Sometimes when I have trouble sleeping I do a mental exercise. I lie in bed and pretend that I am stuck on a deserted island. I take every survival tip that I’ve learned from watching shows like Survivorman and Man vs. Wild and plan out everything I would need to do in order to live. I think about making a fire, getting fresh water, building a shelter, catching food, etc. The more elaborate my survival fantasy becomes, the further the troubles that kept me awake in the first place fade away. Before I know it, I’m asleep. Other times when the kids and wife are being less than pleasant, I revisit my island scenario. I think of Tom Hanks in the film, Castaway and I say to myself, “You lucky bastard.” I daydream of being on a 3 hour tour that goes terribly wrong, or in this fantasy, terribly right. The U.S.S. Minnow washes up on the shores of a deserted island and I’m all alone, no wife, no kids, no relatives, no in-laws, no phone, no computer, nothing but the sea, sand, palm trees and blue sky… alright, sometimes Ginger and Mary Ann are there but that’s a different fantasy. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I could get used to fishing all day and chatting up a volleyball at night, at least for a year or two. The only real problem is this; Robinson Crusoe-esque escapes aren’t very realistic. For one thing, the world is shrinking, everything is Google mapped. In the real world I would just get situated on my little island and some reality TV crew would show up to film episodes of Survivor, MILF Island, Real Cannibal Wives of the South Pacific or whatever else they’re polluting the world with. The second issue is more obvious, we are all social animals, none of us actually likes being alone. As wonderful as it may seem to drop out and ignore the world, for whatever reason, we actually crave interaction with each other. Even in prison, one of the worst things you can do to a hardened murderer is separate him from his fellow ne’er-do-well’s. “Rocco; you stabbed Snake in the eye with a sharpened bed spring, it’s 6 months in isolation for you.” Rocco: “No, not that, anything but that!” So what are we to do? We can’t run off to a deserted Island and we can’t stab people in the eyes with sharpened bedsprings. Somehow we’re just supposed to know how to successfully navigate the myriad of relationships that intertwine and permeate our lives. That’s easier said than done. Having successful relationships is a lot of work and it’s not always easy to know if you’re doing the right thing.
With this in mind, The Real Life Survival Guide dedicated its 2nd Chapter to tackling the many headed beast that is relationships. Going through a list of all the possible relationships one can have is like being on the $100,000 Pyramid. You sit in a seat while a D list celebrity hurls interconnected words at you, spouses, siblings, children, parents, friends, co-workers, In-Laws, pets, neighbors, hair specialists…it’s exhausting. With such a problematic topic standing before them, Bruce Barber and Duo Dickinson, joined up with a distinguished crew of guest editors at Zinc Restaurant in New Haven to help shed light upon this Hydra-like chapter. They say, “No man is an Island” and that’s true. We can’t get through life all alone and we can’t answer all the questions by ourselves. Enter The Real Life Survival Guide. They’re smart, they know things.
First out of the boat on Survival Guide Island was Brin Bon who started the debate by wondering in today’s world, what constitutes a friend? My sister, Ann McGuire, defined friendship as how much drinking you do with someone. Tsk, tsk, Ann. Kathleen Schurman, says she has a different relationship with all 120 of her rescued animals. Some are like best friends while others are simply acquaintances. I bet the cats are just acquaintances. Psychologist Ira Rosofsky, explains how it’s unethical to be friends with a patient, while Brin, who is in divinity school studying to be a Priest in the Episcopal Church, talked about the ethical boundaries between priest and parishioners. She explained that you have to be emotionally available to counsel someone but it should be a one way street whereas in a true friendship, you should both share an emotional bond. There was a priest in my parish growing up that tried to test that boundary with a few altar boys. He ended up with living with Rocco.
Moving along, the group touched upon the first relationship that we all have; our parents. Ira spoke about the transforming relationship of becoming a parent to your elderly parents. He spoke of how tough the transition is on both the child and the elderly parent. Ann has found as she grows older that she has a better understanding of what her (our) mother was going through as her mind stayed clear but her body began to weaken. Kathleen wondered what her relationship would be with her parents if they hadn’t both died over twenty years ago. Bruce then asked the panel what relationships in their lives get short shrift. Ira discussed not being as close to his teenage daughter as he was a few years ago and how he sometimes takes it personally even though he understands that it’s fairly typical adolescent behavior. Duo mentioned that he feels bad about losing touch with his college drinking buddies and feels guilty about not having the, “guts to reinject (himself) into their lives.” I recently got together with my long term friend Bill and decided to make him feel guilty about the time he purposely went out of his way to hinder me from becoming more familiar with a very cute girl. My relationship with Bill goes back to first grade , almost 40 years, and what he did happened about 25 years ago, but he is still not forgiven.
Bruce then took the topic of relationships into the workplace, and asked how to define the relationships we have with co-workers. Ann feels that the workplace functions the same way as anywhere else, “There are people you are just drawn to…” She goes on to explain that in a work relationship proximity plays an important role in just how close people become. Brin finds that bonding often happens when you join with others in mutual dislike of a task or another co-worker. Kathleen has learned from years of running a farm that it’s easier to be in charge if she keeps an arm’s length from the people who work for her. Bruce thinks that’s the best solution especially in a setting where there is always an urge to join others for a roll in the hay.
The conversation shifted from co-workers to family. Duo brought up the fact that because of the age differences between himself and his siblings, he feels almost no connection to them. Kathleen believes it’s not the years between siblings but the sense of connection you feel. Just like with other people, the bond you have with your brothers and sisters will be greater with some than others. Ira described how he and his younger brother only forged a bond as they grew older and found more common ground. Brin has no siblings but her children are close despite a six year difference between two them. Ann, besides taking credit for getting me this sweet writing gig, explained how the death of our father while we were still teenagers made the six McGuire kids stick together. I always felt that I was just so awesome that none of my siblings dare move away for fear of wilting without my magical glow shining benevolently upon their simple heads. I will stick with this assessment.
Bruce ended the show by asking the definition of a good relationship. Ira feels that it’s all about context; a business relationship should be treated differently than a friend relationship because true friendship is a rare thing. He also believes that Facebook’s ubiquitous “Friending” has diminished what it means to be a true “Friend”. Brin finds that a good relationship is built on two main pillars, trust and enjoyment. If you can’t trust a person and don’t enjoy being around them, there can’t be much of a relationship. Ann closed out by saying she believes any good relationship should enhance who you are.
I believe that forgiveness is a major part of sustaining healthy relationships. I consider myself lucky that my friends and family have, time and time again, forgiven me my many shortcomings and in return, I try to do the same. I still like to give people hell for whatever perceived slight they dared inflict upon me, but I try to get over it quickly and move on. Holding grudges and becoming bitter is unhealthy and a waste of time and a relationship killer. As I grow older, I find I can forgive pretty much anything, except of course what my friend Bill did to me all those years ago, that was just wrong. If Bill and I ever find ourselves stuck on a deserted island with just one other woman, I’m gonna block him silly. Till next week…