Last week, I sat down and wrote some goals for the first six months of 2016. I had heard about a research study on a graduating class at Harvard University and goal setting. 3% of the class had written down goals for the future, 13% had goals in mind, but had not written them down, and the remaining 84% simply wanted to enjoy their upcoming summer. Ten years later, researchers found that the 3% were averaging incomes about ten times more than the remaining 97% put together! Ok, I’m not saying I am the top 3% of anything, but it can’t hurt to try, right?!
Some of my written goals were pretty classic. “Eat vegetables at every meal”. “Do taxes by February 1”. “Paint bathroom”. Sounds familiar, right?
Other goals were a bit grittier, more intentional, more season-based. “Shift time with husband away from relaxation and more toward adventure.” “Explore relinquishing of control and practice trusting in the unknown.”
But, when it came time to write down and commit to some relational goals, I sensed something in me was jarred. What do relationship goals even mean these days, anyway? Aren’t I a good enough spouse, friend, family member, therapist? I’m certainly not mean or malicious, I volunteer in several venues, I enact kindness and practice sincerity, I… Ok, clearly I was building up a defended wall against relational growth!
The truth is that after our 20s, women shift focus and priority on our families and careers. Our world gets smaller for the few people in our camp. We stay home more. We “Netflix and Chill’. We “learn” and “excel” in dividing relational energy into three invested areas: 1) familial relationships (typically nuclear); 2) professional relationships; and 3) our personal relationship with ourselves. And, we contend with, and finally find peace in reconciling that we have no space for anything or anyone else.
As I sat there with a blank piece of paper ready to commit to whatever “relational growth” meant for me during this season, I knew, unequivocally, that I needed to be a better girlfriend. In truth, I have spent much time weeding out unhelpful friendships and maintaining healthy ones, but have failed to foster and tend to them with energy, love and nurture. Girlfriends have defaulted to me hanging out with them when hubby is gone, or squeezing them in during a schedule lull. Girlfriends are combo’d with their own partners to help everyone feel included. Girlfriends have fallen into last place.
With us women being knee-deep in the trenches of parenting, career expansion and personal reflection and development, I believe we need our girlfriends now more than ever. Solid girlfriends offer dynamic perspective, ideas and reprieve. They challenge us to be better, to grow into discomfort and change, and to invite challenges and triumphs that are too terrifying to approach alone. Girlfriends invoke play, enjoyment and creativity, which we desperately need to refuel and to reinstate our buried youth. Good girlfriends attune to us and know when to bravely challenge us and when to keep quiet. They remind us how to behave appropriately and how to socialize comfortably. Girlfriends act as back-up and are on-call when we face family or spousal loss, divorce, singleness, miscarriages, empty nesting, and inevitable struggle and life transition.
I don’t have a whole ton of excess time right now to take week-long girlfriend trips or plan weekly happy hours. I absolutely cannot wait until I’m in a season when I do, and word on the street is that this time comes back sooner than we realize. But, my hectic schedule also leaves me no excuse to not acknowledge the gals in my life who have carried me through some slippery times and made my life more rich and dynamic from the everyday. And so, I share my abridged list of commitments to the girlfriends who sit with me during this family and career-based season:
- Show love to them through time spent together whether one-on-one or in a group
- Be interested and curious about their lives. Seek out what makes them different from me rather than settle into our comfortable similarities
- Pause during the day and text them hello with no premise for a favor or coordinating a social, but rather, with the posture of simple and loving connection
- Plan birthday parties, help with baby showers, be a part of events that celebrate them and bring overall joy
- Seek out ways to practice creativity and play with my girlfriends
- Commit to not speak poorly about my friends with others
- Provide meals, help with babysitting, ask what they are needing or what could make them know I care
- Lean into honest communication. Commit to making these friendships healthier through honesty and transparency
- Sit comfortably in a supportive positioning with feelings of grief, loss, transition, trauma, anger, betrayal and other difficult emotions that arise in the everyday.
I share these thoughts and goals with mixed feelings – with both conviction and trepidation. I believe in the investment in healthy friendships, but am afraid of failing or falling short. I’d love to hear if you have more ideas to add on how we can be better girlfriends. And, as always, feel free to connect with me to grow and learn more.