How to Make Friends in a Shark Tank

In the world of full-time employment, out there in the weeds of xerox machines and customer service, there are these things called “coworkers” and – just like your neighbors and your children – you don’t get to choose them. Nope. You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

Most of the time. Unless you want to step into the lavatory stall, close the door, and silent scream. That’s a thing.

Jobs can be fun. Right?

“You’re too happy,” commented my coworker early on, “You like people too much. I give it six months. You’ll be jaded and cranky like the rest of us.”

“Jolie, you are a fish in a little pond,” a senior director manager type human said to me once, when I was considering a move up the corporate ladder into a larger professional arena, “but in that circle….they are sharks. You will need to learn survival skills. Don’t trust anyone.”

Too late. I already considered every person in that shark tank my “friend”. We were all helpful, kind, courteous, even going out to lunch once in a while. I couldn’t think of a single reason why any one of them would turn around and have me for lunch instead.

But adult friendships are trickier than third grade ones. I thought I had a friendship that was outside of office politics, the lady being quite worthy on her own two feet, but her loyalty to her boss was stronger than mere courtesy to me, and even though she apologized after the fact, she had not prevented me being thrown under a passing bus.

She was sorry/not sorry.

There were bigger fish fries than that, but are hardly worth recounting. I have since been told The Rules: under no circumstances do you consider a coworker a “friend”.

Even if you go to Happy Hour or yoga with these fish. Even if you “donate” an exorbitant amount of personal money towards an office baby shower gift for a fish from the next department over that you’ve never even exchanged paperclips with. Even if this fish swaps intimate mom stories with you and brings you Valentines Day treats and laughs with you over morning coffee.

If this fish has a personal family emergency, I am expected to act like my own mother was in a  car explosion and make sure “the office” is supportive with donations, flowers, and cards. We will cover his work load with concerned faces and ask how the recovery is coming along.

But.

If this fish senses that I am drifting into their territory, or if the boss needs bait for a bigger fish, or perhaps I am just not taking their teeth seriously enough, queue the Jaws theme song.

I am investing more time and money and love languages with these fish than my own family. In return, I am to expect…shark bites?

This concept is so far out of my box that I don’t know where to begin. So I asked a thirteen-year-old girlfriend for some help. We agreed that relationships in both school and office arenas are based upon being temporary and the “every man for himself” attitude. And we suppose everyone goes in with this expectation. Which is a huge waste of possibility, in our opinion.

Somewhere out there in the deep blue sea is a company getting this aquarium thing right. Employees are trained that there are enough krill and plenty of waves for everyone.

I still have a habit of petting sharks, treating them like shiny yellow tang.

Perhaps the only way you will know for sure whether you made an authentic friendship at school or work is if the person is still friendly after the building is gone. If you remove the competition and the politics and the teeth, and are left with a real person with no agenda, I’d say you can finally call that fish a friend.

Everyone else can go jump in the lake.

Sorry/not sorry.

Just keep swimming.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Rom 12:18
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The Painful Edgy Stuff

Dear Struggling Girlfriend,

I miss you so much. I know you can’t tell, because I’ve pretty much fallen off the face of the planet with the usual job, kids, house, whoops I forgot to get gas, and I haven’t called my own mother back in two weeks thing.

I know we’re all busy.

But it doesn’t mean your name doesn’t pop into my head at odd moments, like when I’m sitting at a red light or just falling asleep or stirring the spaghetti noodles.

I feel like all I’ve got are these little bright hopes for you and I can’t even reach for the phone to tell you so.

Every time I think of you I send you a butterfly.

I conjure up a frenzied little orange flapping butterfly and send it towards you. I have no idea where you’re actually standing right now. But the little bright spot will find you.

That’s her job.

Let me sit down and explain.

It’s a prayer, my lovely friend, that your struggles will lift just enough. Just enough for you to feel the breeze from her wings, the spark from her aerial dance. Just enough that you can get through this day and find a soft place to lay your weary head. You don’t need to sleep. Just lie down and let your body breathe.

It will be okay.

And lest you feel I’m being a bit cocky with my faith in you, let me remind you of the obvious: I know you. I know you enough. Enough to see the steel below your worn, paper-thin layers. And you will make it out the other side of this struggle and you will send me butterflies in your turn.

At the moment, one precious friend is struggling because her hubby was laid off and hasn’t found a job yet. They will have to move. She went back to work and enrolled their son in a school that she hopes is near a place that they will all be able to call home soon. Her faith is being stretched. And it’s scary.

