3 Relationship Truths in Every Major Life Transformation

THE CHAIR THAT WELCOMES YOU NO LONGER (A SHORT STORY)

 

Food and drinks on the table. Smiles plastered across our faces. Laughter. We hadn't seen each other for quite some time. A sort of reunion. If you were sitting on the next table, you'd think we were a happy lot. That would be true. Everything was fine until somebody dropped the bomb.

"Do you remember when," one of my friends changed the conversation.

What followed next was a recollection of things we had talked about so many times before. Issues about people no longer part of our lives. Events that had been replayed over and over. Reminiscing. One of my favourite Madonna songs played in my head. "I've heard it all before. I've heard it all before. I've heard it all before." From where I sat, my heart broke into a hundred brittle pieces.

How many times can we talk about the same thing again and again until all the colours have been washed off?

I don't know the exact number but I bet it's only a limited few.

We can talk about the same old stories about the same old people and the same old events again and again but those things we can never change. It's pointless.

When I embarked on this journey of pursuing my dreams, I found the answer to a lot of Why questions that I had. Why did I always feel lethargic? Why did some weird negative energy seem to follow me wherever I go? Why did I often feel lonely even with the company of people I called friends? Why did the unhappiness continue to linger despite the money I earned, the shiny objects I bought, the liquids I drank, the places I traveled to, and the crazy shit I tried to do? The answer: I was repressing my true self.

Once I embraced both the love and fear of writing, the fake layers of my skin began to peel themselves off. I began to do more the things I REALLY want to do, stayed away from things that do not fit my life, and yearned for my tribe, people with the same mindset and talked the same language. Regurgitating the past for company's sake was not my kind of language.

I kept quiet as the reminiscing continued and felt that my chair was trying to eject me, telling me I no longer belong. My vision blurred and narrowed as I thought that this was not the kind of relationship I wanted to continue pursuing, a relationship only anchored by the past. The yearning for a tribe became stronger. I must find them. Life is too short not to be with the right people. The bomb was a reminder to keep searching for the right tribe. And then the reminiscing ended.

The last of the fire died and the last of the smoke dissipated. The night was over. I got up from the chair that welcomed me no longer, grateful for the relief. As we left, I couldn't help but think of that night's lesson for me. What I used to enjoy doing with other people, I enjoyed no more. A big change inside of me happened along with a big change outside. We walked and I felt both brokenhearted and glad. With my vision clearer, in front of me I got a glimpse of the future.

 

THE THREE RELATIONSHIP TRUTHS

 

Photography by Leo Hidalgo

Photography by Leo Hidalgo

Going through a major life transformation (e.g., getting married, shifting careers, immersing in a spiritual transformation, or pursuing your dreams) is an important and wonderful time in life adorned with both good and bad things. The good: enthusiasm, excitement, the promise of great things ahead, and the euphoria of the 'new'. The bad: doubts, criticisms, the uncertainty of the new path, and shifts in our relationships.

If you are about to get married, you look forward to building a family with your soon-to-be spouse and at the same time you wonder what will happen to your relationship with your single friends who may not be able to relate to the married life. If you hop on your royal horse and finally go after your dreams after ignoring it for a long time, you will also experience the good and the bad. You'll feel a different kind of zest as you begin your pursuit. At the same time, people who are used to the old you will find themselves estranged and confused with the new you causing some shifts in your relationships.

@@Shifts in our relationships during a major life transformation are cause of our biggest pains.@@ Criticisms, doubts, putdowns, and abandonment. We'll get them directly or indirectly. We wonder why people we know so well are suddenly behaving in unfamiliar ways. On top of the effort required by our major life transformation, the attempt to understand and solve any visible or invisible issues with our shifting relationships adds to the weight. We should be focusing on the important matters in front of us and yet these people around us are not helping any by causing some disturbances. There are three relationship truths we must remember when we're going through a major life transformation to avoid further problems.

 

1. WE WILL PART WAYS WITH SOME PEOPLE.

 

Every major life transformation brings about the severance of our relationship with some people. Each of us has our own unique path. Although ours have converged with others (i.e., family, friends, romantic partner), the time will come when our paths must fork. Our parents will die before us. Our friends may move to a different city or country. Our significant other may wake up one day and opt to carry on without us.  It's very important we make peace with the truth that no one will really be there for us every step of the way.

Many years ago, before the Internet and smartphone, the parting of ways with someone was symbolised by a goodbye wave, hug, handshake, or even a letter. We got a proper sendoff. We got closure. I had summer friends in childhood I never saw again but we exchanged a goodbye wave and we moved on with our lives. Today, it's a different story. Since it's easier to contact someone with the tap of a screen or a button, we don't really get a goodbye wave or even a letter anymore. Our relationships are perpetually placed at a fork in the road, one sign saying "We'll meet again" and the other saying "We won't". Because of the ease of communication, people just choose to disengage.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown named a more insidious betrayal affecting relationships.

