It was a hot summer day in 1997, and the sun was mercilessly blazing on the city of Dhaka, while my uncle and I waited for a rickshaw. As a seven-year-old, I preferred to stay home on weekends to watch cartoons, but my parents were out and no one was around to look after me.
My uncle tried to entice me with the prospect of fun company; his friend’s kids were apparently close to me in age and loved to play hide-and-seek as much as I did.
That’s when I met her—my friend of 22 years. She was a very precocious and unruly young girl. I, on the other hand, was curious and quiet. We were a year and a half apart and hit it off instantly.
Meeting my friend felt destined, almost serendipitous. Although destiny may have played a role in bringing us together, our friendship withstood countless seasons of differences as a result of conscious effort.
As children, we were moved by instant gratification and our small world consisted of family, school and playtime. Today, we are both adults working full-time jobs while balancing personal lives.
Relationships, whether romantic or platonic, between lovers or friends, are challenging and complex. They are vital to our mental and emotional well-being, and in fact, our survival. Solid relationships are based on truth, respect, compassion and commitment. To achieve that takes tremendous work.
Everything reflects our relationship with ourselves
In a society in which we’re primarily socialized to derive our identities and self-worth from external validation, the awareness that everything reflects the relationship we have with ourselves isn’t as apparent as it should be.
Many of us weren’t taught to practice self-awareness or self-love as children. As adults, we awaken to this understanding, following failures, struggles or cataclysmic life events. Occupying a flesh suit and having conscious thought isn’t enough; it requires staring deeply into the soul and asking:
- “Who am I?”
- “What matters to me?”
- “How do I love myself, even on days when I don’t want to?”
It requires guts and grit.
The relationship we develop with ourselves sets a precedent for all other relationships. We learn to draw healthy boundaries and accept the love we know we deserve. It also teaches us an important lesson in humility: We are fallible and prone to err.
We share this trait with all human beings, and compassion and forgiveness become a daily practice. The self-lover is a beacon of authenticity and self-expression who attracts similar high-vibrational people and experiences.
Two individuals with distinct histories and idiosyncrasies, merging together, is a recipe for not only a steep learning curve, but occasional clashes down the road. It is impossible to completely stabilize a relationship, as the energetic exchange between two individuals flows like water in oceans.
Some days there is only a breeze and we are at peace, floating in the stillness. Other days, strong currents consume us, until we’re flailing in perilous waves with emotions scattered and a mouth full of salt and fear.
Elements of nature and love are both unavoidable and organic. In fact, non-violent and non-abusive conflict can boost trust, open communication, closeness and understanding in a relationship. The key is accepting that change is constant and embracing the imperfections, as they are what makes a relationship perfect.
It is difficult to maintain a healthy relationship if we have unresolved, deep-seated personal issues of our own.
Over time, we acquire baggage—traumas, negative experiences or disappointments from the past—that still impact us as individuals and within our relationships. Emotional flare-ups or ‘triggers’ become more likely, leading to negative feelings being attributed to our friend or partner. This results in resentment, diminished trust, misunderstandings and arguments.
Practicing self-awareness is an effective remedy for preventing discord. When disagreements happen, it is helpful to know if these have been triggered by past personal issues or an unrelated incident, so we can find the right resolution.
Befriending our ego
The ego gets a bad rap. Having an ‘ego’ presumes an individual is arrogant, condescending and self-absorbed. This is not true. The ego is a natural part of the psyche and provides the essential framework through which we understand the world and our place in it.
If we change our perspective on the world, the motivation of our ego will change, too.
It’s the ‘survival of the fittest’ or ‘me before them’ social conditioning that causes our egos to become distrustful of the world and other people. We become overprotective of ourselves, and engage in constant competition with others. If we change our perspective on the world, however, the motivation of our ego will change, too.
Practicing self-love and self-awareness keeps the ego in check. Rather than becoming focused on external validation, we can befriend our egos and become resilient, fearless and focused. Any relationship is smoother with sensible egos. With those, we are more likely to apologize or forgive. We’re more willing to understand each other’s perspectives and tend to feel confident enough to communicate openly and honestly.
During the 22 years it has lasted, my relationship with my childhood friend has sometimes become toxic, as we’ve struggled to understand and honour ourselves and each other.
We drifted apart for a while as school, travel, career and a search for fulfillment drew us down separate paths. We also both (unknowingly) began practicing self-love, and continue to do so. The understanding and love we share is as palpable as it was when we were children, only nowadays, we live across the country from each other and physically meet about once a year.
Our friendship today is unlike the one we shared as teenagers, when we would talk on the phone for hours, discussing existentialism and boys. It’s much more real now—weathered yet wondrous.