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Shared History: What’s it Worth? Who With? October 8, 2013

Posted by Onely in As If!, Food for Thought.
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DSCN2222Copious Readers, is it worth it to hang on to a “meh” or “blech” relationship (romantic, platonic, or hairstylist) because–and only because–you’ve been together a long time and shared many experiences? Let me tell you two parables. Then consider who you share history or histories with, and what they mean to you, and whether you should continue, end, or try to reinvigorate those relationships.

(1) My friend Beulah was peacefully shopping in Target in Boulder, Colorado when she rounded the corner of the Hair Notions aisle and ran smack into. . . AAAHHHHHHHH! Her best friend’s mother!

Now, many of you Copious Readers may wonder, what is so inherently frightening about one’s best friend’s mother? (Mother-in-law jokes aside.) Well, Beulah of course loves her best friend, Shawna, but Beulah has repeatedly told me, “You couldn’t pay me enough to be part of that family.” I never really understood why, until she told me this story.

Shawna’s mother, Monique, is a wiry woman with an intense face where her cheekbones make arrowheads up to her huge eyes. Right now she stared down Beulah waiting, just waiting, for a chance to ask her The Question. And as Beulah held her breath, there it came:

So, are you seeing anyone?

Beulah said, “No, I’m sort taking it easy on the dating scene, enjoying being by myself for a while, you know.”

Monique said, “Oh, no, you can’t think like that.”

“Huh?” said Beulah, with her face if not her voice. Monique continued.

Don’t you want to find someone you can have a shared history with?

Jim (Monique’s husband) and Monique had travelled the world with USAID–they did indeed have a long shared history. (Subsequently Beulah and Shawna had a shared history, cultivated when they met in Nepal. But Monique wasn’t thinking of that.) She told Beulah, “And all the time we (her family) are hoping for you’ll find someone,that you’ll find someone you can have a shared history with. Like me and Jim.”

After that, Beulah went back to the frozen foods section to pick up a pint of Ben&Jerry’s-Double-Fudge-Super-Rum-Bourbon-Xtacy. Can you blame her? On the phone later she told me, “Monique and Jim snip at each other all the time. The tension in that house is like rubber bands all over the couches, curtains, everything. I’d rather not have a “shared history” than have a history like that.”

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks things through like Beulah. Which leads us in to Parable 2:

(2) My friend Nathan started seeing Tracy when they were in their early twenties. They were together, then apart, then together, then married. After four or five years together (and apart, and together, and married), things grew sour. Nathan wanted to leave. Tracy threatened to kill herself if he did. She went to therapy. Things got better, and then worse, and then better.

Nathan and I have been friends since childhood and he confided much of this to me, perhaps because he, like I, had a mobile childhood he felt he could tell me that Tracy was the one person he’d known for longer than three or four years, and so it was important for him to have that relationship. I didn’t feel it was my place to say that this was really stupid. So I didn’t.

But it was. They had children (twins), separated for two years, but now live together in a semi-amicable-semi-ignoring-each-other way for the sake of the kids.

Speaking of which, I should call him. Maybe discuss our shared history. Of playing with dead insects. Catching crayfish. Looking for Easter eggs. Riding bikes downhill with no helmets. Me driving a motorboat he made himself. Playing pingpong.

I myself prefer to diversify my histories amongst many different relationships. Some shared pasts will be longer or shorter than others. Some will be treasurable and others–maybe even the longest ones–will require snipping of the rubber bands.  They may fly back and sting you, but you’ll always have that shared history even if you end it, and as we all know, every ending opens space for a beginning.

Just saying.


Photo credit: ChristinaDC


1. Lynn Piper - October 9, 2013

The older I get the more I think that each friendship (relationship) has one aspect (sometimes more) that keeps it going. There has to be something special that I see or respect in a person (other than their just being nice) to make me want to continue the relationship. Sometimes the only thing that is special is our shared past and the fact is that, in itself, that isn’t quite enough to keep me very engaged. But I wouldn’t want to let it die .

2. i0la - October 10, 2013

That’s where the saying “Friends – for a reason, a season or a lifetime” comes from. The fact that out friendships are very different but basically fall into those 3 categories. Nathan is a “lifetime” 🙂 enjoy it 🙂

3. tehomet - October 13, 2013

is it worth it to hang on to a “meh” or “blech” relationship (romantic, platonic, or hairstylist)


I would say it’s worth it to keep a friendship going if it gets meh, just because you *do* have a shared history and the relationship can always change again and get better. I wouldn’t say that if there’s drama, like said meh friend being badly behaved on some fundamental level. And I’m not sure that I would suggest the same with romantic relationships (unless there’s a good reason, such as kids) as it’s better to quit the romantic stuff unless your heart is both figuratively and literally in it. I guess because it’s often the case that lovers live together, and if the romantic relationship has gone stale, no one needs that much meh in his or her life. Just my two cents.

4. Jodi - November 7, 2013

We all have shared histories – it doesn’t have to be a long coupled relationship to have it be so. Thanks for your writing. I nominated you for a Liebster Award on my blog.

5. Stella - November 8, 2013

Pfft. .. I take a more hardline approach and if friendship is meh I let it go. I had one friendship with two others that began to be meh- when I realised that I was mainly an audience for them and their conversation about their life I let it go. I often “bond” with people I work with but then when I leave the workplace we often don’t have enough in common to sustain the friendship, so I let it go.
And people who stay together for the children’s sake shock me. What sort of role model are you being for your children?
Will they look at your relationship and see that they have to emulate that relationship?!
Is that what you really want for your children? That they stay in an unfulfilling relationship? Is that really how you would choose to raise your children, what you would teach them, that it’s ok to be unhappy if it’s for a good reason? What sort of relationships do those children settle for as result? Or do they say: Marriage/partnership is awful, my parents were so unhappy, I’m never doing that.
Huh. . . didn’t know I had such strong views about it! I better not even touch on when people have kids just because they think it’ll keep them together!! Maybe you can blog about that next Onely.
Stella x

6. Should Old Acquaintance be Forgot | writebeyondnight - December 27, 2013

[…] out this post about shared […]

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