One has recently moved to another city in another state because her hubby got the job of his dreams. But everything is new. New hairdresser, new dentist, new grocery store, new house full of strange new noises. New weather. And she’s trying to find new friends. Not that her old friends don’t count, but it’s hard drinking tea alone. It’s so lonely sometimes.

One sits for months, wondering if the courts will take away her home because there are unscrupulous people in this world and sometimes the bad guys win. Only she has no way of knowing until the courts know. Life gallops by, but the home-front feels stuck in limbo.

One girlfriend walked away from a car crash two weeks ago. It was not a pretty crash. She is battered and bruised and still in shock that no one stopped along the road to help. Faith and gratitude is tempered by the vague betrayal of humanity and lingering headaches.

Many battle things like cancer or alcoholism or depression or anxiety or insomnia or infertility or long-term pain or even suicidal thoughts. These precious friends face a thing that is walking around inside of them instead of outside of them. It’s hard for them to separate the enemy from the beautiful healthy girl in there.

But I see her.

And I watch you soldier on. And I watch you lift up others from your spot on the ground. And I watch you rise up and try again and yet again.

You are my absolute hero.

I respect the fact that you were able to get out of bed and put on pants.

Even on the days you didn’t. I know you’ll try again tomorrow.

And for you, my sweet friend whose hubby just received a diagnosis of the heart-breaking sort, I wish you comfort and all the fierce love one day at a time can hold. You aren’t ready to talk about it yet. You are trying to wrap your mind around the impossible.

But already you have reminded me to have compassion for everyone I meet.

Everyone is carrying something. Everyone comes from somewhere.

And butterflies are free.

 

All Aboard the Small World

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all

(get right up in your left ear)

It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all
It’s a small, small world

(take a big breath)

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all

(repeat forever)

I am so delighted to get that song stuck in your head, you have no idea!

I used to sing it during December to get “Jingle Bells” off my mental soundtrack.

You have to fight fire with fire.

If you have ever had tea at my place, you have seen this map. It’s really one of my favorite things, and you should run out right now and get yourself one.

Mine’s been up for just over two years, and it’s starting to come together.

We often have company over from various places on the globe, sometimes we know them, and sometimes we are attempting to know them. I figure if they’ve agreed to go to a stranger’s house and eat whatever random food gets served over a cup of tea, those brave souls should at least have a little piece of home to look at.

We all sit around the table and talk about places we’ve seen and places we want to see. We hear travel stories and people stories and realize that the world we live in is getting smaller by the minute.

Before they leave, I ask my guests to put themselves on our map.

A sticky arrow with their name points out the dot that stands for “Home”.

And there it stays, to fade slowly over years, that validating statement, “So-n-so was here”.

Many visitors to Southern California will visit Disneyland (Dizzyland, I call it) and I guess I can’t blame them, but it’s not my favorite. They will hop on that wretched boat ride and have a million puppets tell them what they already know.

But they can’t stop singing about it.

I prefer to stand in my kitchen and stare at the map and think about this big beautiful planet that is covered in friends.

And be amazed that those friends have also stood, just here, where I am now, on my own little dot.

If I have any readers who would like to represent the African continent, or perhaps Russia, we have priority seating available. Extra points if you come from Madagascar.

I know you’re staring at Greenland.

But that’s youngest child’s attempt to be helpful.

He didn’t want it to feel left out. After all, Greenland was already downgraded from a continent to island status. What it loses in tectonic plate, it makes up for in polar ice cap.

I think Canada can claim it, probably without a whole lot of trying.

The sticky says “nobody” and is waiting for the lone representative to come over and put his or her name on it.

Bring me a reindeer.

But don’t you dare sing me a Jingle Bell.

You’ll Always Be My Friend…You Know Too Much

I received a birthday card this year that said, “Let your dreams be bigger than your fears; your actions louder than your words; and your faith stronger than your feelings.”

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In the basement of a sweet little church last week, I stood up in front a group of women and let my dream of saying something intelligent be bigger than my fear of choking on the spot and dying a very public death.

For sure, leading a gym class and gaining perspiration would’ve been easier than leading a Bible class and gaining inspiration.

