she said:

“I think I have the perfect child for you. We’ve had her on the list for a some time. We’ve been waiting for someone really girly who can help her with those types of things. She lives only with her father and brother. Her mother recently passed away.”

I looked down at my skirt, realizing I must have given off just the right impression, and quickly agreed.

“There’s one problem. You may not want to be matched with her because she lives about twenty minutes away, out in the country. Would you be ok traveling back and forth?”

As a [broke] college student, I did hesitate. It would be a lot of gas money, especially bringing her into town to spend time doing an activity and bringing her all the way back. But how could I turn this down? 

Fortunately, that’s only the beginning of our story. My “little sister” and I have been matched since that summer day 7 years ago. If I wrote about all the lessons she’s taught me over the years, you’d get tired of reading.

So, I’ll say this.

She is the most remarkable, resilient, intelligent, thoughtful, responsible and kind little girl I’ve ever encountered. Everyone who meets her is impressed, saying she is wise beyond her years.

She’s had to be.

I have a million stories like this one where her advice made me think, but I’ll start with this from yesterday.

**

I still travel to pick her up, bring her into town, and return her home. The long car ride always gives us an opportunity to catch up. I ask how school is going, how is her family, how are her friends, and I listen as she updates me on her life as a teenager. {Still can’t believe she’s a teenager now!}

She starts telling me about her dog.

“Well, we have to get rid of the dog. I wrote an ad yesterday for Craigslist.”

“Really? Why do you have to give her away?”

“She’s been aggressive, and it’s hard to predict. She bit me one time, and I knew it wasn’t a good sign. I didn’t want to tell anyone, but I had to. Then she bit me again, and I knew it was time to let her go.”

“Oh,” I replied, thinking if I were her age, I probably wouldn’t have told anyone about the biting to save myself from having to lose my dog. “Won’t you miss her? You love her so much.”

“Yes, I love her. But, I know it’s time to let her go. When she bit me the first time, I thought maybe we could fix it. Even after working with her, she bit me again. I don’t have the resources to train her. It doesn’t matter how much I love her, it’s becoming dangerous.”

At this point, I half chuckle to myself thinking about how, once again, she’s proving she is even more brave and wise at 15 than I am at 29.

Here, all this time, I’ve been absolutely clinging desperately to a relationship even as it becomes more and more dangerous, claiming love will save it.

She goes on to tell me she included information in the listing about how the dog would be better off with special attention and training, and she would love to remain in the country where she could run and get exercise.

I think to myself how selfless it is to consider her dog might also be happier somewhere else.

Sometimes all the love in the world isn’t enough, and sometimes love means letting go.

 

Life Lessons in Fear Fighting Love & Friendship

The Classy Girl’s Guide to Dealing With Gossip

It hurts. Really. {#@*!^} Bad! You want to run home, crawl under the covers and scream until your lungs ache. You want to slam your fists into your pillows and sulk in your room until everyone has forgotten your very existence.

You’ve been exposed. You can’t run away in a fit of tears. All you can think to do is slink away quietly and find the person who started this whole mess. You want to use any ounce of information you have about them to inflict that same type of pain only fed by this caddy, silent killer. Gossip.

I hang this poster in my classroom as a constant reminder for my students. Gossip Hurts.

We try to teach children about the pain of gossip we went through during Middle and High School, but it’s not always snobby teenage girls who make other girls feel this way.

They learned it from the best- adults.

Unfortunately, gossip doesn’t go away after High School. It’s there, dark and evil as ever, but not as obvious.

Why do we– especially when we know exactly what other women are going through- choose to make others feel smaller through this act of humiliation?

We’re so good at it.

**

It all starts in a conversation with a friend or coworker. 

We hear the slight change in her voice, the volume is turned down just a dial, and here it comes. She’s about to give us something good, something juicy, something we don’t actually want.

Something no one else knows.

“We’re having problems. We’ve decided to separate to try to get some perspective.”

