When I was in third grade, I came back in from morning recess on Valentines Day and saw this big box of chocolates on my desk with a note that said, “From Your Secret Admirer”. I was mortified. All the kids were looking at me and my curly pigtails with the huge matching ribbons, and who exactly had been creeping around my seat when I wasn’t there, and why exactly did this person choose me, and what the hell was I going to tell my mother? I remember feeling flustered like I just wanted to run, and at the same time feeling so special that I was chosen as the recipient of such attention. I was eight. What’s funny is that I still have all of those exact same feelings when I get attention from men, except I’m not eight anymore. I’m working on it.
Romantic love is such a challenge for me. Somehow, even though I know better, I still think February 14th will roll around and all the flowers will be delivered, all the chocolates will be left on the desk, and I’ll receive all the deep, heart-eyed declarations of love from some faceless (or not so faceless) man who will sweep me off my feet and take me away to live happily ever after. Expectation. Heart. Love. It’s too much for me, honestly. Right now I’m trying hard to stay present and focused on what’s in front of me, so I’m choosing to love and be loved by my soul family, by the people who see me and hear me and allow me to just be me without apology. Those people. Those people are better than any box of chocolates. Those people are home.
This past weekend my friend Ashley Newell asked me to attend a photo shoot with her, and we took these pictures posted above. They make me so happy. Here’s the thing about Ashley: she shows up. We show up for each other. Our stories are very different but our struggles are very similar. The most glorious thing about our friendship is that we consciously choose collaboration over competition. We share opportunities freely with each other and somehow it’s mutually clear that two is better than one, and that the brighter we shine, the brighter we shine. The conversations I have with Ash are some of the most real conversations I have with anyone. We talk out loud about dreams and fears and the past and the future. We lighten each other, we brighten each other, we laugh and laugh. She doesn’t mind if I cry in a coffee shop or if I have too many drinks on my birthday or if I just need to sit with her for a few hours and not really say anything at all. No judgement, no criticism. Soul family.
Here’s another thing about Ashley: I almost missed her. I almost missed her completely.
I met Ash ten plus years ago when our oldest babies were really babies. We moved in the same social circles from a local online moms group, but neither of us were the Alpha Moms. I was different then. I was frozen then. I spent all my time carefully watching what was happening around me and figuring out how I could blend in and be accepted. We were all young moms and we were so trepidatious. We tiptoed around each other, we let the Alpha Moms call the shots. There was a lot of jealousy and a lot of judgement. It was that way for a long time, but I needed those girls then. It wasn’t bad, necessarily. It just was.
When I started to say the words a few years ago, when I started peeling off those layers of trepidation, when I started becoming so much more real and so much less afraid, Ash was there. Somehow she was there. We found each other and we saw each other and we somehow silently recognized that we both have these deeply feeling empathetic hearts, and that two is better than one, and that the brighter we shine, the brighter we shine. And there was no need to apologize for the years we weren’t close, because we both knew that in those times we just weren’t strong enough. It wasn’t bad, necessarily. It just was.
I look at those pictures taken this past weekend and I’m so grateful that I didn’t miss her. Sometimes your soul family is right there in the shadows. Or right there in a meadow looking a little bit like a lesbian engagement photo. But I don’t care, because that, my friends, is LOVE. It’s the best kind of love. It’s unconditional and real and it shines so bright. It’s collaborative and never competitive. Let go, lean in, and find it, because I bet it’s right there beside you, just like Ashley and I were for so many years. And I’ll tell you this for certain, there’s no box of chocolates in the world that can bring your heart as much happiness as a true soul family friendship. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. I love you.
Photos by Mike Stewart Check out Ash's take on our photoshoot here Connect with me on Instagram here