Living Intentionally: In Friendships and Relationships
A couple of years ago I had a really rough day at work. At that time, I was living in Orange County, California, so I did what I did whenever I had a rough day at work: I got in the car, opened the sun roof, and drove the winding Pacific Coast Highway down to Laguna Beach straight to my favorite store: Tuvalu.
Tuvalu is a home furnishing and decorating store in the heart of Laguna Beach. It is filled with coastal-inspired designs and knick-knacks. There’s a book section in one corner of the store that has this absurd way of making any bad day of mine better. I’ve spent numerous afternoons in that book section thumbing over covers, looking to find the perfect words for whatever I may be going through at a given moment.
On one particular spring day, I picked up Anna Quindlen’s “A Short Guide To A Happy Life.” I was familiar with Quindlen, but never read any of her books. After reading “A Short Guide To A Happy Life,” I was hooked on her simplistic and concise writing.
In the book, Quindlen spends a significant amount of time talking about the importance of relationships to ensuring happiness. In one simple paragraph, she sums up what it means to live intentionally in friendships and relationships:
I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.
Truth be told, my life has become exponentially more busy since July 1, 2011. The busyness of my life was summed up when a guy I met this fall added me on LinkedIn. Later, when we would talk again, he quipped,”So you work what, three jobs?” It’s easy to let relationships go by the wayside when you are busy. And truth be told, we are all busy. How then, do you use living intentionally to get the most out of your relationships?
1. Show Up
My schedule no longer allows me to attend every social event I’m invited to or want to attend. This is one of the byproducts of becoming an adult–your free time dissipates. Yet, my friends would tell you that I still show up.
With an adult (aka busy) schedule, prioritizing is key to showing up. I intentionally make a point to recognize the important moments in my friend’s lives. I call on birthdays. I send messages on anniversaries. I show up at the hospital when babies are born. I show up with a bottle of wine when the jerk dumps her.
Being a friend requires taking the time to be intentional in recognizing the important moments your friends are experiencing. A phone call after a doctor’s appointment you know they had scheduled could mean all of the difference in the world. A “Hey, I’m proud of you” message after a milestone at work is accomplished lets them know you’re not just a friend, but a cheerleader. Asking to sit down for coffee and look at pictures of their most recent trip shows that you care about the biggest moments in their life.
While it’s important to show up in the big moments, it’s also important to show up in the mundane. With busyness, this takes greater intentions. I work to carve out at least one non-weekend day that I set aside specifically for activities with friends. This practice has allowed me to find better balance in my life, while also developing better relationships with those I care the most about.
And truth be told, the reason why this post didn’t make it up last night, is because I took my own advice. A friend called and asked me out to dinner. Seeing the fun opportunity to catch up, I made the intentional decision that work could wait until another day.
2. Be Present
While showing up is important, if all you did in your friend’s big moments was grace them with your appearance, your relationships wouldn’t have any depth. Thus, it’s important to also be present in the moment during interactions with friends.
The easiest way to be present in a moment is to be completely open to it. Take in the surroundings. Share what’s on your mind. Ask questions that really get to what is on the heart of your friend. Where is their life taking them right now? What joys are they celebrating? What hurts are they suffering through?
Being present means that you open yourself up completely to those around you. You let them in to the joys being celebrated in your life. You do this with the hope that they will celebrate along with you. You let them in to the hurts you’re suffering through. You do this with the hope that they will offer you peace to get you through your suffering.
In turn, being present means that you intentionally react to the joys and suffering that those around you share with you. You do this through empathy. Empathy requires that you put yourself into the shoes of your friend and try to imagine what they’re going through. Empathy requires you to offer reassurance of hope, gifts of support and a promise of a continued friendship.
One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given in this life, is that my friends open up to me. I’ve been on the receiving end of many secrets and breaking news stories in my friends’ lives. I truly believe this is only because I have shown up in their lives and when I did, I was present.
3. Intentional Offerings
Throughout my life, I’ve had a hard time accepting two things: First, that I can’t be friends with everyone and second, that not everybody has your best interest at heart.
I love people. I love learning their stories. I love hearing their ideas. I love being surrounded by them.
This love, in turn, means that I want to be friends with everybody. I want to be well liked. I want to be well received. I want to hang out with the entire world in one giant party, alright?
Unfortunately, though, I’ve learned that not everybody has your best interests at heart. Not everybody wants to be the type of friend that you want to be to them. Sadly, in this world there are some people that just want to use you and lose you.
As the wool has been pulled away from my eyes on this topic, I’ve become much more intentional about who I let into my life and who stays in my life. The area in which I’ve done this the most hasn’t necessarily been with friendships, but more so with romantic relationships.
I’m the type of person who will give my heart away at the drop of a dime. I’m the type of person that if I truly feel a spark, will get on an airplane and spend the rest of my life with somebody. I’m the type of person who will die before my loyalty for the ones I love is stripped from me.
Over the last year, this nature of mine has caused me a fair amount of heartache. I’m not sure if there’s a feeling that hurts worse than laying everything you have out on the line for someone you care about and that sentiment not being returned. I’m not sure if there’s something that hurts a heart more, than the realization that you love someone more than they will every love you.
What I’ve learned over the last year though, is to survey your surroundings. Oftentimes, a quick survey of the people around you can tell you much about your relationships. Do the people you show up for often and present yourself for return the favor? Are the people you show empathy and care for the ones who call you first when big news happens in your life? Is your life being celebrated by the lives you are celebrating?
Friendship, and love for that matter, are worlds of equals. You don’t beat somebody when it comes to friendship and love. The intention–unlike with most things in life–is to find equal ground. The idea, is to share your best with one another.
Living intentionally in friendships and relationships sometimes requires you to cut people out of your life. You don’t need to do it brashly or rudely. But you do need to do it. There’s only so much time in a day, and that time should be used to show up and be present for the people who show up and are present for you.