Oh yeah, because I haven't reached out to ask.
Every once in a while I need to remind myself (or take a cue from some external reminder) that relating to others is an action verb, and, accordingly, a meaningful relationship requires my active participation.
What are characteristics of a meaningful relationship to you?
A meaningful relationship can take several forms: romantic, familial, friendship, or business. But the key elements that make any one of these a significant relationship for me are trust, reciprocity, and follow-through.
Do I trust the person enough to be my genuine self around them?
Do their actions signal that they value our relationship as much as I do?
Do they set up a time to meet after saying something like, "We should get a cup of coffee sometime"?
Describe one meaningful relationship and how it has impacted you.
I voided my own self-worth over and over, like some kind of deranged daily meditation exercise: You are an idiot. You are ugly. You are fat.
My husband never played any games about how he felt about me, giving me verbal affirmations and signs of affection easily and often. He said things like, "I love how smart you are," not realizing how profound it was for me that even before commenting on my appearance or body, he rooted his attraction to me to my mind.
Once, at IHOP, over breakfast, I poured milk into my coffee from a plastic cup, which invites errant dribbles but I managed to keep clean.
"Wow, you didn't spill a drop!" he observed. "You're amazing. I love you."
And when I was deep, deep into a vicious eating disorder that kept telling me my efforts to recover were futile - I was a worthless excuse for a human being who wouldn't be missed if I just stopped existing - it was my husband who told me, "Don't get better for me. Or for your parents. Or because a doctor tells you to. Try because you believe you're worth it. Believe you are the person the rest of us see you as."
My relationship with my husband is significant because it is empowering, life-giving, and celebratory. He is the first person to say to me, "You are already good enough. Perfect is boring." And because he let me know early on - and continues to remind me - that I am enough, as is, I am able to trust him implicitly.
What do you do or how do you contribute to a relationship to make it meaningful?
I first learned this from a friend of mine in grad school, who would freely and generously give me and others all kinds of unsolicited compliments.
If I was worried about a paper, she might say something like, "You're a great writer and always pick really creative topics."
These kinds of affirmations always gave me a little flicker of confidence. My grades suggested I was a good writer, and professors always seemed to enjoy the off-beat papers I handed in. Maybe...maybe I deserved that gold star my friend was so quick to press on me?
Still, it took me a while to realize something that should have been quite obvious: I like hearing nice things about myself, so what's stopping me from putting that out for others?
So about four years ago I resolved that if I had a nice thought about someone - a friend or a stranger - I had to say it to them. It was an experiment of sorts, and I was a little uncomfortable at first with telling the girl at the other bathroom sink I thought her hair was beautiful, or asking the Macy's cashier how I could contact her supervisor to let her bosses know what a fantastic employee they have working for them.
But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the results were overwhelmingly positive. People enjoy compliments. And I found I enjoyed giving them as much - or maybe more - than when I was the one receiving them.
If you listen carefully, people give you clues what kinds of gold stars they need. If I hear my husband talk about a work project that he is excited to be working on, then I ask him all kinds of questions about it and tell him how impressed I am with his methodology or problem-solving ideas.
If my business acquaintance says she is thinking about maaaaaybe reaching out to a magazine with a pitch for an article, I like to be able to cheer her on by saying, "I've read your blog. You've got a great writing voice - go for it!"
If my friend tells me she regrets losing her temper with her preteen son after he "forgot" to do his homework for the millionith time this month, I mean it when I tell her that she is an amazing mother and her frustration is just a sign of how much she cares about seeing her son succeed.
Are you seeking to expand the meaningful relationships in your life? If so, in which areas?
I know myself. I know I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to getting out of my own head.
After the baby is born, I want to focus on maintaining a loving partnership with my husband, even if the playing field is dramatically altered, as well as being a happy parent to my baby girl. I want my child to see how much I enjoy being her mom, rather than watch me stress over the minutiae of crumbs on the counter and dog hair on the couch.
I want to find other moms who understand this tug-of-war already unfolding in my heart, about continuing to work while I have a small infant. I don't want to feel guilty about still enjoying finding and meeting with new clients, about my personal writing, and about my teaching. But I will. I already do. I am sure this work hard / be a great mom dichotomy is something that resonates for many professional women.
Finally I want my friends to know how much I value them, by not falling off the face of the earth. I love getting emails but sometimes I have to remind myself that the best way to have messages in my inbox is to first send notes for people to respond to.
I can't control anyone else, but I can control my reactions and responses to others. I need to relationship like I mean it.
And most importantly, I have to cultivate a good relationship with myself before I am able to have healthy, happy relationships with anyone else.