To form intimate friendship and authentic community you have to let people see your messy.
Why is that so hard!?
The concept of deep, edifying, imperfect community has been popping up on my radar again recently. This article about Finding Your Tribe hits it out of the ball park. The author starts by describing her and a friend cleaning out her fridge, slimy green vegetable bin and all. And as soon as I read it the emotions that bubble to the surface are heavy with embarrassment and shame. I do not want people seeing the evidence of my lazy, undisciplined cleaning methods. (Though, to be honest, on any given day my vegetable drawer is a horror scene. And I’m okay with telling you that for the sake of “authenticity” but I am not okay with you actually coming over and seeing it).
The truth is, I’m no Fly Lady. One of my worst fears is someone showing up unannounced. Cause the table is going to be full of food from breakfast. And the dishwasher won’t have been loaded. And the floor won’t have been swept and vacuumed. And don’t you dare go in our room where the laundry is in one big giant mound of clean-but-not-folded.
But you bet your butt all of that gets done before we invite people over. Because seriously. Which I guess is half good-hosting and half total-phony. But you want to know a secret? I secretly love it when other people’s houses are dirty. Not in a vindictive way, in a oh-I-can-breath-this-is-my-kind-of-person sort of way.
Also, if I have have to spontaneously give someone a ride in my car, I have mini-shame-based emotional anxiety because, ya know, it badly needs to be vacuumed and there are Sunday school papers and gum wrappers in the floor board. But when I ride in someone else’s “dirty” car I immediately think “Oh! This person is my person! They get me! I love them!” All the while, they’re probably having mini-shame-based emotional anxiety.
Double standard, much?
I read this passage from Bittersweet this week – a chapter about not comparing yourself to others or faking perfection.
“My friend Ginger came over the other day, and I was making lunch for my son and her daughter. I gave them each their Dino Bites and their organic fruit leather, and I was trying to find something vegetable for them. I was looking in the freezer, and in the pantry. And Ginger was coaching me, “Maybe some peas? Or little baby carrots?” And finally Ginger said, You know what? Even if you put them on her plate, she won’t eat them. I don’t actually give her a vegetable every single day at lunch.” And I said, Me, neither! I do it at dinner, I swear, but I don’t always give him a vegetable at lunch.” You would have thought in that moment that we were confessing our deepest, darkest secrets to one another.
I’ve known Ginger since I was thirteen. We were in each other’s weddings. She knows all the things I did in high school that my parents still don’t know about. Why were we faking each other out about vegetables for two-year-olds? Because we both believed, in that moment, that moms should be perfect. That we should be perfect. That every meal must have a vegetable, that vegetable must be organic, that our homes should look like the Pottery Barn Kids catalog, and that somehow everyone else is able to pull it off, even if we can’t.
So I live in this in-between place of faking it and feeling innately suspicious of people who fake it.
I don’t know what the perfect solution is but I think one important step is offered succinctly in the Finding Your Tribe article:
Spend a good deal of time together. Short visits are simply that–visits. Everyone is on his or her best behavior; there is a sense of one person being the host and the other person being the guest. The relationship is still distant.
To push past the infuriatingly lonely barrier of the “acquaintance zone” you have to go past polished visits. It’s hard to do and you won’t be able to do it with everyone who invites you to dinner, after all – intimate “tribes” are generally small by nature. But we have to feel out the atmosphere and stretch ourselves a little, run our hands over the dividing line between distant and relaxed, because tribes are so so important. Having people that you don’t have to fake it with is so so important.
One of the few reasons I’m looking forward to moving back to Georgia is because I do have a tribe there. A couple of people who I don’t have knee-jerk shame if they see my dirty dishes – people who actually voluntarily wash my dishes without me reacting in some weird, guilt-based way to the act of service.
Why is it so hard to be served?
Do you have a tribe that you can be real with?
PS. Did you know I have a “Real Life Is Messy” board on Pinterest?