I got really hooked on the show “Sister Wives” a few years ago. I was totally sucked in, binge-watching with unreasonable fervor. I don’t usually get into reality TV, but this one was different. It wasn’t about voyeuristically peeking into the lives of a polygamist family. For me, their lives represented a deep yearning that I didn’t even know I had, the desire to live my life fully, completely with a wider circle of people. Not to just spend time with them, but to actually live life overlapping with theirs. I found myself envying what they had (ok, not the sharing my husband part – stay with me). Those women, living in the same house (or eventually different houses on the same street), shared something that most western cultures cannot comprehend.
In fact, they shared everything. They shared responsibilities – some worked outside of the home, some stayed at home with the kids, one did the grocery shopping, another the cooking, another paid the bills. They shared the job of raising their children, multiplying by four the time, attention, and relationships for each child (not to mention quadrupling the odds of not screwing up their kids!). And they shared the “down time,” that time when most of us flip on the TV or browse Facebook for a lack of something better to do. It was such a beautiful picture of what a shared life could be. One of the women had lost a sister at a young age to cancer, and she talked about how having sister wives meant that she would never have to worry about what would happen to her children if something were to happen to her; she said she knew they would grieve her loss, of course, but that they would continue to be raised by three of the four women who had always raised them, giving them much of the same love and security they had always had, and she found great comfort in that. It made me realize that I couldn’t say the same for my kids.
We were not meant to live alone. I am convinced that this is true. Our ancestors lived community-focused lives, working, playing and living together. But we humans wanted more independence, and over time, people grew further apart and paid more money to distance themselves from each other. Yet, more distance created collateral damage of its own – less frequent visits with friends, organized playdates replacing neighborhood child’s play, judgmental neighbors rather than extra sets of eyes. And now we have arrived, at the pinnacle of human achievement, in single family homes, on 1.5 acre lots, complete with garages and yards, all self-contained to ensure both privacy and ownership are foregone conclusions.
With all that independence comes, well, independence. Isolation. Loneliness. We don’t need anything from anyone, and they don’t from us. We give nothing, and no one gives to us. We’re completely, entirely self-sufficient.
I see the crux of this issue firsthand in my job as a counselor. Everyone wants the people they know to think they’ve got it all together, but the vast majority of the women (and the men, too) that I counsel are depressed, lonely, and socially anxious. They’re desperate for relationships yet don’t know how to allow themselves to have healthy ones. Many of them fill the relational void with the superficial – alcohol, drugs, even Netflix, Twitter, and Facebook. The lack of community is gradually killing our generation, with the construction of each pristine white picket fence.
We have to wake up and realize that dependence is not a four-letter word. Depending on someone else, needing them deeply, relying on them to do something for you that you can’t do for yourself, is what forms the bonds of friendship. Whether it’s their time, companionship, encouragement, or something else, true friendship is formed by two people admitting their vulnerability, asking for help when we need it, and reciprocating. True autheticity doesn’t hold someone at a distance and show them only what they want them to see. Instead, it pulls them close and offers them the opportunity to explore all your facets, both those you love about yourself and those you could live without.
And that’s scary for most of us, if we’re honest. There’s no covenant relationship in friendships, no divorce papers to be signed and custody to be negotiated if someone is unhappy. A friend can walk away at any time, and opening yourself up fully to another person only to have them reject you is a terrifying aspect of the human experience. But still, I believe Tennyson had the right of it, writing these oft quoted words after the sudden death of his close friend:
“I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
I long to live my life more fully with other people. It’s a deep yearning need, and I can’t be content with less than extraordinary community. If we’re friends, it’s not enough for me to see you once every three months for a play date or family dinner; I want to overlap my life with yours, let you in to all the good, bad, and ugly, and be let in to yours. I’m not naive; I know this will create a host of struggles and issues to work through, but I’m tired of the superficial, and I’m willing to tackle the difficult and uncomfortable in the hope of experiencing the extraordinary.
I’m tired of pretending I can do it all – raise perfect kids, maintain a perfect household, be the perfect wife, mother, friend – all on my own. I can’t. I don’t believe any of us can. I have no interest in the community that says, “As long as it looks to you like I’ve got it all together, we’re good.” What I long for is the community that says, “I don’t have it all together, so I’m assuming you don’t either. Let’s see how we can help each other with what we do have, and just accept each other as we are.”
Walls we’ve spent our lives building up seldom come down in a day, so I’m determined to start tearing mine down now, before it’s too late, before I feel the acute lack of something I desperately need. What does this mean for me? Well, there are many aspects of my life I would be willing to share in order to find this level of authentic community, but my husband isn’t one of them, so hopefully I can find a few sister-friends, instead of sister-wives.