There's an old saying that we meet people for a reason, as season or a life. I have sometimes confused seasonal relationships for lifers, or wanted relationships which were for a reason, to turn into a season, but the older I get, the more I am able to appreciate all my relationships for what they bring to my life.
Relationships for a reason
This can sound mercenary, like we only meet people to use them for our own needs and move on. For sure there are people who do that, people who use us for their own reasons without care for ours. However, there are also there are the planned transactions where we go on Tinder for our own reasons to meet someone who shares the same relationships itch. A relationship for a specific reason, for a specific moment in time which maybe has no long term impact.
Then there are relationships for a reasons which have longer term effects. I was on a course the other day learning about autism, led by people with autism. It was amazing, packed with information, clearly explained and practical but backed up with evidence. The most valuable part of the four hours was having people with autism talking about their lived experience, not just in the past, but as they were experiencing it in the moment, with us in the audience. The pain experienced from a light being flicked on and off, the blanking when overwhelmed, the difficulty in understanding tone and voice modulation. It was so powerful to be with people who could and would talk about their lived experience with so much honestly and vulnerability.
I may never meet these people again, but they have deeply changed my understanding of what it is to be autistic and to interface with a neuro-typical world which largely doesn't understand. The relationships formed for just four hours have fundamentally changed my understanding, not just of people with autism, but how differently humans perceive the world.
However, there are also the chance meetings which we happen upon, that change subtly change us; the girl on the train who, I suddenly realised, was talking to me like I was an older woman, when I hadn't come to terms with seeing myself in that way yet. The man on the airplane who said 'why not', when I told him about the fling I'd had on holiday and whether it was worth pursuing. The kind women in the check-out queue, when my baby was squalling, who reassured me I wasn't being a bad mother, and helped me with my shopping and shielded me from the tuts of irritated shoppers. I never even knew the name of these people but the girl on the train helped me step into my middle life phase, the man on the plane contributed to me marrying the man I did and the woman at the check-out helped me have compassion for myself and other new mothers. Unplanned reasons, unplanned encounters, turning corners in my life.
Relationships for season
I'm sure I can't be the only one who has done this, who has wanted a relationship to last longer than it should have. I had a relationship with someone when I came out of my marriage and boy did I want it to 'Be The One'. It wasn't, and he knew it was never going to be and was clear with that from the start, I just didn't want to listen! But you know what, he is a good friend and that time with him restored my self-esteem, taught me about boundaries and self-respect and showed me that there were nice guys in the world when I badly needed to believe it. The fact that it didn't last in a romantic form, didn't diminish the positive impact it had on me.
Then there are the friends who have come and gone. Not because we argued, or fell out, but just because life moved on, new jobs, new homes, new relationships, just a gentle fading over time and a knowledge that we'd still get on if our paths crossed, they just don't cross any more. The friend who took me into her home after my first partner's death, the friends who I went to festivals with and danced through the night, the colleagues who made me laugh at lunchtimes, the school gate mums who shared how-to-get-them-to-eat vegetables tips and stories of similarly destroyed sex lives!
These relationships were intense, special, precious and nurturing and my life would have been so much the poorer without them. There is a melancholy for me when I think of these relationships; a happy/sad, happy to have had them, sad to not have them now, but also the knowledge, that their passing made way for the new.
These seasonal relationships are critical, they allow us to connect with people as we are now, without the baggage of history, we get to reinvent ourselves, update ourselves, try out new ways of being. When I did the Barefoot coaching course I met a whole tribe of new friends who helped me completely change how I saw myself and ultimately gave me the courage to get out of a bad marriage. The friends who had known me for longer were too close and involved to do that for me.
When I look back on my romantic relationships I can see that they were perfect in their seasonality. I think so often when a relationship comes to an end we see it as a 'failure' and yet I can see how perfectly those relationships met me where I needed to be at that time. First love who died and catapulted me on to the spiritual and psychological path he introduced me to and which is now my life's work, second love who took me dancing, travelling, shared his tribe and made me laugh, the father of my children...what more is there to say, without him I wouldn't have my boys. Each of them like books in the series of books of my life, each of them sharing their music, their friends, their life and changing me in the process.
Relationships for a life
In my previous blog here I talked about how I have never met 'The One', so I can't talk about have a romantic relationship for life, this has not been my experience.
However, my sister and I are close and I am still best friends with a girl I met in school at 11. Then there are the friends who started off in one season but are still with me. New friends six, eight, twenty years ago, who are now part of my roots.
I'm sitting in the garden of one of these friends now, while our kids play noisy monopoly and we steal quiet time before the walk with the dog and a tribe of (probably complaining) kids. Last night we were laughing. I had just been saying how I couldn't be doing with drama any more and she reminded me how, years ago when we were trying to set up alternative family holidays together, I had said that what I really liked was the group dynamics and interpersonal drama. She has known me long enough to chart how I have changed.
Old friends also know me well enough to be able to spot my patterns, my scripts; old school friend can say 'he's like your dad' because, not only has she met my dad, but there are very few family tales she hasn't heard over the years. Old friends know me well enough to be able to ask me if I have once again taken on too much when I am complaining about feeling tired and overwhelmed. They can remind me of all the good things my partner has done when I am moaning about all of the ways he irritates me, they can remind me of all that I have achieved when I am down on myself, they can make me laugh, point out the things I don't want to see about myself because I know they have my best interests at heart.
Of course, not all relationships are good for us, If you have read my book Into the Woods, you will know I've had an abusive one. On Monday I was in Liverpool with the amazing Winnie M Li talking about our books. Her novel The Dark Chapter is based on the rape she survived with 39 injuries in 2008. She had no idea when she set out on her walk in some Belfast woods that she would meet the 15 year old who would rape her and change her life. His attack had no reason other than he felt like doing it. They had never met before. For her, it took longer to find the reason, and to turn that reason into not only a novel but a movement to encourage survivors of sexual abuse to talk about it. Maybe, our talk about our books and our experiences will have been a reason for some of the survivors who were in the room, to feel differently about themselves. Sometimes we have to find reasons to make meanings of our relationships for ourselves.
None of us know when a new relationship will show up, or an old relationship will disappear, but I have learned, as I have got older, that relationships which deplete and diminish me, however lasting or fleeting, are unworthy of my time and attention, because there is a world full of new and old relationships which fill me up and make me glow.
P.S. My first book Love Being Me is the story about how I recovered from my less than happy marriage. If you'd like to read the opening chapters you can download them free by filling in the green box here.