Today is one of those episodes where you get to sit on my big couch in my living room with me and Nkem Chukwumerije, having a late night conversation where we’re trying to figure out life. And it’s SO good.
Nkem (she/they) is a Nigerian-American writer, transformational program designer, artist, teacher, and energy cultivation practitioner. Her style of being in the world is intentional, (com)passionate, idealistic, pleasure-centered, and wisdom-centered. All of these attributes are woven throughout her art and projects, the programs she creates, and the way she works with her communities.
Nkem is at a place where she’s ready to redefine what friendship means in her own life. We explore interracial, intercultural, and interspiritual aspects, masculine and feminine dynamics, along with the healing power of community and why we need to normalize social wellness as a constant journey.
I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this episode. Daydream, reflect, and let it give you the inspiration to think about how friendships are playing out in your life.
In this episode you’ll hear about:
- Nkem shares her many experiences with friendships, including the intensity of having friends for just a season, and how moving around a lot has affected the types of friends she’s attracting
- The balance between having a powerful community around you to support you, and also having the power to show up for yourself and validate yourself without having to outsource your burdens
- What it was like for Nkem to grow up as an American, understanding her Nigerian roots and building “protected spaces” rather than following the mainstream ideals of “the American Dream”
- The ripple effect we can create within “friend group cultures” and how to navigate, accept, and grieve our friends’ life transitions
- Normalizing social wellness as a “constant journey” – some friends are not meant to be in our lives forever. Plus, how the feminine and the masculine dynamic can apply
- What has your social wellness journey looked like over the past 5 years? What new intentions would you like to set for it in the next 3-6 months?
- Nkem and I describe the intensity and grief of having friends for just a season. How has this played out in your own life? Is there a friendship that comes to mind?
Notable Quotes from Nkem
“There is a lot of power in having the right community that supports you and sees you. And sees you in a way that you’re not able to see yourself, and can fill in those pockets and uplift you and support you in those kinds of ways, and show up when you need them and where you need them to show up, and sometimes without you asking or making it clear. And then there’s that magnificent power that comes from within, where you’re able to show up for yourself and validate yourself.”
“What happens when something becomes mainstream? It’s almost like the true essence or the meaning gets stripped away from it. So it’s beautiful to know that when we are creating community and creating protected spaces for ourselves, because we have to do that as individuals. You can’t just go around calling everybody “friend” and doing all this and that – you have to create a protected space for your own self. But also as you develop a community that’s right for you, it has to be a protected space, so that way it can remain sacred and it can remain what you want it to remain. It can’t be mainstream.”
Resources & Links
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Ways To Approach This New Version of Friendship
@itsalexalexander Want to make low maintenance friends? Focus on the variety of ways you spend time with your friends. The friendships that you cherish the most? Usually the "we did life together” friends. Doing mundane things together will help you not only develop low maintenance friends, but also strong friendships. #toomanyfriends #friendshipcoach #friendship #clingyfriends ##makingfriendsasadults #adultfriendship #healthyfriendships #howtokeepfriends ♬ original sound – Alex | Community + Friendship
@itsalexalexander #duet with @chelsbadger #longdistancefriendship ♬ original sound – muSlim Shady
@itsalexalexander I firmly believe that the best self care is a healthy support system. Society has convinced us that we have to be able to care for ourselves, and if we can't we have failed…. Don't believe the lie. Follow along if you want to see how one builds a support system from scratch. #makefriends #buildavillage #friendshipadvice ♬ original sound – Layde_Shy
Until next time…
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Podcast Intro/Outro 00:02
Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!
Podcast Intro/Outro 00:18
Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 00:51
Are you ready for today’s episode? It’s a good one. Today, it’s one of those episodes where you’re basically getting to sit on my big couch in my living room with me and I’m Nkem hanging out, just really having one of those late night conversations where we’re trying to figure out life. It’s so good. So good. I don’t even have too many narrations or thoughts about today’s episode. Like, I just want to let you listen in on this conversation. And when you’re done, be sure to go check out the shownotes, find Nkem’s platform. She cultivates community through her wellness platform and writing studio. So much of her work overlaps with what we’re doing here. So go give her a follow. With that, let’s get to the episode.
Alex Alexander 01:47
Hi, Nkem. How are you?
Nkem Chukwumerije 01:49
I’m good. How are you today?
Alex Alexander 01:52
I’m good. I’m excited to be here. I always love recording these podcast episodes. Do you want to tell us a bit about yourself and your experience of friendship? I know you’ve moved a lot. So, you’re living a very transient life.
Nkem Chukwumerije 02:05
Yeah. Yeah. So a little bit about myself. My name is Nkem. I am an everything person. I’m an artist, I’m a creative person, I just love to be in my mind creating things and in the world creating things. And that has taken me on my journey throughout the world. I am a writing coach and a writer and program designer. I create transformational programs for people usually through writing, but support them in their spiritual and personal development. And I found myself at some point living in South Korea, then moving to Abu Dhabi, UAE and then moving to Mexico and Portugal. But I’m originally a Nigerian American born and bred in the US. But I’m currently in California, where my family home is. So being a transient person has kind of led me back to the old home stomping grounds. For now, that is a different kind of journey, because it’s like you do all of this external stuff. And then finally, you come back into the first place where everything, all of the relationship started, which is your, your family, you know? Or your… the people that you grew up around for what it is. My experience with friendships is such that I’ve had a lot of people pass through my life, and I’ve passed through a lot of people’s lives. I mean, I’ve always had this really strong understanding of friendship. Like, if I call you my friend, you’re my friend. Like you are my friend.
