The Relationship You Start With

February 25, 2014

I remember hearing an interview with Dana Reeve at some point after her husband became a quadriplegic. She said that you come out of a tragedy with the marriage that you went into the tragedy with. It’s something that’s stuck with me ever since, this realization that a tragedy won’t bring people together in the long run. A marriage that is rocky isn’t going to get better because of a mutual grief.

I think this holds true of all relationships. We all have a variety of friends. Some friendships are more mutual than others. Some have more give than take. Some have more take than give. And it’s becoming really clear to me which of my friends are givers and which are takers.

And that makes the friends who are takers sound like bad people. They aren’t. They would do anything for the people they love. But they are also oblivious to how they force the universe to revolve around them, even when making an outward show of support.

The problem is that right now I don’t have much to give. I’m walking on this ridge. It’s hard enough to keep my balance. And I want people to be happy, so I’ve nurtured relationships in which I almost always give and friends almost always take. Because my life has been pretty good. I’ve been able to give. I’ve been fine with being the ear while friends complain. About their jobs. About their kids. About their love-lives.

But it’s not necessarily a balanced relationship. So now that I’m the one who needs to take, I find that these aren’t the friends I can go to. Our relationships haven’t changed.


I had a travel fellowship when I lived in Rome. When back in Chicago, the couple who endowed this fellowship invited all of us fellows (that phrase makes me smile) to a reception. One of the questions they asked was what we wished we’d known before we spent that year abroad. We all agreed that, in addition to culture shock upon returning to the States, we wished we’d known how much we were going to change. And we wished we’d known that we were going to change, but our friends who were still in Chicago weren’t. That didn’t mean we wouldn’t still be friends. I’m still very close with people I’ve known since we were freshman. But those of us who had studied abroad had changed.

This is the same. While I’ve shared my grief with my friends, they’re experiencing the postcards and emails. I’m the one who’s living abroad. I’ve changed. And I need to figure out how the new me fits into a relationship that’s stayed the same.


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