“Curiosity will save your soul.” ~Danielle LaPorte
When I was a young girl about age five, my mother volunteered weekly at a nursing home. Because she was a stay-at-home mom, I was required to tag along with her.
While she would wheel all the residents into the front room and sing prayers and read devotionals, I simply couldn’t sit still for 2.5 seconds. I was a busy girl with an agenda. I had people to see and things to do.
Weekly, I would pop in and out of residents’ rooms while mom banged on the piano down the hall. In and out of each room I would float, loaded with question upon question for each resident.
At the ripe age of five I knew something about these people that many struggle to see. I didn’t see them as sick, helpless people preparing to leave this world.
Oh, I was fully aware that their last and final days would be spent in this place. I was fully aware that many of the folks sat day after day with no visitors, no family, and no sense of community. And while that broke my heart, I saw these people as productive individuals—teachers, attorneys, homemakers, accountants who had stories to share and things to offer.
I saw them as humans who had contributed to society, using their gifts and talents to leave the world a better place.
I loved cruising those dark and dim hallways just to see who would make eye contact with me so I could strike up a conversation.
My curiosity wasn’t just contained to the hallways of the nursing homes. Many times, my mother would find me at a neighbor’s house down the street, following them along while they tilled or pulled weeds in their garden, asking question upon question to experience just a snippet of their worldview and hear their life stories.
Often, I think my mom was taken back by this behavior, thinking it was intrusive rather than a gift. Many times, I was told not to bother folks or to be quiet. She didn’t do it to be cold hearted or cruel, I think sometimes my endless curiosity and questions just felt exhausting to her.
While I have come to see my curiosity as a beautiful gift and one of my strongest skills, I didn’t always see it that way.
In school, I was often told I was too social, too talkative by teachers and coaches. My love and curiosity for others wasn’t something a lot of other people appreciated. As a child who was also highly empathic, I felt everything. I was very attuned to other people’s feelings and emotions.
I didn’t really know what my boundaries were, and so I often was overly attuned to others and took responsibility for their emotions, neglecting my own needs and preferences.
Looking back, I can see how I have always been the cheerleader and the “yes girl” within my friend groups. I was the one who would rally the girls and include everyone because I believed from an early age that everyone mattered, and everyone’s story mattered.
And frankly, I am not willing to stop using this precious gift of mine. Holding back on using my curiosity in my relationships would be out of integrity for me and mean not showing up as my authentic self.
However, over these past few years my curiosity led me to realize that these relationships I seemed to care about so deeply were beginning to feel a bit one sided. Most folks love being around me. I am fun, vibrant, always asking questions and always holding space for others. I love deep conversations and getting to know someone’s heart.
However, I started to realize that while I was getting to know someone, they really weren’t getting to know me.
I started to pay attention to how I felt after being around certain people. It was evident that when I would return home after time with particular friends, I felt empty. Sure, we may have had a “good time,” a few good laughs, but for me, something was missing.
I turned my own gift of curiosity on myself to explore what that might be.
I began to realize that many of my relationships were in fact one-sided. In order for a relationship to be healthy and to deepen, it has to go both ways.
While I love getting to know people and deeply understand them, I crave and need to be known by the other person too.
I need my relationships to be two-sided.
Because that is a sign of a healthy relationship. Give and take. Two sided. Holding space for one another.
It’s easy for me to allow my curiosity to run rampant when building relationships, but now that I am aware of this deep need within myself there are a few questions I ask myself before giving my time and energy away. Maybe these will be helpful to you too.
- Do you take turns sharing about various aspects of your lives?
- Do they know about your interests or struggles, just as you know about theirs?
- Does this person reach out to you? Or are you the only one initiating?
If you want to develop healthy relationships, the first thing you have to do is to identify the unhealthy ones. It’s hard to forge healthy friendships if you’re spending your time and energy on dead-end relationships. So while it never feels good to release old friendships, in order to make room for the new, sometimes you have to release the old.
Healthy relationships aren’t created by luck. They are created by knowing what you need and what matters to you and then seeking out or asking for that in your relationships.
Knowing and communicating our needs is key to intimacy and honesty in our relationships. When we take this step, we are actually teaching people how to be successful in relationship with us. They get to decide if they have the capacity or desire to meet our needs. Their feedback is all we need to know to either move forward and create greater depth or back away, understanding that this may not be a friendship we want to invest a lot of energy into.
The truth is that for us recovering people-pleasers, we were often taught to:
- Be nice.
- Get along with others.
- Be polite.
- Never rock the boat.
However, being nice, having good manners, and working to make the waters smooth for other people is not how you make good friends. It’s how you become a wonderful houseguest.
I want more. And I want more for you.
I want us to learn how to move far away from toxic relationships and pull in healthy ones.
I want us to have friends who share in our heartaches and celebrate our successes.
I want us to have friends who know us inside and out.
And in order to have relationships like that—even just one relationship like that—we are going to need to decide we deserve two-way relationships with people who cherish and adore us for who we are, and we’re not willing to settle for less.