Alex Alexander 03:35
A lot of people are going to identify with that.
Nkem Chukwumerije 03:37
Right. Like, don’t use the word lightly ‘friend’. And through all of my travels over the past 10 years, where it’s like, five of those years, I was like, still living in the US, studying here. And taking my trips wherever some of the solo trips, that’s where it kind of started. But then the second five years, I was just like, all right, I’m out of this country, and I did my thing. And so increasingly, it became kind of difficult to still hold on to that definition of friendship when I was moving so much, and a lot was changing about me internally. And that was being reflected externally. But I was still kind of having the same old narratives about friendship. So now I’m at this place where I’m thinking about what more is possible for me in terms of friendship, rather than just that definition I have. And it’s not that that definition has changed so much because I still hold the same essence within my heart for the word ‘friend’. But maybe there’s an opportunity to have other kinds of relationships that are meaningful, but don’t necessarily hold that same. Like that aren’t… puts that same standard with that kind of pressure. I’m playing with that now. So hopefully this… this conversation will help me articulate some things that I’m feeling.
Alex Alexander 04:47
So you are one of many people that I am talking to on the podcast that are living that kind of nomadic lifestyle, right? Picking up and moving around. And I think that it really amplifies something that other people are experiencing. But because you’re moving all the time, like you just see it clearer and you’re moving and shifting and changing, maybe faster than somebody that has really firm roots in one location. And they’re experiencing the same thing. But I think it’s harder for people that are like firmly planted to no desk*. But I do think it’s happening to everyone. Right? That idea of this, like they are my friend is really what society teaches us. And I’m… part of that is beautiful. But I think the older we get, the harder it is to be all the things to our friends, like we’re just too unique and have so many diverse interests and have diverted paths. And I think living that nomadic lifestyle really, really amplifies something that a lot of people are also feeling but just not as intensely as probably you are. Do you still stay in touch with people that you are like, they’re my friend, those people that were originally those people?
Nkem Chukwumerije 06:28
To be honest, the people who I considered that close to me? No, to be honest with you. The people who I am still in touch with or who I have remained in touch with over the years, aren’t ever people who I really considered like, that’s my friend, that’s my buddy, you know? Like, that’s my person. Like, really not. It’s just that intense relationship that develops in that moment, I’ve always been like that. I’m a pretty intense person, developing intense relationships, or intense attachments or fixations on things or people or stuff that I just find, like my attention gravitate towards. But in terms of people, yeah, I haven’t really, really remained. And I think part of it is, those relationships are meant to have that kind of intensity for that moment because there’s something to be experienced and that time. So I did go through this moment feeling like, dang, maybe I should just kind of pull it back a little bit. And, well, I can’t, because I literally can’t, you know? Just like, that’s who I am. I’m an intense person. But maybe there’s a way to kind of separate the experience of that relationship feeling meaningful, and beautiful, and all-encompassing without it having to have that label.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 07:43
Over here recording the narration for this episode, just so excited. I want you be able to fast forward, I want you to just know, oh, goodness, it’s coming. All right, sorry, it’s happening. What I wanted to say about this, right, is the phrase, you know, like friends are for a season, or there’s what? There’s like three parts, like friends are for a season or reason, something else. We’ve all heard this kind of phrase. What does that actually mean? Because in this part of the conversation, we’re talking about how really society has given us this one definition of friend. They are my friend. And when we say that, I think a lot of people have some sort of idea of what that means, right? You’ve built all this history, you have all these memories, you know a lot about each other. You’ve let each other into your lives. That’s my friend. And I do think that when people move around, it becomes a lot clearer to them, that there is so much more than just this one narrow definition of friendship that society has given us. That really, we need to consider the fact that it takes time to build history, that it took probably a long time to let somebody into our lives, not even necessarily because of vulnerability. But just because timing has to align, you know? Like meeting family members, being in town, like their schedule has to align. That takes time as an adult. These things when we were younger, that were just easier because our worlds are smaller, are not as simple as adults. And therefore we need to broaden our definition. And what I found in talking to people is that people that are moving quite often realize this, but people that are grounded, that are living in one place for a really extended period of time, these shifts are still happening. They just aren’t as aware because they aren’t often the ones choosing to move around, but everyone else is moving around them and things are feeling different. And they’re like, I don’t understand what’s happening. So I really do think this is an experience that’s happening to all of us. It’s just that some people are more aware than others.
PODCAST EPISODE! What is a Friend? and the 4 Types of Friends We All Have. Listen here.
Nkem Chukwumerije 10:21
But also what I was going to mention with regards to like feeling these shifts and changes more so being in a nomadic position, rather than being in a more physically grounded position, is that you get to see patterns, not only in other people’s behaviors but in your behavior, too. Because a lot of times when we’re thinking about friendships, or those kinds of relationships, we’re externalizing and projecting so much, rather than first figuring out or seeing ourselves that self-awareness, we do have that awareness of self, but it’s usually through the lens of how other people are treating us or the kind of people that… that are entering into our lives, rather than it being okay, this is what I see for myself. But I think when you’re on this journey, where you’re moving around to so many different places, or maybe you are in your hometown, and you’ve always been there, but you kind of like have a lot of different hobbies that you change all the time. You move jobs all the time within the same town, like you have that sense of movement. So you can start to see these patterns that are emerging with the kind of people that you attract, the kind of relationships that you have with them, and who you are in these relationships. So I think I’ve seen that a lot within the past decade of just like the kind of friends that I would attract. And when I started to have my own personal transformations, what changed within that and where the resonance was no longer there. You know?