Once our friend has divulged the secret, we resolve to bottle it up. We keep this poison hidden away with innocent intentions of never taking it out again. Deep down, we want to be trusted.

“Don’t worry, Jamie. You’re doing the right thing. I’m here for you. I won’t tell anyone.”

Until it comes up in another conversation.

“What’s going on with Jamie and Steve? I saw Steve’s car at his mother’s house a few days in a row. I wonder if she’s sick.”

The bottle begins to rattle inside of us. We know the truth, and they’ve spun it all wrong. We should try to fix it for Jamie. The rumbling bottle gets louder and louder- we can hardly hear what they’re saying now.

Our mouth bursts open, exposing the potion we’ve been keeping locked away.

“Well, don’t tell anybody, but…”

A little hesitation. 

“Maybe I shouldn’t. I promised not to tell.”

The other girls see the bottle and can’t help but yank it out of our hands. They stare at us wide-eyed.

“Now we have to know! We swear we won’t tell anyone.”

We take a deep breath, realizing we can’t turn back now. 

“Jamie and Steve….they’re…having marriage troubles.”

And suddenly, there it is, the bottle’s smashed open and splashed all over the table.

“Please don’t tell anyone, I promised not to tell. It’s just a little break they’re taking… for space.”

But it’s too late. You can’t clean up the spill. The group starts buzzing, and none of it is any longer in your control.

**

We know what a dangerous, stealthy weapon humiliation can be, but we use its power anyway.

With the best intentions, we find connection with other women through talking about what’s going on in the lives of others.

Maybe it makes us feel a little better about our own insecurities, or maybe we like the feeling of having some new information to share with our friends.

We don’t think about the consequences because we tell ourselves this person will never know we were chatting about them. If we say something we wish we hadn’t, we ask our friends to swear to secrecy.

We should think of new conversation topics.

Bring a game or a book of questions or some trivia. Whatever you do, stay away from talking about others unless it’s positive.

Your best tool is silence.

Because gossip, no matter how hard we try, can’t be harnessed. It can’t be controlled carefully and used without consequence. Someone will always get hurt. 

Even if you swear to secrecy, even if the subject of the gossip won’t ever know it was said.

Think about it this way. Would you want to be a topic of conversation where everyone swears they’ll keep the secret, or would you rather they not talk about you at all?

Being talked about negatively when you’re not around to hear it is like a tree falling in a forest with no one around. It’s humiliating, heard or unheard.

Ok. We promise to empower other women by not talking about them or making judgements.

After all, everyone is on their own journey. 



But what about if someone else is talking about us?

The funny thing about gossip is we’ve all also been on the receiving end, and we know about this unique pain.

We know exactly about this gut-wrenching, back-stabbing, run-and-hide-under-the-covers-until-the-end-of-time kind of pain.

I vented to a friend about something in my life because I needed to get it out, I needed someone to hear it, so I could breathe the sigh of relief you get from saying something out loud.

I should’ve said it to my dog.

I never intended to have it repeated. I needed to sound off and have her simply hear me. 

That’s it. I didn’t think I had to clarify that I didn’t want this information repeated to anyone else.

Of course, soon after, another of my friends let me know my friend had exposed my secret. 

(Should’ve seen that one coming.)

Crap.

There’s that familiar sting of disappointment. The empty pit in your stomach from knowing you were the topic of another conversation. Your friend was responsible. Your trust was misguided. You can’t take it back.

Do I think she had bad intentions? No. I’m sure it played out exactly as gossip usually does.

But, the fact remained. The gossip had been said. Revenge and exposure, although tempting, were not great options. (We’ve all seen that Mean Girls movie.)

What’s a classy girl to do?

Look at it as you would any bad experience. Look at it as a lesson- a few lessons even.

A lesson in mindfulness about your friendships.

Don’t tell this friend anything I wouldn’t mind having put on a billboard on the side of the main road of our town. 

A lesson in faith- we can’t always control the way things play out in our lives.

