I used to think I didn’t really need friends. Actually that’s not entirely true. I needed them when I decided I needed them: when I was bored and lonely, or after a grueling relationship break-up. or if I needed help. The truth is, people are disappointing. If you get to know anyone well enough, they will disappoint you. I always found it safer to rely on myself, and so that’s what I did.
I darted on the surface of my friendships, taking and giving bits here and there, not getting into too much of the insides of people. I knew myself. I knew when I found something I couldn’t rely on in someone, or a flaw which diluted my admiration of them, a crack would form and it made me feel confused and unsure of how to navigate friendship. Onward, I’d drift again.
My friend’s husband, from whom I secretly want to carry a notebook around and record notes, has a theory. He calls it the rocket theory. Say you meet someone you instantly click with — the beginning of an intense love affair, an instant girl-crush-want-to-be-her-friend moment. (Let it be clear that this phenomena is not just privy to romantic relationships, but true to all relationships.) In this clicking experience, all you see is the good. You doubt you will ever meet another person who is that amazing, who FITS with you so perfectly. Your rose-coloured glasses are securely in place and you are head-over-heels in admiration. It is at this moment that the rocket is launched, flung high into the sky without really looking back. It feels good to fly there. It feels like: Finally.
One of the great universal truths though is this: what goes up must come down. And not only that — how things go up is how things come down. And so when that fault is found, when that first slither of disappointment kicks in, down we crash, shattered by our disillusion. Our rose coloured glasses slide off in the rapid descent and we hit the ground with a thud. Rocket up, rocket down.
What my friend’s husband says happens next is key. It’s only when you get to that middle, in-between place that you begin to get to anything real. It’s not bad to fly. It’s essential we fly, but the vehicle and pace determine the health and longevity of our flights. What we need to do is stop our tendency to shoot up like a rocket because, like my friend’s husband so tactfully put it, “nobody’s that good”. It sounds harsh, I know, but you appreciate the sentiment when you see he’s not being pessimistic, but rather embracing a realistic view of how to have healthy expectations of people, how to fully accept their humanness, and how to grow true love, friendship and intimacy.
I’m all for self-growth. I devour self-improvement articles like they are glasses of water on a very muggy day. I think the ability to be self-aware enough to change habits and thought patterns which limit you is the very beginning of power. However, the older I get (thank you, thirties, for appearing in my life), the more I bestow equal value upon accepting who and how I am. When used incorrectly, self-improvement can simply be another closet we hide ourselves in — another place we run away from the self-love we actually need to foster. If I’m perfect for them, and if I’m perfect for myself, then I will be loved/enough/okay.
Embracing our humanness, instead of trying to change it, is equally as important as self-improvement in our growth.
Because once we can look at our own mess and temper and inadequacies and say to ourselves: I see you behaved badly there, but never mind, you’re still awesome!, we learn how to look at other people’s mess and temper and inadequacies and say: I see you behaved badly there, but never mind, you’re still awesome!
Say your kid forgot to take his lunch to school, and you have to make a one hour round trip to drop it to him. You’re mad. You berate him for being forgetful. You make it very clear that he disappointed you — that his behaviour is unacceptable. He gets all panicky. He feels like a little bit of your love has been withdrawn because he made a mistake. He is learning that the way to be loved by people is: Make yourself perfect for them. Say that after you lose your temper, you immediately feel guilty. You decide you’re a bad mother, you’re screwing your kid up. You beat yourself up and turn on yourself. You are learning that the way to love people is: Try to be perfect for them and then when you’re not, make yourself miserable and believe you’re unworthy.
There is no room for perfection – theirs or ours – if we want to love and BE loved. None. Let’s just erase that word from our vocabularies. What we say afterwards to our child is this: You forgot your lunch and it annoyed me but hey – you’re still awesome! I got mad and it wasn’t right but hey – I’m still awesome, too!
Imagine if our children learned THAT. Imagined if they knew right deep in their bones that radical humanness and radical forgiveness was all that was required? Imagine if our friendships and relationships were as real as that?
Yes please to that.
“Nobody’s that good” – meaning that perfect.
But “everybody’s that good” – meaning human.
And so, our vehicles change from rockets which launch and crash into big, steady Boeing 747s, capable of not only containing more people, but of lasting longer – much longer – journeys.