Building solid friendships (the right way)

A recent evening drawing of mine.

During the past three years, two of my friendships blew up. One major reason sticks out: I started setting boundaries…and holding them.

For instance, when I asked one friend if he could call me for a conversation instead of sending lonnng monologue texts, he responded, “I’ll call or text whenever I fucking want to.” Say. Whaaaat?

It went downhill from there. Shockingly.

Oddly enough, I was culpable as well! Since I hadn’t set and, more importantly, held boundaries before, I’d allowed people into my life who didn’t respect them. Or at least respect mine.

Boundaries as feedback generators

You know that process of making a friend? It starts out shallow with, “where are you from, mutual friends, the dreaded ‘what do you do?’” question.

As the friendship deepens, you each show more of your true colors via vulnerability—sometimes sending people scrambling to escape through a window—or keep it at acquaintance level with activity buddies or colleagues.

In all new relationship, there are moments where you have opportunities to define who you are and what you expect from a friend. For me, some boundaries were easy to set, while others were difficult.

Values-based boundaries around drinking or not eating animal products were easy. The non-values based stuff was tougher: not wanting to go ski when it was shitty out, but doing it anyway. Not wanting to let people down by declining an invite to, well, anything, then regretting it. Hosting when Chelsea and I needed some down time.

In retrospect, those type of boundaries sound so easy! When I first start exercising them, and then more difficult ones, it felt like bench pressing 400 pounds after starting lifting weights a week ago: overwhelming and even dangerous, like I could get smashed under the pressure.

The good news: I realized that setting boundaries acts as a friend filter to prioritize the people you want in your life.

Because every time we set boundaries, the other person’s reaction is useful feedback. Flexing that muscle gets easier each time, and the feedback helps determine if we want to continue investing in a friendship or shift energy elsewhere.

Looking back at both former friendships that failed, I realize my lack of boundary setting encouraged (or at least allowed) behavior out of line with how I wanted to be treated. If I’d set them earlier and held tight with clear communication (“when you do this, I feel this way and need this moving forward”), I suspect the friendships would have fizzled far earlier.

On the flip side, a remarkable aspect of boundaries is they allow other friendships to shine. When I set boundaries with people and they respond respectfully, it adds more mortar to the friendship trust bridge between us.

With my closest friends, that mutual respect has grown to the point where we can drive a truck over the trust bridge. All the boundary setting is 100% worth it.

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Laughing with troublesome friends

Austin Kleon shared this 2-min video of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama laughing gleefully during an interview. At one point, Tutu is asked,

“What is it about your friendship that allows you to have this extraordinary joy?”

He ponders a moment and says, “He’s always troubling me…” and then cracks up.

I just love that. Because what’s better than a friend (or life partner) to laugh uproariously with one moment, then turn around and be intellectually challenged by them in the next?

(Clearly this is my interpretation of what Archbishop Tutu means.)

Some of my closest friends come to mind. In fact, I’ve realized I struggle to get close to people who can’t both go deep and be humorous. An interesting filter for who I invest time in.

I am oh-so-very biased here, but I couldn’t agree more with the below line. It’s from the co-author on a book about Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama spending a week together called The Book of Joy.

“Having worked with many spiritual leaders, I’m tempted to see laughter and a sense of humor as a universal index of spiritual development.”

Douglas Abrams

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A Springtime Portland Pit Stop

Portland spring blossoms

We’ve spent the last two weeks visiting Portland. Spring is in the air, a battle of cherry blossoms, occasional sunshine, and frequent rain showers.

The mountain biking and running trails here are a bit mucky with mud, but the hills are a vibrant green and the waterfalls are firing. Best of all, I’m hitting the trails with buddies that I haven’t seen for a year.

Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge.

Martin hiking through mossy trees on the north side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Ryan beneath the roaring Upper Horsetail Falls.

Ryan beneath the roaring Upper Horsetail Falls.

