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Relational Reflections: Yes, another blog, and this one’s from Dr. Nadine and Dr. Zan at True Heights

Connections that Defy the Passage of Time

Dr. Nadine’s Thoughts:

Do you ever think about those friends you’ve known for so many years—the ones you see infrequently, but for whom time does not exist in your relationships?  I had that experience this past weekend. I have a dear friend whom I’ve known for twenty-five years who came to town for business and to catch up with her friends here in the area.  I can’t claim to be her friend for the longest time; she, in fact, still has connections here with her classmates from junior high whom she visits, whom she loves, and for whom the passage of time does not exist, either.

How does this happen?  What makes certain relationships special and long-lasting compared to all the ones we’ve had over the course of our lives?  I’m contemplating this as my last two back-to-back weekends were spent with my group of girlfriends who have moved from the category of “friends” to “family”.  (Check out last week’s blog for a reminder…) This is a significant shift, indeed. I like to say that “relatives” are those to whom you’re biologically connected; “family” are those to whom you choose to be connected.  (I have a friend who calls this a “FRAMILY”.)  The ideal situation is when your relatives are also your family -- but that’s not often the case for many of us.  Most of my relatives are peripheral, but my family and framily are integral to me, whether I see them frequently or not. That category of “framily” is characterized by the dissolution of any time and space that exists between us.

Some of this kind of connection is based on a shared history.  For example, my sibs and I shared childhood experiences, though our interpretations of them can be quite different.  The “Fine Friends” bonded over a common enemy (at least it felt like that at the time), meaning our doctoral work, with the sheer number of academic requirements, the unpredictable professors, the logistics of fitting life around our studies, the unexpected hurdles thrown out in front of us… Sigh.  My other group from this weekend – I call us The Three Musketeers – bonded over the common experience of transitioning from one major life situation to another. We found ourselves as “suddenly single” women who were negotiating a deep ravine in our lives’ paths that was only traversable with one another’s help.

In fact, a shared experience is critical to any initial connection between people.  I’m sure you can think right now of someone with whom you’ve shared some of your life, who has stayed with you for a season, but who has eventually moved back out of your life.   So it’s not just the shared history which keeps “framily” together. Rather, it is the open hearts, open minds, and open arms toward one another which facilitate our relationships over the passage of time.  It’s our ability to sit together and share each other’s experiences with respect and genuine concern. It’s our ability to leave our expectations for and judgement of one another behind. It’s our ability to empathically take each other’s perspectives, and thus to bond us in our common humanity as we see that we really aren’t much different from one another.  Our stories may differ, but the human reactions we have to joys and sorrows are similar.

There are many studies right now that show that we as humans are biologically wired to be socially connected.  We have multiple physiological systems which promote and regulate our attachments to others. We are built with biological structures in our brains, endocrine systems and DNA that motivate and reward caregiving, empathy, and affiliation with others.   Behaviors that allow for communication, like vocalizing and touching, are integral to connecting and enhance physical and psychological health. One study suggests that our brains expect that regular contact with others is the norm, and its absence is a source of stress.

So first, at a fundamental physiological level, connecting to one another is who we are and what we need.  Sharing meaningful experiences is another important part of building our associations. And then coming to these relationships with dignity, respect, openness, curiosity, awareness, and without judgement fosters a friendship in which the partners can dare to be themselves.  I don’t know about you, but I know that when I’m fully loved and accepted, especially by someone who is different than me, I am honored to be connected to that dear one. I’m eager to help the relationship grow, excited to be in it, and willing to maintain it by offering back those same qualities of love and acceptance.  That’s how it works over time.

There’s a lot more about creating great friendships that’s relevant to add, but for now, if you can just begin by affirming others and being open to them, that’s a BIG start!  And you’ll find that you also end up being a recipient of those blessings!

Dr. Zan’s Reflections:

Just as Dr. Nadine has been connecting with friends for whom the passage of time holds no relevance, I too have been blessed to connect in person with someone who holds a place of honor in my life since my youth. You see, I had the unique experience of attending a very small secondary school where my teachers often held the responsibility for teaching multiple courses across grade level. At times this reality meant that a troubled teacher-student relationship had to persist despite its disagreeable nature. However, the structure of my school also provided the gift of true mentorship from that special educator who could literally follow and guide you throughout your high school career. There are a few noteworthy educators who stand out in my memory from these years; however, one clearly rises to the top of my mind as cause for deepest gratitude. Until recently, our contact has been maintained primarily through letter writing, which seems appropriate, given that she is the person who taught me to write. Yet, her influence has been even more profound as she became the catalyst for my being able to communicate with confidence, to reflect my experiences and values in written form, to tell my story-- and sometimes even tell the stories of others-- in a cohesive fashion.

In anticipation of our face to face meeting, I was filled with excitement. Reconnecting with a cherished teacher now as an adult would offer me the opportunity to feel more like a peer than a student. But would I? Would I still feel the need to call her by a formal title, despite her willingness to offer her first name for my use in all of our communications? Could I communicate my deep and abiding respect for her and our history while also forging a new, reciprocal relationship? Besides, I had held her in such high esteem for so many years that I wondered if I could actually relate to someone securely positioned on a pedestal of my own creation.

Filled with gratitude as I write these words, I am happy to report that upon the arrival of my dear teacher and her delightful spouse, one thing became imminently clear--being in her presence felt like coming home. In her presence, I immediately felt remembered, appreciated, seen, heard, honored, connected. She listened with interest to stories offered, requesting more detail and flavor. She shared with openness her own personal and professional journey. She with her spouse and I with mine felt like old friends--to borrow from Dr. Nadine--we were framily.

Sometimes the memories of our youth, especially those we hold with particular fondness, can leave us feeling a bit disappointed in the moment. Even the foods remembered as being so delicious in childhood, can leave us scratching our heads about what once made them so amazing when we encounter them as less-than-dazzling in adulthood. However, sometimes things or people are just as fabulous as you knew they were. This is completely true with the Fannie May candies of my childhood that continue to satisfy my sweet tooth. And this is even more true with my high school English teacher. May you all remember someone so impactful from your own history, and if you are as fortunate as I, perhaps you can let them know just how much they matter.

#trueheightsconsulting #relationshipsmatter #womenkickglass #thankateacher #fanniemaychocolates

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