Alex Alexander 11:36
I think as much as we like to think that our friends… and I’m not saying it that way, like that is the mainstream way that friend is pushed, right? As this like all consuming relationship, they’ll be there for you always. If they can’t support you, and everything you do, they’re not your friend. Like it’s this really all or nothing extreme portrayal of this relationship that is pushed in books, and TV and media. Like pop culture really pushes this idea. And then social media perpetuates this idea. Like, I get why people form that. I get it. I get it. And part of it is really comforting to think that like, you find this one person, and they’ll just, you know, your best friend will be with you forever, no matter what. But in reality, the older we get, the more versions we have of ourselves, right? We grow, we change, we are different people. I am positive, you are a different person than you were when you set out to travel the world. And you probably have had…
Nkem Chukwumerije 12:50
I’m no longer 19. So…
Alex Alexander 12:53
Exactly, right? And you probably had 20 iterations of who you are, if not more in that time. I am surely not… surely not the same person I was a decade ago, either. So this idea that we’re just going to find this like one person that’s going to get all of us, support all of us, be there for all of us in every version, if we break it down and look at it that way, it’s like, isn’t that a lot of pressure to put on someone? And if I’m being honest, do I want to have that pressure put on me?
Nkem Chukwumerije 13:31
Yeah. No, that’s the thing. We don’t. We can’t take it, we can’t handle that kind of pressure put on us. Because if we could handle that kind of pressure put on us, we wouldn’t need to outsource that kind of capacity. Because if we can handle the pressure, that means that we have the capacity to hold all of that, which means that we would ideally have the capacity to hold ourselves in all those ways, which means we wouldn’t need to outsource it, right, to someone else in that way. I mentioned outsource, like I use that word very consciously. Because sometimes we are outsourcing our burdens, outsourcing our dreams, right?
Alex Alexander 14:05
We’re asking someone to like, hold us, hold space, give us encouragement. Yeah.
Nkem Chukwumerije 14:10
Yeah, where a lot of this… I’m just mindful, I’m always mindful of my words, and how I use the words here, just to give space to people in their actual lived experience. Because there is a lot of power and having the right community that supports you and sees you and sees you in a way that you’re not able to see yourself, right? And can… can fill in those pockets and uplift you and support you in those kinds of ways and show up when you need them and where you need them to show up and sometimes without even you asking or making it clear. And then there’s that magnificent power that comes from within, where you’re able to show up for yourself and validate yourself. Not in spite of anyone else not doing anything or not showing up. But because you know that whatever you’re experiencing is worth being experienced by you. How do we get there especially for coming from this paradigm, or the society that tells us we do need to outsource everything to everyone else, and all the things outside of us in order for us to be happy? So it’s a big jump for a lot of people. But I think conversations like this are at least starting to bring the awareness around that we can do things differently. And then from there, we take the steps in order to live a little bit more self-sustained, but not completely individualistic, because community is essential.
Alex Alexander 15:22
Yes, community is the secret key that we’re not talking enough about that could help so many things. The outsourcing piece, that’s interesting that you say that, that we’re like, society is telling us that we need to look to others. So I really think society is telling us… at least Western culture, that we’re really supposed to do it alone. Like the way to be successful, is to meet a partner, get married, have kids be able to afford your life on your own. Maybe you pay for some help, but you sure don’t ask for it. And if you ask for it, the only people you ask are your immediate family. And if you can’t do that on your own, or if you live in a way that is outside that box, you’re…
Nkem Chukwumerije 16:23
Alex Alexander 16:24
Failure, yeah. Okay, thank you. I was like, am I gonna be that extreme? But like, that’s it.
Nkem Chukwumerije 16:28
No, that’s the essence of it. Right?
Alex Alexander 16:30
And yet, I think our collective yearning is to want to be connected to other people and to feel this tug. And I think what you’re saying where that comes in for me, and we can all have differing opinions. But where that comes in for me is that because we feel that tug, we’re like looking for other people to validate it to say, yeah, I have that tug, too. And do you want to be connected to? So we’re so focused on like, pleasing them, so they’ll say yes. But we pretend like we don’t, like oh, no, no, I’m good. I’m fine. But in reality, we’re not even looking at ourselves, you’re totally right about that. We are focused on everyone else, just hoping someone will like make eye contact back.
Nkem Chukwumerije 17:21
Right. It’s a different kind of self seeing or self-awareness. Where it’s like the living in this individualistic way, is a self-centerednesss. But it’s still externalize power or externalized, you know, eyes looking out versus eyes looking in is the way that I like to term it. Whereas this thing that comes from the heart, can you see my heart? Can we connect heart to heart is a different kind of… when you want to connect with your own heart and validate your own hearts experience, and then want to connect with somebody based on that truth of validation that you’ve already validated yourself, not my heart is feeling empty. And instead of looking to your own heart to try and see what’s going on, and fill that void, or whatever, just at least have a conversation with it. You look to others, like can you do that for me? Can you tell me what I need to hear? Can you hold me? But have you ever felt your own arms against your own skin first, you know? And it’s, of course, a longer, deeper kind of thing. Because there’s a lot within that. And trauma is a huge part of it, the ways that we’ve been individually traumatized, but then collectively traumatized and this aspect of like, trying to play it cool, like “No, no, I got it, I don’t need it. I don’t need it. I don’t need it.” But really, you’re always looking towards somebody and like wanting somebody to give you that feedback or that validation is a way that we try to downplay what we’re actually truly experiencing, which is probably a trauma response of wanting to just be in our shell a lot of the times.
