The Lawn Lady Doesn’t Know Me

Let’s talk about how friendship is different from business contacts.

Friends are simply people you know well enough that you’re happy being yourself. The more you know them, the safer you feel to be you. You may not reveal all your secrets, but you can be your back-porch self with them. 

When your honest self shows up to be known and a friend brings her back-porch self, too, then something can spontaneously arise: a connection. When the connection (over an idea, a hobby, a similar experience) fires up, you have the beginning of a friendship. 

Revealing yourself for connection is not the same as revealing yourself to impress someone. It’s why modest or shy people take longer to make friends. It’s why arrogant, flexing-types seem to have so many friends. But in reality, slick, marketing types don’t have friends, they haven’t revealed anything for connection. They’re just revealing to impress you. And they will want a tip when they’re done. 

Tips are never part of friendship. They’re part of business interactions.

This revealing-yourself-for-connection is a perfect test to distinguish your friends from your lawn lady.

I know my lawn guys, my lawyer, my mailman, and the neighbor three doors down. They’re in the business contacts group. We interact over a specific thing (like the lawn), but we don’t reveal our secrets, our doubts, our deep celebrations. They don’t know the books I’m reading or that I homeschool. 

Why? Because the relationship doesn’t warrant that closeness. The lawn lady doesn’t want to know if I had cancer or if I am planning on having another kid (nope, not an announcement 😆). 

Of course, many business contacts become friends, but not until someone chooses to connect at a deeper level. It could be over golf, or running, or having spouses who love to garden. But that’s beyond the level of “Could you cut the grass on the other side of the fence this time?” 

Many so-called friendships are actually just business contacts. They’re about rendering a service, without curiosity about anything else. 

How many family gatherings (let’s be honest) sound more like a group of business people, not friends: talking about impersonal, safe topics. Most of us know a lot about this, we spend gatherings working as hard as we can to conceal our most important ideas and desires. Our back porch self, ironically doesn’t show up at our family’s back porch.

How many family reunions over Easter or Thanksgiving, Fourth of July or Christmas read like primers on how to make business small talk?!

“Wasn’t the morning so hot yesterday?”

“The pumpkin pie is really great this year.”

“Look how big she’s grown!”

They’re hide-it-all dinners, quite a lot like Facebook or Instagram, Twitter or YouTube, for that matter. Social media is like a (dysfunctional) family gathering. Stick to the safe topics, avoid revealing honestly (you can reveal lots of partial truths though), keep that back-porch self tucked in the attic. Oh, and eat and drink a little extra to get through the ordeal. No wonder most of the friends I know cannot stomach Facebook when something serious happens in their lives. It’s just the wrong place for real connection.

Here’s what’s key, concealing isn’t wrong. Protecting our most precious ideas from business contacts isn’t wrong. We don’t share our back porch selves with our lawyers or the lawn guys. This means we have a private life. 

However, these hide-it-all places are not friendship, either. Most of us are not friends with our extended family. Some aren’t even friends with those they call “friends.” This applies to many marriages as well, even the good-looking ones. They might have posted #marriedmybestfriend on social, but actually, well…

We only talk when I need something. 

I expect them to provide a service. 

I expect them to not expect anything from me.

I don’t have bandwidth to know if they’re worried or wanting something today. 

We do not share openly about our feelings, dreams, or plans. 

It could apply to your lawn lady. But it also applies to many a marriage, many a friendship.

If this applies to you, you can safely assume you’re on the poverty line with connection. Maybe you didn’t even know it. 

God created you for connection beyond business contacts. If you want to know more about how friendship ought to be, stick with me for next week’s post. 

If you think someone could use this post, forward it on to them. 

And if you want to comment, please remember, I will guard your dignity, your ideas, and your courage as you take that vulnerable step of sharing publicly. And I will respond. If you comment, be sure to check back for responses. 

Let’s start the conversation. 

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My boys were 11 and 5 in this painting, sitting on our back porch along the Merrimack River. They had just finished a game of baseball (their two-man version) and were laughing at something my five-year-old said.

Their friendship is something I wanted to capture, so I intensified the colors of their coats, complimentary colors you’ll notice. Just like their friendship. After a few studies, I realized I needed to tone down the colors of the river behind them so their figures stand out distinctly.

I took this picture four days after F turned 11. He’s so much bigger than O. I particularly like the shadow faintly falling across his back. The shadow on him, it’s a picture of how he shields his little brother in life. Even in their play, my oldest holds his strength back so his little brother can compete with him. 

