We all want rich friendships and relationships in life - we want to love and be loved by those closest to us. But the tricky thing about cultivating love, besides the fact that it can be an abstract goal to begin with, is that we can’t actually control whether or not we accomplish it. It takes two to tango, as they say - and they’re right. We cannot simply will our way into meaningful friendships.
That said, it doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Any good dancer knows how to lead a partner, making it easy to anticipate each step and move in beautiful unison. Similarly, when we pursue rich relationships not just as our own goal, but with both participants in mind, we create an environment that sets us up for success.
For me, this has been a major mindset shift. I’ve always known that I want great friends, but what I didn’t fully realize is, so does everyone else. The problem with that is, if we’re all on our own independent missions of finding our friends, we’ll miss the opportunity to be found - to be a friend - which is a necessary ingredient for a thriving relationship in the first place. It seems so obvious and intuitive to understand, but I miss this all the time.
The truth is, relationships are a two-way street: a mutually beneficial, mutually enjoyable, and mutually sacrificial experience. Too often, though, I’m consumed by thoughts such as whether or not I enjoy someone - thinking about what I get out of a friendship or potential friendship, rather than what I can give into it. Yet as I learn to think more from the perspective of what relational needs I can fill for others, I find love begin to cultivate in my heart.
The reason is, everyone wants to feel needed by their loved ones, at least to some degree. Leaning and depending on one another is a key to building trust and cultivating love. When we allow ourselves to be needed, to be depended upon (not just looking to get our needs met), we will come alive. After all, true love is a commitment to a person. Each person we are friends with also only has so many friends, so in their time of need, we are one of the few people they can hope for help to come from! It is an injustice to enjoy a friend and fail to be faithful to them when push comes to shove - this is not relationship; this is using people for our own benefit.
The temptation for me at this point is to say, “Great. Got it. Don’t be selfish; be selfless. Now let’s go meet some needs.” But when I find myself here, I’m still missing the bigger picture. The key is not in how selfless I can be; the key is in the mindset shift from ‘I’ to ‘we’. From individual to partnership. If deep relationship is my mission, I’ll never accomplish it.
As a naturally independent person, it’s taken me time and practice to begin to think beyond my own perspective and beyond what I can control, but this is the very art of the dance! While my motives for independence may seem innocent - like to avoid being a burden on people - it’s interdependence, not independence, where relationship thrives.
To lead relationship into love means leading two people, not just one. In other words, it is not enough for us to be vulnerable with our friends - we need to give our friends opportunities to be vulnerable with us by asking good questions, being a safe place, and being a good listener. It is not enough to sacrifice for our loved ones, our loved ones also need to be needed by us - so we should think about opportunities to ask for help, and not insist on doing things alone. Thinking mutually is how we create environments that cultivate love and relationship.
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