"When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: You are not enough people!” - Kurt Vonnegut
In the online world of business and personal finance, you will often encounter written works touting the benefits of automating your life before having children.
Automate your savings!
Automate your bills!
Outsource tasks that are boring!
However, you can’t automate your relationships and you certainly can’t outsource them, so let’s talk today about one of the most overlooked goals to address before having children.
Building Quality Relationships
Notice, the above heading said relationships - plural. While your choice of partner matters tremendously on your journey to a pleasant and meaningful life, having a sense of community matters just as much if not more. This is because humans are not built to depend on one person for all their needs. Evolution never wanted you to put all of your eggs in one basket. Evolution wanted you to exist as one part of a much larger whole.
Kurt Vonnegut has great quotes about this. (On the 50th anniversary of Slaughterhouse-Five, let’s talk about how a war vet can help you become a content spouse and parent.)
I looked around at 22 and said to myself, “I need to find a quality community of people to grow old with. Hmmmm...”
So I made some changes.
Whether you agree with the behavior of the human race or not, you depend on people to meet a variety of your social and economic needs. When you are 18 and building your list of things to do in life, you should probably put - FIND QUALITY PEOPLE TO BE AROUND EACH DAY at the top (but hardly any of us do this).
And finding great people to build close relationships with after having kids (or above the age of 30) is a difficult task, often overlooked and not talked about.
Establishing yourself in a healthy community before having kids can make or break your psyche, your soul, your wallet, your friendships, and your sense of purpose. Yet we’re programmed to be more concerned about jobs, degrees, and numbers.
Fame Vs. The True Power of People
When people seek fame and riches, what they are often really after is the power of networking - the power that comes from having many people to turn to in times of need. Consciously or unconsciously, our evolutionary alarm bells recognize the power of people.
Beyond disposable cards, surface-level calls, or baked treats - we recognize people’s impact as huge and priceless during life’s pivotal moments.
The odd thing is, somewhere along the way to security, many humans confused local relationship needs with the want for superficial measures on a worldly scale.
Bling, flashing cameras, the biggest number of views, loads of money, excessive posting, a spotlight to stand in - it’s all a very bizarre interpretation of belonging driven by misguided internal engines.
Money Is Not A Friend
Sometimes people seek power in money with the misunderstanding that after they obtain a certain amount of money, they will never have to deal with difficult human beings.
But you will never save up enough money to solve your social problems or your problems with other human beings.
Fame and money fail when expected to replace anciently wired needs for comradery. They can never replace the psychological binding power of a close-knit community. When it comes to overall wellbeing, in-person communities win.
Every. Single. Time.
Small Step #1: Girl’s Night
"Freud said he didn’t know what women wanted. I know what women want: a whole lot of people to talk to. What do they want to talk about? They want to talk about everything. What do men want? They want a lot of pals, and they wish people wouldn’t get so mad at them.” - Kurt Vonnegut
I am probably more passionate about this topic than I am about any other topic regarding people’s happiness.
Last night I went to a girl’s night with ten other other women. We talked about… well, I don’t have to tell you (or my husband). That’s what makes it great.
Driving home, it occurred to me I’ve only gone to an official “girl’s night” three times since our child was born a year and a half ago. It’s difficult to meet up with friends unless you prioritize it. Therefore, I’m consciously trying to bring quality people into my life on a routine basis.
Small Step #2: Lunch
I work with some very admirable and respectable people. I’ve known them for a while. But I often spend my lunch hour working on my blog. Once a week, I hope to eat lunch with coworkers instead.
Last time I did this, we ended up talking about the feminist writer Rebecca Traister, her fantastic new book, her powerful lecture in our town the week before, and social topics that wouldn’t be expected during a lunch break. We ended the conversation on a deep note and rushed back to work while proposing the idea of an informal book club. (We're all busy people. We’ll see if it actually happens.)
(Side note: It’s certainly not like this every time in the lounge. Sometimes all you hear is forks clink. But you have to leave room in your schedule for spontaneous creative conversations to happen.)
I left that specific lunch break feeling connected and energized.
The only reason my husband and I were able to have dinner with Rebecca Traister in the first place was...
- We found a baby sitter last minute.
- This babysitter happened to be a friend whose pottery we plan to buy as Christmas presents for others.
- The only reason my husband has a job where he can play a role in bringing someone of her caliber to town is because of a friendship he made before having children.
- In order to make room for those quality relationships, some "opportunity cost" reevaluating went down.
Mingling (Then Nesting)
Before becoming a parent, I nested in a scrambled way - I wanted strong friendships, meaningful acquaintances, the mental toughness of an ox, a house, a car, a predictable career... I wanted a lot. But I put the most thought into the community I wanted to live in (and making sure I found a spouse whose personality didn’t scare other people away).
I’m glad I had the instinct to get out of one situation and into another. My primal reaction was prompted and articulated by a great author. This has made all of the difference.
"I sure wish I could wave a wand, and give every one of you an extended family, make you an Ibo or a Navaho - or Kennedy.”