Stop Pretending You Know What You’re Talking About

Stop Pretending You Know What You're Talking About

The other night I found myself in a cluster of new friends at a concert. The second band was sound-checking so we huddled together to talk about the previous band, what we thought about them, if we liked them and why, how they fit into the trend of that genre of music these days, where music was headed in general, and how everyone was starting to sound like The Black Keys. And when I say “we” talked about this, I mean that they talked about this, I said very little, and mostly listened and smiled. Because I don’t really know how to talk intelligently about the type of music we were seeing. I don’t even know what it’s called – Indie? Americana? Words I don’t know the definitions to.

At first, I felt ashamed at my lack of contribution to the conversation. “Everyone is starting to sound like The Black Keys? What does that even mean?” I thought to myself. I like be to useful in chats like this and add interesting facts that impress people, but on this topic, I really had nothing to say, and I grew fearful these new friends would not like me anymore. That they would move on to other clusters of people who did things like listen to vinyl records and would never listen to Taylor Swift turned up loud with the windows rolled down.

In my moments of insecurity, I began to remember a friend I really respect. The reason I respect her is because she never pretends to know things she doesn’t know. She asks the questions everyone else is too afraid to ask but we’re all deep down wishing someone would tell us the answers to. So I decided to channel this friend’s confidence in my conversation at the concert and finally asked what the guy meant when he said music is all starting to sound like The Black Keys. The answer turned out to be interesting (something about their producer who produces a bunch of other random artists), and I felt like I learned something I wouldn’t have leanred if I had continued to stare at the few of them and nod as if I agreed and understood all of their musical jargon.

The best part was, these new friends did not seem to like me less after I confessed my ignorance. They didn’t point their fingers at me and laugh; they simply answered my questions in a kind way, happy to have some knowledge to offer me. Their kindness invited me to be myself for the remainder of the night. And nights are always more fun when you’re being yourself instead of pretending or trying to be someone else.

It’s so easy to like people who are genuine and comfortable being themselves, and it’s so easy to forget that we are allowed to act this way too. I would much rather be friends with someone who is honest than friends with someone who’s trying to impress me. We can’t all know everything about everything, and that’s ok.

Who to Share Your Dreams With and When

Retro microphone on stage

I’m learning that I can’t tell everyone everything. My habit has been for a long time to gather opinions from everyone around me when I’m making a decision or going through a difficult time and need some guidance. I remember once when I was dating a guy, and he had told me he didn’t want to do anything with me on Valentine’s Day. We had only been seeing each other for a few weeks, so I sort of understood his reasoning and tried not to read too much into it. However, the next day at work I proceeded to poll half the women in my office to find out what he “meant” by that. And as a result, I received about 40 varying opinions that ran the gamut from “chill out, that doesn’t mean anything” to “RUN!” All the voices of these women in my head sent me home more anxious about my lack of Valentine’s date than I had been on my way to work that morning.

That was the day I began to wonder if I should be more choosy about who I share important information with and who I seek wisdom from. What to share, with whom, and when. This is what I try to ask myself now. And more recently I’ve been doing this in the area of my dreams and passions. Wondering who I should share them with so that I don’t cry all the way home with 40 different voices in my head that run the gamut of overly encouraging to “you’re an idiot.” It is such a delicate balance. It is taking seriously the pearls to swine metaphor. And it often takes the negative and hurtful responses to teach us this.

If you are really honest with yourself, you probably know who your safe people are. You know the friends and family who are wise and caring with the secrets and stories you tell them, and you know the friends and family who are not so wise and caring and who have wounded you. Those people are still an important part of our lives. You probably enjoy them and like them and don’t want to stop telling them things altogether, but is it worth it to give them the precious things? The secret fears and dreams, when you know they’re more likely to manhandle the information than they are to hold it lightly and talk it through with you? Probably not.

In my current life phase, I’m excited about pursuing new dreams but finding myself protecting what I say to whom and when. It’s not being guarded as much as it is being careful. It is hard for me to not blurt out every idea and struggle, poll my entire office building and send out mass texts to different friend groups. I want people to give me feedback and tell me what to do, but I also know that I can make decisions and progress without hearing from numerous people in my life first and that in the end, there are only a handful of voices I should be listening to anyways.

