I must confess I was not born with a green thumb. Although I aspire to have a one, gardening is not going to appear on my resume anytime soon. When my son and his wife recently moved into their new home, I offered to plant some flowers around their property and achieved mixed results. Friends, let’s just say there are three levels of flowering that are going on there now – thriving, maintaining, and dead.
The flowers that are thriving are the ones that have received the most sunlight and water, and are somewhat protected from predators (by that I mean the bunnies and deer who think I put out a lunch buffet for them). They have doubled in size with full blooms, look robust, and their fragrance is wonderful. The flowers that have pretty much stayed the same since I planted them are simply maintaining the status quo. They have neither grown nor shrunk, but seem to just exist without too much attention other than an occasional watering and sunlight. The dead flowers look as if they were eaten by those vicious bunnies and deer, or did not receive all the sun and water needed to thrive. There is little to no chance of resuscitating them.
As I was driving home from my granny nanny duties yesterday, the flower situation was really bothering me. I was so determined to plant lovely petunias for my son and his wife in order to give a splash of color to the new house, but the results were not completely how I expected them to be. There was a lesson to be learned here. This whole process made me reflect about friends and friendships and relationships in connection to this experience.
I truly believe friendships and relationships that are the best are like the flowers that are thriving. I have only a few people in my life that I can honestly say are true friends or people in my family that work on having a strong relationship – where I and they are growing together because we nurture the relationship by spending time together, having meaningful conversation, supporting each other through difficulties, and protecting it from letting words or other relationships damage it. I treasure those relationships, but if I am being perfectly honest – I wish I had more true friends.
I also know a lot of people who are more acquaintances than solid friends. I mean we are friendly when we see each other, but the depth of the relationship seems superficial, much like those plants that are maintaining. I feel as if I am a person who is always ready to take this type of “light” friendship to the next level, but I am never sure how that works exactly. I have made more attempts to increase my circle of friends and the depth of friendships by inviting people over, or asking if they want to have lunch or coffee, and then things just kind of just stagnate – neither growing nor dying – just there, but gaining no great depth. It reminds me of the flowers that are simply keeping the status quo.
And then I have some past friendships that started and ended – just died for whatever the reason, perhaps through neglect over time and distance, lack of common interests, or possibly hurt feelings killed it off. I think this group is mostly comprised of coworkers from former jobs who I thought were friends when I saw them most weekdays, but the bloom died when the job ended. I wish I would’ve tried harder to be a better friend, but even with the best of intentions on the part of one side, friendship still needs to be reciprocal on both sides.
I wish I had a better “green thumb of friendship.” I think most of my friends are still busy raising their children and teens, and can’t always spare the time needed to connect in a more meaningful way that would require time and effort. Sometimes I read blogs and insta-stories and wish some of these lovely people were my next door neighbors and we could hang out at any time. I’m not a believer in those sayings that friends who never see each other can pick up years later right where they left off. If I haven’t seen or heard from a friend in years, resuscitating that relationship is difficult at best.
Being a woman in my fifties who spends a good deal of time with toddlers and babies doesn’t exactly allow for the meeting of new people. In this respect I am reminded of two books I read in which the discussion on friendships left a lasting impression on me. The first excerpt is from The Egg and I by Betty McDonald. She writes the following…
“Men are so much less demanding in friendship. A woman wants her friends to be perfect. She sets up a pattern, usually a reasonable facsimile of herself, lays a friend out on this pattern and worries and prods at any little qualities which do not coincide with her own image. She simply won’t be bothered with anything less than ninety percent congruity, and will accept ninety only if the other ten percent is shaping up nicely and promises accurate conformity within a short time. Friends with glaring lumps or unsmoothable rough places are cast off like ill-fitting garments, and even if this means that the woman has no friends at all, she seems happier then with some imperfect being for whom she should have to make allowances. A man has a friend, period. He acquires this particular friend because they both like to hunt ducks. The fact that the friend discourses entirely in four letter words, very seldom washes, chews tobacco and spits at random, is drunk a good deal of the time and hates women, in no way affects the friendship. If the man notices these flaws in the perfection of his friend, he notices them casually as he does the friend’s height, the color of his eyes, the width of his shoulders, and the friendship continues at an even temperature for years and years.”
I have thought about this passage many times over the years and I am amazed at the truth of it. The things men bond over boggles my mind, and how they keep things at an ‘even temperature’ over the years, too, defies logic for me.
But what the author writes about woman friends really made me consider if whether or not I could make friends with people who were different from me. In a recent job I had I made a few attempts to reach out to coworkers who were not individuals I would typically befriend. At first it was fun to chat and spend time together, but in the end I did realize that sharing a core faith base and having at least a few common interests is necessary in order for an honest and deep friendship. I’d like to think I would not be as harsh as to require 90% uniformity with the remaining 10% shaping up as the author concedes, but the thought of having a nearly identical ME as my best friend sounds enchanting!
Another book I read about friendships was MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend, a memoir written by Rachel Bertsche in which she relates the difficulties of moving to a new city with no close friends. She takes matters into her own hands by going on 52 “friend dates” over the course of a year in order to find a new BFF. This book resonated with me about how truly difficult it is to make new friends as an adult. I didn’t move to a strange new town as the writer did, but being an empty-nester caught me by surprise. I didn’t realize how invested I was with my kids’ schedules – athletics, the arts, academics. When they moved out and started families of their own I had a lot of time on my hands. I attempted to re-connect with old friends or make new ones, sometimes with lackluster results. The hubby and I enjoyed a period of dating again, but I discovered a lack of close female companions to bond with over coffee, the movies, or a long walk. While I was busy being a mom, I neglected my friendships. It’s so much more difficult to make new friends in middle age.
As I contemplated the flower situation on my drive home yesterday and thought about the relationships in my life, in the end I came to the conclusion that I must put into practice the quote by Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I will be ever thankful for the few relationships that are my blooming, thriving flowers, and I will be sure to help them continue to grow with the time, effort, and emotion. To rephrase that Gandhi quote I am telling myself, “Sunny, if you want to have good friends and meaningful relationships, be the type of friend you want to have in others.” And I will continue reaching out to increase my circle of friends – I may not see new or stronger friendships blooming, but at least I choose to be on the ‘sunny side’ of the situation and hope for an ever-growing bouquet of friends.