Friendships are like dances: You learn the steps, but if one person changes direction, everyone in the circle has to adjust
ou know those childhood relationships that run so deep it’s almost like a layer of your own skin?
That’s me and Laurie.
Laurie’s mother, who I always called “Aunt Jill” even though she’s not my aunt, is my mother’s best friend from college. Growing up, Laurie’s family lived about a 15-minute drive from our home. We were like family. We were both Jewishly affiliated, and though neither was strictly frum, we certainly fell loosely into the (very) Modern Orthodox/Conservadox community in which we lived.
Laurie was a year behind me in school, and socially we had very different friends, but like cousins, we were always close and cared a lot about each another. Things changed in a huge way when I got to high school and “accidentally” ended up in NCSY. It was the first step in my leaving my coed summer camp, becoming more interested in shemiras hamitzvos, and having very frum role models. As my mom says, only partially tongue in cheek, “it was all downhill from there.” I ended up in a very frum seminary, and today I live with my avreich husband and five boys in a large frum community.
Laurie, on the other hand, went the stereotypical route for college kids in our community. She went on for a master’s and PhD, moved to an apartment in New York, and is only marginally observant. I understand the importance of keeping a connection with her — and I want to! — but what came so easily when I was single is now much more complicated.
When it was just me, our roots and the fact that we always got along so well held the relationship together, and we instinctively stayed away from hashkafic discussions. If we got together, we’d go out to dinner, talk about our jobs, the world, reminisce, and generally just have a good time. Nowadays, phone conversations are more difficult (aside from timing issues, it’s hard to find things to talk about). I try to keep up by scheduling a night out once every so often, but she wants to see my family and asks to come for “a weekend,” which gets very awkward.
First of all, my husband doesn’t schmooze with women. But when Laurie sits at our Shabbos table, or lounges on the couch, and says, “So, Natan [my husband’s name is Nosson], how’s the studying going? Did I ever tell you about the siyum I made on Mishnayot back in high school?” or, “Did you see that crazy tweet from the president?” and then tries to engage in conversation, it’s simply uncomfortable.
My husband is very nice to Laurie and her family, but he’s certainly not becoming friends with her the way she expects him to be — the way our other friends’ spouses have, once they became a couple.
I completely understand where Laurie is coming from. She’s just trying to be friendly and have my husband and kids be part of the clan — after all, we’re the oldest of friends! And how should she know any better? She has never, ever been exposed to a more yeshivish mindset, and frankly, I’m not comfortable being the one to give her a crash course.
She’s a highly intelligent person — why she hasn’t picked up on the fact that it might be best to show up in a skirt and longer sleeves is beyond me. I assume it’s just because she feels comfortable here, and the way she sees it, we do our thing and she does hers.
Now, as my kids are all getting older, she suddenly has lots of questions on our lifestyle and chinuch choices — not confrontational necessarily, but definitely too much probing and discussing (debating?) and analyzing for my liking. The relationship I took for granted all this time is beginning to shift, and it’s getting harder to keep it strictly positive and warm.
I value my friendship with Laurie and consider her family. Yet I feel our relationship slipping and I feel bad about it. Is there a way I can steady it within the parameters of my lifestyle?
Mrs. Mimi David is director of Women’s Education for Aish HaTorah of St. Louis, and a mechaneches in Bais Yaakov High School of St. Louis.
ou’re doing a great thing by keeping this friendship. The adage about old friends being gold is so true, and keeping them is so important!
Even if life circumstances have changed, old friends are a part of our hearts. Your friendship may have taken on a new dynamic, but it’s still precious and an integral part of who you are.
Friendships are like dances: You learn the steps, but if one person changes direction, everyone in the circle has to adjust. When something shifts, you don’t stop dancing, you simply learn to move in another direction with the person whose hand you’re holding.
Whenever there’s a “curveball” thrown into a relationship, both the major and minor things that crop up in everyday life — a new baby, a different schedule at work, a special-needs child, a loss — those steps alter somewhat. There are times we might even have to learn a whole new “dance.” But we don’t drop the relationship.
Communication is the basis of relationships. The more you communicate, the closer you are. Some people in your life share a more superficial relationship with you — think of the cashier in your corner grocery or the lady who works at the dry cleaner’s. You have limited communication with them, and your relationships reflect that.
The people you’re more connected to are the ones with whom you communicate most. Communication doesn’t have to mean deep, soul-searching, serious talks, but what makes your relationship with the cashier different from your relationship with your sister is that the more regular and qualitative the communication, the deeper and more qualitative the relationship. But the fact remains: Without communication, there’s no relationship.