Don’t try to right the wrong and control the situation after it’s already happened. Trust it as part of my plan, part of my learning. Have faith it will work itself out, or at least quiet down enough so people will soon forget it.

A lesson in controlling others- it can’t be done.

My first instinct was to call her and give her an earful. I thought I’d clarify [in some other words] that I had only been venting and didn’t want the word spread.

After thinking about it, I realized this wouldn’t be much of a solution.

 I can’t control what she chooses to do with the information I give her. It was out of my hands as soon as I made the choice to give it to her.

A lesson in what to do next time I need to sound off about sensitive topics.

It might be a good idea to set a boundary if I ever do decide to give her sensitive information again, but next time I should skip that and go to a friend who has been trustworthy in the past. 

We all should have one or two friends who are able to hear our cries and offer support without spreading the word. 

Know which friends to call for this, and which not to.

We can’t change what has already happened except to learn from it.

Classy girls sit back and quietly reflect about things like friendship and gossip.

They set boundaries and realize they can’t control those around them.

They don’t need to talk negatively about other women because they’d rather lift them up than put them down.

They are confident and accepting of their own imperfections, so they don’t need validation from having the latest gossip.

Life Lessons in Fear Fighting Love & Friendship

Whatever You Do, Don’t Settle.

Whatever you do, don’t settle. I don’t know how to convince you of this other than telling you I believe it with my whole heart.

Doubt means don’t just about every time.

If you think you’re settling, you are.

If you see red flags, consider them stop signs.

Life has a funny way of pointing things out to us, but somehow the biggest deception is when we turn our heads to it. 

Don’t ignore what The Universe is telling you.

At least you know one thing for sure if you’re having doubt: It’s not right for right now. So, at the very least, take a break from whatever it is and give yourself room to breathe.

Chances are when you detach from this job, relationship, friendship, living situation, whatever- you’ll see much more clearly how you function (better) without it.

Not sure if you’re settling? Pay attention to your body. When you walk into your workplace, sit down to dinner with your significant other, or talk with your friend-whatever the situation-what are you feeling? Do you have that pit deep in your stomach? Are your muscles tightened? Are you slumped over or clenching your hands?

Your body is reacting to your uncomfort and anxiety, and although I spend most of my time trying to get around this anxiety in order to live my life, this is the time to listen to it.

Jobs, relationships, and friendships should not cause this kind of physical reaction. When it is right, it won’t be this stressful.

Do you know you’re settling, but you’re too scared to make the change? Well, you’re in the right company. I’ve spent 28 years of my life being afraid of everything around me. Instead of changing, I tried to control it and manipulate everything carefully so it wouldn’t hurt me too much.

6 months ago I started this blog as part of my journey to get out of that place and awaken to the courage I’ve always had.

I used to hate quotes like these:

It’s a great quote about putting your all into your efforts. But, when you’re settling, reading quotes like this just makes you feel like crap. You’re thinking:

I’m watering. I keep watering and watering. I’ve tried everything. All I seem to be doing is making mud! 

When you’re settling, it doesn’t matter how hard you try. In fact, chances are you’ve probably already tried to make this work in absolutely every way you can.

You’re searching for a glimmer of a response or change from your partner/friend/job, and you come up empty every time. It’s because this isn’t right.

Getting yourself out of settling is just what it sounds like- unsettling. Change isn’t easy. But nothing good ever comes easily, right?

If you know something isn’t right for you right now, choose to do something about it.

You’ll thank yourself later, and I truly believe The Universe will bring you something you could’ve never had if you had kept holding on.

Life Lessons in Fear Fighting Love & Friendship

What Do You Expect From Love?

I know exactly what you’re thinking. What makes me think I’m the expert on love? Well, let me admit something to you right now. I’m a self-help book/blog junkie, and I’ve probably read more about love than I’ve read about fear or anxiety.

I’ve spent years interviewing and evaluating other people, wondering what exactly is the definition of the L-word?

But here’s the thing. I still don’t have it figured out.

What I do know is no one has it figured out. 

