No. This is NOT a post about "networking". That word makes me gag and I wish it did not exist. Yes, it is about relationships but not the ones you have and maintain because you hope to "get" something out of them.
This post is about relationships you have and maintain because you genuinely like the people involved and, if your work/life situation were to change, chances are you would still make an effort to keep in touch with them.
Ok. Now that I have established what we are talking about here...I have a confession to make.
I have been terrible at forging and maintaining meaningful relationships. I have shown little to no interest in others and have not expected anyone to pay all that much attention to me either. I've been the type of person who does not care if anyone remembers my birthday or much of anything that is important to me. I have fewer than a dozen people* I would say I am somewhat close to or very close to and those include my mother and my husband. Lucky for me, I married my best friend!
I am not saying this to start a very public pity party. It's just a statement of fact, and it would render me absolutely useless in discussing the topic, if it weren't for one thing: I am working on being a better friend to those who matter most to me.
Now that I have had the chance to step back and think about what's important to me and what my priorities are, I realize that I want to be a better friend. I know I can learn a great deal from other people and that being there for others is important and it just plain feels good.
I don't know that there is a real science to getting better at this, but here's what I am doing: I'm making coffee, lunch, dinner and drink "dates" with friends one-on-one, either at home or out and about, to take the opportunity to catch up with what they've been up to and what exciting new projects or plans they have in the works. Sometimes, the meet up turns into just lending an ear to someone who is unexpectedly going through a tough time or who just needs to get something off their chest. And, that's fine by me. Haven't we all needed to vent or get something off our chest, desperately trying to find a party willing to lend an ear?
During these meet ups, I am offering my undivided attention (I make sure I have no other commitments that would make it necessary to check my phone or the time) and focusing on the little things by really listening to what my friend is saying (and not saying). I'm asking a lot of questions and finding out SO much about them than I ever knew existed.
Connecting with others is a lot of fun and I can't believe what I've been missing...this type of "relating to others" has been right under my nose this whole time. I'm also realizing that others do care and want to know what's going on with me too. It's a bit uncomfortable to really open up and be vulnerable to judgement or potential criticism, but so far it's been a small price to pay. The high level of interest and curiosity seems mutual each and every time - and if it isn't, you know that maybe it's time to move on.
I guess you get what you give and I can't even compare what I am discovering now to the feeling I was left with in past interactions. The conversations I have engaged in with others lately have been rich and better than most I can remember over the last number of years. Some of the conversations I've engaged in have even lasted 7 or 8 hours! These particular exchanges were unbelievable! It almost felt like we had managed to make time stand still, just for us.
One friend recently told me that our latest conversation had fuelled her desire to work on a personal project that she had been meaning to tackle. WOW! I have to say that that felt incredible! Getting together with others for no other purpose than to have a meaningful connection seems to result in both parties being energized by the exchange. We truly are social creature.
I can't believe what I've been missing but I'm happy I have (re)discovered it and that I am again nurturing these types of positive, symbiotic** relationships. Being independent and self-reliant is great but there's something to be said about the ability to do bigger and better things when you have the support of others who are willing to lend an ear and offer insights that make you think about concepts, problems or opportunities in a different way.
I'm going to keep sticking my neck out and keep working on making deeper connections with my friends one by one, appreciating them for their uniqueness and insights, and learning more about both of us in the process. I also hope they will consider me among those they feel they can call for help if they fall on hard times. I would consider it a privilege to be considered.
Are you a great friend? How do you connect with others? What do you look for in a great friendship that you hope endures for many years?
*I only included on the list those I think I could call on if I really found myself in a tough situation and needed help.
**The only prerequisite is that you go in not wanting anything other than to truly connect with another person. That, in and of itself is enough. However, I have been surprised at how aimless conversation has resulted in ideas to explore, projects to work on jointly and new passions to pursue.