When experiencing days or weeks of writer’s block, I still try to write. Ideas that flow in uneven, disjointed spurts through my fingers onto the keyboard are clumsy, awkward. Even I, as the author of these opinion pieces recognize the subpar content. The points I attempt to make through the words are muddy, the difficulty of formulating my thoughts and ideas is evident in the lack of flow, the discomfort of the process shows in the way the words fall coarsely onto my computer screen.
I do recognize this as a need to pick up my energy and feed my soul. So I read. I walk. I try not to be annoyed with the rain. And I constantly seek inspiration.
Sometimes I am so fortunate to connect with a person or people that, just through a short (or sometimes long) conversation, help to slowly start the simmer of thoughts and ideas until I can almost feel the glow at the end of my fingers as they pass over the keyboard with a distinct confidence and certainty that I have something to say, a clarity that comes from tossing ideas around with forward thinking, like minded, inspiration-seeking sisters and the appreciation and validation that follows as I process how the conversation impacted me.
I haven’t always had this unique opportunity. I haven’t always connected with women well. Part of the issue was my religion where I was provided a group of people to choose my close friends from. Although I can say absolutely that they were warm and loving women who were kind and mostly easy to be around, I didn’t want to be close or to open up. I didn’t want to find myself in a situation where I exposed my unhappiness or discontent with my life. Although I had no clear idea why this was, I knew that I didn’t want them to know the real me.
The one time that I confided in a friend about some of the issues I faced in my marriage, I found that my trust in her as a confidante was translated as an invitation to have a relationship that ran more along the lines of a lesbian love affair, and our friendship ended badly upon my rejection of her advances.
It wasn’t too long after my unsettling experience with her that another woman indicated during an Ativan-and-martini induced state of truthfulness that she had those same feelings for me.
Now, I should clarify that I have no issue with people living their lives in bliss with the sexual orientation of their calling. Which, I must admit with no small amount of chagrin, is not what I was raised to believe. However, experiencing these women within the context of my then-religion was unsettling as it conflicted with the morals I had been trained rigorously to adopt, and also, because I was married (as were each of them) and I was fiercely loyal to my marriage vows. I was undeniably annoyed at their aggressive pursuit.
So, when I combined the experiences of my two admirers, along with my inability to connect with most others due to my dwindling interest in doctrine or anything related to the stringent lifestyle required of God-approved women, it really is no wonder that I became rather lonely, believing that female relationships were not an important part of healthy emotional growth on a path to personal excellence.
And this is not to say that I didn’t have some experiences that should have taught me differently. After I left my religion and subsequently my family, I had one friend that would meet me for lunch once or twice a year. We would talk and our lunch hour would turn into two or three, depending on what time I had to get back to pressing obligations of motherhood or work. Following these lunches with my friend, I could always feel an unfamiliar but very welcome simmering glow of wholeness that can only come from being understood, of being heard by another woman without judgement. These few-and-far-between tastes of healthy female friendship gave me the chance to experience what most well adjusted and smart women have always understood.
Somehow I missed that lesson. My childhood upbringing had caused me to form specific opinions on this topic – I can still hear my father scoffing with strong disapproval at women who would “go for coffee” mid-week with a friend for no other reason than to visit, vocalizing his disdain of their “gallivanting around the countryside.” I wonder how the events of my life would have been different if I had access to connections with friends outside of the mandated pool of personalities to connect with many years before I did.
Years later, and once I was in a strong relationship with this amazing man I get to love, I was somewhat baffled by his seeming to understand that these semi-regular lunch dates were a good thing for me. “It honestly doesn’t bother you that I’m going?” I would ask on my way out the door. He always sent me a text once I had arrived to make sure that I made it okay and with his hope for me: “Enjoy your lunch, Babe.” I only had them once or twice a year, but somehow he knew something that I never really had.
I am so unbelievably sad that it took me so many years to build up a small group of women that I would call friends. My personal group isn’t large, but it is rich in contrast due to each woman’s background. Each of these relationships feel good and fill a little corner of my heart up with something more than I would have been able to explain those many years ago. Some of these women are a good 10-15 years older than me, some at least 10 years younger. Some were born within a few months of me. All of them have brought value and a different perspective.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who has turned from acquantance into friend. She is someone I feel drawn to by virtue of her love of her family, her sensible outlook on the trivial things that often bog women down and her earthy wisdom of things that are good and matter to me too – gardening, cooking and raising children. She is somewhat older than me, her children are grown and she has grandchildren.
Standing out of the bright sun in the cool shadows of the shop, we got lost in conversation about mothers and how we feel about our children and our families and the drama that comes in emotional situations.
Her mother passed last year and my friend is still working through the grief. The pain of her loss is almost tangible as she speaks of how much she misses her. The relationship she had with her mother was a beautiful thing. They were close – it’s unthinkable that she should have to live without being able to talk to her mom like she used to. I listened to her, trying to absorb all the love she radiates when she talks about her mother. It feels good. Right. Special. I want to understand it, and bask in her words because they speak to my heart and make me feel warm, like she has shared the gift of her mom’s love with me.
She wrapped her sweater across her body, first with one arm and then the other and hugged herself, her big blue eyes troubled, searching my face, trying to grasp a basic understanding of my relationship with my family. “I can’t imagine…” she says.
It’s complicated. I pushed away from the wall my shoulder was leaning against and pressed my fingers together, my brain trying to collect the words to explain the unexplainable, then I start to talk. It’s experiences like these that have healed me, being given an opportunity to communicate the things I have lost and how much I have gained because of my willingness to lose what very few could fathom losing. Having someone listen while you explain to them something that they will never fully experience because it is actually unthinkable is therapy on a whole new level.
Having lunch with other women that I have considered friends for several years brings opportunities to deepen my understanding of life and experiences that I could have never known due to how sheltered I was growing up. Having the opportunity to listen to how their experiences and even trauma have shaped them is fascinating, discussing the concept of shame we still carry for things that we shouldn’t feel shame for in the first place makes me want to heal the daughters of the world. Talking to a new friend about relationships and the challenges and triumphs of raising children that you did not give birth to, and being able to express what a journey it has been to work on overcoming the fear of opening your story for the world to read and receiving unwavering support even though she hasn’t known me for long somehow makes me love the whole world a little more.
Joining an incredible group run by the fabulous Carrie Doll on my previously-much-avoided Facebook has further opened my horizons to more women who are so different from each other and yet so similar in valuing and wanting to hear other’s stories. We teach each other and touch each other and heal each other when we share a bit about ourselves and let a trusted friend or group understand us.
These experiences almost bring me to my knees with gratefulness and appreciation for this life that I have that has so many good people in it. They make me want to “mother” and “friend” differently and look at where my priorities are coming from, why I make the decisions that I do and question if I can change to become a better person, more in line with who I want to be as I know better.
I love these mothers and sisters and aunties in my life that epitomize what I now understand are what good girl friends are about: women who push each other to be better. Not through competition, but through inspiration and cheerleading. The ones who lead by example and expect that we do the same.
This is friendship. This is healing. THIS is the feeding of our souls.