Everyone has different expectations of love, with some common factors. The Big Answer I found from years of searching is this: No one has the answer but you.

So, if you’re wondering what love is, go ahead and read. Ask others, watch movies, look for examples in anyone you know with a great relationship.

But, the final expectation, the final set of criteria falls on you. What do you expect from love? What will you accept, and what won’t you?

It’s a long time in the making, but here’s mine.

1. Honesty. This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s taken me a long time to realize there isn’t much love at all if you don’t respect one another enough to be honest. That goes for both parties, and even on little, tiny issues.

If you can’t generally believe what the other person has to say, so many little issues will pop up as a result. And, of course, trust will be nearly impossible.

Even if you think it will change or get better, if there’s little or no honesty, you’ll eventually become exhausted from constantly questioning and chasing, wondering if they really did what they said they did. And, if it’s easier for you to lie to your partner than to be honest, that’s an issue too.

Love means telling the truth, even when it isn’t the easier route.

2. Respect and Consideration. I wasn’t sure which should come first in my list, honesty or respect. You can’t have one without the other. Your partner should be your biggest advocate, your number one fan, and it should be visible to everyone.

You may have your arguments from time to time, but your partner should still talk about you to everyone he knows as if you are the most amazing person to walk the planet.

Respect is in the way you’re talked about, the way you’re talked to, and in the consideration of your feelings at all times, even in the darkest of fights.

3. Wake up Naked Drinking Coffee, Making Plans to Change the World. Yes, that’s a Dave Matthew’s quote. No, I’m not saying love means drinking coffee together or even sleeping (or waking up) naked, although if that’s your thing-go for it.

I’ve always loved this lyric because it means you get up in the morning and plan your day together, even if it means you’re each going to work. Taking a minute in the morning to connect and communicate sets you up for success and shows you’re both invested enough in the relationship to give it some thought and reflection. The coffee drinkin’s a bonus- and if he brews it just the way you like it, that’s even better.

4. Up-Lifted-Ness. Pretty sure that’s not in any dictionary. Up-Lifted-Ness is when your partner makes you feel excited and energized. He makes you want to strive to be better in all aspects of your life.

He accepts you for who you are, but encourages you to take small steps toward feeling better and achieving more. And, of course, you do the same for him. You can dream together.

5. Butterflies. Say what you will about butterflies. Call it too much Hollywood influence if you must. I watch plenty of love stories, and I certainly don’t expect perfection. But, I’ve come to realize, even if your relationship has been around a really long time and you think you’ve seen it all, those butterflies should still stir up every once in a while. Maybe it takes a special date or a slow dance when you’re the guests at a wedding, but they should always be there, waiting in the background.

6. Changing Fights. I kept asking people about arguments. Everybody argues, right? But I’ve learned there are two types of arguments. 

There are those little ones about who folds the laundry and what color paint to put on the walls. Those are argued about, discussed heatedly at times, but eventually compromised on and solved. These arguments are just fine, they’re actually healthy.

The other arguments are the larger, more fundamental arguments {you don’t want these} where you deal with issues like jealousy, lying, or differences in the way you live your lives that the other is having trouble accepting.

These can be poisonous, can lurk under the surface and keep coming up again and again without ever being solved. The fights stay exactly the same so that even the little arguments about laundry end up being huge screaming matches dealing with jealousy.

7. Acceptance. You accept your partner for who he is, imperfections and all.

You don’t try to control his actions because you realize he makes his own choices, and like it or not, his choice may sometimes be the right one. When it’s not, you’ll let him learn from his mistakes rather than trying to mold his choice to match yours. He feels the same about you and shows it in his actions.

I do believe (whole-heartedly) it takes work, communication, and connection to make all 7 of these happen.

Love may be somewhat of a fairy tale, but there’s certainly a lot of work to be done in that Happily Ever After part.

Life Lessons in Fear Fighting Love & Friendship

Figuring Out Friendships

So, if you’re like me- you’ve got a whole bunch of different types of friends.