Alex Alexander 18:47
Yeah, I would agree with that. You know, I talk about this stuff in a very, like, how are we doing this, but I’ve acknowledged on the podcast before, like as overwhelming as this is to say out loud, I hope that these conversations lead to some sort of collective change in my lifetime. Because I really do, like you said earlier that community is the key. I really do think that this is the key to so many traumas and issues that are out there… is to take the time to look at ourselves and then really, I don’t know, participate again, if I’m being honest, right, in this individualistic society, we’ve shut off so much. And when I talk to people, I always tell them that, you know, like, it has to start with you. And there’s all sorts of really deep work, but at the most basic level, I think we need to spend the time to think about what you bring to other people’s lives, like what is unique about you, what is unique about me and then show up in spaces as like offering what we bring. So on a very tangible level, I’ve said this before, I like to cook, right? I’m the friend to call if you need somebody to cook for you. I’m a great listener, I can sit in the really bad stuff with people, I’ve done it a lot. People call me for that. But if you want… I mean, I’m not a parent. I don’t have a kid. So if you need advice on your kids, I’m not the person to call and being really clear on what you do bring, and then offering that up and then say, I have a friend who is a parent, like encouraging them to, you know, admitting, like, that is not where I can help you. But I want you to find those people. Like how can I help you find those people? Or can I just encourage you to find those people so that you can build the support system you need?
Nkem Chukwumerije 21:08
Right? It definitely takes some level of self-awareness, right? And self-acceptance to say, I have the capacity for this, I’m quite good at this, I can help you out with this, I can help myself with this. I’m well-resourced in this. However, in these areas, I’m not your person. And to be okay with that, because I think we start off with a deficit. Oh, God…. sorry, can I curse?
Alex Alexander 21:36
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go for it.
PODCAST EPISODE! Listen to “Simple Ways for Improving Social Wellness” here
Nkem Chukwumerije 21:37
These deficits, that we just begin the game with these deficit, like, I can’t show up because I don’t have everything. It’s okay. You don’t need to have actually anything, all you need to have is yourself, because guess what? Within whoever you show up as, you have everything that’s necessary, because there’s a reason why we’re gathered. I mean, that’s my belief, right? And I’m coming from a very intuitive standpoint, where I believe that every interaction is meaningful, every community gathering, whoever arrives is meaningful. Whoever said they were going to arrive, but actually didn’t arrive is meaningful. And we have to honor that. But that’s not what we’re kind of inculcated with from birth and through lineages and through our generations, right? I mean, unless we have a different experience, but even typically, that’s not what it is. And coming from my own background, I mean, I have this part of me deeply rooted that is so communal, being Nigerian, it’s so communal, it’s there. But it’s a colonized country. And then my parents immigrating here, have this colonized mindset still. And then growing up as an American is just so messy. Like it’s just so messy being first generation. And so I have been tasked with and I have taken that responsibility on to understand what… how I’m going to be in this life for myself. With an understanding of everything, right? Like understanding of my roots, and my people, but also understanding of the world that I have been brought up in, and I’m an American person. So moving around the world and seeing how cultures, naturally people want to come together, because we’re human beings, we are all made of the same stuff. So we all come together in that way. But because we’re human beings, and because we have our minds and the way that we create, we naturally diversify ourselves. But diversity doesn’t need to mean like disconnection. And that line is often… is often blurred a lot, diversity and disconnection. So like, is there a way for us to come back into recognizing our own true value, like you mentioned, and still being together as one? And I believe absolutely. I mean, I know there is. And I know that we are already doing it. But I also know that in the mainstream society where this hyper independence and this like American dream lifestyle is pervasive, not only in the US, but around the world, that sense of community and these indigenous practices and ways of being together are not going to be mainstream, you’re not going to find it. Not if that American dream lifestyle is still the one that people are trying to achieve, or what’s being, you know, the newest, hottest thing, always, always. And I’m like, okay, at this point, don’t we get that it’s just like plastic? It’s artificial, don’t we get it already? But I also think that’s part of the beauty of it. Because what happens when something becomes mainstream, it’s almost like the true essence or the meaning gets stripped away from it. So it’s beautiful to know that when we are creating community and creating protected spaces for ourself, because we have to do that as individuals. You can’t just go around calling everybody friend and doing all this and that. You have to create a protected space for your own self. But also as you develop a community that’s right for you, it has to be a protected space. So that way it can remain sacred and it can remain what you want it to remain. It can’t be mainstream, it has to be not underground and this is kind of secretive way, nobody can know about it, because that’s the essence of fear rather than the essence of love, which would be like, no, people have their spaces, I have my space, I have my people. It just came to mind that… idea that maybe this revolution for sure is happening, but it’s just not happening in a way that we can see mainstream. And that’s a good thing, that we don’t necessarily always need it to be mainstream, because then it kind of dilutes the meaning of it sometimes.
