Somebody to Lean On
There is a danger, I think, in being too independent, too much alone. Perhaps a rarer ailment than relying too heavily on others, I find it commonly enough among New Yorkers. Despite the crowds and the commotion, we are on our own all the time. A huge number of single people leaves many without partners, so gender roles cease to exist- we all take out the trash, we all do the dishes. Even if you live with a roommate, you may never sit down and share a meal together. Friends with different schedules, friends in different boroughs- a quarter mile here might quite literally mean you live in separate counties.
And in New York, it seems, we are taught, or we teach other, that it’s okay to not be accountable to your friends. A long day at work, or perhaps another more interesting party, means you don’t end up where you said you would be. Invitations receive no responses, messages receive no answer. And we learn, or at least we think we do, that to let one another down is okay. The story we tell ourselves is that we act so independently, we are so isolated, that the things we do don’t affect the people around us. There is always somebody else to pick up the slack- another somebody who will show up to the party if we can’t make it.
For reasons which are mostly my type A-ish personality and my carefully and completely scheduled calendar, I make a lot of plans. I follow up with a lot of people. I plan parties and events, and send the reminders. And I know that the truth is, no matter how much I tell myself that “people are just flaky” here, it still hurts a little when someone bails. And that’s not to say I never bail on anything either. Even understanding how the best of intentions can somehow fail to turn into actions doesn’t take the sting out completely. It’s like a papercut hurt, or a pinprick. It doesn’t hurt much at all, really, but over time, you don’t want papercuts anymore. And you start to avoid whatever it is that leads to them. So you become more self-reliant, and you hold closely the people who you can count on, and you stop expecting much from some of your other friends. It’s still great to hang out with them, on the blue moon when it works out, but it must be taken just for fun. You stop giving yourself permission to expect.
That’s the story I’ve been telling myself, without even being aware of it.
I recently did some minor-ish damage to a wall in my apartment and needed help from someone who had more knowledge of home improvement than the basic hanging a picture on a wall. And so I asked a friend for some help, tentatively, with all of the “I know you’re so busy” and “I don’t want to trouble you” precursors that I felt I had to add to the request. And he said he would help, no problem. I was so grateful, but still not convinced it was really going to happen. Separate boroughs, busy schedules, etc. And I told myself, okay, if this doesn’t work out, maybe I can…Plan B, C, whatever.
The appointed day came, and he showed up. He fixed the thing, and it now looks lovely, but it’s all so irrelevant beyond the first sentence. He showed up. To help me. Because I asked. And I was so grateful I teared up a little. Because I had no idea how much work it was to hold myself up until someone told me that I could lean on their shoulder a little bit, because they had help to offer, so willing to give. And that’s the new story I want to tell myself about other people. That it is okay to ask friends for help, and to show up for you, and to make space for you in their lives. And I want to do the same. We are not here to create relationships out of convenience and happenstance. We are here to put effort into our relationships, and watch them blossom and grow. Each of us our own flower, but fed by the same sunlight and soil.