Long Standing Friendship
I had been close friends with Molly in the early 1980’s, and although we had kept in touch over the years, we had definitely drifted apart. She had a couple of kids with her partner, I had a couple of kids as well, and day to day life occluded our connection. I watched a documentary with some friends that was centered in her home town, and sent her a snail mail card telling her about the movie, and that I was interested in being in touch again. She wrote me back; told me she had moved to a small town about an hours’ drive from me, and we made arrangements to see each other.
It was a delightful visit: it was like sliding back into warm water to see her. We took a short walk and found a table in a comfortable venue for tea and soup. There were so many ways our stories were the same, with enough differences to make it interesting.
After this visit, one of my best friends and I were talking about our friendship, and what it means to engage in long-term committed friendship. I wrote Molly the following email:
My friend Kelly and I are engaged in a long term project called Liberation Listening. I don’t know if I told you anything about it when we met, and I’d like to tell you a little bit now. Kelly had completed six years of training in peer counseling when she had a baby and was busy with that for a few years. Then she started a new co-counseling community called Liberation Listening. The basis of co-counseling is that when bad things have happened to us in the past, it clogs up our free thinking because we respond to our current situation through distress rather than from a free thinking, calm, open, and responsive attitude. The way to let go of the distress (that we all carry) is through emotional discharge. That’s the skinny of it: there’s a lot more theory and technique that one could say about all of that: co-counseling has been around since the 50s and has evolved in several different directions, including accruing a store of good thinking about how to end oppression. Liberation Listening focuses on using the techniques and theories of co-counseling to understand and end oppression.
In Liberation Listening, we have an intro class in the Fall, where beginners can learn theory and practice techniques. In the Winter, we have a 10 week class that covers some more basics, and then for 8 of those 10 weeks we explore discrete constituencies (e.g.: age, class, “race,” sexism, gender, ableism, anti-Semitism, indigenous peoples and care of the planet). Last Summer we had a support group around colorism (aka racism) and we will have an 8 week class on colorism this spring. This Summer we will have support groups around indigenous people and care of the planet, and next Spring we will have an 8 week class on the same. Our intention is to continue meeting until oppression ends.
Kelly and I have committed to a life-long relationship. She has several other people in her life that she has committed to (other than her partner and family), as do I. A couple of weeks ago after class we talked about this; that we have these kinds of relationships in our lives (and that we have that commitment to each other). As I thought about this some more, I had the thought that there are many people in our culture that are lonely, or feeling “less than” because they are not in a long term partnership. Significantly more people in our culture are devastated by losing their partner through dissolution of their relationship, or by death. We do not have a culture that supports the idea of getting significant support from our friends, much less the idea that we could get the majority of support from our friends. Put another way, we are encouraged to make life-long commitment to relationships if they are romantic, to make these kinds of commitments to one person (as well as our children, of course, which not everybody has–or needs). In the past, many people in our culture had extended family to draw on for social support, but that is less and less true, especially in this age of geographical mobility.
So this led me to think about my intimate relationships that I interact with daily, and then other people that I feel committed to that life farther away. As I was thinking of all this I was thinking about you because I have known you for such a long time. I was thinking about you so fondly, and the way it seemed like almost no time had passed when I saw you last month. Basically, I was kind of reviewing all my relationships and wondering about this concept of longevity and that’s why I was thinking of you, too.
I have known my friend Caren almost as long as you (met her ~1986) and the longevity of having known her so long makes me want to invest more into that relationship. Even though Caren and I have had long periods where we have not been connected, we are more connected now, and I enjoy the sense of continuity for having known her so long. Especially since I don’t have childhood friends (due to moving about so much…dad was in the military). Besides my siblings, Caren has known me the longest (of the friends that I have in my active day to day life).
So, in Liberation Listening language, I now am thinking that I want to cultivate and nurture long standing, committed relationships in my life. This specifically means holding my relationships with love, even in the presence of distress (mine and theirs). It means knowing that we are all good– that my friends are good–even when they are exhibiting distress. It means letting people love me even when I am exhibiting distress.
This concept of valuing and putting sustainable energy into friendships is something that could really change the world. So many people run at a deficit for connection to other people, and are under the illusion that they must find a partner, or have a loving family, to get their needs met. Fundamentally, people need to be connected to other people; we are social animals and if we are not sufficiently connected to others (at infancy and across the lifespan) our psychosocial biological response is to be in fear for our lives. This leads to more reacting and less responding to our environment–in particular in our relationships. The ability to respond to our environment creates a kind of echo-chamber of increased ability to love one another (the inverse is also true, when we are reactive, we tend to feel more hopeless and distant in our relationships).
I find myself saying “it’s all about relationships” quite often these days. Dig deep enough, and our relationships with others affect our lives on all levels. And our relationships with other affect our intrapersonal relationship; our relationship with ourselves because we cannot live in a vacuum.
Those are my thoughts. and I thank you for listening.
I love you,