When Old Friends Limit You
Don’t let old labels pull you down.
It's wonderful to have old friends. I don't mean age-wise (although that too!) but old as in people you've known for a long time. And as much as you know them, they believe they know you as well.
And to a certain extent we're both right. Our basic character has probably not changed. There's shared history and confidences. We know each other's parents and spouses and children - and lots of the inside scoop. It's a closeness that can't be matched by more recent relationships (although of course these bring many wonderful new opportunities).
But these long, enduring friendships bring with them certain limitations as well, certain walls I keep bumping into. Like families whose need to maintain their stability make it difficult for individuals to grow and change, old familiar relationships may have the same impact. Unintentionally of course.
"I know you don't like doing this," a friend says to me. Reluctant to embarrass her or call into question the depths of our friendship, I smile politely in agreement. But that was something I didn't like 25 years ago, that didn't interest me then. But I've changed, I've expanded my horizons. And now I'm a big fan.
"I know this situation makes you uncomfortable," says another, not allowing for the fact that I have actually pushed myself outside my comfort zone only to discover that this particular situation is not as bad as I thought it was; in fact I now enjoy it.
"I didn't include you because it's not your type of activity." "I didn't ask you to lead this because I know you prefer to remain in the background."
I appreciate the thoughtfulness and consideration and yet I feel trapped.
Although I still prefer to remain in the background (they got that one right!), I am more open to new experiences than I used to be, more of a traveler, more willing to try new and different activities including those I didn’t enjoy previously. (This does NOT include making phone calls!)
I’m a little older, a little more comfortable with myself and perhaps a little more receptive to new situations. (And yes my old friends, you’re correct; I’m still uncomfortable in big social situations especially with strangers). So some of what’s said about me by my nearest and dearest remains the same but some...well...just doesn’t.
It's a Jewish conceit that we can all continue to grow and change, right up until our last moment. Didn't anyone stop to notice that I might have? Didn't anyone give me the room to? (Conversely, did I give them a similar opportunity?) The truth is that most of these instances are pretty trivial - with almost no practical consequences. But all these well-meaning comments, all these expressions of friendship and connection made me realize how trapped we could all be, how difficult it is to break free from how the world, particularly our little world sees us.
Change is so difficult and when it goes against expectations, the effort is so much greater. It's a lot easier to just sink back into being person everyone assumes you are.
Except the price is too great. It's the month of Elul, the month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the month of change, the time to really say "If not now, when?"
When the Almighty asks me why I didn't grow, why I stagnated, I can't really blame it on my old friends. It's still up to me.
But when others keep pulling down, we have to push up that much harder.
I'm trying. And I'm also trying not to assume that I really know anyone else, what their current goals and desires are.
Just like in a marriage, the possibility of continue discovery can keep these old relationships new and exciting. And open us both up to greater growth and self-actualization.