1. The Fierce Friends (only 1 or 2 of them in your life; full marble jar)

These are the few close friends who never leave your side. You could not see them for months, and it wouldn’t matter. They always pop up at the right times, and you do the same for them.

2. The Genuine Friends (only a handful of them; almost full marble jar)

You’ve also got one or two close friends that don’t come around quite as much as you’d like, but you love them anyway for what they are when you do get together.

3. The For-A-Reason Friends (a bunch of them; half-full marble jar)

Then you have a whole bunch of acquaintances. Some are in your life for a specific reason, which can be as simple as you share a love for the same types of restaurants or movies and love going with them once in a while. You probably wouldn’t share your personal stuff with these friends, and it might not be a good idea if you are doing that.

4. The “Hi, How Was Your Weekend?” Friends (a lot of them, especially at work; almost empty or brand new marble jar)

Some you know you should generally stay away from, but you’re still nice to them on the surface. You definitely don’t share much with these friends beyond what you did over the weekend.

5. The Friends of Friends (a few; just a little more than new marble jar since your friend trusts them)

We can’t leave off the friends of friends. Usually if you have a Fierce friend or a Genuine friend who has another good friend, you probably like them a little more than your typical One-Reason Friend, so they get their own category. You probably want to explore these friendships even more.

 
I think I’ve figured out how to navigate the friendship waters, and I can share it with you thanks to these two things.

Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly

I’ve mentioned it before, and it is a game changer. Please. If you don’t care about anything else I say, just read this book. It’s helpful for literally everyone. If you’re going through something, you’re anxious, or even if you’re one of those “normal” people without issues like us- it will still help you.

My Life Experiences

I would consider myself a Fierce Friend to the few close friends I have. If they needed something, I would drop anything to be there for them, and I’ve done that plenty of times. We may not see each other all the time, but I would never let them down. I’d like to think I make an effort to reconnect as much as possible.

Most of my friends are Fierce Friends in return in my time of need, but a few haven’t stepped up to the plate. And some I thought were good friends, but they broke the trust in a major way, so I retracted and relabeled them. I’ve experienced the amazing thing a friendship can be, but I’ve felt the disappointment side of things too. It doesn’t mean I care for them any less, and I have learned why I don’t need to address this with them. It’s really just all a part of the inner workings of our friendship.

Now. Here’s the part where I’ll tell you why you need some of each of the friendship types, and I’ll also tell you how you know which is which. 
 

It’s all thanks to the Marble Jar Metaphor, which comes from Brene Brown’s research.

Every single friend you meet from Fierce Friends to “Hi, How Are Ya” Friends start with an invisible marble jar. It’s invisible because this marble is in your mind. It never needs to be discussed with anyone, and you don’t tell people about these marbles, or you’ll sound like you’ve lost yours. Just keep them quietly in your mind. Be reflective about your friendships.

The marbles in each jar represent a lot of things, but they mostly represent trust. Each friend naturally starts out with about 10 marbles in their jar. We need to give them a chance to prove themselves as a friend, so even if we’re cautious with someone, we give them a little head start.

As your friendship goes on, little moments will tell you what to do with this jar.
 

Let’s say you and a new friend are supposed to go to the movies on Saturday night, but she cancels at the last minute, giving a whole slew of excuses. She doesn’t try to reschedule, and you get the feeling she never really wanted to go.

It’s all up to you, but this might be her first marble loss. You trusted her to tell you the truth about your plans, and if she couldn’t go, a genuine apology without the excuse and true intention to reschedule would have been a better move. Don’t fight with her about it, don’t try to convince her to go, just simply remove a marble from her jar in your mind. She may simply not be a genuine friend, but she might not have moved all the way down the ladder just yet.

On the other hand, let’s say you’ve had a friend for quite a while, so now you know about this marble jar thing, and you’re trying to evaluate. Maybe at one point you trusted this friend enough to tell them some things you were vulnerable about, like your relationship troubles.

