The Gifts of Microrelationship

 

biking
Photo credit: Cesar Kobayashi

 

“Let it all go; see what stays.” -Unknown

I do some of my best thinking on my bike.

When I run, I have to listen to music, or a podcast, or talk to a running partner.  Otherwise, the voices in my head will go at me nonstop, telling me that I suck and running sucks and I’ll never make it past the first half-mile. In my opinion, running without some sort of entertainment is nothing short of a spiritual practice.

But when I’m on a bike, it’s all flow. I hit the right cadence, the countryside blurs past, and I move into a zone of quiet contemplation. The miles fly by and my mind settles into a state where ideas come and I reflect and make connections that have never occurred to me before.

I also don’t fancy being hit by a car, so earbuds are a no-no on the roads.

Today is one of the glorious first days where signs of spring are beginning to appear and it’s time to pull the bike out for a ride. This morning I pumped up the tires, checked my brakes, and hopped on with plans to ride five or six miles, but the sunshine felt so good I just kept going.

While I pedaled I began to think of the people who first introduced me to road biking, nearly fifteen years ago.  A handful of my coworkers invited me to join their post-work biking forays into the surrounding farmland and hill country of our town. I bought my first little road bike, a steel frame Mercier, went on my first ten-mile ride, and was completely hooked. It wasn’t long before I was biking to work and riding the fifty miles to my dad’s ranch in ninety-degree Texas heat just for fun.

Those coworkers, who I’ve only seen once or twice in the last ten years, gave me a gift that has lasted and made a significant impact on my life. They introduced me to a sport that I love, and they were some of the first to plant seeds in my mind that I might be capable of bigger things than I had once thought.

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I’ve done alot of moving across the country as an adult, and as a result, I’ve had to leave behind many people that came to be important to me. It’s always been hard leaving these people that I really cared about, uncertain if our friendships would survive long distance and states apart.  On many occasions, I’ve vehemently tried to maintain those relationships, and while a handful were strong enough to persist, most eventually fizzled to the point of being fond Facebook connections.

I’ve also had many people come into my life who left just as quickly as they came, for a myriad of reasons. In many cases, I would beat myself up over the breakdown of these relationships, thinking that somehow I had failed them and myself. Growing up I had unconsciously told myself that quality relationships, those with real meaning, should survive for a long time, and if relationships end, it is a bad thing.

Years ago I read Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings and I remember feeling so relieved that it is OK to end relationships and not all friendships or romantic partnerships will or should last forever.  Somehow I had believed that I always had to be friends with everyone I encountered, and everyone had to like me and want to be friends with me. I’m so glad I got over that, because it was an exhausting endeavor trying to make myself like everyone and present myself in a way that they would all like me, and then feel horrible about myself when some didn’t reciprocate.

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Relationships come and go; some are short and some last for years. But it’s difficult when relationships end badly, or people that you desperately want to be part of your life either choose not to be or can’t be for some reason or another. As I biked this morning down Indiana backroads, I recalled a handful of people that I’ve met over the last year and a half that were part of my life ever so briefly.

It can be so disappointing when you meet someone who you think you really click with, who you suspect might be a part of your future, and suddenly they’re gone. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or a romantic interest, it can be tempting to either try and control the situation to make them stay or ruminate for far too long as to why the connection dissipated.

Today, on my bike, I did a bit of reframing of perspective.   I decided to call it microrelationship -relationships that are fleeting and may never reach the robust maturity of the kinds of friendship we tend to value most, yet are still meaningful and somehow impart gifts to us.

I specifically thought of a handful of people that have flitted in and out of my life since moving back to Indiana from Massachusetts.  They came and left for completely different reasons, but every leaving grieved me on some level. However, if I’m honest about it, even though those friendships didn’t last, I was given something by each of those people that positively impacted me, gifts of encouragement or inspiration or challenges to grow in different areas of my life. One person inspired me with their commitment to health and a lifestyle that contributed to it.  Another heard and saw the real me in a way I’m pretty sure no one else ever has. One person insisted that I stop listening to the bullshit smack that my mind gives me, and start writing more and regularly. And yet another pointed out prejudices lingering within me that needed to be addressed.

I’ve decided that microrelationship is just as valid a model of doing life with people as long-term deep relationships.  Sometimes it can be tempting to keep your heart closed, and not really open up to people or be transparent until you’re sure they’re going to be around for a while. But I think this can be a mistake.  Some of the people who had the biggest impacts on my life have only been in it for brief periods of time; if I had closed myself off to them for fear that they wouldn’t stay, I would have missed so many gifts.

I’m not talking here about coming across as needy with people, or giving information vomit, or blowing past safe boundaries when trust hasn’t been established in a relationship. What I’m talking about is allowing yourself to be authentic and genuine and real and VULNERABLE with people even when you have no clue how long they’ll be in your life.

I think it all really comes down to just learning to live in the present.  Things come, things go.  People come, and people go. It is not ours to qualify what is a meaningful and good relationship just based on duration or whether or not we ever see a particular person again.

We will never really understand why life brings us people when it does, or takes people away. All we can learn to do is accept them as a gift,  and leave our hands open for them to come freely and leave freely.

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