In my daily life, on a regular basis I do a lot of Thanksgiving that results in a lot of Thanksgetting on the receivers' end.
As I sit here in Oregon, three thousand miles from home, I contemplate over the shape Thanksgiving is taking on this year. For the past decade, we have hosted twenty to thirty friends each year during my favorite holiday to host and feed our friends with the countless trays of food I prepared over the days leading up to the holiday. Our family tradition has always been to gather around the living room at 9:00am to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. As we watch together, I begin to bake and heat the menu items while finishing the last decorating touches before our guests begin to arrive at noon. Together we all have a casual lunch and then we all just hang out for the rest of the day; often dancing, instrument playing, karaoke and eating more, until late into the night. It's always been such a blast.
This year, taking our Covid-era road trip serves as a much welcomed excuse to celebrate the holiday with just my immediate family. The truth is, if we were back home there would be no one from our old list that I would feel compelled to extend an invitation to. The flip side is, I also know that none of the former friends on our past guest list would extend an invitation either, as it has historically been my role to do so. Pandemic or not, this would have been our first Thanksgiving with just the five of us. Celebrating it across the country makes the transition more seamless.
The summer of 2019 was an extremely painful summer for me as several friends who I have knows for many, many years wounded me deeply by their actions. Without getting into the full details, let's just say that during a celebratory occasion where good friends typically shower you with joy and love, they instead caused my husband and I so much stress and grief. During the proceeding months of trying to heal I had a revelation that continues to be confirmed as the days transpire, even today while I am on the other side of the country.
I have always had many friends. I never lacked a girlfriend to call on a whim for a girl's night or a fun activity to share together. We always had great turn outs at our many parties and socialized with many different couples. Looking back, these closest friends always expected me to be the planner, the hostess, the organizer, the listener and the one to show generosity. I was always giving and they were always getting. In retrospect, I had awareness of this role all along but I excused being taken advantage of and tried to pass it off as fulfilling an important purpose in connecting people and bringing light into their lives. After the summer of 2019, I realized that I no longer wanted this role. In fact, I shed the caretaker role as soon as our plane hit the runway in NYC returning from the nightmare trip with those who were once our dearest friends. Upon returning home, I took a pause from reaching out, inviting, hosting etc... I quickly noticed that there was no one extending a hand in return. That's when I realized, I am too tired to be a good friend if it means giving at a much greater scale than what I was receiving in return. Where I once embraced the role of casting light on the lives of friends (and strangers too of course!), these days I feel like often when I have done so I was left with a shadow looming over me that left me drained and disappointed.
Thanksgiving is in no way making me miss a home full of friends (or perhaps I should say a home full of guests). I feel beyond grateful to spend the holiday with my family on the coast of Oregon which is gently healing my wounds as memories flock in my mind. Our traditions will remain completely intact this year and I will prepare an equally abundant and delicious meal for the five of us as I would have normally made if it were twenty-five of us. I do still have healing to do and am completely aware that some residual resentment continues to linger from past transgressions. It has been extremely difficult to cut off some old friends or loosely hold on to others via infrequent texts but I do feel less drained, confused and hurt. I no longer have to replay scenarios over and over in my mind trying to find the ways I was to blame when a friend was in the wrong all along. There are many others in my life that I have maintained a relationship with who have done a great job in the area of reciprocity. I still have many friends that I communicate with regularly, I guess they're just not the kind who we are close enough to travel with or spend a Thanksgiving meal with. It feels good nurturing relationships where there are equal roles and opportunities to give and take without delving in so strongly. In reality, the relationships that have withstood are the ones that have never gotten too deep and have been able to avoid drama, unmet expectations, and hurtful words.
To give you an idea of typical behaviors from our friends, here is an example... a friend of ours who we have hosted for the last ten years for Thanksgiving, invited to every party we have thrown, and have included at every social event we have organized has not even reached out once during this whole pandemic- except around May to ask us if he can stay in our apartment while it is vacant. I can easily write this because I know he couldn't care less to inquire about our journey let alone read my blog or follow our adventures. This is probably the tiniest example of many ways we have felt taken advantage of over the years. We have created a pattern where people feel completely comfortable benefiting from our generosity while rarely reciprocating. In this case the only thing we wanted in return was a text saying "hey, how are you guys?". Over recent discussions my husband and I have counted several couples who have come to our home dozens of times while inviting us over once or twice in the many years we have known them. Somehow I must have set the tone that I love to slave over cooking and serving and would never enjoy being cooked for myself. I don't know how we created this dynamic but what matters most is that I am thankful to have put a stop to it. I do not need to be everyone's planner. I am a human being that also wants to be cared for and thought of. I am no longer everyone's giver.
Being away for the last seven months since the pandemic began has really allowed me to focus with laser precision on who and what I really need in my life. I have allowed myself to get too bogged down and wrapped up in unhealthy relationships that looking back served to validate my altruism. In this way, I was receiving. While "best friends" showered me with big words of how much they loved me and how inspiring I am, I always felt like their actions towards me didn't line up with the powerful words they easily dished out. My husband says words like this should be the first warning sign of an unhealthy relationship. I don't want to be anyone's inspiration or best friend. It's too heavy of a role. I just want people in my life who know I need to be taken care of too, regardless of how strong and together they think I am.
It's hard to put these feelings into words but it's also necessary for me to share them as part of my healing process. There has been too much pain the past couple of years that have caused me to build too many walls. I definitely haven't been the same person towards others. I now proceed more cautiously and always question people's authenticity. I don't believe that anyone truly cares about anything but themselves. They say they do, they think they do....but they don't. It's been a very difficult journey coming to this realization. On the other hand, knowing this allows me to keep my relationships lighter and at a safe distance. It does still make me sad though. I truly did deeply love everyone in my life and often put their needs before my own. Obviously, that was unhealthy on my behalf too. But I am a living example of caring about others more than I probably should have.
This Thanksgiving, I am reminded to continue giving. I will always give because I am a giver by nature, it actually makes me feel good. The only difference will be that the giving will be redirected so that I will give a little more to myself and stop giving to others who have taken so much. I am forced to rethink my entire social life and the choices of friends that I have made. Now, I am hoping for the aha moment when I can snap out of the funk, break down the walls and be myself again maybe this time with new relationships.
So, I guess ironically, Thanksgiving is helping me come to terms with accepting the value of giving less to those who only know how to take more. As I eat my pecan pie I won't need to dwell on how thankful I am, because I do that every day regardless. Instead, I will think how sweet it is to eat a freshly baked pie as I look out to the Pacific Ocean with my husband and three children by my side with a lifetime invitation to my Thanksgiving table.
Finally, I want to thank my twelve year old son who coined the term "Thanksgetting" when he mentioned yesterday that he thought this is what the holiday should be called because everyone is getting such good food and giving nothing in return. He has no idea how much his words struck me.