Alex Alexander 25:23
This is frickin why I love this podcast. That was brilliant. And I hadn’t thought about the mainstream, I love that. I’m gonna think more about that. I think I totally agree. I think in my lifetime, probably in our lifetime, that this is never gonna be like, the ideal community base, right? Like, this isn’t going to be some shift that’s like a complete 180. But I do hope that conversations like this, and like reframing how we’re thinking of friends, and how we’re thinking of community, and all of this will start to create small undercurrent shifts that we’ll start to see. Because quite frankly, I think that’s what people need. I guess I wouldn’t have started this podcast and be doing this work if I didn’t think it was what people need, but the world is not okay. People are not okay. I think we need each other more than we’re letting on. And it’s easy to… going back to earlier, like, it’s easy to hold people at arm’s length, when we have this all or nothing. Like we think about it after our whole conversation. The all-or-nothing is almost like designed this way. Because it keeps us apart from each other. You know, you sit there and you spend all your time thinking about what is lacking in your friendships, versus appreciating what is there. And it can be the simplest of things. We were talking earlier about the… the versions of ourselves. And sometimes I like to remind people that if we’re trying to make a big life change… so this happened, maybe two weeks ago. I’m in a group where we work on speaking, like keynote speaking. And one of the women came to the group and said, “I am really having a hard time telling the people in my life that I’m doing this.” She works in a very, like science, academic field. And she’s trying to take more of her lived experience for this keynote. So it’s not work-related at all. And she’s having a hard time telling her family and friends that this person they know, maybe wants to become a new version of herself. Like she wants to step into this other piece. And I told her, I said, “I just want you to know that we only met a couple of weeks ago. And the only way I know you is as a professional speaker. That’s who you are to me. So to some people, you are already that version, right? I have no reason to believe otherwise. And that’s beautiful. And that is like so powerful when we’re talking about like the energy and the space. And these definitions out there of friendship say, I don’t really know much about her. I know some basic facts. We’ve been in this group together for four weeks. I hope to know more, but currently, you know, she’s not my friend. She’s not my closest person, but trying to find like the value in our relationships. And if nothing else, if I don’t ever get to know her more, although I hope I do, I’m happy I could give her that, right? I’m happy I can do that.
Nkem Chukwumerije 28:56
And reflect that for her. Yeah, it is beautiful. Just speaking on like transformations and changes and stepping into new versions as friends because it’s something that really applies when you’re trying to have long-term friendships. But the shorter term friendships, but you never really like plan for short term friendships. But I have just found in my experience, I’ve had a lot of short-term friendships, I think, just by the essence of moving so much you can just… I remember the first time that I had a short-term connection with somebody that I was like I wanted it to be longer term and this person was like they already knew like that… this is just going to be for tonight, only tonight. I was traveling in Italy, doing my European backpacking trip after I graduated university. And at this moment, I was like really emotionally disempowered because of a previous experience that I had with like a group of useless boys. I had traveled to Germany before because I have some close friends in Germany and then we had taken a trip to like the northern part of Italy for some soccer retreat. It wasn’t my thing. They just invited me or my friend invited me like, “Hey, let’s go.” I’m like, “Are you sure?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” But those guys did not want me there. Like, they absolutely did not want me to be there, they just thought I was like taking up space. And so it was really, really emotionally disempowering. And like put me really outside of myself usually, like very… person who’s really able to be around a lot of people and just have a good time and just whatever. So when I had moved to a different part of Italy, and just went on my solo journey for that time, I felt like I’m just gonna stay on my top bunk bed in this hostel for the whole time and not talk to… I was really like not trying to… I’m just thinking that nobody wanted to talk to me because of that experience. It was really traumatizing. But anyway, there was a girl, a woman who came and she was doing a six-month backpacking, before she settled down and got married. And that… did that part of her life. I was like, wow, that sounds… like she did not have any of that essence, or stigma or shame or nothing. She was just someone who was living her experience, and meeting who she met along the way. Oh, you’re going for dinner? Let’s go for dinner together. Why don’t we go out here? Why don’t we go for an ice cream? Why don’t we do this. And I’m like, I could feel it. I could start to feel the essence again. And the next day, she was gone. I didn’t have her number, I forgot her name, everything was done. So that was the first time that it was kind of painful, because I was starting to feel in that spirit of opening myself up again to people to have kind of like more loving and fun relationships. But then it also helped me to understand like, of course, with time and reflection and to just kind of settle into, okay, it can be like that, that you can have those beautiful connections with people and they can be deep and they can be meaningful and energizing. But they don’t have to last forever. So I think that was sort of a seed in the back of my mind that I carried with me later on when I started doing my own nomadic travels, because I did… I have had so many of those deep and meaningful connections where you just feel like there’s no way we’re not soulmates. There’s no way. There’s no way we’re not soulmates, right?
Alex Alexander 31:58
… just appeared in the same place in the world at the same time. It’s like wild.
Nkem Chukwumerije 32:02
Right. And that can absolutely be the case, we can absolutely be soulmates. But soulmate doesn’t mean we’re gonna be together forever. I don’t believe that. I don’t think I ever really believed that. But you could have someone who is so connected with your soul, that they just support you in that moment or you’re there to support them in that moment, or you haven’t experienced together, that teaches you both something, and maybe it’s not the most comfortable, maybe it’s a karmic kind of thing, and you have it, and something happens to that experience and then you move on. And hopefully, you’re both better for it in the long run. But we have to have sort of a long-range view on it. But yes, getting back to like this idea of having, yes, the long range of view and if you have relationships that you’re looking at for long term, being able to feel like you can transform in these relationships is such a valuable skill and tool, it comes back to the self-acceptance. When you accept yourself, you accept other people, it just happens naturally. There’s not even any trying. But one specific experience I have is like the closest and longest friend that I have, from my hometown here from high school, I remember when we all moved to New… we all found ourselves living in New York, like you know, sometimes it’s just like that. Like I went there first and my sister came later for her Master’s, this friend, she was like, “Me too.” And she found her way out there to do her own thing. We were all kind of living in the same space for like a month or something like that during one summer. And I remember us having our first real adult conversation about personal change, because me and my sister, we’re sisters, but this other friend, she’s also a sister to us, but like me and my sister are blood sisters, so we have that. You know, it’s a bit different. And so we would always kind of like, not gang up on this other friend, but expect certain behavior because we’ve known each other since we’re 15-16 years old. So we expect certain behavior, we all expect certain behavior from each other. But then she opened up to us in that moment and said, “I’m trying to live differently, guys. And you just like expect me to be… I’m not… I’m not child, I’m not that person anymore. I’m trying to be different.” And we’re all like, “Oh my god, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that we were putting you into a box”, and all these things. But it was beautiful to be able to have that heart-to-heart moment and not let it just be like, whatever, you know, like, we’re friends, you know that we’re… You know how sometimes you can get into that kind of rhetoric? But to really have a, let’s all settle down and take away this label of friendship for a second. I’m a human being. You’re a human being. You’re a human being. We’re all coming from different places. We all have different journeys. And right now we’re at a moment of intersection and we’re changing in that intersection. Can we honor ourselves and each other as we change? Because we are for sure gonna pass by this intersection and go into different points in our life. But hopefully, we’ll come back together and we’ll be able to do that. Because we have honored ourselves and each other at each juncture.