This Portland visit reminds me there’s nothing like old friends and a deep-rooted community. We’ve house-hopped from friend to friend, dropping briefly into daily routines, and also randomly run into people we know almost every day. While traveling is wonderful, there’s magic in the simple moments with people we’ve known for years.

It’s been a multi-faceted visit. Lots of physical activity (as usual), plus hauling a friend’s new water heater and reading books in goofy voices to toddlers. Green tea swims in my veins thanks to frequent coffee shop catch-ups, and we’ve also gobbled food at our favorite restaurants, listened to a friend perform Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, and downed more vegan chocolate truffles than is probably healthy.

Our van doesn't just haul bikes - here it is carrying a new water heater and two boxed cabinets for my buddy Eric.

Our van doesn’t just haul bikes – here it is carrying a new water heater and two boxed cabinets for my buddy Eric.

In short, it’s like “normal” life. This is a novelty because at some point in the past 2.5 years, traveling stopped being a novelty and morphed into simply life. Home shifted into wherever we were. Then a strange thing happened: the newness of a constantly footloose lifestyle stopped feeling revitalizing.

This clarity surfaced last year in NYC after we pedaled 2,500 miles through 13 countries during our European bike tour. Chelsea was ready for a break at home; I found myself preferring reading a book than seeing a Broadway show. We wanted to dig into projects, stop the logistics of daily travel, and revel in routine.

Paul leads the way on a glorious day of mountain biking at Syncline in the Columbia Gorge.

Paul leads the way into the steep stuff on a glorious day of mountain biking at Syncline in the Columbia Gorge.

Despite feeling road worn, we headed to San Diego for a Chelsea’s brother’s steampunk wedding, road tripped up Highway 1 in California, and then landed in Santa Cruz over the new year to recharge. Our time at Farm Sanctuary served up a fulfilling February, which is right when our tenants let us know they’d found a house to buy. Perfect timing to land at home! We’ll be back in our king-size bed by May for a few months.

When we paused in Portland in early spring of 2015, I wasn’t ready to be stationary. The red rocks of Utah wailed a siren song and cycle touring in Europe trumped stationary summer plans. (Can trump be a positive word anymore?)

Sitting down for a (super serious) podcast interview with Michael Knouse from the Startup Sessions.

Sitting down for a (super serious) podcast interview with Michael from the Startup Sessions.

This time, both Chelsea and I are ready for a base from which to launch adventures for a few months. Stopping when we want – rather than of necessity – is a fantastic option. I’m grateful to have the choice to switch at will between on the road and parked, and we’re going to take advantage of it.

Plans for Portland abound, mostly revolving around connecting with our community, exploring the shifting landscape of this rapidly growing city, and focusing on deepening various skills (e.g. guitar). We’re also excited to jump back into hosting mode. Chelsea is planning many ladies-only nights where I’ll be banished from the house. Apparently she’s spent enough time with me!

I hadn't climbed for 2 years (!) before Martin (climbing here) coaxed me into a bouldering session.

I hadn’t climbed for 2 years (!) before Martin (climbing here) coaxed me into a bouldering session. Now I’m back at it.

We’re not done traveling. Far from it. We’re resting, refilling the energy stores. I’m already mapping out an overseas adventure trip for mid-summer; shorter jaunts around the Pacific Northwest beckon in the meantime. It’s a temporary shift from full-time wandering to exploring our back yard with the van. And of course sinking my mountain bike tires into grippy Oregon loam after two summers away bike touring.

My personal challenge is to not view our time in Portland as the rainy time and travel as the bright sunny days. Variety is key, and pauses heighten my appreciation of travel. I’m committed to staying stoked about the fun the city (and Pacific NW) has to offer. It’s an opportunity to stay creative without travel as my muse.

But for now, the rain just stopped and the sun is peeking through the gray morass. Time to slip on the running shoes and head out for a jaunt up Mt. Tabor. See you in PDX!

A vanagon dreaming of its next trip... (Shot by me at Farm Sanctuary.)

A vanagon (and me) dreaming of future trips… (Shot by me for Farm Sanctuary.)