Last week we talked about desire and how our relationship to it changes as we age- most especially that we simply desire different things, people, and experiences as life goes on and we grow. And that it’s okay to listen to those desires.
This week we’re looking at something that is almost the opposite- a particular connection and mid-life relationship that almost looks like it’s devoid of desire, but that actually feeds us at a very deep level. And it has the potential to cause a lot of problems.
The relationship is this: someone who accepts us completely. Someone we might talk to at work everyday, or see on a semi-regular basis. This person is someone we can talk to easily and feel heard by. Someone who understands what we’re saying and accepts us. Damn, doesn’t that feel good?
At mid-life, one of the things many women (and men!) crave very deeply is to be seen by other people for who and what we are now. We’ve changed over the years, and it’s so nice when someone can see who that is, right this very minute. They don’t have to know we were awkward in 7th grade, they just see the confident woman in front of them. It soothes the soul to be seen as we are, all grown up (okay, mostly grown up).
Even better is when we can be seen for who we are now and it opens the doorway for being accepted at deeper levels, too. This kind of friendship, all accepting and welcoming, can open the door to telling about our awkward 7th grade moments, or that we hate football (and so do they!), or that we once spent an entire year eating nothing but corn and sausage- and they still love us for it. We can unburden our psyche and find relief with this person.
The combination of being seen for who we are now, and accepted for the darker parts of ourselves can feel really, really good.
But there is a flip side to this kind of relationship, if we’re not careful. Sometimes this kind of friendship is actually more one-sided than it seems. And if the friendship is one-sided we may be projecting feelings of connection (and even love) and support.
Sometimes ‘all accepting’ friendships are more like the relationship between a client and a therapist than like the relationship between two supportive friends.
Things to think about and watch for if you’re in an ‘all accepting’ friendship:
Who’s doing most of the talking? If you’re doing more than the other person, you might want to talk with them about that. And vice versa.
Who’s doing most of the listening? Same as previous- actually take a minute and add up how much time you listen versus how much time they do. Is it equal?
Does the other person express any opinions of their own? Or are they often saying, “I don’t know- what do you want?” How often do they make their needs and desires known?
What do you know about the other person? If they know more about your middle school years than you do about theirs, it might be useful to think about levels of intimacy in the relationship.
How much do you disagree with each other? Yes, some friendships have two people who are totally in sync with each other (and it’s lovely!). But in most relationships there is conflict- differing opinions, preferences, world views. Does your friendship include these? It is deep enough to accept them?
Who’s venting the most? If there is a lot of venting, this friendship might be more therapeutic than friendly- and that’s on both sides. But especially if one of you is venting a lot and the other not much at all, then you have a potential problem.
The biggest problem with this kind of therapeutic or lopsided friendship is that we can sometimes project feelings that aren’t there. In the case of a woman/woman friendship, it might simply mean we like her more than she likes us. If you’re sensitive or open-hearted (like me!) it can really hurt to figure out the friendship is one-sided.
In the case of man/woman friendships, such lopsided sharing can lead to romantic feelings that aren’t mutual or believing a certain depth of support exists when it doesn’t. This kind of lopsided connection is actually one of the 15 types of affairs (called ‘The Therapeutic Affair’) people have- which we discuss in The Mermaid’s Dilemma.
Either combination of a lopsided friendship can lead to frustration, misunderstanding, and sometimes even devastation. The only real way to fix it is to assess whether it’s happening, and if it is, to have an honest conversation: “How is our friendship going, from your perspective?” Make space for honesty and equal sharing. Bring up your concerns and any insights you’ve had. And if you’re the one with the short end of the stick in the relationship, really pay attention to your own feelings about whether the friendship is meeting your needs or not. It’s okay to back out if it isn’t.
Relationships are complicated. The only way we can keep them healthy and growing is to communicate. If someone is accepting you fully, make sure the work and the feeling is mutual.