Alex Alexander 34:48
I mean, what a beautiful gift to give that friend.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 34:54
This is just a really beautiful example of something that I want to do an entire episode on. So, I’m going to call it out. I think that we need to be talking more about friend group culture. What do I mean by that? Quite often with our friends, all these little micro comments, microaggressions, things that make us upset, this passive aggressiveness, it allows people to keep repeating the same cycles and behaviors. And I think it breaks up so many friendships. Now, what Nkem’s friend did here is stand up for herself. It’s like set a new precedent, break the pattern in their trio. And say, we’re all entering an area of our lives where we are changing, I am now changing, I’m trying to become a new version of myself, you need to accept this, basically. We need to start thinking differently, we need to do things differently. And it’s really impressive, she was able to do that for herself. Now, quite often, I think it is actually easier to do this for another friend. I was just talking to my sister about this yesterday, she was talking about how something hurt her. And now another friend is experiencing the same thing. And I said to her, this is your opportunity to lead by example. This is your opportunity to make it very obvious. The ways you wish everyone had acted. Just set a new precedent to make everyone think about their actions. You can do it for yourself. But quite often, I think it’s easier to do for someone else. I’m going to do an entire episode on this. But I just really wanted to point out this example. Because I think it is such a beautiful example about speaking up, whether it’s for yourself, or someone else, and how it breaks the patterns.
Alex Alexander 36:56
Because I think what happens for a lot of people is when that happens that… maybe not first time, but at a younger age. And they don’t get the response you and your sister gave, then they’re scared for the rest of time to tell anyone their new version. That’s such a beautiful gift to instinctually be able to do that. That’s not comfortable for a lot of people.
Nkem Chukwumerije 37:21
I think it was also because on some level, my sister and I, at least I can’t speak for my sister, but it just felt like it was her being able to voice her, you know, just to be able to express her emotions like that… just be real, just be 100% real to how she felt allowed for us to be like, me too, I’ve also changed. You guys don’t see. But you know, we project the fear, right? Like, someone’s not seeing us. And unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to see ourselves or to articulate what we’re really feeling. So we go and project that thing. And we kind of hold ourselves back from our full changing, but there was some divine intervention in that moment. And my beautiful friend was just able to lay it all down. And that opened it up for all of… which is that aspect of community, right? When someone is able to just be real. Hopefully it offers others an opportunity to be real. And when others don’t show up in that way, we get to really assess is this the right community for me? If I’m being real, and they’re not showing up in that way, and I don’t feel like I’m accepted, is this really the right community for me right now? You know?
Alex Alexander 38:20
I mean, I agree. I would say, I do think that this is not the norm, right, to be this. It should be. We want it to be, we want this to become the new normal. But I would just caution people, that if that is somebody’s gut reaction to give them a minute, like it’s hard when a friend changes or somebody changes and it impacts your life. You didn’t pick it. Right? And it takes practice to have your initial reaction be one of, I’m so happy for you. And to accept and grieve, and mourn what is because it’s going to change things. Now, if they cannot, if you give them a day or two, if they come back, if they’re holding strong, like, yeah, move on. Don’t keep yourself stuck there. But you know, I have some friends. And we’ve actually talked about why. It’s a pretty good group, we have a pretty good group of friends. And we’ve talked about like, why it’s such a great group of friends. And we can’t pinpoint the time this happened like the age but somewhere along the line, we kind of decided that our core value of this group of friends was growth. We will suffer through any discomfort if it means somebody in the group is going after something they want. They are making a life transition they’re excited about and it’s created this really beautiful situation where everybody’s like so encouraging and no one is scared to say that they’re changing, because there’s overwhelming evidence that when you say this thing that you’re going to do, everybody will come back with encouragement, right? Even if they’re sad, they will pause on the sadness. Like, they’ll feel it eventually, they’re not going to shove it down. And I think there’s something to be said there of like, there’s a, almost like a… I haven’t fully flushed this theory out. But there’s some kind of like a friend, group culture. And I actually think it’s partially just like an individual culture you can take with yourself, where when you meet new people, and you’re in these situations, and somebody says something, right, you speak up. And that sets the tone that putting people down for changing isn’t something you’re ever going to accept. And so in this, like self discovery piece, maybe that’s another part of this is like discovering what those values are, that we all hold, that we’re going to speak up about in our friendships because that’s going to create a ripple effect.
