In my early career days, my personal relationships slowly began to dwindle. I would be sitting in meetings watching my phone ring out — eyes and ears still focused on the meeting. Then, I’d grab it and send my robot response ‘sorry in a meeting, I’ll call you back later’.
Gradually, this became my standard response to half of my daily calls. Interestingly, the ‘later’ in the day didn’t feel like an option as well. Between the time I finished from work and actually got home after the long journey, I often realized it was too late in the day to call anyone back.
As if that was not bad enough, leftover office work (if any) had to get done. Slowly and steadily, I became less and less present in the lives of my closest friends. To survive my nagging guilt, my brain parceled these concerns properly and threw them into a box. Somehow I managed to convince myself that it was best to ‘live one day at a time.’ I had no way of capturing how much resources and relationships I lost during this period. I simply continued in my work quarantined state of living.
Worse still, my phone at the time, could only record up to a certain number of missed calls, and so I had to deal with a lot of accusations of not returning or acknowledging calls.
What’s The Point Of New Relationships?
Soon enough, the accusations became so much that they made me wary of making new friends. In my mind, I couldn’t bear the additional burden of missing people’s birthdays or anniversaries and the likes. I erroneously felt I would much rather live with the few birthdays I remembered than handle the guilt from another missed birthday.
So, I would find myself putting up a shield when I met people. A close and then unmarried friend always joked that I would miss her wedding because I would be away on a company trip somewhere. And then, when her wedding finally arrived, I was indeed away on a company trip.
There is a tendency not to realise how badly things have gone until you get reality checks. One time, my then seven-year-old brought homework that required writing an essay about our neighbours. Neighbours? Of course beyond the little boy’s name, we didn’t know a thing about them. How could we? This is Lagos, after all, my brain argued. Life is hectic here, and with the daily morning rush, the most neighbourly relationships start with a warm ‘good morning’ and end with ‘have a blessed day’.
Just Plain Tired
After sitting in traffic for hours, no part of you wants to hear a knock on your door, let alone nurse any desire to go to a neighbours house!…There’s no apathy here, just good old fatigue, the kind that makes you wish the weekend had two extra days!
If I had more time, I know I would want to be a good neighbour and keep better relationships like my parents did when we were growing up. I would like to ask people about their welfare. Attending events and inviting friend’s children over would also be very pleasant. But these desires usually end with good intentions. I’m also painfully aware of the fact that I may be denying my children good relationships, especially as part of my cluster of best friends today are neighbours I grew up with.
But so much has changed from when I was growing up. I still recall my dad coming home for lunch (where does that happen again please?) like clockwork. My Mum was home from work at 4: 30 pm each day. They lived an excellent quality of life, whilst running the home and their careers each day. I truly don’t recall them missing PTA meetings either as a result of traffic or for any other reason. They knew their neighbours, serviced their relationships and were diligent in church attendance.
It doesn’t help that sometimes, you may sincerely intend to make adjustments. The other day, I indicated my interest in buying my friend’s wedding asoebi. I paid ahead, matched all the right accessories and got ready to show up. The wedding was scheduled for Saturday, but by Thursday I got an email that changed my whole weekend. It turned out one of our West Africa branch offices needed attention.
A More Recent Experience
On my mind is a particular incident with another friend’s wedding. This time, I had mentally run through my standard travel checklist, looking through what needed to be done at home because I had to be at a special friend’s wedding that Saturday, and then fly out early on Sunday. Alas! Staff Travel contacted me to say the only flight to this west coast city was right in the middle of Saturday!
I was almost in tears that evening as I readied myself to go home. All my plans and efforts were interrupted. Once again, my fame as an ‘absentee friend’ would come up. How long would I keep explaining myself, I wondered? A call to our mutual friend did not help matters, as I heard the ‘I knew it tone’ which was not verbally expressed.
However, I soon got out of that mood, comforted by the American street phrase most suited in that instance; a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do!
*A version of this article first appeared in Business Day and is republished with the permission of the author.