Friends, Expectations, & Your Health
We know that dog owners live longer than other people. We know that therapy animals are helping senior citizens stay healthier longer. Something I’ve often heard is that it’s preferable to have animals for companions because they don’t talk back & are always happy to see their human friends. I have 2 dogs, so I understand this sentiment. But, part of what is really going on is that humans are fundamentally social, I think; yet human friendships are often disappointing & frustrating.
Still, I hear over & over that people who feel supported, in general, are healthier. Cancer patients and others who are enduring chronic illness are happier & have better overall outcomes when friends & family are supportive & encouraging. And still, so many people struggle with loneliness while others avoid relationships because it just seems easier.
In my training as a health counselor, I have had opportunities to hear from therapists, psychologists, brain specialists, & other experts who have offered all sorts of theories, case studies, and programs in regard to mental health & wellness. That is because my school is about holistic health; and mental health is a very important factor in overall well-being. But the bottom line in all of this is something life taught me: people need friends!
A friend of mine recently said, “People long to be heard, to be understood, to be loved.” I can honestly say that since moving to Colorado 11 years ago, I have developed friendships in which I have never felt so “heard, understood, & loved,” & it has transformed my life. (Thanks to you Colorado friends!) I had friends before, but here, many of my friends share my passion for the arts, my faith, my interest in health; and that makes the understanding piece really possible & fulfilling.
But there is another aspect of friendship that has made my relationships smoother & beneficial, and that has to do with expectations. At some point, I suppose it dawned on me that my friendships go better if I can really love my friend, without having expectations. That does not mean no boundaries; and it does not mean that I spend lots of time with people who “bring me down.” What it means is that in some friendships, I seem to be doing a lot of giving, & in others, my friend seems to be doing a lot of giving, but I don’t worry about keeping it all “even.”
It also means that I do not become frustrated if a friend has to cancel a coffee date, or if I always seem to be doing her a favor– I’m not keeping score! At the same time, I feel free to say “no” and to be honest about availability & other kinds of boundaries.
The other essential factor in my friendships is the spiritual aspect. For me, my connection with God is what allows me to really love people. This is where my ultimate fulfillment originates, where I feel ultimately loved, valued, supported. So I am free to let my human relationships develop without unrealistic expectations, trusting that, if I do the best I can to be a good friend, things will balance out– I will have my needs met, while being able to contribute what I am able.
All of this takes time. Many insights that have helped me have been hard won, through painful experience. And I hope I will become a better friend in the years to come. But I still believe that we are better off learning the lessons of forgiveness, compassion, and forbearance than to give up on our friendships. Here’s to your health!