The hardest part about letting people in is that they now have an open door into your life.
I thought about this the other day as I entertained 4 out of the 5 kids who live next door. These kids are the loudest, most obnoxious kids in our whole neighborhood. They bicker constantly. One is whiny and instigates problems with her siblings. One is a bully to his younger siblings. One knows everything about everything. And one doesn’t speak a word because his siblings speak for him. These four kids range in age from 4 to 10, with an 18 m.o. brother at home, and are often left to their own devices – which usually is the reason for their bickering and screaming.
And I seriously adore these kids.
So when two of the kids playing outside asked if they could come over and hang out in my house, I said sure (after they asked their mom). I figured their mom could use a break. Besides, they were playing outside unsupervised, anyway. I settled these two in with some good old-fashioned TV babysitter while I worked on getting dinner for my family ready. And that’s when a knock sounded at my door. The oldest was there, wondering if he could hang out, too. A few minutes later, the last of the four kids showed up to hang out.
I’m pretty lucky having a house with just teenagers. I don’t have to entertain them at all. They can do that on their own while I do what needs to get done. I can cook dinner without kids underfoot. I can write when inspiration hits. I can get quiet time in the privacy of my bedroom without interruption. And when we all hang out, it feels like hanging out with friends instead of hanging out with kids.
Not so much with kids under 10. As I tried to make dinner, one girl wanted to know if she could help. I thought about how much her mommy would like me to let her help make a beer marinade for the chicken I was about to BBQ… Uh, no. Then she wanted food. So I made each of the kids a piece of toast with cream cheese on it. They polished that off. A few minutes later, the same little girl was hungry again. She wanted string cheese. But alas, we had none. She didn’t believe me, so she went searching for it in my fridge. She found the pepper jack cheese and wanted to try that. I wasn’t sure she’d like it. She insisted. She tried one bite, and then, with a screwed up face, threw the rest of the perfectly good slice away. The kids wanted to play with the dog, and did so by jumping around the dog and riling him up. Then they cried when he stepped on their foot, screamed if he licked them, and got scared when he started playing back. They wanted to watch TV, but the shows weren’t so entertaining.
They were bored and needed something to do. I needed to make dinner. How does anyone get anything done when they have kids???
Taz (14-year-old son) came home from baseball, and they immediately glommed on to him. He was his usual comedian self, and they ate it up. I took advantage of the moment and got the BBQ all set up to make dinner while my son entertained them by teasing them and being funny. In twenty minutes, these kids became convinced that my son was the coolest kid in the world. And I got twenty minutes to whip out a salad and put the chicken on the grill. He finally retreated to his room, having gotten his fill of kids. And now the kids were bored again. They jumped on the furniture, riled up the dog, squabbled with each other, and were hungry again.
That’s when Frizz (19-year-old stepson) came downstairs, an origami crown on his head and a bunch of square pieces of paper in his hand. He set to helping the kids make their own crowns. That’s all it took. The project captured all of their attention, and folding paper became way more interesting than the obnoxious show on TV. I finished making dinner, then sat in the living room to help with the kids’ crown creations. And I got to thinking, we are never getting rid of these kids. We showed them they can have fun at our house. And I’m unsure if that’s such a good thing. I mean, it’s great for the ego. These kids believe we’re the coolest neighbors ever. But they are now going to be knocking at my door constantly, wanting to be entertained. Say goodbye to every bit of peace and quiet I’ve earned after raising my kids into teenagers.
This way of thinking goes way beyond a bunch of loud kids next door. It’s kind of how I’ve treated the world. I mean, it’s all great when you’re just having fun. I have no problem hanging out with a few friends now and then, sharing my life with people through social media, and chatting it up over text. But anything closer than that has become highly uncomfortable.
To let people in means losing control of how I want people to see me. They don’t get to just see the image I put forth. They are now able to see me as I really am – totally messy, completely vulnerable, and far from perfect. They’ll discover that I don’t know everything about everything, and even that I’m just a hack. They’ll discover that I’m not as nice as I pretend to be. They’ll discover the places where I’m lacking. Worst of all, if I let people in closer than arm’s length, I’ll truly care about their opinion of me. And if I actually care, then their opinion could crush me.
And then there’s the selfish part of me, the part that argues that friendship is inconvenient. If I let people in, they suddenly have access to the time I’ve carved out for myself to write, read, or even just be alone for awhile. By letting them in, I’m giving them permission to call me at any chance, even without a warning text to alert me they’re going to call! I’m giving them access to my calendar, filling in the spaces with their own agenda, perhaps even overlapping the calendar events already marked on the page. Letting one person in could lead to letting more people in as they invite their friends and family into my life, overcrowding my super simple way of living into a full blown party. Allowing friendship means being held accountable to my life and choices, losing the ability to sweep things under the carpet because there are now witnesses to my life. And the more friends I let in, the more eyes are on my mistakes and poor choices. Accepting friendship means that when they ask how I’m doing and I say fine, they won’t believe me because they’ll already know the truth.
This part wants to go beyond just posting the neat, tidy parts of my life on social media, and instead, start living life out loud, open and honest, face to face. This part wants to ask how you’re doing, then really listen. This part wants to tell the truth about how I’m doing. This part wants to fill in the empty spaces of my calendar with meeting over coffee, tearing down my walls, opening locked doors, and inviting you in.
This part is tired of holding people at arm’s length.
So it’s come to my attention that my insistence at protecting myself through closed doors is actually hurting me. It’s blocking others from reaching me and helping me overcome the hurdles in my life. And it’s blocking me from getting to know others who could use my help, as well.
What if friendship really is inconvenient? And what if it’s not?
Are you also someone who holds people at arm’s length? You probably already know if you are. But just in case, here are a few signs that you could be:
– You’re not fully engaged in the present moment. Your mind wanders to things you could say, write about, or even what you need to do next.
– You’re “too busy” to go out, ALWAYS. Or, you accept plans only to cancel them at the last minute.
– You pretend outwardly that everything is “fine,” even when you have stuff bursting inside of you.
– Your natural tendency is to avoid eye contact.
– Your social life is spent primarily online or through texting, and is rarely face-to face.
– You sugarcoat your life, only presenting the good stuff to others.
If you’re an arm’s length kind of person, what’s holding you back? What are you struggling with? And if you’re someone who leans more toward the social side, how have friendships been better for your life?