Now that I qualify as usisi omiddle age, I have been meaning to write about my friendships in adulthood. There has been a lot of learning and unlearning when it comes to that area of my life to be honest. A few significant losses, defining of boundaries and lots of growing together.
Last night I had dinner with two of my closest friends. As is customary with adults, all of us are dealing with our own versions of umgowo. So the dinner was us passing around the mic for one party to detail their current struggles while the two others served as therapists. Our qualification of course, is the fact that we’re also adults and know umgowo. Therefore, that allows for us to trade coping mechanisms, tell each other hard truths while also laughing at our own pain. This was such a great reminder for me of how friendships are truly and utterly a miracle. What wonder, amen!
In this post, I want to reflect on some of the things I am learning in my adult friendships. While my efforts are imperfect, I am so grateful for the ability to try and love my friends better.
- Learning to have more grace
One of my less flattering qualities is that I am quite strict and absolutist. This was such a struggle in my 20’s, where I would have very absolute standards about what is and isn’t expected in friendships. As I have grown older, not only have I seen the hypocrisy in this given that I myself never friendship perfectly, but I have also learnt to be more Christ-like in how I love – seasoned with grace and longsuffering in my dealings with those I walk with. I mean, as the names of my friends are becoming fewer by the day, the focus for me has shifted to depth of friendship. I believe that patience is a great cornerstone for building such depth. So, grace for imperfection is the name of the game. Grace for missteps and hiccups. Grace for changing plans and requests for more flexibility. Grace for dodgy behaviour (obviously alongside good boundaries).
- Learning that seasons ebb and flow
As one lives for longer, you quickly realise that life is not perfect. You, and your friends all go through high highs and low lows. And during these periods of existing, people may not know how to behave in a manner that is considered “appropriate”. For example, when life gets too difficult and I am unsure on how to proceed, I tend to try find a place to hide, and I become more socially reclined (I am working on this). So, my friends have had to learn to find ways of “showing up” for me even when I am being a dodgy human who isn’t taking calls or available anywhere except email and sms (I know, I know). For some, this has looked like them giving me space to figure it out. For others, it has meant sending regular “I am thinking about you and praying for you” messages. Others will randomly write me essays and send me beautiful songs/ podcasts to listen to. Some will force me to come for dinner whenever I am ready. Or they will send me food. All this is at the person’s discretion. Their version of what they think “showing up for me” should look like, is based on what they know about me and the nature of the friendship.
I have also been thinking about this a lot in relation to me showing up for my friends. One of the things I have taken to doing for friends who become dodgy when life gets real is to ask: What does showing up for you look like in this season? I am not too sure how to love you well, so what would it look like for me to love you well? As simple as that. That question has been very helpful for me because it gives the other party an indication that I want to be there for them, whatever they need. And lets them know that they can come to me should they want to reach out to someone. Try it, it’s very illuminating to hear answers from people going through the most.
On the flip side, another thing that has been occupying my thoughts when it comes to the ebb and flow of life, is in how to show up well for joy. I think a lot of us think to try and show up for pain, even if showing up means giving people space. But not so with joy. Joy seems optional – like your presence is inconsequential outside moments where the party experiencing joy decides to plan a celebration. So if one doesn’t decide to have a party for their birthday for example, then we don’t feel like there is anything for us to do to share in the celebration. Personally, I want to be a friend who shows up in people’s most glorious moments. To stand beside them and smile wide. I want to challenge you to do the same.
- Learning to let go of certain ideas about who people are
When you have been friends with people for a while, you would have likely seen them in their different selves, meaning the versions you know of them might be plenty. One of the struggles I had in my 20’s was in holding people to who I had been used to them being, even as they were evolving. If you struggle with the same thing, let go of that. Your friends and even you, will change as all our shells form. We become different versions right before each other’s eyes and that is alright. Allow people to evolve and become.
- Learning to serve as a reminder of who people were and aspire to be
While it is necessary to allow people to evolve and to form, it is also imperative to serve as a living memorial of who they were and what they’ve always thought/ valued. One of friends is VERY good at this. She’ll remind you when you hit a random milestone that you had set and say your words back to you on ideas you used to espouse. The first time I did a hand modelling gig for this NGO I was working for, she watched the video and texted me “see, you’ve finally become a hand model like you wanted to be in first year. Look at God!”. When I wrote an essay that got published in a book she texted “look at you be a published author like you’ve always wanted”. When I am evolving in ways inconsistent with my previously stated values, she points this out. The point is, while we can and should allow people to evolve, our role as friends is to still serve as a mirror, so that our friends are aware of who they are becoming vs. who they said they’d like to be. To help them think of whether they are deliberately opting into this evolution we’re seeing.
- Learning to laugh at and with your people
I don’t know how many times my friends and I have looked at our previous naivety, our previous and current mgowo, and just laugh at ourselves. Because sometimes, what can you do but to laugh when everything feels so ridiculous? So, we laugh and laugh and laugh and of course, nothing changes. Then we all go home feeling lighter and more wholesome even with our problems still looking the same. Try this, it’s quite therapeutic!
Relishing the joy of being chosen just for just – the miracle of friendship
I think overall, I am just grateful for the people who choose to set their affections on me. For a deliberate manner in which we all opt into walking together and doing life. For being loved for who God has made me, and that being appealing to be chosen by others. For smiles and hugs and excitement that serve both as water and a balm to wash and soothe even the worst of days. For rebuke, correction and being challenged to become a better and truer version of myself. For a lifetime of ukukhatshwa. We bless the Lord for this holy bargain.
Here is one of the most generous things that someone has ever written for me. A poem by my dearest friend Siphe.
Past a certain threshold, we stop counting the years of our age. What we know is that time has passed.
What we know is that time has proofed and pruned our formative shells into thickened skin.
That our spines are straightening.
That the adjacent textures of our lives have complicated us into adults.
That the raging and restlessness of childhood instinct is waning
That though somewhere we are slick with teenage ganter and gall
Elsewhere we are sober, settled and silent.
That the names of our friends are few as the words we have to give names to love
Though we know it when we see it. We know it when we feel it. We know it when it is right.
What we know is that love is bottomless decision.
Examined and charged
We praise the Lord for the treasured bargain
Of being allotted space in the hearts of those we too, choose.
“How’s your heart?” “I thought of you today because.” “Please listen to this song” “Only you get my humor.” “It upsets me that people box you in.”
Which is to say, I carry you in the quality of my thoughts of you
I carry you in the choice to cultivate joy in our corny living. Joy in our corny loving
Poetry served in a loop
Silver bangles and hoops
Jazz men we have not met
An imagined Broadway and Harlem hangs firmly in our minds
The expression of our desire for invention and freedom
The embodiment of our desire to be blackiddy black and whole
Skin that glistens and glows
Language that curls, crosses it legs, cackles and refuses translation
Language that holds our tired bravery
Language that houses our humanity
Gives us grace to be many things and yet not
One day I told you that I had stopped writing.
That my pen lay languorous with grief
You said: “We should write a book”
Which is to say, I know that grey skies clear up.
Before and after.
And there lay the embodiment of love.
I know it when I see it. I know it when I feel it. I know it when it is right.