I’m talking about the betrayal of disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting the connection go. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship.
— Brene Brown

Because people think it's easy to get in touch with someone else now, most of us commit the betrayal of disengagement. We don't put the effort anymore, real effort. After all, if we need someone, they're just one tap of a button or a screen away. We put nurturing our relationships on hold because we can go back to it anytime we wish to. We get busy with something else. Then we get busy again, and again, pushing the nurturing part further and further away. Furthermore, Brown explains,

When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in... What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain - there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness.
— Brene Brown

When we go through a major life transformation, we change. Other people see it. They get uncomfortable and their immediate reaction is to disengage. When you get married, your single friends may assume that you don't have time anymore because of your new marital status. The invitations to get together stop coming in. When you are burning with passion for your dreams, your friends and family may see a stranger instead of the person they're accustomed to. In their minds, you've changed. You're no longer the person they know. They slowly pull away.

Sometimes I wish my friends would call me, invite me, and ask how's my writing career doing. But they don't. The person they knew was not a writer.

Is it sad? Yes. Is it disappointing? Yes. Is it painful? You bet. But this is the first relationship truth during a major life transformation. We lose people. It's the natural order of the universe. We're heading to a new chapter of our lives and some characters will not make it further. We have to let go. But there is some good news. Some characters will make it with us to the next chapter.

 

2. WE MUST APPRECIATE THOSE WHO STAY.

 

Not everyone will not make it to the new chapter of our life. Some people will stay.

Sometimes, it's easy to get obsessed with people we've lost. We get mad, pissed, or upset. We think about it, what we've done wrong that sent them away, or what they did wrong. We mentally go back in time and replay scenes over and over, trying to figure out the answer to a predicament that has already been solved. Those people are no longer part of our lives. It's time we let go.

It's not fair that we ignore the people who chose to stay with us, to give us support, and to hold our hand as we jump over the chasm to get to our new life. It's not right that we see right through them and hopelessly pine for those we've lost instead. We must appreciate them.

Once we have fully accepted the first truth, we're ready to live the second one. We should appreciate the people who stay as gratitude for their choice of nurturing their relationship with us. At the same time, we should appreciate them because we never know when their paths will diverge away from ours. That is not to say we'll spend our time with them in fear that it will not last forever. Instead, time we spend with them will have more value. We'll cherish it while we still have it.

We don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason.
— Unknown

 

I have a friend I go out with for lunch once a week and I can talk to her about things I don't talk about with other people. I have a friend who's overflowing with energy. I like being around with him because his energy fuels me too. I have a friend who keeps showing support for my writing and that keeps hope alive. I have two options: think about the people who already walked out the door or be grateful for those who are still here. You know what I will pick. The choice is easy. 

We must learn how to appreciate and value the characters who are still in our current chapter in order for us to welcome with open arms the new characters approaching.

 

3. WE MUST BE OPEN FOR THE NEW WAVE OF PEOPLE.

 

Some people will go. Some will stay. Some are still to come.

Imagine a book where all the characters, after being introduced, must appear in every chapter. As we go through each chapter new characters are added on top of the existing ones. In time, the story will get so convoluted with so many characters present. Keeping up with each becomes tedious. The best solution is to get rid of the characters that no longer serve the story.

In a way, life is like this. People who no longer fits the image of our life must go in order to make room for the right people. Now, if we're a stubborn hardass and refuse to let go, the right people can not enter. Think of an alcoholic who wants to turn his back on alcoholism but still keeps hanging out with his other alcoholic friends. He will never get away from alcoholism because his friends will continue to influence him. Now if he stops hanging around with his alcoholic friends, he can walk the path free of alcoholism. He'll begin to eat healthy, perhaps enrol in a gym, and in the process will find like-minded people who is compatible with his new lifestyle.

Full acceptance of the first and second truths will prepare us for the third truth. If we can't let go of people no longer part of our lives and we can't value those who are still with us, we'll never be ready to accept new people coming in. And we must be ready! Because there is no joy that can be compared to the joy of meeting a new person who shares the same energy and the same mindset as ours. It's one of the rewards of going through a life transformation. After we successfully leap over the chasm and land on the other side, new people who will walk with us on our new path are waiting for us. 

Is it scary? Yes, it can be. Will this put us in our discomfort zone? Yes, anything new puts us in the discomfort zone. But embracing the new is a requirement of the growth. We can't just shed our old skin. We must also grow new skin.


The three relationship truths in every major life transformation are tied to the past, present, and future. First, we must part ways with people who will no longer fit our new life. Second, we must appreciate those people who will stay with us. Last, we must be ready for new people to come into our lives.


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