A gift of the Coronavirus is time for self-reflection. This was impossible in normal times; so consumed were we with work, family, household chores, volunteering, book club, working out, and general “busy-ness.”

In mid-March all that came to a screeching halt. I suggest we use this precious time out of time to take a clear-eyed look at those on whom we expend our emotional energy.

Persisting in Relationships That Don’t Build Us

We all like to feel that our hearts are big enough to attend to whomever passes through our lives. We feel obligated to go out of our way for people who don’t nourish us or, frankly, don’t even need us.

We were brought up to be loyal to longstanding friends, we want to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and we enjoy being embedded in our community. Besides, we all like the feeling of being liked.

Yet in trying our hardest to do the right thing, we can pay a high price in the form of distraction, dissatisfaction, and exhaustion. Moreover, if we reject an overture of friendship, we feel guilty. How often have you said to yourself:

  • “Jane and I go back to junior high school. Of course, I have to keep her in my life – even though every phone conversation with her is a one-way marathon (does that woman even breathe?) and all she does is talk about her grandchildren.”
  • “Susie asked me to help her out on the Alzheimer’s Walk, and I didn’t want to let her down, even though there are ten other charities I’m more passionate about.”
  • “The last place in the world I want to go is fitness boot camp, but everyone else in our group is gung-ho, and I didn’t want to be the lone naysayer. So there goes my vacation time. Instead of lounging by the pool with a Margarita, I’ll be doing push-ups all day and playing bridge all night. Ugh!”

Let’s Evaluate Our Friendships

While we’re confined to home, I suggest we do an audit of our friendships. Are we putting enough time and effort into the people who mean the most to us or are we taking them for granted?

On the opposite side of the spectrum, have we fallen into relationships that are basically transactional and not particularly nurturing – “We play golf together,” “I see her at the club,” “She’s an office ally,” “We go shopping together?”

When we settle for these tepid relationships, they gobble up the time we could use to seek out other people who are more on our wave length, who enrich our lives, and who make us feel good just being in their presence.

The Relationship Power Ladder

To get our priorities straight, it helps to picture our relationships as a “love ladder.” On the top rung are our core bonds: husband or partner, children, grandchildren, siblings, and one or two true best friends. They should get the lion’s share of our time and attention.

Alas, life can get in the way, and we can inadvertently let those core relationships slide, sometimes dangerously so. My dentist has a saying on his wall, “Ignore your teeth and they will go away.” The same could be said of those closest to our hearts.

On the next rung of our love ladder are those with whom we share a deep interest or with whom we exchange real feelings. Not only do we look forward to our time with them, we know in a pinch we can count on them.

I once had a luncheon with the theme of friendship, which I kicked off with the question, “If a good friend called at 3 am and asked you to come over to bury a body, would you go?” That’s a bit extreme, but it’s comforting to know there are some people you could call at 3 am, and they would show up in an emergency.

On the lowest rung – and therefore worthy of the least amount of our time and emotional energy – are the people we see for one reason or another: they’re neighbors, we go to the same church, we’re invited to the same barbecues, we fell into a couples’ relationship, she’s the wife of my husband’s good friend, and so on.

If these entanglements leave you feeling empty and/or take you away from more meaningful relationships and pursuits, it’s time to ease out of them.

It’s Time to Decide Who’s Worth Keeping

A lot has been said about conscious happiness, which I think should go for conscious relationships, too. Forced isolation has given us the gift of quiet, distance, and stillness. Let’s use it to evaluate with whom we spend our time, establish boundaries, and determine not to feel guilty about it.

Then, when the world opens up again, our outer actions will better align with our inner feelings, and we’ll lead more satisfying lives. Now that’s what I call the Upside of the Downside!

Who are your closest friends? How often do you hang out with them? Do you waste precious time with average or low-ladder acquaintances? What will you do about that? Please share your most recent friendship evaluations!

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