On being ... effortless

By Ingrid Sapona

For the first time ever, I didn’t send any Christmas cards this past year. December was busy with Christmas preparations and actual paying work, but I brought them to my mother’s house, intending to write them between Christmas and New Year’s. As it turns out, I never got around to them. Explained this way, I think most would agree it’s just one of those things.

But it wasn’t that simple. The truth is, I thought about it quite a lot. To allay my pangs of guilt, I rationalized that pretty much everyone I’d have sent a card to gets On being…, so they hear from me pretty frequently any way. But that didn’t put the issue to rest for me because that’s not the reason I write On being…

I also kicked around the rationalization that sending traditional cards is passé in the 21st century. But then why not send digital cards? I send e-cards all the time to friends for birthdays -- and this year I received a few interactive Christmas cards that I thoroughly enjoyed. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to do e-cards.

It wasn’t until I thought about how I feel when I receive Christmas cards that I began to understand what might be behind my seeming heel-dragging on the cards. I love getting the “family photo” cards (though they always leave me speechless -- how could friends that are as young as me have such grown-up kids?) and the “Christmas letters” chock full of news about what’s going on in the writers’ lives. But then there are those cards from people I’ve not heard from all year that have a generic sentence or two of season’s greetings then a signature. The past few years I’ve found I actually feel a bit irritated when I get such cards. Part of me wonders, “why bother”?

Mind you, over the years I know I’ve been guilty of similar behavior. Though I usually manage to write more than two sentences, the gist is always the same -- a pretty superficial hello. Sure, the person knows I at least thought of them when I came across their name in my address book at Christmas -- but are a few lines once a year enough to sustain these relationships? Should it be? No! And yet, in many instances, that’s what some relationships have boiled down to.

So, then I began wondering what would happen if I didn’t send cards. Would some feel slighted? Would some wonder, or worry? Would anyone even notice? (After all, everyone’s as busy as me.) Of course, this all makes it sound like my not sending cards was a form of passive aggressiveness. Well, maybe on some level, it was.

By mid-January the idea of sending cards had become moot, so I mentally moved on. That is, until last week when a friend mentioned she’d just finished sending off her 2006 Christmas cards. Unlike me, she figured belated greetings were better than no greetings.

Her reason for announcing this, however, she wasn’t merely to tell me about a task she’d completed. Instead, she raised it because she wanted to talk about how sad she was when, going through her card list, she thought about the friendships that have slipped away. She clearly felt hurt by the fact that many whom she at least tried to stay in touch with over the years with hadn’t reciprocated. She wasn’t blaming anyone, and she even mentioned that it occurred to her that over the years there had probably been people whom she had innocently hurt by not responding to their cards.

It seemed pretty clear that what we were really talking about was only peripherally about Christmas cards. At the heart of the matter was the disparity that often exists in the energy and effort people put toward friendships and relationships. The way this topic usually comes up is when some friend calls or e-mails to express their frustration about some other friend whom they feel is ignoring them or taking them for granted.

Usually just talking about this to a third party is sufficiently cathartic. But sometimes they feel a need to discuss it a bit, or ask my advice. In such cases, I try to remind them that all friendships involve a give and take and that every friendship has an ebb and flowing of its own. My bottom line advice is this: so long as the behaviour isn’t chronic, forgive and forget. But, I also advise that if they’re willing to do that, they had better take special care to check any counterproductive tendencies they may have toward passive aggressiveness or toward retreating into their own shell.

I also usually mention to them that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found I have very little patience for those who don’t seem to put any effort into a friendship. Regardless of how well you’ve clicked with someone, or how much you have in common, or how far back your relationship goes, I think if the friendship means anything to you, you should be willing -- and eager -- to put effort into it. Mind you, doing so need not be taxing or difficult-- far from it -- for the most part, the effort you extend toward your friends should be a pleasure. But it is an effort all the same.

I suspect there are some who believe that friendships just happen and that they should be effortless. (Or maybe I should say that some people behave as though this was true.) I don’t see it that way, but that’s not such a bad thing because I’ve always found that the things I value most are the things I’ve put effort into. So, I guess you could say that when it comes to my friendships, effortlessness isn’t what it’s about…

© 2007 Ingrid Sapona


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