The size and age differences don’t matter. What matters here is that they’re both being their true, back porch selves.

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Thanks, Jonalyn! I look forward to your next post. I suspect even the biggest extroverts could use some refreshers following the COVID lockdowns, much less those of us who are introverts.

This was lovely and so timely, as the person below mentioned. I need more time with my back porch friends again, and am working on making that happen for both Ed and myself.

It actually shocks me how many people tell me in private that they’re really struggling with serious issues in a relationship, only to see them post soon after on social that they have the “best mom/husband in the world.” I’ve seen it many times. Privacy is a good thing, but lying is not. Just say nothing. Your relationships don’t need a Facebook post to survive. Learning the art of being quiet and reflecting is so much harder in this modern world. 500 contacts are always in your pocket, even when you’re doing something meditative, like going for a walk or gardening. It’s hard to get away, be still, reflect and…say nothing.
The other thing your post made me think about is how many times I’ve asked someone about themselves and they don’t take the time to get to know me in return, only to walk away and sing my praises. “Best neighbor ever! So wonderful!” They know nothing about me other than they get to talk about themselves around me, haha. To me, that’s ok. It’s a way of filtering out who is the business contact and who has the friend-potential. There’s always improvements to make, but I have worked hard at learning how to be a better friend and I deserve friends who have also studied and reflected on how to be a good friend. Listening is my number 1 requirement.

Hey gals, great convo. Yes, it’s disorienting (and infuriating) to know the reality of someone’s life and then see a carefully curated post that suggests just the opposite. I also think that social media posts, for all their smoke and mirrors, can sneakily reveal our deepest longings. Our online profiles tell the stories that we want to be true about ourselves. When I notice these discrepancies between what I know of a person and what they are posting, I learn so much about which parts of their story are too hard for them to embrace at the moment. Social media gives us this crazy, technologically-enabled option to dissociate from our true selves–we get to craft an easier, less threatening reality in which we have no vulnerabilities, fears or wounds. It’s an enticing but sad lie that divorces us from our humanity (which is our reality). As someone who does not post on social media, let me assure you that there are many ways to lie to yourself. And no one pressures me to do this more than my idealized self.
Side note: I just named by idealized self “Smellisa” (because she stinks) and, I have to say, it has stripped her of some of her power. Maybe I should create an IG profile for her and then I can honestly capture all the things I wish I could be without feeling like I was fooling anyone. follow her @theREALSmellisa (<—don’t. this is not an actual profile. yet.)

I like that you can take offer a point of friendship connection possibility and then notice when it isn’t returned and hold on to yourself. You truly do deserve better friends than that! (You are a marvelous friend! Sometimes I think of our good belly laughs and play it like a rerun in my mind and smile really big)

Last edited 18 days ago by Erin Adams

Good read. I’ve been working on being less open and more discerning in who are actually “my friends”. Thanks for bgg the post.

This is great Jonalyn. When I can feel back-porch comfortable, I know I’ve got me a friend. It’s the main distinction between friends and acquaintances, dropping the veil and sharing your true thoughts. It’s just way more relaxing when you can put the filter away. Thanks for articulating!

And I agree, you picked a great husband for the back porch 😉

Jonalyn! You continue to release good truth to us-your audience. Thanks for being a back-porch kind of friend.
Wanted to add this line from the movie Let Them All Talk-it’s a good movie about friendship–This line caught me-Meryl Streep’s character says, “You betray the people you love the most because you have the expectation of forgiveness-The people you don’t know very well you try to seduce or impress, you treat them more tenderly, that’s my experience.” I find in our culture, there are a lot of people who do this in their relationships.
I want to be the kind of friend that is curious and deeply intentional about finding what the other person’s needs are and work at showing up with my true self. At 48, my friendships are one of my dearest gifts…and it’s because of people like you, Jonalyn, who show up-are curious and offer connection. You truly only need a few in life-but they are for sure treasures.

Friendship is one of the greatest, and maybe one of the rarest, gifts. I feel like the attempt to even find out what friendship really is, is rare. I always love hearing from you on the subject!
Social media is like a dysfunctional family gathering…. That made me chuckle and cringe at the same time. Too true!

I agree, Erin! There is so little input on friendship and yet I believe it is the foundation of every relationship we have.

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