Leigh Kramer sees the world in a lovely way. I am always reading her posts and saying, “Oh, I never thought of it like that” and I’m so grateful for her voice. Also, we are TV watching kindreds, especially when it comes to shows I’m a little embarrassed to say I love. Welcome Hopefulleigh! So happy to have you here.
People described me as shy when I was younger but I disagreed. I wasn’t scared to talk with folks; I was selectively friendly. I’m the first to admit I’d observe before engaging, discern and then discuss. Most people enjoy a good listener, anyhow.
While I can’t remember what inspired my mom to tell me this, I heard the phrase throughout my childhood. “Conversation is like throwing a ball back and forth.”
I’d picture myself tossing the ball (question) and someone catching it (answer). If I ever felt uncertain, say, in a large group or around grown ups, I’d remember my mom’s advice and ask a question.
(Is it a coincidence I became a huge White Sox fan? Probably. My mom didn’t pay any attention to baseball before my obsession began.)
The years passed and I developed into a talker but still a selective one. Perhaps it’s my nature as a listener or my skills as a social worker but I’ve always been at home with myself, content to listen to a big group and contribute when I have something worth saying. I shine when one-on-one and shudder when forced to contend with small talk. With my closest friends, it can be hard to shut me up.
These days Mom’s advice still comes in handy but I see it in an altogether different light. The metaphorical ball tossed back and forth now illumines the rhythms of healthy friendship.
A couple of months ago, I met a new friend for coffee and we immediately clicked. There was a good mixture of sharing and questions and listening. The conversation went on all sorts of tangents, which is the best kind of conversation to my way of thinking. I heard her and she heard me. We threw the ball back and forth well.
On the other hand, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve left a one-sided conversation with an acquaintance and thought 1) they wanted me to be their non-paid therapist and 2) they didn’t ask me one question- I never got to catch the ball. It’s no wonder I leave those people feeling depleted.
Then there are those falling between those extremes. Each conversation we grow to understand each other a little better. We’re figuring out what kinds of friends we’ll be. Sometimes I ask more questions, sometimes they ask me more questions. They’re not “call you in the middle of the night” friends quite yet but maybe they could be. Or maybe they’ll be my “social” friends with whom I’ll go to shows or try out a new restaurant.
If I’ve learned anything the past few years is that we need a good mix of friends. No one person can meet all of our needs, nor can we meet theirs. We need friends who go deep, who listen well, who ask us the questions that make us squirm. We need friends we see maybe once a month for coffee or lunch, just to catch up. We need the friends who are drawn together over a common interest, whether a baseball team, a love of books, or the same taste in music. We need friends with different backgrounds and opinions and we need friends who offer solidarity. Each type of friendship has its own rhythm, it’s own way of tossing the ball back and forth.
I didn’t know making friends would be this hard. And I’m a people person!
Building new relationships takes time, effort, and energy. For an introvert, even an extroverted introvert (INFJ, y’all), it means constantly putting myself out there but then balancing that with nights in to recharge. I didn’t have to be aware of my own needs when I still lived in Chicagoland. I had a firm foundation of relationships stretching back to the year I was born.
Here, it’s pretty much all new. It has been a saving grace to live near my best friend who has known me more than half of my life. Otherwise, I’ve added to my community one person at a time. I now know a lot of people in Nashville but I feel known by a precious few.
It’s unfair to compare my community here with my community back home. While it is discouraging to have found more one-sided friendships than anything else, I still believe I’ll find true community here. I am lucky to have found a kindred spirit and a circle of friends I see regularly. Where my community is lacking, I choose to persevere.
My mom’s advice reminds me that conversation and friendship require an active participant. I’m doing my part.
I keep tossing the ball. I have hope. You never know when someone will toss it back.