When I was a little girl I got in trouble for lots of things. Reading at the dinner table, not washing the dishes when I got home from school, spraying hair spray in my little sister’s eye. You name it, I got in shit for it at one time or another. The one thing that incensed my mother the most was not taking care of my things. Clothes on the floor, books dog-eared and left splayed open on every available surface, my baby necklace dangling precariously from the bathroom counter. This was like waving a red flag in front of a bull and mummy would lose her shit – “you guys don’t appreciate what you have!” she would scream.
I never really got how she made the connection between clothes on the floor and lack of appreciation. It wasn’t that I wasn’t grateful for what I had or that I didn’t value it, I just didn’t see what the big deal was. What terrible tragedy would befall my Benetton sweater on the floor that would have been prevented had it been hanging in my closet? Books are just as readable when the pages are dog-eared as they are when you use a bookmark, so what difference did it make? The stuff was mine, it wasn’t going anywhere, so who cared if I was careful or careless with it?
Fast forward thirty something years later and not much has changed. I still leave my shit everywhere and my jewelry still dangles from every available surface. My books are still raggedy and even my beloved shoes lay in heaps at the bottom of my closets. At this point I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll always be careless with my stuff.
But what I’ve noticed lately – and what I don’t want to accept – is that I’m not just careless with the things in my life, I’m also careless about the people in my life. If you polled my closest, most treasured friends asking when I last called them, or hit them up on gchat or sent them a Christmas gift or birthday card you’d be met with furrowed brows, screwed-up faces and “um….never?”.
It’s not that I don’t value or appreciate the people I love and who love me. I do. I love my friends and I’d like to believe I’d do anything for them. But just as I strew my belongings haphazardly around my home, so do I miss birthday parties, screen phone calls, and hide in gchat invisibility so as not to be disturbed. Thankful though I may be for the people I love, I have a fucked up way of showing it.
But that’s the great tragedy of life and relationships, isn’t it? None of us are ever really careful about the people we love. For every time I’ve been careless or neglectful of a friend I can think of a corresponding time when they’ve done the same thing to me. It’s just the nature of life and love. When we have a new friend or a new lover we start out ultra-fastidious; afraid that one misstep will shatter the precarious budding relationship. But as friendships grow and relationships develop we get comfortable. We stop fearing that the person we care about will disappear if we look away for a moment and we start to just accept that they will always be there.
I’ve always believed that life would be better for everyone if we were all just nicer and more careful with the people we care about, but it’s easier said than done. There’s a fine line between vigilance and nonchalance – too much care is smothering and too little is hurtful neglect. I’m sure there’s a sweet spot somewhere in between, but I think I do a piss poor job of hitting it. I’ve always been really good at telling people I love and appreciate them, but showing that in my actions is another story altogether.
Am I alone on this? Or are you guys guilty of being careless with the people in your life? How do you find the right balance between being present in your friends lives and smothering them? Help me be great in the comments.