Recently, I broke a nail while trying to clean up before a friend arrived for a play date. It was a snag that cut deep into the quick and was painful enough to stop me in my tracks. While I was nursing my wound, I had the clarity of mind to ask myself: why are you frantically cleaning the house?
This is something I thought I had broken myself of: maintaining the facade that everything is fine.
Years ago someone told me that picking up your house before a friend comes over does both of you a disservice. That it creates a false sense of having it all together, which may send a message to the friend that your life is better than hers.
That struck me as profoundly true. How many times have we seen another woman living what we assume must be her best, most balanced life and wondered: how does she do it? I can barely get pants on some mornings!
I thrive on deep connection with the people I’m close with. I'm comforted and nourished by those relationships where we can both show up as ourselves and share our darkness and our light with equal love. I cherish the friendships where sharing ourselves- even the unpolished, gritty, vulnerable pieces of ourselves - is enough to feel seen and loved.
How do you get to that point in a friendship, especially as an adult where making friends isn’t what it used to be?
There are those rare and delicious moments where you meet someone new and know instantly that this is a person you can be Real with. More often, however, this building up of mutual trust takes time and a fair amount of effort. Some of us are more willing than others to let the light in between the cracks in the surface, to invite others to see our mess, our pain, our darkness. You have to be willing to put in the time and be vulnerable over and over again to build a real relationship.
This is easier when we’re young and relatively unattached. All we have is time and a deep interest in ourselves. What you used to be able to achieve in one late-night dorm room confessional can now take months to get to with a new friend. When you’ve both got jobs and spouses, kids and aging parents, health issues, or some combination of the above, the time and energy to devote to making and keeping friends is hard won.
In midlife with small children circling our legs, it can feel as if we’re simply holding the pieces of our lives together and counting down the hours until bedtime.
I want more than anything to have a handful of friends in my life who can see me at my weakest, messiest state and hold me up, pass me a tissue, and take me out for drinks. People who I can share unacknowledged truths with who will not judge me but will instead feel emboldened to speak their secrets too. Friends who I would stay up past my 9pm bedtime to do that same thing for.
Show me your messes - yourself, your home - just as they are.
The morning I broke my nail I had forgotten that leaving a jumble of shoes in the entryway was not some sort of failure or a signal to this other mother that I didn’t value her arrival at my home.
The pile itself simply meant my kids actually took their shoes off when they came in the house, something we had been working toward. Sure, we’re still learning the finer points of lining them up just so. And sure, it would only take me 15 seconds to tidy them up. But all those 15 second jobs add up and as they do, so does my anxiety.
What if next time a friend comes over, I left everything as it is and let her see the piles of shoes, the dishes in the sink, the cat hair on the couch?
Anyone I want to be close friends with wouldn’t pass judgment. Maybe by leaving my dishes in the sink she’d see that my life isn’t perfect, either.
What if by leaving the mess we're opening the door to deeper connections in our relationships?
Trusting someone enough to let them see us as we are allows the light to shine in between the cracks on the surface. In so doing we invite others to see our mess, our pain, our darkness.
When we let the light shine on the mess, we can stop hinting at the truth of ourselves and start sharing it.
Perhaps this work begins by choosing not to pick up last night’s dinner dishes or scurrying to hide the pile of mail in a drawer. Maybe it’s not apologizing for the state of things as soon as we open the front door and instead saying “Welcome. Things have been a lot lately. Coffee?”