Wednesday 23 June 2021

Why Little Things Are Big Things When It Comes to Our Relationships

But you keep my old scarf from that very first week. Cos it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me.

(Elisabeth Wagner Rose / Taylor Alison Swift. “All Too Well.”)

I recently met up with a friend I’d not seen in person since last August. As we rediscovered how to do face-to-face after so long relying on chat, voice, and video calls, I was reminded how important the little things can be. Our choice of coffee shop and table, the small gifts, familiar actions, and the recalling of past times we’ve spent together, all reassured us our friendship’s still going strong.

And that’s what this post is about. The little acts, customs, and traditions we cherish in our friendships and relationships. They’re not memories as such, but they provide the framework upon which our memories are strung, like beads on a friendship bracelet or fairy lights on a tree. As my friend reminded me, “It’s the little things that count the most.”

The best and most potent of these are personal. Not necessarily intimate, but particular to the friendship or relationship. They work precisely because they are repeated, or recalled repeatedly. The repetition reinforces the sense of belonging to the connection you share. The great thing is they can be almost anything as long as they’re meaningful to you. Here are a few of mine.

Many couples have an “our song” but there’s nothing to say friends can’t too. Fran and I have one, and several other friends and I have a song or two linked to specific moments and memories.

Fran and I had an “our tree” for many years until they cut it down a few months ago. It stood not far from where I live. Every time I left the house I’d send her a photo of our tree. It began as a simple way for me to show Fran what the weather was like here, but it became a part of our shared daily life. When the tree was felled, we both felt the loss intensely.

In-jokes are common amongst families, especially between siblings, but friends have them too. My friend Aimee and I share a few that would mean little to anyone else, but cement our friendship every time we recall them (which we do on a regular basis!)

There’s a social media meme that reads, “A morning text doesn’t only mean ‘good morning.’ It also means ‘I think about you when I wake up.’” Good morning messages reinforce the connection and remind you you’re still present in each other’s lives.

I chat online with friends every day, and each friendship has developed unique catch-phrases and ways of communicating. Most of my friends would recognise particular phrases and greetings that, whether they realise it or not, are unique to the two of us.

Watching shows and movies together is fun, but it’s all the more significant when they become the equivalent of an “our song.” Fran and I watched every episode of Gilmore Girls a few years ago, all of Downton Abbey, and recently finished the sixteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. These shows are part of our DNA now. Set in Alaska, the comedy-drama Northern Exposure is likewise part of the DNA I share with my friend Jen.

I mentioned gifts earlier. Whether it’s a favourite bar of chocolate, cat treats, the Anam Cara pendant I still wear around my neck, or the “3000 miles, 300 minutes, 3 years” key ring I had made to mark the third anniversary of my friendship with Fran, personal and commemorative gifts help cement our connections. My key chain only carries one key but there are lots of fobs — including a “Coffee Cures All of Our Ills” one from Aimee, who knows me well!

It’s worth saying that these little-big things don’t always last forever. Friendships and connections change, and what was deeply significant in the past may lose its relevance or become stale and redundant. Such changes serve as red flags, alerting you to potential changes in your relationship’s health and integrity. It can be hard to relinquish something that brought comfort and delight, but where the connection itself is sound, remind yourself that one little-big token can be exchanged for another.

Each little-big thing we share began somewhere. A few days ago I met my friend Louise in person for the very first time. We’ll see which new moments stand the test of time (I have a couple of candidates in mind) but first times such as this are a great place to start!

What little-big things do you value in your friendships and relationships? How much do they mean to you and how do you feel if they change or drop away? How good are you at making new ones? We’d love to hear from you!


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