 

 

When We Let Friends Go

When We Let Friends Go

I spent this weekend wandering around a city where my good friend lives. I didn’t see him while I was there though. I actually haven’t spoken to him in a few years. We’ve lost touch and reaching out at this point would have felt strange. I was there for a music festival with another friend and as we drove, I remembered him, this friend I’ve lost touch with, and I wondered how he was. I wondered where his house was, or if I would run into him. I wondered if his family was ok and if he still looked the same. We drove to and from the festival, and I wondered how the people of our past can continue to be a part of us.

Even when we say we’ve lost touch, do we ever really lose touch? Don’t the people we meet, however briefly, affect us in a way that changes us, and we carry that change with us?

I always hated saying goodbye to new friends at the end of summer camp, and the end of the school year and at graduations and after mission trips. I wanted to keep an email chain going with everyone so that none of us ever had to say goodbye. We could all just keep in touch forever. Of course by now I’ve realized this is impossible. What usually happens is you make promises to keep in touch, you sign each other’s yearbooks and then make 3 or 4 phone calls, write a couple of emails, send an un-returned text, and it’s done. You sort of putter out. And this, I’ve come to realize, is ok.

Because not everyone you cross paths with is meant to be on your journey for the long haul. My friend from above was pivotal for me at the time I knew him. We learned from each other and did our best to keep in touch and then years later I can drive around his city and smile and not feel bad about not texting him to let him know I’m in town. We’re living our lives. We remember each other. It’s enough.

Then, there are friends who stick with you regardless of your pitiful keeping-in-touch efforts. I have a wonderful friend I talk to on the phone maybe twice a year. We’ve lived at least a couple of countries apart for most of our adult lives, yet neither of us feels like we’re puttering out. We know we are meant to be on each other’s journeys for the long haul even if that looks like an annual, rushed “I’m running through the airport, just wanted to say hey” kind of phone call.

Some relationships stick, while others, even with the greatest efforts, just don’t. I believe this is for a reason. I believe friendship should be as natural as possible. If you’re struggling with maintaining a relationship you know is doomed to putter out, don’t beat yourself up about it. If we continued every friendship we’ve ever made, we would live an impossibly exhausting social life. Gently let go of the ones who you know are fading away. And gently, with gratitude, hold onto those resilient ones.

The Risk of Getting to Know People

The Risk of Getting to Know People

I think I’m getting worse at knowing people. What I mean is, I used to be able to ask new acquaintances endless questions about themselves. This is because I have good parents who are good at asking people questions, so I learned this from them. I’m still more of an asker and listener than a talker, but I remember after my first year out of college realizing this had gotten more difficult for me; it took more energy to keep asking questions. I blamed this on the fact I was living in England and people are less nosy about other people there in general. But I notice it still. It is much easier to not ask someone about her story, to just let it be and keep talking about the weather.

I wonder if we get weary of this because we’ve heard all of the sad answers by now. When you enter into the great big world, you ask a stranger a question and you hear about his heartache and abuse and sadness and failures and, well, it would just be easier to not hear those things. I wonder also if we get more consumed by our own heartaches, failures and sadnesses and feel we don’t have room to know anyone else’s.

I actually have to muster up physical energy at times now when I dig into someone’s story, whereas when I was younger, it felt effortless.

And I’ve felt ashamed of this. Do I not care about people anymore? What is this wall that has so suddenly grown up between me and humanity? Where did it come from and how do I knock it down?

I’m not sure how, but I am sure how to keep the wall there, strong and steady. Stop getting to know people. Just stop. We could all agree to coexist and walk side by side without facing each other, looking each other in the eye and asking, “how are you?” Because we’ve heard the answer too many times.

If this sounds remotely appealing to you, you’re not alone. I’ve thought this before. Like when I was hiking with a friend this weekend. She’s been divorced for  a few years but I had never asked her much about the details of the divorce. How it felt, how it hurt, how it even happened, logistics wise. I thought about not asking her these things and staying away from the details and safe on the surface, but I mustered the energy somehow and as we walked through tress and crunched branches with our feet, I dug into her story. And the walk felt surprisingly refreshing and the questions came easier as I allowed myself to ask them. And we know each other better now.

