A Bit of Wisdom For Our Nation’s Birthday

Ever had it happen that you read something and totally gloss over it, and then when you happen upon the same passage a second time it resonates so deeply that you think you might have found the answer to meaning of life?

That happened to me today. Not the secret of existence necessarily, but certainly a major insight into friendship searching. I was sifting through some of my research and came across a passage from The Lonely American by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz that made an animated lightbulb appear directly over my head.

“Small daily choices end up defining one’s social world—whether to go to a local store or order off the Internet. Whether to pick up a ringing telephone or let it go to voice mail; whether to get together with a friend for coffee or pop a DVD into the home theater. These little decisions are powerful because they are cumulative, and they fuel a vicious cycle. You step back a little from others. They step back a little from you. You feel a little left out. Feeling left out, when unexamined, leads you to step back farther. Feeling left out, when examined, can lead you to work a little harder to reconnect.”

A BFF search, at its core, is not about grand gestures. It’s the accumulation of little decisions that force you to interact with the world around you. Sometimes those interactions amount to nothing. Sometimes you can consciously decide to turn them into something by transforming that passing “we should get together!” into “What date works for you?” And sometimes, really special times, relationships emerge almost effortlessly, because you are two peas in a pod. Made for each other.

I’ve been guilty of making each “wrong” choice in Olds and Schwartz’s example. I’ve ordered a book from Amazon instead of walking to the bookstore. I’ve screened calls. Lots of them. I’ve passed on drinks so I could watch Thursday night medical dramas. And what I’ve learned is not just that you don’t make any BFFs while sitting alone on your couch, but also that if you decide to stand back from the social world often enough—to stay in when you’ve been invited out—people will think that’s where you want to be always.

What do you think of that passage? Might it be the answer for BFF searchers everywhere?

Happy long weekend everyone, and happy birthday America. I hope you all enjoy some great in-person—not virtual!—fireworks. And lots of yummy food off the barbie. See you Tuesday…

18 Comments

Filed under The Search

18 responses to “A Bit of Wisdom For Our Nation’s Birthday

  1. Ana

    Ooh first comment. The silver lining on my terrible night (woken several times by baby and once by dog and a million times by my own stuffy nose/coughing….and I’m supposed to be on vacation!).

    I kinda love this. I like thinking of life as little decisions you make every day. It seems much more manageable, then, to make a change. I am way way guilty of all of these “isolating” habits—at home, at work, everywhere! On the other hand, the last thing I need is to examine & question every single thing I do on a daily basis and feel guilty about making the “wrong” choice.

    Sometimes I feel that we (society?) are being advised (by “experts”) to do two different things—one is to listen to your instinct and do what you FEEL like doing at the time, and achieve a much-deserved happy moment. The other is to break OUT of that comfort zone and do the “hard” thing that will make you happier in the long run.

    Maybe a good life should have a healthy balance of both?

    Sorry that went off on a tangent, my head is a bit fuzzy🙂

  2. Sometimes you need that me time to regroup so that you can offer something to your friendships. I think that time alone is just as important as cultivating friends.

    The idea of little decisions culminating into something grandiose is so true, not only for friendships, but life in general.

    Have a great holiday weekend.

  3. You know, I definitely think there’s some validity to that statement. And it makes me think about last night … and how thankful I am that I’ve just gotten used to DVRing most shows I like to watch. Because yesterday after work? I sat outside with my husband and our neighbors enjoying the late afternoon sun. And then I grabbed our dog and went on a long walk with her. Our destination was to meet up with a girlfriend for an al fresco dinner. And I didn’t walk through my front door until close to 10, well past the start and finish of many of the shows I want to watch. But, you know what? Cultivating those friendships far outweighs any particular hour spent on the couch … with one caveat. That I do get to spend an hour (or four) on the couch watching my favorite shows at some point during the week. Because me time is just as important as we time … otherwise burnout is imminent.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Ana, Rudri, Nilsa: I agree with all of you… I think it speaks to the fact that life is an accumulation of little decisions. A night of “me time” once in a while isn’t going to negate all your efforts for social connection. But when those isolating decisions become the norm–when the decision to interact with the world becomes the ‘once in a while’ one–those little choices add up.

  4. So much of what you post about applies to my dating life. Or lack thereof – lol. I have to remind myself that I am not going to meet my Mr. Right by sitting on my couch on a Friday night, crocheting a baby blanket. I have to get out there and be around people. Granted, I need those nights in to re-charge my battery so I will be in a place where I can be out & out & social. So there is a need for balance.

    This whole ‘putting myself out there’ is what makes me go to running club when I really want to go home. It’s what makes me RSVP yes to MBA alumni social events when I am nervous that I won’t know anyone. It’s what pushes me outside of my comfort zone. And hopefully – it will result in me meeting someone – or at least will result in me having a good time!

  5. Cindy

    It’s brilliant and so, so true. Thank you.

