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Choose Your Friends With Care - 6/8/2012

On a recent trip to New Guinea, I came across an interesting, very surprising and seemingly positive change in social structure that radically affected the way the village women related and interacted with each other.  

Let me be more specific: While visiting one village, I noticed that they had a water pump near the center of the village, where the women and children could fill their jugs and gourds. This was unlike other villages, where women and children sometimes walked one to two miles, to a stream or water hole where they could bathe and then carry water back to their homes. The missionaries who made this possible probably thought, “Look at how much work and effort we saved these people by piping in the water. It’s a good thing we did.” But it wasn’t. For generations, women and their children had gathered around a water hole once or twice a day.  It was the only time the women were free to talk about their problems, feelings and thoughts, without being scrutinized by their husbands.  Once the pipe was laid, that opportunity was lost. As a result, it estranged the women from one another, reinforced their feeling of being subjugated and controlled by the patriarchal environment they lived in.

Now, why did I tell you this story?  Because, in primitive societies, meetings at the water hole between the women in the community were cathartic.  It was a form of group therapy.  No one was going to repeat what they said, lest they risk exposing themselves. In most instances, the ear they got was a sympathetic one and the advice they received was time-tested and effective, whether it was how to treat an insect bite, what to do about an abusive husband, or how to deal with a terrible mother-in-law.   

It made me think that, in present-day society, men and women have the same sort of opportunities.  There are bridge clubs, mahjong groups, book clubs, girls’ or boys’ night out, hunting and fishing trips and happy hours. All perfect times to blow off steam and complain in a relatively safe environment and to then go back to the daily grind. There is one problem, however.  When your spouse says,  “I’m having a drink with the boys after work”, or, “It’s girls’ night out and we’re going out for dinner”, you need beware who your spouse is going out with, because what transpires between the individuals on that night out can sorely affect the relationship you have at home.

Let me explain.  If your partner is going out with a group of friends who are single, unencumbered and free to roam, or divorced, bitter and resentful over the way they were treated in their marriages, the advice they impart may not be to your liking. They’re liable to extol the virtues of single life, to magnify any negative behavior on your spouse demonstrated and even encourage divorce.  For example, the “boys” might say, “There are lots of women out there who want a man and know how to treat him. Women who aren’t sitting home complaining how tough their life is because they have to take care of children, cook meals,  chauffeur the kids, take animals to the vet and don’t have any time for themselves.  They neglect to mention the kids are in school all day and the maid is home cleaning the house and prepping dinner. Other women would trade for that job in two seconds. They’d appreciate you.”  Conversely, picture a wife who goes out with her friends for an evening.  They’re single or divorced and quick to say they’re independent, free to do what they want and say what they feel.  “We aren’t controlled by some jerk who thinks he’s God’s gift to all women and that you have to agree with and cower to when you deal with him.” They might add, “It gets lonely sometimes, but no one tells me to shut off the lights or how to set the thermostat.  I don’t have to pick up after him or take his laundry to the cleaner and I don’t  have to account for every purchase,  beg to buy a new dress, or ask permission to go out.”  

Granted, there are some women who are alone, bitter, crying, upset, hating their lot in life and resigned to suffer the rest of their lives because their husbands left them.  Similarly, there are men who squirrel up in an apartment, never hang pictures or unpack boxes, live like they’re homeless, and gripe that they worked all their lives and their wives got half of everything, but never worked a day in their lives.  However, these individuals are usually loners who don’t go out dispensing advise.  It’s the others you need to be concern ed about.  When it comes to them, my thought is, that there’s a another, far more positive watering hole you need to gather at.

Let me tell you why.  The other night, my wife and I had dinner with our granddaughter and her fiancé.  Sitting with them was delightful. They were excited over the smallest items - a movie they went to, friends they saw, their wedding, the music and photographer, the home they hope to live in one day and the life they’re planning together.  It was infectious. Love shone from their eyes. Their joy engulfed all of us at the table.  The warmth they exuded revived my feelings of love and closeness and provoked positive emotions.  It caused me to lose my concern for the next generation and instilled confidence in the future, because of the hope in their hearts.

The reason for my sharing this is to say that, truly, birds of a feather flock together and you are, more than you realize, sorely influenced by your “friends”.  You are affected by the people you spend time with and the conversations you engage in. I’m all for you having your own individual interests and activities.  I don’t believe that two people should swallow each other up after marriage.  I repeatedly suggest that newlyweds retain their friends, make time for themselves and share what they’re exposed to with each other.  But, it can be very destructive if what you’re exposed to contributes to you wishing you were somewhere else, with someone else.  So, choose your friends wisely.  Better yet, choose wise friends whose influence will support and lift you up, rather than pull you down

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