Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Deepening Relationships

     Last night I had a wonderful dinner in Virginia with a college friend who I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years.  Tonight I had dinner in North Carolina with a relatively new friend who I only met several months ago.  What was similar about these visits and why were they important?  Let me try to explain.
     Another relatively new friend asked me in an e-mail the other day if I would share my perspective on keeping in touch with people long-term, as it appeared to her that I put forth a good deal of effort in this regard.  This got me thinking more about why I do this, and why I enjoy and value it.
     Over the years, I've found that I'm not very good at, nor do I enjoy, the mostly meaningless idle chit chat that so often gets passed off as a relationship.  Seeing people at a large party where it's too loud or uncomfortable to do much more than exchange pleasantries is never very satisfying for me.  I'm not even very patient about the silly conversations when people ask things like, "All ready for the holidays?", or "How was your weekend?", or "It's not the heat, it's the humidity."  Even when they ask about the kids, they're usually not listening and more often seem to be saying something just to say something.
     I much prefer to spend what I would consider to be "quality time" with someone, typically one-on-one.  This gives me a chance to ask more probing, insightful questions, and to really listen to and understand their answers, and similarly, it gives me a chance to share much more of myself with them on a far deeper level.  I find the best way to do this is typically over lunch or dinner, not with a large group of people.  When it's just me and the other person, sitting directly across from each other, it's almost hard not to engage in more meaningful dialogue since there's nothing to distract us.  And as we share more and more of ourselves with each other, and we really get to know about each other, the relationship naturally deepens.
     Since most of us tend to fill our days with busy-ness and there's hardly a free moment, it takes intentional effort in order to schedule meaningful time with each other.  Unfortunately, most people don't seem to take on that challenge.  They let inertia take over and one day simply flows into the next, mostly filled with cursory exchanges, all the while proclaiming that relationships are what matter the most in life.
     In contrast, I try to make that effort to break out of the inertia of my "normal" routine and I make specific arrangements to connect with people one-on-one.  I have some friends at home who I will call from time to time and go to lunch with them.  We have such rich and meaningful conversations and so enjoy each other's company.  I've done several of these just in the last few weeks and have several more coming up in the next few weeks.  As I've written about in many blogs, it seems like I know people in most major cities.  When I'm going to be in their area, I make the effort to call or write to them and suggest we get together, even if I haven't seen them in 30 years (that just makes it even more fun!)  Just in the past year I've spent quality time with new and old friends in Minneapolis, Phoenix, Houston, Birmingham, Tampa, Northern Virginia, Chicago, Atlanta, Williamsburg, and Cleveland, just to name a few.  And in the next 2-3 months I've already arranged to meet friends I know in Palm Beach, Detroit, Columbia, Charleston, Phoenix, Buffalo, Tampa, and Northern Virginia again.
     I get such satisfaction and enjoyment from these relationships (and hopefully these people do as well!).  I find them enriching, nourishing, and thought-provoking.  But here's the thing:  Virtually none of them would happen if I didn't make the effort.  And this is as true for old friends as it is for new ones.  Old friends can easily disappear from our lives if we don't make the effort to see each other.  And new friends don't happen much if we don't go out on a limb and invest in each other.  I can think of a number of new friends I have, whose relationship I treasure, that wouldn't have happened if I didn't reach out and choose to visit them, even when we didn't yet know each other that well.  
     In a world of short attention spans, where superficiality rules, and where we become obsessed with our iPads and smartphones, I'm intentionally choosing to invest in relationships.  In creating meaningful new ones, and in renewing and deepening old ones.

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