  6. Strikes a chord with me too – I’ve definitely experienced that in both directions. At a time when I was stepping out more than usual, I was suddenly flooded with friends and the good feelings that come from being validated by others.

    On the other hand, when I’ve tended to recluse, I find myself less inspired, bluer and lonely even when I try to reach out – electronically! Facebook will never replace real outings with friends…🙂

    Thanks for the inspiration! Enjoy your weekend.

  7. Meg

    Great, thoughtful passage — resonated with me, too. I’ve been thinking about themes like that quite a bit lately… how, on instinct, I say “no” to social gatherings rather than “yes.” I claim to want to expand my social circle and make new friends, and yet I turn down invites from acquaintances and coworkers that could blossom into something more. And I know, of course, that the more I step back… the less I’ll be invited to step out with others. It’s a vicious circle.

    I’ll be pondering this as I embark on the three-day weekend — and force myself to go to a Fourth of July barbeque!🙂 Hope you have a holiday.

  8. Meg

    *Good holiday, that is. I’m sure you’ll have a holiday, no matter what!

  9. Wow, that’s kind of profound! Definite lightbulb moment for me as well. I do that so often, choose to shop on the internet, stay home on the couch, avoid potentially uncomfortable situations for the ones that are familiar! Each of those decisions in the quote are so easy, and yet you can see how they add up. I agree with other comments that it’s important to give yourself time too, but I’m going to try to push myself next time it would be easier to sit on the couch. Thanks for the great thought!

  10. Ashley

    Yikes, talk about a zinger. I think you hit the nail on the head, its the everyday choices that do tend to add up. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, some of it my doing, some of it not.
    But the paragraph you posted, convicted me a bit.

    I am the type that will order off the internet, let calls go to voice mail, and pop a DVD into the home theater. There was a time that my life demanded I do that because of school, work, family commitments,etc. Especially when my husband was sick. I think I got so used to doing them for so long, than when he was better and didn’t need me there 24/7, I forgot how to live and interact as I did before. Illness, can make you become narcissistic in a way, because its hard not to become consumed with the illness and in turn, consumed with yourself all the time. So when you are all better, how do you pick up again?

    Another aspect, is when people are sick, sometimes friends dont know what to do, so they don’t do anything. I have a little more grace is handling that now than I did at the time, because people are human and illness freaks them out. I get that. I resented that friends weren’t there for me when I needed people the most and the longer the illness went on, the more forgotten I was. Lonely place to be.

    You are absolutely right, the little decisions are powerful because they are cumulative, and they fuel a vicious cycle. I think that’s my issue, breaking the cycle, which is extremely hard for me. I am a creature of routine habit, its comfy and I like it there. But I’ve steped back from others for so long that I don’t know how to go about jumping back in without freaking them out and seeming too needy.
    Part of me also doesn’t know what to do when I do feel left out. I am just like the quote, when I feel left out, I back farther away. I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted and I dont want to feel like I’m forcing myself onto someone either.

    Todays article has definitely been food for thought.

  11. april

    Thanks for this post, Rachel. Makes so much sense! Have a great 4th.

  12. Hi Rachel, this is a really great article because it’s a principle of life. The small things we do will accumulate in life. If you want to go out and make wonderful friends then you have to do the small things right. It’s like cleaning your room, don’t try to tackle the whole room or else it can be overwhelming.

    Choose a part of the room to clean first, and slowly build your way up. I’ve always told my friends that if they sit around, or they keep doing things that don’t work, then they have to do something different. Do something different that is small.

    The beauty is that sometimes making those small changes leads to a wonderful lifestyle of friends and love.

  13. Terry

    Very nice, Rachel – thanks for sharing. :o)

  14. Anita

    Great post – as someone who is about to move (and never made any really good friends after my last move) I vow not to make the same mistakes again. As a 40-something working mom of 4 boys, being tired is the main culprit of my avoidance tactics….even more so than being busy! But busy-ness does not mask loneliness and w/o a girlfriend, you’re bound to be lonely even if your family is as wonderful as can be. I will not turn down so many invites in the future and I’ll make the little gestures (wanna get a cup of coffee?) that can make all the difference…..

  15. tommy

    I think that passage is a definition of our (generalization) lives today. How many ‘things’ do we have to occupy our time? How much of it is unneccessary? And don’t count your laptop or smartphone each as one item. Count every app you use on your devices. Our xbox probably counts for 20 by itself (cause I’m including Netflix, Zune, Modern Warfare, etc. etc.) .
    I think that the leading quote from your procrastination post (the “5% in 1976 vs. 26% today”) could have something to do with the overabundance of ‘stuff” we now have at our beck and call, and the inability or unwillingness (probably the latter) to ignore them.
    I say this with 8 tabs up on Explorer, paperwork to scan, and clothes to wash, and a 14-yr-old to wake up for football practice. Irony, thou art comprised of microchips.

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