“It’s their fault for not asking me about my life…”
I have this strong memory of being at a cafe a couple of years ago with 4 of my close friends. In an attempt to invite us all into more sharing and connection, I said, “Let’s go around the circle and say one thing that feeds us in our group friendship (i.e what we currently like and appreciate), and one thing we want more of from the group (i.e what need we have that isn’t being met or how others could support us more meaningfully.)
The question was popular and everyone shared really beautiful things– affirming each other for how their lives were enhanced by our friendships, and bravely sharing how it could be even better. It was super touching to hear each person share what would feel good to receive from the group, ranging from understanding for always talking about the same problem in one life to asking for more encouragement as another struggled with her marriage.
I was thinking ahead to what I would share and decided to be truly honest and share that would feel good to me would be to have them initiate asking about my life a little more… I felt that I often I did that for them, but didn’t always feel like they asked about me as frequently.
The whole afternoon ended up being hugely ironic in that right before my turn everyone got distracted and the conversation ended up veering in another direction.
I felt hurt, but was certain that surely, at some point, one of them would realize that I hadn’t yet had my turn. I kept waiting for one of them to ask me to share.
No one did…. and in the car on the way home I licked my wounds. I remember feeling pity for myself, frustration toward them, and disappointment in how the relationships clearly weren’t that fulfilling and mutual.
In transparency to what I felt back then, I blamed them. They were clearly selfish, caught up in their own lives, and unable to fulfill my needs.
But in the middle of my pity-party where I was certain that I was the amazing friend and they were the problem… clarity hit me.
“It’s my responsibility to share what I want to share…”
I’m always grateful when my voice of wisdom can still be heard over my ego… I’ve done my very best in recent years to give her as much permission and practice in speaking loudly to me. So while in that car, I remember trying to hear her above the whining of the little girl stomping her foot in my head…which required stopping my defensiveness and blame long enough to listen:
“Shasta… you know they love you and care about your life. No one is maliciously trying to ignore you. You’re making this way bigger than it needs to be. They would feel horrible if they knew they hurt you.
Besides, you could have handled it differently, too. You could have said, “Hey before we talk about x, let’s finish our sharing first,” or “Before we go, I wanted to make sure I was able to tell you guys about what you mean to me…” And deep inside you know that they would have loved to have heard you and then you’d be driving home feeling grateful for the friends in your life instead of licking imaginary wounds.
Not imaginary because they don’t count… your need to be in friendships where you feel heard is super important and I’m so glad you can articulate that. But it’s your job to ask for what you need. And honestly, to have the chance to share about your life doesn’t require them to ask about it, it only requires that they receive it when you decide to share.”
By the time I got home I knew that I could have handled that in a way that would have easily benefited all of us far more than me sitting there quietly as though I were testing them.
Friendship doesn’t mean we don’t disappoint each other sometimes… it means we’re in relationships where we can trust each other to speak their needs– and I hadn’t done that.
While in a fantasy world someone might just guess what’s important to us to share, in the real world, the chances of someone asking all the right questions are pretty slim.
As a pastor I remember one woman accusing the church of being shallow after she had attended that prior weekend without anyone finding out that she had been dying inside from the knowledge that she had suffered a miscarriage the week before. My heart broke that she hadn’t received the support she craved. And I also knew that she could have shown up in a way that ensured she got what she needed.
It’s nearly impossible to know what’s going on in each others lives unless we volunteer it. It’s not the job of our friends to ask us about work, our marriages, our families, our holiday plans, and make their way down the list… only to have us then feel hurt that they neglected to ask about our health. You get the idea. If we have something that needs to be shared… then we need to share it.
Likewise, if we have a friend who calls us and then just talks and talks and then has to go; maybe we can take that as permission to call her and share our lives with her?
Or, if a friend has a habit of going on-and-on about her life, we can certainly experiment with saying, “I always love how freely you’re able to share… I need to learn from you because I always feel like I get home without sharing much…” Or, “Hey before we’re done with dinner, I wanted to be sure to tell you about what happened at work this last week.”
We can offer up our lives. It makes it no less sincere; nor means they care any less.
Less important than being asked something is whether we’re all sharing– whether that happens is as much my job as theirs. I don’t need to be asked in order to share. I need to practice offering myself up, being willing to take the space, being willing to be vulnerable– whether it’s initiated by me or them.
Now when I sit in circle with women, I take responsibility to share more. While I’m still a fan of women being more aware of asking questions and showing interest in each other, rather than filling the space themselves, I also know that most of them don’t do it maliciously.
I know that our collective friendship depends upon it– the relationship will start feeling lop-sided if I don’t speak up and own part of the space.
I know that it’s my job to reveal, not their job to guess.
I know that vulnerability isn’t as dependent as much on the question being asked, as it is on the answer that is shared.
If you have relationships where you feel like you’re always the one doing most of the listening and question-asking, I challenge you today to consider how you’ve contributed to that imbalance and what you can do to show up in a way that builds the relationship and better supports you.
That’s not to say that they don’t have more to learn or that they couldn’t do it differently; but we can’t control them, we can only change how we show up.