As I age, I’m getting more intentional about who I spend time with and how I shape interactions. We can’t always completely avoid people who drain us, but we can shift how we approach our interactions. We can’t always spend enough time with the people we love, but we can shape our relationships to maximize our joy and connection. A lot of our daily lives involve acquaintances who with a small amount of attention can become friends. Our friends and family won’t always have the skills or perspective to meet our needs, but we can find circles of friends who will fill the gaps.
People who drain me: If I can limit time with them, great. If I can’t, I like to assume they’re doing the best they can, I’m not going to change them, and perhaps they shouldn’t change. I’m not perfect, and I likely have aspects of my personality that some would find irritating. I’m not going to come up with a comprehensive list of personal flaws, because I think that would be extremely bad for my self-esteem. I’d rather look at it as we all have our issues that are both good and bad. Some find our quirks endearing, while others find them unbearable. The aspects of others that drain me aren’t inherently bad. They just don’t mesh easily with me and my set of character traits and preferences. For interactions that I find extremely difficult, I’ve spent time listening while repeating a mantra fitting to the challenge. In the midst of having someone spout off at me at work, I’ll mentally repeat to myself, “They’re teaching me to be better at my job.” For times when I get frustrated I’ll repeat, “They’re helping me practice being patient and kind.” I might even have to get clear with myself about how I’m contributing to the tension and repeat, “It’s not their fault I’m crabby today - get it together.”
For the people I would love to spend more time with but am not able due to distance or schedules, I find ways to connect in hopes of enriching the relationship with limited interaction. Certainly we can call, text and facetime, but simple things like playing online games keeps me feeling in touch with people I don’t talk to often. One friend plays one move of a Scrabble game each morning, and I play one back. When I saw her recently after many months, she verbalized what I felt too – we feel connected with just one play per day. Random messages about things that make me think of them are easily shared via text, email or social media.They know I was thinking of them, and I feel good letting them know.
We spend a lot of time with a lot of people in short spurts of time. They may be our medical care providers, baristas, grocery store checkers, mechanics and neighbors. These are the relationships that aren’t close, but they can be immensely helpful to living a high-quality life. When we make them friends and contribute to quality interactions, our lives are richer for it. Smiles that brighten our day help us be more likely to react with grace when encountering rudeness or frustration. If we expand the circle of people we consider to be part of our life, we recognize how much they contribute to our happiness and how much we may influence theirs.
Online groups can be instrumental to meeting some of my emotional needs when I don’t personally know people similar to me. Very few of my friends have a chronic health condition like I have. I know even fewer who are experiencing my health challenges and have an activity level similar to mine. Social networks like My MSAA Community and closed Facebook groups have been excellent for me to connect with people similar to me in one or more ways. I belong to one group with women who do triathlons. Another is for women with chronic illnesses who do triathlons. I belong to a group for people interested in sharing research related to MS. Another is a personal share site for people with MS. These sites feel like safe places to learn more about things that can be embarrassing from people who know what it’s like to live with chronic conditions. These sites provide me with inspiration, motivation and helpful tips for my fitness goals. They also provide validation for the frustration I experience when my body holds me back and I’m sad that my life includes Multiple Sclerosis. I get a lot from them. And because I get so much, I’m compelled to share and support others in these groups. Receiving support from others helps, and so does giving.
The people who surround me give me inspiration, motivation, comfort and strength. They validate my struggles and celebrate my accomplishments. Even the challenging relationships teach me where I have opportunities for personal growth. Whether they are close friends, quick daily interactions or distant online acquaintances, they help me navigate my journey and contribute to a life I love.