Based on this, when a hiccup develops in a a relationship, the first step I recommend is to talk about it! That’s your job here: to communicate with Laurie. Not in a kiruv way, because that’s not your job nor is it appropriate here. Don’t “give her a crash course,” or discuss or debate. Simply talk to her. This conversation is strictly about you as a person. It’s time to introduce her to your new lifestyle, and the new things you do and why you do them.
How does this look?
Well, here’s what you are not going to do in this conversation: You aren’t going to use any “can’ts/won’ts/don’ts.” You won’t say, “My husband doesn’t socialize with women,” or “I don’t go here, I don’t do this, we don’t eat those, I don’t wear that…” i.e., all the things your new life doesn’t include. None of that.
Instead you’re going to focus on the positive, telling her what you’re trying to accomplish with your lifestyle, and how you go about doing that. You’re not telling her that your husband doesn’t socialize with women, but “My husband wants to keep our relationship personal and special, therefore, the only woman he socializes with is me.”
“We want to keep our kids wholesome and expose them to ideas that line up with our values, and that’s why we only read Jewish books in our house.” The stress is on positivity and what you’ve gained from your new lifestyle. “In this community, we try to have our boys exposed to… because we value…” And not, “Our boys are not allowed to see xyz…”
This conversation isn’t about hashkafah or philosophy. It’s “Laurie, my life is not the same as it was when we were kids. I chose a new lifestyle, and this is what I do now…. And in my new lifestyle, I’ve gained abc and xyz. It’s enriched my life in the following ways.”
It’s okay if she doesn’t get it. It’s not the world she’s coming from, and you’re not here to make her get it. It’s okay to validate that these actions aren’t normal in her world. Just make sure it never comes to “why we don’t do it your way.”
This can’t be an impromptu conversation, and I recommend asking a mentor to help you verbalize the ideas as best as possible. It’s crucial to practice them and role-play until you’re really clear and comfortable sharing your thoughts. This is an incredible opportunity to enhance your relationship and an opportunity to make a tremendous kiddush Hashem.
Now, here’s the major caveat: You need to be very clear that you’re still the same person. You’ve known each other since forever, your baseline personality is the same. You are still you. Furthermore, she needs to know that she’s still as important to you now as she was always; that hasn’t changed.
Hopefully, assuring her that you’re still you is the truth: Becoming frummer shouldn’t have stifled you. If your kiruv was healthy kiruv, you’ve retained your essence — and you should tell her that. “I still love animals, I still love reading, etc., etc. I might have different values, but at the core I’m still me, and that’s what our friendship is based on.”
One last point: You should be commended for wanting to keep Laurie in your life and for trying to work out a way to keep your values and your friendship strong simultaneously.
But make sure that in your quest to hold on to this (and other) friendships, you never feel pressured to lower your standards in order to keep a friend in your life. It’s important to stay authentic, and sometimes we feel pressured to lower our standards to make the other person feel comfortable. We might doubt hashkafos or sensitivities that are not clear-cut halachah: Maybe hubby should schmooze more to make her comfortable? Maybe I should go somewhere with her just to show her I’m still normal? Of course, you should ask sh’eilos when anything arises, but keep in mind that staying honest and authentic to your values will go a long way in your keeping a solid relationship.
Hatzlachah in this worthwhile endeavor!
Here are some of my thoughts on friendships. The ideas aren’t new, but when life is so busy it’s good to be reminded of the basics!
Friendships traverse mountains and valleys. Sometimes we’ll spend more time together (and feel more connected), and sometimes we might not see or hear from each other for a while. That’s normal and a sign of a healthy relationship. Spending a great deal of time with your friend — especially when you’re married — is actually not okay!
A word of caution: A friendship should never make you feel uncomfortable, like something isn’t right. If you feel this way, listen to that feeling; there’s probably a good reason for it.
Dynamics shift along with your stage in life. If you have a few young kids at home, your friends may be the other mommies in the park and those relationships might not be that deep — and that’s fine! Later, when you have more energy and time to talk on the phone, you may find yourself reconnecting with your older friends or connecting with new people in a deeper way.
Friendships need to be maintained in order to be retained. The girl you were so close with all those years ago will only continue to be your friend if you both make an effort to keep up.
Boundaries are friendamental. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Fundamental. Even your closest friendships need to operate within a defined framework. Make sure you set some in place before they’re really needed.
As an adult, there’s nothing as fun as sitting with friends you grew up with, reminiscing and laughing about old times. It’s pure therapeutic pleasure, and every woman should make sure to do so a few times a year!
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 658)