ask questions

The Problem: My Friend Doesn't Ask Me About My Life!

"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.

Does your friend talk too much? Maybe it's your responsibility to talk more?

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.

Speaking Up

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.

 

 

The Power of Female Stories

There is the passing along of information.  And then there's the telling of stories. Both methods can both convey words, details, and content; but one has more power to bond us in our humanity, help us feel seen, and move us closer to hearing our own truth. Stories are powerful.

Stories of Female Connection

I was reminded of that today as I read through the essays that have been compiled in the Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection anthology. Fifty-one women opened up and let us in.

anthology

  • I was moved by Laura Fenamore's essay as she described her journey with Overeaters Anonymous. I've never struggled with food in the same way or released 100 pounds like she did, but I know the feeling of being ashamed of your body.
  • I felt my heart in my throat as I read Aspen Baker's story about her abortion.  I've never had to face that decision, but as she described how many abortion stories she has (different ways of telling the one story) I nodded knowingly about how many different ways I can tell my divorce story-- all true, just each with a different focus. And as she shared the judgment she faces in the telling, I again nodded in affirmation.
  • When Amie Penwell described her life going from idyllic childhood with two parents to a separation that followed with her father's too-soon death and her mother taking her from one spiritual commune to another, my heart ached for her, wishing I had known her and befriended her when we were young.  I don't know what it feels like to go to six schools in two years.  But I know the feeling she described when she finally found another "wounded warrior" to call a friend.
  • Mickey Nelson's essay opens with the reading she shared at her 28-year old sister's memorial.  How grateful I am that I haven't had to suffer the loss of a sibling, but I know grief.  I resonated with her as she talks honestly about the parts of sadness that time doesn't heal.

I could go on-and-on.  I know only a small handful of the women who contributed to the essays on these pages, and yet after their vulnerability-- I feel close to them.  I saw them.

And, I saw me. Not always in the details, but in the feelings that connect us as humans.

Sharing Our Own Stories

I was reminded how easy it is to put up walls between us assuming no one else knows our pain and our stories. And while our stories may take on very different forms; what was ever clear was that there is more that connects us than we might ever guess.  We all know what it feels like to be lonely, scared, confused, sad, and mad.

I'm struck though how much of our conversations with each other are based upon information:  where do you work? where do you live? are you married? do you have kids? how long have you lived here? did you see the Giants game last night? We ask such informational questions that can leave us with an answer, but not necessarily with greater connection.

Whereas stories (i.e. what drew you to your job? why did you move here? Why is this important to you?) help us connect.  Our empathy--the ability to identify with and understand the feelings of others-- has far greater chances of being tapped when someone shares their experience rather than simply relaying information.

Today, I encourage all of us to ask questions that invite stories.

And choose in some moments to share more than just the information.

If we want people to like us and feel close to us-- we have a far greater chance of that when we're willing to see and be seen. Those moments where we don't just tell each other the canned answers, but risk adding a feeling into the sentence, a moment of vulnerability into the life of another human. Let's tell stories!  Like the women of old who sat around the campfires and passed along their traditions.  Let's show up around metaphoric campfires and really talk, connect, and share.

Congratulations to Christine Bronstein who dreamed and birthed this anthology into existence. In a day and age where much focus is given to the drama of jealousy, competition, and cattiness that can occur between women-- we'd all be blessed for reading some positive stories.  For by beholding, we become changed.  Buy the book here on Amazon TODAY.