And as it turns out, when I stood in front of these beautiful women, my faith wasn’t in my own abilities to speak, but rather in their intentions to listen. I had to believe that somewhere in my ramblings, each of them would hear something that spoke directly to her own heart. Something gloriously small and explicit. Something, I hope, that made them glad they were sitting down with enough time to enjoy the new thought.

The title of my classes, “On the Care and Feeding of Your BFF”, was chosen by a group of girlfriends months ago, as they were lounging pool-side. I actually asked them to vote on what I should talk about in Canada.

I’m cool like that. (I’m also sadly unfocussed like that.)

But, as every writer knows, all bets are off when you sit down at the keyboard.

Martha and Mary of Bethany kept butting into my notes and no matter how hard I explained to them that they had lost the vote, they would not get out of my face.

So I let them take the floor, and Class 1 was born.

They showed me how to behave like a “best friend forever”. And how not to. And what happens when you let Christ take over your heart. And what happens when you don’t. They both looked me in the eyes and reminded me that the Good Samaritan hadn’t seen his choices coming, but when he saw a wounded man, he didn’t see danger or calculate a backstory or contemplate excuses.

He just reached into his bag and pulled out a massive can of instant and lavish compassion.

“Let’s do this,” I hear him think.

End of story. But also the beginning of ours.

The ladies in Ontario played along with me as we explored the many languages of love that feed and nurture those deliberately connected relationships.

We had soul-warming soups for lunch, and faith-building, hand-holding conversational comfort food; the kind made of good old fashioned face time, bubbling along with laughter, our individual flavors melding together.

Later, we went deep into the pits with Jeremiah and up to the mountain top with Elijah.

Caring for your friendships needn’t stop when one stumbles into a pit.

For the girlfriend who suddenly doesn’t know what to say or do, this class held tools for building ladders out of pits and ways to hold on to each other when life gets real.

It does get real, doesn’t it?

How wonderful to know someone has your back.

Amazing things happen when women gather together.

Their love for each other is so tangible.

I am thankful for the prayers and encouragement, the mentoring and editing that countless women supported me with as I walked this road to Canada.

It’s changed me in ways I haven’t yet put words to.

And I know that, one BFF at a time, we are going to make it through this crazy life of ours, holding hands, pressing onward, and yes – very likely – giggling a lot of the time.

The Anti-Hug

Well, now I’ve gone and done it.

When I say out loud what everybody’s thinking but not saying, it should occur to me to keep my yapper shut.

Right?

There’s a reason they aren’t mentioning it, and it has to do with good things like making people feel included and accepted and loved. Who’s not for peace and harmony?

Heavens to Betsy, I guess me.

I am so sorry! I didn’t mean it. I mean, I did, but I meant the word part, not the feely part. I mean, I love you and I’m super happy that the feeling’s mutual, and that we’re here in the same room together doing something really great, but…

(I am so sorry!) please don’t hug me.

Sorry.

I have so many awesome friends, male, female, and avian.

And we are constantly all getting together and being awesome.

And I don’t know who wrote up the personal space rules a million years ago, but they went overboard and I don’t know how to turn the tides, at least around my little fork in the road.

I kept my innocuous weirdness to myself for most of my life, thinking I was the only one who got the creepy crawlies once in a while from being accosted by huggers.

If someone came at me with open arms, it was fun to place a baby into them.

I perfected the casual side-turn that blocked most of the incoming body mass.

I am professional at entering a room with enough baggage to discourage it and leaving a party in ninja stealth mode. I don’t handle good-byes very well.

I offer hugs of sympathy at funerals and hugs of joy at weddings.

The rest of you have seen me before and you will see me again and I see no reason to mark the occasions with a body tackle.

This is not football.

And I finally cracked.

I made a beloved girlfriend who, frankly, is a hugging addict and shows no sign of recovery.

She will hug you to bits within five minutes of meeting you…and your spouse and your kids and your luggage. And do it again if you leave.

Even if it’s for the bathroom.

I sat her down one day and told her…the truth.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” I began, “I just have funky issues with my personal space. I love you! Can we still be friends, just without the touchy feely part?”

She was floored.

And kind of speechless and a little sad.

It had never once occurred to her, ever, that a person would not be pleasantly happy receiving hugs or holding hands or having someone’s arm thrown casually about her shoulders, like a faux fur.

This was a lady who probably let total strangers rub her pregnant belly.

**shudder**

Feeling like a heel, I talked with other girlfriends, and discovered that I wasn’t the only female with an Anti-Hug Buffer Zone.