Nkem Chukwumerije 41:08
Yeah, for sure. And there needs to be some integration space. And all of this, all of these changes, all of these everything. Oftentimes, we don’t even give ourselves. It comes back to self. For me, this is my key area, like just supporting self, working through the stuff with self, and then the whole life changes outside of that. But of course, the relational aspect is huge in this human life. So, it’s a big part of it too. But when we aren’t able to give ourselves that space for integration, or rest or intuitive understanding, there’s an understanding that we have, based on our mind, based on our lived experiences. But for me, I’ve categorized those as conscious pieces of understanding rather than the subconscious, or unconscious, ancestral, intuitive, spiritual understanding that we get or understanding from nature that we get where… when we are not talking. We’re not having conversations, or we’re not confronting things, and we’re just being present with something. And it may still end up with a similar kind of result. Because like confronting something with this active nature and being present with somebody. You just have to be with it, right? Like most cases, you have to be with it. But going with that sense of softness, I think being able to do that with ourselves through therapeutic modalities, talk therapy, yoga, movement, you know, like aromatherapy, a holistic kind of thing just brings us into this space, where we have the capacity to do that when we’re with other people. Family, friends, any crises that arise, any bad news that we hear, the first instinct wouldn’t necessarily hopefully be to emerge from this place of like the stress or trauma response, whatever that is. But to actually be able to distance in a healthy way from the thing to see what it actually truly is.
Nkem Chukwumerije 43:02
You have to give it time, yeah, you know, be with ourselves in that process, and then re-engage. Of course, it takes time to practice that. But hopefully, the first step is knowing that it’s available, you know, that that kind of way of, that approach of being with self and being with others as available. And then I think, once we know that something is available, new opportunities arise, we don’t even really need to do much, you know, and overwork ourselves to try and force situations into what they’re not. Because when we are doing the self work and self understanding and self growth, it’s beautiful that you have a community that supports that, because that just makes it infinitely easier. But when we’re doing it, we quickly understand that we cannot handcuff ourselves as somebody else on the journey and say, let’s go now. That’s an individual thing. Right? So that’s why the time is also necessary. Space is also necessary.
Alex Alexander 43:54
Yeah, I mean, the group is beautiful, right? It’s like an amplifier. That’s how I think of it is like, we are who we are, we have to do our self-discovery. We are different versions of ourselves, right? These relationships, in my mind are like amplifiers, that when you have them, right, like the energy they give you, the space they give you, the times they hold you, the encouragement, the support, all of it. Could I do it myself? Yes. But it is beautiful to build relationships that are amplifiers. And it’s beautiful to get to amplify someone like it’s so great to say these things to someone and watch it blooming them in them. They have to do it. I never did it. Right. But I saw that it was possible for them.
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Nkem Chukwumerije 44:50
Right. Exactly. Reflecting, calling out, bringing to surface because when you’re in your own experience, it’s… sometimes it feels impossible to bring certain things to surface… to have people that you could trust in your corner, that sacred space, you know, it really comes back to the sacred nature of building the right community for yourself. It is a sacred thing, you cannot be having anybody and just anybody and just anybody in your circle. You can’t, because people will come and be bringing their true feelings about you, if you don’t really trust this person, and you invite them into your circle, they don’t really trust you, and you have this connection, the underlying feelings of that relationship really, is what’s going to really play out, it’s not really what you think it is. But if you have a true connection with somebody, and you truly trust that person, and they truly trust you, that’s what’s going to play out. And in that case, it’s a sacred thing, that you’re able to pull these gems from each other. And, yeah, that’s like, just putting everything into context with this conversation and things that I’ve been thinking about recently. It’s like, this is why community can be so life-giving or destructive, you know? Either/or. Either/or.
Alex Alexander 45:59
Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean, the destructive piece comes in, I think, when people aren’t starting with themselves. When people are just following societal messages or boxes, right? You end up in community with people who you feel like you should be in community with. The should like the should is there. But you are not yourself in those rooms. This is where that whole idea of people saying like, I am in a room full of people, and I feel alone. That is a tangible example of what you might be saying in this. And we can blame those other people. But what is more likely happening is, you may need to take step back and look at yourself and then put yourself out there to build a community that actually aligns with who you truly are, what you find when you look at yourself, and that may take some trial and error. That’s the other thing. We’re talking about all this. I think you and I have both done a lot of self work. So if somebody’s listening to this, and you haven’t, it’s just a process.
Nkem Chukwumerije 47:12
Yeah. And we’re still doing the work. It’s like, you know, a never ending… once you start that journey, you integrate it into your life. But I think being able to speak on it from this space, it sounds more like we’ve got it all figured out. And we know, I got no friends, let me just put it out there. You know, I feel like I’m in a space where I have an opportunity to, once again, look at myself and who I am in this version and realign and realign and realign all the time. But to be speaking about realignment one year ago, would have been with this kind of shakiness in my voice like, damn, once again? What’s happening? But you know, moving through the past year, and all in a lot of reflection, a lot of conversations with spirit, like, this is supposed to be the situation. So, you can realign and it will be fine. There are so many people out in the world. And you may even reconnect with other people around you. So, it’s okay.