(By the way, these types of vulnerability really need to be reserved for the top two friendship types. Anyone with a low marble jar should not hear about your personal life. It’s dangerous because they’ve already proven they may throw it back in your face or gossip about you.)

What your friend chooses to do with your personal information will tell so much about what to do with these marbles.

Does she listen intently and give you advice without getting too invested in it? Does she assure you (and you can trust her assurance) she’ll support you no matter what, but gives you her best opinion? That’s perfect. Give her a bunch of marbles! Bonus points if when you share a success story with her, she’s truly happy for you.

Does she listen but then change the subject to herself? Or she listens, but her advice is so passionate, you’re pretty sure if you don’t follow it, she’ll get annoyed? Or she listens, but you’re pretty sure she’s taking it all in so she can call up her other friend and dish about your problems? Or you can tell she’s getting joy from your misery? Don’t say anything, just stop telling her about your life, and take out a bunch of marbles. This is dangerous.

The same goes for those Genuine Friends who just haven’t come around when you’ve really needed them. Sometimes you feel you give and give in a friendship, but then in your time of need, they don’t seem to pick up on your cries for help. I think this is important to mention, because they don’t have quite a full marble jar.

You may want to scream, “HELLO! Now I need you. Where ARE you? Why do I have to BEG you to notice my need now?” But, you don’t need to do that. Just take a few marbles from her jar. It’s Ok, and you shouldn’t even be hurt by it. Some friends just won’t always be Fierce Friends, or they’ll make a mistake. You need both Fierce and Genuine Friends, and it’s Ok to have both. It’s also Ok to gently remind them you need them now. They probably will step up to the plate. It’s not worth the argument.

And, I can’t stop without mentioning excuses again. In my mind, excuses definitely constitute marble removal, one marble at a time. Excuses get old, they feel like little lies, and they can really hurt. Friends who constantly make excuses for breaking or not making plans just need to be a different type of friend in your mind. A true friend genuinely apologizes for their mistake and changes from it.

Remember, every single type of friend is important. You certainly don’t need to isolate yourself from anyone, even those with an empty jar. Some people quickly come in and out of your life, but it’s for a reason. You need to choose wisely who you will share your vulnerability with, or who you will simply have a good time with. And, of course, it’s important to think about what kind of friend you’re being in return.

Life Lessons in Fear Fighting Love & Friendship

A Lesson From My Fifth-Graders on How We Should Act

The first week of school is always so exciting. The kids are wearing their favorite back-to-school outfits and unpacking their shiny new school supplies. They’re soaking up everything you say in an effort to get a fresh start in their new grade.

One of my favorite first-week activities is when we create our class rules. We write the rules together and talk a lot about respect and trust. Their ideas about rules are always so interesting, and this year we put a little bit of a spin on it since their teacher is learning all about courage and communication. 🙂

At this point you might be thinking I’m typing on the wrong blog. This post seems like it belongs on my teaching blog- but what the kids came up with for rules taught me a life lesson about how to be successful. I love how the rules apply in Room 21 & in life.

Here’s what they came up with:

Most importantly and above all else- Be Considerate. Always be mindful of how your actions will impact others. All of our class rules fall under this umbrella.

Rule 1:
Set boundaries with your friends. If you don’t like the way you are being treated, say how you feel when they act that way. For example, say, “I feel hurt when you tease me about my height. Please don’t tell those kind of jokes.”

If your friend keeps breaking your boundary, try saying it again. Imagine you have an invisible marble jar for each friend. Every time they give you a compliment or do something kind for you, put a marble in their friendship jar in your mind. When they break boundaries, take one out. If someone continues to hurt you or break your trust, keep them at a distance.

You can be friendly without being best friends. Keep the friends with the most full marble jars the closest to you.

Rule 2:
Always give 100% to everything you do.

Rule 3:
Use your manners. Be respectful to everyone you meet. You never know what their day has been like!

Rule 4:
Don’t forget The Golden Rule. Treat others the way you hope to be treated.