While for many the experience of the pandemic provided clarity on the relationships they wanted to pare from their life, I’d like to challenge us to take a moment to see how we can expand, in a meaningful way, the relationships in which we share connection.
In his book The All or Nothing Marriage, social psychology professor Eli Finkel shares that the amount of time Americans spend with friends and relatives has decreased over time. (Of note, this was written before the pandemic.) Culturally, many have placed a greater emphasis on our romantic partners to fulfill more of our support needs. However, time spent with a spouse has also decreased. So higher expectations and needs have shifted towards just one person and with even less time to fulfill them.
This actually runs contradictory to what is believed to be helpful in a relationship. This video explains how a survey in the UK of over 4,000 respondents found, “being together was even more appreciated when each person had a separate timeout themselves.” Therapist and author, Esther Perel, often writes about how interests that separate us from a partner can help to create desire: “When intimacy collapses into fusion, it is not a lack of closeness but too much closeness that impedes desire.”
Regardless if you are in a committed relationship, here is a great exercise:
In their book, Rewriting the Rules, therapist and author, Meg John Barker writes, “One alternative to The One who is everything to us might be to recognize the different things that we get from different relationships in our lives.” They encourage the practice of taking inventory by creating this list of two columns:
What I want Who I can get it from
Barker encourages the reader to consider what you want from important relationships and who either currently in your life or in the future might be able to provide these things. It’s important to note that you, yourself, can also be a person listed in the “Who I can get if from” column.
This inventory of what we want and who we can get it from could apply to creative and personal fulfillment needs. For example, if I like live music, who are the people I can look to join me in that experience? This exercise can also apply to practical and emotional support needs.
In How We Show Up, writer and facilitator, Mia Birdsong writes about a fellow friend who was struggling as a parent: “We are so lucky by most accounts. We have really good jobs. We’re healthy, our kids are healthy. We can afford our home and childcare and a car. Why is this so hard?” I said, “Dude. You’re not supposed to do it alone.”
When describing her own experience with her partner she notes, “Neither of us grew up in the context of an insular nuclear family, so when our attempts to do the insular nuclear family thing butted up against the realities of modern American life, we had a model to reach for: the village.”
Birdsong proceeds to explain her “Kid Night” tradition she set up with fellow parents. Of a network of a few parents, each would take turns having all kids over at their house so that the other parents could experience a date night without the cost or coordination of a babysitter.
For many this concept of looking for support and connection outside of those we are legally or biologically related to sounds like Chosen Family, something already practiced by many, especially in LGBTQ communities and communities of color. The bottom of this page from the GLBT Historical Society shares responses to their question: Who makes up your chosen family? From Vice, here is a video of a student sharing the story of her chosen family.
So, say you want to reconceptualize friendships, relationships, and community.
First, how can you engage the relationships you identified in the exercise above? Write out some ideas.
Want to take it a step further? For just a week try out a daily mentality of looking for opportunities. Here are some ideas:
- In a blog post, Priya Parker (author of one of my favorite books listed below), shares the story of how an uneaten pie can turn into an adventure and opportunity for connection. (Written pre-pandemic.)
- This article from Buzzfeed has a list of ways you can show up for friends and people in your life. Try to be mindful of a few this week.
- Know someone in the neighborhood who has a young child? Offer to take their kid on a 30-minute stroller walk. (My neighbors did this for me and it was so appreciated.) If you’re not comfortable with that offer, start by simply going out of your way to genuinely ask, “How are you?” (As a new mom, this question often inspired tears from me, because I felt seen.)
- Live near an older adult? Check-in the next time you go to the store to see if you can pick up anything for them. Or again, if this feels like too much, going a few minutes out of your way to say “hello” is a big step in creating connection. Even better, if you have children, you can encourage them to reach out so that both can reap the benefits of intergenerational relationships.
Part of broadening relationships also means asking for or accepting help that is offered to you. In How We Show Up, Mia Birdsong shares text from a Facebook post by Amoretta Morris stating,
“It’s ok to ask for help. In fact, by doing so, you are taking part in the divine circle of giving and receiving. While we often focus on what the request means for the asker/recipient, we should remember that giving can be transformative for the helper. …By not asking for help when you need it, you are blocking that flow.”
Let’s keep the circle going.
Here are some books that encourage us to challenge our notions of family, friendship, community, parenting, gathering and what is possible. All are available in our Work/Life library!
- How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong
- Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff
- Life Isn’t Binary by Meg-John Barker and Alex Iantaffi
- Rewriting the Rules by Meg-John Barker
- The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
SAS cares about your social and community well-being. See the Well-being at SAS page for resources for support.