Alex Alexander 48:10
Yes, yes. And not that you need me to say that to you, but like to the audience like yes, that’s one of these narratives that pops up in society, right, as you’re supposed to just meet people and hold on to them forever. And I just don’t think that is the reality. That is not most people’s reality. And we need to normalize that. Our social wellness, the people we surround ourselves with, is a very constant journey, right? It’s not stagnant. I do have a lot of friends, I talk about this in other episodes. This isn’t some like admission, people are like, “Oh, my gosh. She talks about friendship, but she’s about to say this.” I’ve said this before, like there are things in my social wellness, that are not what I want them to be right now. I’ve changed a lot in the last few years. I’ve had a lot of friends move away, trying to figure out how those relationships work. And I’ve made a lot of new friends in the past few years very intentionally, that support certain areas of my life. So it is a constant journey. And these people I’ve met now, you know, I might be doing this again in 10 years, in 5 years. I actually was thinking about this last night because… because I couldn’t sleep, one. But you know, there’s this idea that… I don’t want to say this, like I’ve met a romantic partner. We live in a house. We have stable jobs, all these things. Anything can change at any moment, right? I could wake up tomorrow and get hit by a truck and be gone and my partner would need to rebuild everything, right? So this idea that we can just like hold on that we will build this community and then we can like, grip it so tightly, and it will be there forever, isn’t guaranteed. Anything could change it. So I just think that there’s something about this fluidity and like accepting that it’s a forever journey. That hopefully I don’t know if that’s comforting to people or not, but it is to me, but I can also see why it wouldn’t be for other people.
Nkem Chukwumerije 50:36
Yeah, people are all different, right? Like, some of us human beings are just like, don’t have any appreciation for that, because for whatever reason. But for those of us who do, and the people who do are the ones who are going to resonate, who are going to show up, you know, and people find what resonates with them. And we’re not listening to things that don’t resonate with us, hopefully not, you know? So for those who do resonate with the idea, it’s like when that sense of acceptance is cultivated, that sense of fluidity, it’s really the feminine. In my work, a lot… I work with, like the masculine-feminine dynamic, right? We’re all living through it all the time. But in this society that… this paradigm that we are trying to find ourselves in a different relationship with, the paradigm is an overly masculine paradigm, where you can only appreciate something that you can see, not that something that you can feel, which is why there’s so much emotional chaos, so many mental health issues, emotional health issues, physical health issues, it all comes down to it. So this aspect of being able to accept and flow and have a true sense of compassion, and understanding this is the feminine aspect to be able to do that. And for me, that has been supported by my relationship with spirit, but everyone has their own way of connecting to something that feels outside of just this one human vessel that can only do so much, let’s be honest with ourselves, okay? You can only do so much, which is why we’re talking about friendship, right? Because we can’t do it all ourselves. And we’re not meant to be here, all by ourselves. But if we expand it even past, the human relationships we have, to the relationship we have with other beings, to the relationship we have with nature around us. And even if we allow ourselves to dream beyond that, even if we think about our dreams, that’s something intangible, that sometimes is the thing that’s guiding us forward in life, that’s keeping us grounded in life. That’s not another human, that’s not ourselves. So it’s just like the ways that we already do connect to things that aren’t physical intangible, and we’re not holding on physically, maybe we can have that same understanding of when it comes to our physical relationships with people, or animals or whatever. And just have a sense of like, okay, it’s all good. It’s all going to work out, there’s a way to have a larger capacity and a sense of like, ease with these things.
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Alex Alexander 53:00
Yes, I have thought about it in the feminine and masculine, because I actually think that men struggle a lot more with friendships and community, quite honestly. And studies show that and whatnot, but it’s like allowing. Allowing is the word that comes. There’s so much possibility and positive from these relationships, if we can just allow what is there to be there, and be less focused on what is not there. And when we focus on what is there, we’re more likely to invest energy, to put ourselves out there, to show up in small ways and see them as valuable. And all of that, over time is what’s going to compound and like create the… like intangible dreams we might have.
Nkem Chukwumerije 53:53
True, right? It’s that appreciation, gratitude. It is what it is. I mean, there’s so many ways to look at it, right? And we’re choosing to look at this aspect of it, which I think is what we need. We need to be seeing the appreciation, and the gratitude for what exists. And if we add that on to the kind of self-discovery work that we’ve been talking about, then you have a winning pair, I think, you know? You’re doing your own work, and you’re showing up in appreciation and gratitude for yourself. It really just happens with other people naturally. You realize that you don’t have as much to feel lack about as you previously did in this whole transformative experience of life.
Alex Alexander 54:32
So if we look at this episode as a whole, we kind of came here wondering like, what is this new version of friendship that isn’t all or nothing? And I do think, I mean, this has been quite the winding road, but we have really uncovered some new ways to think about friendship, as we’re all moving through the world. That was really great. Thank you so much for being here. And for having, I mean, just literally going on this hour-long journey on working through this.
Nkem Chukwumerije 55:12
No, thank you for holding the space. Like it’s powerful to hone in on a space, and a concept that feels meaningful to you. Because it becomes a way that people can actually spend time with something that’s important, especially something like friendship. It’s so important. So, so, so important. Our first love our first relationships outside of the additional, familial home, you know? So thank you for holding the space. Thank you for inviting me on the conversation. And I have had some illuminating thoughts for myself that I can take with me. So, that’s a beautiful takeaway.
Alex Alexander [Narration] 55:48
Thank you. My summary of today’s episode is wow. Wow. I cannot thank Nkem enough for taking the time to talk through this. You know, I think quite often we want just like a short answer, right? We want that social media caption. But these relationships are so impactful in our life. And they’re so nuanced and so different that I can’t give you an Instagram caption answer. Sometimes you just have to listen in on a conversation that is long and windy. Because that is what is going to give you the inspiration to think about how all this is playing out in your life to daydream a little bit, to reflect, to do that work. So, thanks for being here. And I would love love to hear anybody’s takeaways from this episode. I think it was such a good one.
Podcast Intro/Outro 57:01
Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram.
My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.