“I don’t know,” said one, “it’s very casual, but what else would you do? Shaking hands seems silly. And you’re not going to curtsy to the queen.”

“Watch C,” said another, “he doesn’t just hug, he kisses, too.”

And you’d better believe I did the next time we got together, and sure enough, he entered the room and greeted the first person he met (a lady) with a hug and a kiss and a warm smile.

She seemed just fine with it.

I immediately placed a row of chairs between us.

Decision time.

I could hang out with this awesome person while circling the room at all times, or come clean.

I preempted his hug by going into his personal space first, my raised eyebrows leading the way.

We discussed the social norms and I was educated about the European expectation of hugs, kisses, and if you really want to get middle eastern, multiple kisses on both sides until someone gets exhausted and has to sit down.

He claimed to be only half European with a single kiss.

I told him So Cal is just fine with a fist bump.

We tried it out a few times over the course of the day.

He tried so hard.

He looked like someone who was promised a flying rainbow unicorn and got a stick horse instead.

I am so sorry.

Girls’ Night Out

A second grade teacher, a superior court justice, and a certified public accountant walk into a sushi bar.

“Three?” asks the hostess.

The CPA laughs and says, “No, ten of course, I calculated.”

The judge laughs and says, “You have the right to remain silent, we’ll find our way.”

The teacher says in a soothing voice, “But you’ve been very helpful, thank you,” and hands her a sticker as they pass by.

The women march straight to the rear of the restaurant because the ICU nurse, the mom of five, the high school parenting teacher, the motorcycle chick, and the RN have already grabbed a table.

The waitress walks up but gets shooed away because the two heads of HR have not yet arrived.

One represents wild animals (who gets a cheetah at her wedding, who?) and one represents pancakes (she’s on TV looking fab, and I know her!) but at Girls’ Night Out, we are all just friends, ready for our monthly round of catch-up.

You’d think we’d run out of things to talk about.

When pigs fly will women run out of words.

We’ve been closing down places for years.

“What’s new?” we ask each lady in turn.

“Nothing?” I challenge, “Then make something up, I’ll believe you.”

These particular ladies and I share matching high school diplomas. Beyond that, we are as diverse as a box of Jelly Bellies; each brings her own flavor to the table and we are never bored.

We range the political and religious gamut. Some married very young, others found Mr. Wonderful the year we all turned 40. Some are divorced and regale us with dating stories. We are home bodies and globe trotters. We’ve all ridden the monetary and health roller coasters.

There are deaths and births, haircuts and holidays to discuss.

And after all of these years, we still have issues with our parents.

Mostly, though, we are real. We can trust the group with secrets. We can count on them to care, even when the issue is quite far from their area of expertise. We leave our labels at the door and discuss stress, motivation, releasing the past and hopes for the future.

“You would not believe the mess Common Core is making at the school,” begins the teacher.

PTA President leans in and says, “Oh, our school helped to write part of that. How is it working?”

Plates of sushi rolls are landing on the table; the Ministries Coordinator hogs two just for herself.

“The Lord helps those who help themselves,” she giggles, “I think this one is called the Panty Dropper.”

Motorcycle mom is showing off her new tattoo to mom-of-five, “Just got back from our weekend to Vegas, this is my souvenir.”

Mom-of-five, recently promoted to blogger, inquires about motorcycle mom’s five kids, one of whom was just fitted with a new wheelchair, and another recently enlisted in the army.

The nurses are swapping funny patient stories and the wild and single lady is explaining the differences between Plenty O Fish and Match dot com, and her latest overnight shift on SDPD Crisis.

Our layers of labels are smashing together like funky sushi ingredients, rolled in a tight history together, with a zesty freedom flavored sauce on top.

Meanwhile, the waitress has taken the paid check, asked to refill the water glasses five times, taken a group photo for us, and cleared the table.

Don’t you hate when your guests won’t leave?

When all else fails, they put chairs up on tables and vacuum.

Then they put out the lights.

As the restaurant doors are locked behind us, we are still chatting and hugging and making plans for next month. Some of us will make it, some will disappear into the daily whirlpool and resurface a few month’s down the road with good stories to show for it.

When I finally get home, Hubby is waiting up.

“How’d it go?” he asks, “What’s the news?”

“Oh, not much,” I reply, “same ol’ same ol’.”

It’s hard to reduce a lifetime of conversation into a bento box.