Jess Mason

Jess Mason, M.A., M.Div. is a licensed minister, spiritual director, and director of the DeeperHope Institute for Women's Spiritual Life. She currently pastors the Wednesday Women's Community at Free Christian Church in Andover, MA. She lives in Haverhill, MA with her husband, Elliott.

Are Common Interests the Glue of Relationships?

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“Two Horses In The Snow” by chrisroll. Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you ever feel that some relationships “get off the ground” more easily than others? Why do you think that is?

Unbreakable bonds stabilize and empower the rest of our community. But what does it take to develop those strong cords in the first place? This post continues our exploration of what it takes for our relationships to having staying power.

Some believe that in order for two people to develop a kind of point-of-no-return bond, you need to have something significant in common. If so, those with a significant shared history (such as those who grew up together), those with a non-trivial common interest, or those working together for the same passion or cause are the ones most likely to form stable bonds. The common ground is not itself sufficient, but it may be a Petri dish necessary for the relationship to overcome the inertia of disconnect.

Work relationships can be opportunities for developing lasting relationships. But it’s been my experience that even working with people regularly for years on a cause you both believe in is not sufficient for a stable bond to form. It may be the opportunity for such a relationship to begin, but other factors, such as interest in one another as whole persons, are necessary to go from friendly colleague to enduring relationship.

However, if you’re the boss, it can be almost impossible, and in some cases inappropriate, to develop mutual friendships with those who work for you. Furthermore, many who work for the same company don’t necessarily share the same passion for the value of that work. 

But if the work you do is truly a passion for you both and/or if you find other common ground with your colleague, you would automatically have the double advantage of both shared interests and regular, unforced time together

Negative common interests—those formed out of similar brokenness or pain as in groups like al-anon, divorce groups, etc.—can be the basis for a bond, but only temporarily. Ideally, our lives do not continue to be defined by our past brokenness indefinitely. To transfer those relationships to enduring bonds, we must find (or develop) positive common ground and history. 

What Do You Think?

To what extent do you think it’s possible to form a lasting bond with someone with whom you have no major common interests or significant history? What do you think it takes?

In your stage of life, to what extent is it a challenge to find people with whom you share common interests?

Comment below.

 

Are Holistic Relationships More Stable?

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“Cherry Tree With Roots With Fruit” by Vlado, Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What kind of relationships endure?

Today’s post continues our exploration of various theories about what makes a relationship “stick”. In the last post I talked about the theory of unforced time together. Today I want to talk about the breadth of the relationship–how holistic is the rapport itself. I look forward to hearing your comments below.

When learning a foreign language, it’s apparently helpful to see (and use) your new words and phrases in as many contexts as possible that are interesting to you. I still remember a Spanish phrase that, literally translated, is, “I have a fly behind my ear”. It means that something doesn’t quite smell right about a situation. When I was learning it, I wrote it in a sentence. I tried to use it with my husband whenever it made sense. I even used it in a spiritual direction session with a Spanish speaking directee. Though I learned it two years ago, I’m never going to forget that phrase because it’s connected to so many levels of my personal experience.

Some believe the same is true with relationships—the most stable may be those with whom we connect at multiple levels of life experience. The relationship is not exclusive to one sphere, or to one level of intimacy. Both our simple, daily life, and the deeper things like hopes and pains are a natural part of the relationship. At times we can connect as struggling souls, and other times we can just notice and enjoy one another’s strengths, quirks, and unique beauties.

When people are looking for community, the first thing they may think to do is join some sort of group—not a bad strategy. In my experience, community interest groups tend to offer opportunities to connect at a more light-hearted level. Church groups that encourage personal sharing tend to specialize in fostering conversation about the deeper things of life. Thank God for both of them. But the most stable relationships may be with the few with which we can share both sides of our lives. (You may even meet such a person in a group…)

Last year I noticed with some surprise that, even with a great deal of emotional support in the form of ministry peer groups and my own spiritual director, I still felt a sense of disconnect. It dawned on me that none of those people knew any of the more light-hearted parts of me. They don’t know I love languages (as you can tell from the above) or experimenting with international cuisine. They have no idea what kinds of movies, music, aspects of nature, or travel destinations I like. Not that they should, necessarily.

Many others I’ve spoken with know people they can have fun with, but find it hard to meet someone with whom they can share their struggles and not feel judged or dismissed. It was a revelation to me that when either kind of connection is missing, either deeper emotional sharing or light-hearted connecting, one can still can feel profoundly unknown.

People are gifts at every level of connecting. But if we only have relationships that limit themselves to a single sphere, we may not feel lonely per se, but we can feel a bit fragmented. Holistic relationships may be indispensable for truly feeling part of a fabric of community.

What Do You Think?

How important do you think are the more whole-person relationships?

Are there any spheres of your life where you don’t feel very well known?

Is there someone you already know with whom it feels like the right time to start showing interest in other spheres of their life?

Comment below.

The Petri Dish of Stable Relationships

Image courtesy of Photokanok at freedigitialphotos.net

We want resilient connections with others. We’re designed to enjoy and need them. But what does it really take for us to move from a friendly acquaintance to a stable bond?

Remember Petri dishes from biology class—those low, plastic dishes with a mysterious “substrate” in the bottom? If you exposed one to, say, mold by way of a Q-tip, and then kept it at the right temperature for a long enough time, voila, the tiny life form would eventually become visible to the naked eye.

I believe certain factors may be the Petri dish and substrate in which relationships have the conditions to grow into something resilient. Over the coming weeks, I’ll present those factors the women I interviewed believe are necessary for a relationship to become enduring and loyal. I’d like to hear from you the extent to which these factors have been true in your experience.

When I think of the stable bonds I now have, I remember that we had an external reason to be in contact on a regular basis, almost daily. I’m thinking of a high school friend, a college friend, and a friend from my first job out of college. I didn’t have to make arrangements to be in their presence. Nor could I, if I had wanted to, avoid their presence. 

Of course there were also factors that drew us to each other more than to others. But seeing them almost daily for several years gave the space and time for something resilient to form.

So the first possible factor in developing stable bonds is regular, unpremeditated contact at some point in the relationship. By unpremeditated I mean that you don’t have to plan to see each other because you’re both a part of something where you’ll automatically be in the same space. School friendships tend to develop more easily for this reason. Once a resilient bond is formed, you may then see each other less often, but the bond remains.

For New Englanders, there may need to be such unforced time (or forced time, depending on how you look at it) in order to break down the “New England crust”. No pressure. No risk of “failure to launch”. Just opportunity. Lots of opportunity.

If this idea of unpremeditated time together affirms something you’ve suspected, you may find it welcome or unwelcome news. For many women in suburbia, it may cause frustration because we no longer naturally bump into friends—or in some cases, anyone—without planning to. But it may also come as a relief to know that a major factor in feeling less connected than you used to is not because there is inherently something wrong with you.

What do you think? Of the stable bonds that have taken hold at various stages in your life, to what extent was unplanned time together a factor? For people you currently see, how often do you think is “often enough” for your relationship to really be able to grow?

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. — Hebrews 10:25