I had an interesting experience today. I met with a man whom I had come to know through a mutual friend; I’ll call her Lucy for the sake of this story. I knew very little about the history of their friendship but was intrigued as to how they met. What I unexpectedly found out was that they no longer speak, that James and Lucy have gently parted ways and he at least was comfortable with the new distance between them. Without prompting, he revealed what had happened to end the friendship. And whether he was justifying the demise of it all, or his heart simply needed to verbalise it, I don’t know. But I listened anyway.
James told me he found Lucy too draining, that he had to pour too much into who she was, constantly top her up every time they met. I’m done he said, he needed to save his resources for himself and be with others who didn’t require quite so much from him. Fair enough, I thought, but what was striking about this extremely honest admission, was how it related to the reason Lucy later gave me. She had said he was always trying to help her, always soliciting a solution that was neither invited nor wanted. She found him stifling in his incessant need to correct and chastise every thought or emotion she had and so, in the end, she thought it best to retreat from him and his compulsion to save her.
Two people, two perceptions, one friendship over.
On the one hand I’ve witnessed first hand James’ inability to hold space in the most simplest sense. That is, to listen without the need to speak, offer, fix, or correct. Continuously reflecting, without invitation, the distortions you believe others have in their thought processing, is a form of aggression. It is saying, I see what you think is your truth and it is wrong because… In doing so James consistently ignores the humanness in people, their right to occasionally air grievance and thought, with no other aim than to feel it flow through their body. The gaps in Lucy’s thinking, as he perceived them, did not require filling.
On the other hand, there is a responsibility we all have, to speak our truth to those who are repeatedly furnishing us with the things we neither want nor need. Whether that is opinions and insights, or their physical presence in our lives. We have a responsibility to hold our own space as sacredly as we expect others to and sometimes, this means telling friends to back off. Of course, if a friendship is not valuable and we are nonchalant about its longevity, simply letting it dissolve without comment may feel like a more comfortable option. We must be careful here however, to understand whether our choice is truly nonchalance, or in fact cowardice.
The point is, our perception of experiences will always be unique and it is important to recognise this, however attached we are to them. When it matters, expressing what we feel will open up an arena for exchange. It will show people what they have not yet considered, if indeed they are willing to see it. When we are able to actively demonstrate our boundaries to others, free of defensiveness, free of ego, not only are we honouring ourselves, we are providing everyone an opportunity to learn.