The Strength of Age
Photo by Philippe Leone / Unsplash

Like a soft sweater shrugged on each day, deep friendships sustain us through everything

Dear Reader: This is the second of two thoughtful pieces on friendship as I wrap up this year with you. I continue the exploration of what to release, what to keep, and if we keep, why. As we age, that "why" becomes terribly relevant as quality of life trumps so many other things. To that then, a celebration of the truest of friends, and how they help sculpt who we are meant to become:

As I wrote the above headlines, I slipped my favorite Smartwool men's sweater over my head as my office slowly warms in this cold winter morning. As the sweater did its job as it always does, I thought about one particular friend whose deep love and respect are just like that dependable sweater. She's there day and night, states away but we speak almost daily.

And like that sweater, she doesn't decide which days to keep me warm as it's convenient to her.

It goes both ways.

Lately I've been giving this a lot of thought. This friend and I have both been going through some very difficult moments with our partners. Mine is also states away but has resurfaced after I left my previous home primarily to get away from the damaging hurt and memories of a decade and a half of hurt.

Hers is a deep, intimate relationship challenged by two problematic kids who aren't kids but young men, who refuse to leave Mommy, and are causing a rift in the partnership.

Over the last several weeks we have spoken several times daily as she and I have struggled through the challenges of setting healthy boundaries with people who don't themselves have healthy boundaries. I can relate, intimately. It's a skill like any other and most of us aren't terribly good at it.

As those challenges rose in terms of potential emotional cost, we have stood by each other.

Here's the piece, at least for me: When the stakes get really high, and we question both who we are and our right to say no, or to say not now, or to say this is what I need and this has to change, she and I need someone whose standards are the same. The sanity lies in the ability to process through the fears and doubts and questions. The inevitable backlash and gaslighting. The struggle for agency, who's in charge.

How much of me do I have to give up to be loved by you?

My friend and I are both incest survivors and more, so the issue of boundaries is big for us both. It's a lifelong dance for anyone recovering from sexual abuse, most particularly as children.

We have walked the line of establishing healthy boundaries while dealing with personal pain, memories, multi-day migraines. We call each other several times a day to shore each other up and to validate the rightness of the choices we are making. This is goddess work, healthy work, with people who are not yet able to operate at the same level. We love them nonetheless.

My friend's example has enabled me to do this: during a challenging conversation with my ex during which he was defensive and angry, he had the temerity to tell me what I was thinking and feeling. That's trespass.  For the first time ever with this man, I stopped him mid-sentence and said,

You may NOT tell me what I am thinking and feeling. You are not privy to my private thoughts.

For me, with this particular person, that was a massive change of behavior on my part. I had finally set a clear boundary. I meant it, too. More importantly I did it right in the moment, not while musing later over what I should have said.

It slowed him down, but the die was set. I had carved out a new boundary.

I've written long emails to my ex which my friend edited and remarked on about fairness, language and the like. I've spent untold hours hearing my friend out as she struggles to find a fair way to deal with a mother who enables dysfunction with children who need to become men.

What is a world without such friends? Barren indeed. People such as this invite us to rise to a higher level. Demand that we live up to our best. Provide the warm and inviting place to rest our emotional heads when we are dog tired.

After that very difficult conversation with my ex, I instructed him, kindly and with respect, to leave me alone until after the holiday weekend.

He still called four times. I finally picked up. He just wanted to apologize.

That need to apologize was nice, but he stomped all over the boundary in his need to say sorry, rather than to learn to bloody well sit with it until I said that the lines of communication were open again. This is what we do.

I wrote him a text reminding him I had asked him NOT to call. He was not to call again until I said it was acceptable. Now he will have to wait longer for that very reason. No means no, far more for me than for him. I am the one getting educated here.

My friend also had a difficult conversation, the one that led to her multi-day migraine, with her partner, concerning the kids. That talk could have led to the dissolution of a two-year relationship.

It didn't. The risk paid off.

They are working on it. My ex is working on it. She and I are working on it.

She just asked me for some space too, as she needs to work through these great life lessons and consider how they are touching her. The space is perfect for me too, as I take stock of how this year has changed me.

For me, it's the beginning of boundaries with those who mean the most. Someone has to set them first. They are sometimes terrifying. I've always believed that if I set a fair boundary, the object of my love would leave. That's what happened with my father and more than one boyfriend. Friends, too.

Lines in the sand blow away. Lines in our person are permanent. We deserve to know where they are, so that we feel safe inside our own skins.

Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

Neither of us could have done this as well without each other. While these are baby steps, in the sense of personal growth, they are giant strides.

Tellingly, we were already cool with being alone, living alone. Had those talks gone south we were fine with the outcomes.

Besides, we had each other as friends. We are able to speak about things which our partners cannot. That is the connective tissue which doesn't tear.

Love affairs can and do tear. As I wrote previously, truly powerful friendships withstand injury, but they can heal, unlike the emotionally fraught love interests.

To that then, as this year winds down this weekend, I have taken stock of those I love, those I have lost, and those I am deeply committed to as friends. The curated collection below is a lovely set to review as we age forward, consider those who walk the truly difficult paths with us and why.

This selection is broad-ranging and wonderful weekend reading as we consider the gifts that we have, both in love and in loss, but most particularly of those who make life worth living.

Best of 2022: Dr. Marisa G Franco on the Importance of Friendship
If this year had you wondering where all your friends went, you’re not alone. Allow a true friendship expert guide you through the essential reads on why it’s worth recommitting to real connections.

Again, sometimes long-term friendships make way for new ones. My friend, above, is precisely one of those. She took the place of a 45-year friendship which had decayed in place. This one flourishes, challenges and supports my best self as I do hers.

Whether or not I have love again in the romantic sense is nowhere near as essential to me as whether or not I have friends who help me gain, sustain and forever reach for a greater level of Goddess work. I'd love to have both.

But if given a hard choice, I will pick friends.

To your 2023. May it be filled with friends old and new, may you be the kind of friend whom others celebrate as the best of what makes them who they are, hope to be, and will become.

To friends.

Photo by Anthony Tran / Unsplash

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