Being known is a desire at the core of us all and though only God knows us fully, I believe he gave us the gift of conversation and each other so we could subsist on a taste of being slightly known while here on this earth. To get a glimpse of what being wholly known could be like. And when I think of it this way, the dangers of asking a friend about herself and getting to know her better is still scary, vulnerable and hard work but it becomes worthwhile work. Because I know I’m chipping away at the wall to reveal a path between us, and the path looks a little like eternity.

Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? Part II

unrequited love

A little over two years ago I wrote a post entitled Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? It is consistently my most-read post. When I visit my handy dandy WordPress dashboard, that tells me I haven’t written a blog post in months and 14 people viewed it last Tuesday, I see that one of the most common search terms bringing people to English Lessons is a variation of that question: Why do I love someone who doesn’t love me back?

This has fascinated me for these past two years. People Google that. A lot of people Google that. Unrequited love is a mystery we are asking a search engine to solve for us. I think I get why. Loving someone who doesn’t seem to return our feelings is painful, and when God doesn’t make the pain go away when we ask Him to, we ask Google. And then we land in places like my blog that do not wholly answer the question or heal your pain, but they do make us feel less alone. The power of this, this realizing your problem is shared by many others, can not be underestimated.

Two years ago my answer to the posed question was that this type of love mirrors the Gospel, and we can find solace in that and the fact that sometimes we just love people we shouldn’t and we can’t help it. I talked about my dad making me feel better by telling me, “You can’t help who you love.” Now that I’ve seen how many people responded to that post, needed to read that post, I realize that maybe my dad’s statement was so helpful because he was using the plural “you.” He wasn’t saying, “You, Andrea, are unique and can’t stop loving the person that broke your heart.” He was saying that none of us can stop loving the people we don’t have business loving. And that communal element helps heal us and give us what we need: the strength to move on or the strength to persistently love the unloveable.

I wish I had learned more about this subject over the past two years and had more to say right now. I wonder at how little clarity I’ve gained and how cloudy it remains. But here it is, what Google has to offer you as a result of your search. I hope you’re encouraged and I hope you come back in two years for Part III, where you’ll see that I’ve managed to learn even less about this stuff.

How to Make Friends

I recently returned from a weekend at the seaside. I am a beach gal, though my fair skin hates me for it. And this weekend at the beach not only reminded me of my love for lying on a mound of sand and doing absolutely nothing for hours; it also reminded me of my love for lying on a mound of sand and doing absolutely nothing with friends I have come to know and who have come to know me. Friends I can be me around no matter how stinky me happens to be at the moment.

I was not expecting to make friends like this when I moved to Nashville two and a half years ago. I had just come off a year abroad where I had met some amazing people and some true friends but they were what I like to call “one-offs.” People I spent time with individually moreso than in a consistent group setting. This was ok, for a year. But I was thirsty at the end of it. Thirsty for what I had had in college: a group. You know, a group.

Groups, I think, become harder and harder to come by as you distance yourself from the pre-set community culture of school. In real life, you go to work, you go to happy hour with one or two pals and the occasional party where you may recognize a handful of faces. Then you go home and pretend you don’t care you are lacking a group. That you are very grateful for the people you have met and have become friends with. That you don’t miss sitting around a living room and laughing hard at not funny things that seem hilarious simply because you love the people so much who are saying the not funny things. In the real world, you pretend you don’t miss this. But you don’t mean it. You do miss it. You ache for it.

So I was surprised and relieved when a few weeks ago I found myself sitting in a friend’s living room with seven other girls I had come to know and who had come to know me and laughing at I don’t even remember what until two in the morning. Those types of nights feed my soul like nothing else can.

And the girls in that living room are the same soul-feeders I shared a weekend with at the sea. I thank God for them. I don’t know how I made these friends. I don’t know the formula for making friends, and I don’t believe there is one. What happens is God plops beautiful people onto your path exactly when you need them. And you like them and they like you and you have friends. They’re like miracles, really.

My soul-feeders. My friends.