By Nichole Giles
This next weekend my grandpa’s extended family is getting together for the first reunion in eleven years. Regrettably, we won’t be able to make it to this one, but we hope to attend another function of some kind, where we’ll be able to see those relatives we only see once or twice a year. Sadly, I realize that in many cases I won’t be seeing some of my relatives until next Christmas, or possibly summer 2010. How sad. And yet, mostly unavoidable.
With the approach of summer and gatherings, I find myself thinking about relationships of all kinds, and the efforts required for each one. The truth is, there is no relationship in existence that doesn’t require work or effort from all parties involved. Be it the relationship between man and woman, husband and wife, parent and child, siblings, friends, colleagues…heavens, even a relationship between a pet and owner. All types require us to…well, do something.
In order to have a relationship with someone, you need to spend time with them, have conversations with them, and understand where the boundaries are. Make no mistake, every relationship has boundaries, or in other words, rules of how you are and are not allowed to treat one another. For those of us who choose to cross those lines, do we know what the consequences will be? We should, and yet so often we don’t.
For example: If I…choose to call up my step-mother and curse and swear at her because I don’t like the gift she gave us for Christmas, (even though she put a LOT of thought and effort into having it custom made) she—as well as my father—may choose to not speak to me for a long time. And they’d be justified because I was acting like an immature, spoiled, brat. When someone gives you a gift, especially one which was made out of love (however that love can be misconstrued), you say, “Thank you for the thoughtful gift.” And if you absolutely hate it, you put it away somewhere and only ever take it out when that person is coming for a visit. This is not an opinion, people. It’s a matter of respect. But what are the consequences? I guess it depends on the people involved and their ability to forgive and forget—or not.
Example number two: If a husband has a choice between going to his daughter’s dance recital and working overtime (for no extra pay) and chooses to work, the wife has every right to be angry, and so does the daughter. And if that same husband (by the way, this example is NOT my husband) then opts to work on major holidays like Christmas, or during big family reunion picnics in order to avoid visiting family members or setting up new toys, how is his family supposed to feel? Is this a healthy situation? Is it okay for work to be more important, more desirable than family? Absolutely not. That’s not an opinion either. It’s a matter of love, and if your love becomes twisted in such a way that money becomes more important than the people it supports, well…where does love go then? Again, it depends on the people. But my guess is that at some point, the happy family will break down.
Example number three: Two friends, who have been close in childhood, move on with their lives. One gets married and has kids; the other friend gets married, but soon divorces and spends several years single again—with no children. If the married friend continues to keep in touch with, to check on, and be concerned about the single friend, she is being a true friend. But if the single friend waits for her married friend to always call—rarely returning calls herself—visit—never even wondering how big the children are getting—and generally puts forth little or no effort, the relationship falls flat. Eventually, the married friend will feel like a burden to the single friend and slowly fade out of her life. Because the truth is, a one-sided friendship isn’t a friendship at all.
I’m not trying to analyze the relationships between others (although it may appear that way) but instead, I’m wondering about my own relationships and hoping I can pay close attention to those people who matter to me. When they grow up and move away, will my kids remember that I was there for them at the most important moments? Or will they look back and say; too bad my mom missed the best things? When my husband is gray and wrinkled, will he look back in time and know that I was the best, most faithful, loving wife I could be? When I die, will there be a hundred acquaintances lined up to give condolences, or a handful of close, loving friends clutching each other and bawling their eyes out wondering why I had to go at the tender-young age of a hundred and five?
Now don’t get me wrong on the other end of the spectrum, either. I’m not saying you have to spend every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon with Grandma Lindsay, whose only known conversational skill is that of complaint. Nor am I expecting that we should all invite great uncle Jim—the person who is constantly looking for only negative things like the temperature being one degree too high, the water too tepid, and the food to bland, no matter who is taking care of him, and always without a word of thanks—to move into the guestroom and live with us indefinitely. Unhealthy relationships can be a drastic energy drain, and when you put so much effort into a relationship that never changes and never gives forth any kind of gratification, all you get is exhausted. Even though we love these people and want to spend some time with them, there has to be some effort to balance the scales, or eventually, we’ll lose our ability to deal with any of it.
I’m not a relationship expert. And I’m a long, long way from perfect with these things. But I am trying to learn from my life experiences. And I learn a little bit more with each year that passes. I hope with a bit of effort I can strengthen my relationships with the people who matter to me. I’m looking for balance on all levels, and I’ve learned that life balance starts first in the relationship with one’s self, and then in the relationships with the key people in a person’s life. Family, close friends, neighbors, work associates…it all fans out from there.
Does that make sense?
I don’t often allow myself to ramble—especially on my public blogs. But more and more often I watch the way some people treat others, and I do not understand where love got lost. Not just the love between family members or friends, but love for our neighbors, our community, and our fellow human beings. Have we really become so callous that we can turn our heads to a homeless person on the street? Is the universe we live in truly so imbalanced that we would lose completely the desire to acknowledge the existence of each other? The needs of each other?
I don’t understand. Not at all. And I realize I can’t fix the thoughts running around the heads of other people. Nor can I tell anyone besides myself how to fix the problems of the world. What I can do is work on the issues in my own self, and make a large effort to balance the scales in my life. I can be a good example to my children, and try to teach them the same things I’ve learned.
And if, for some reason, someone gives me a gift—even if it’s a used, re-gifted, odd dollar amount gift card—I’ll accept it graciously and say, “Thank you for the thought.”
And people, my words will not be a lie.