Everyone I know seems to have a thing. Something quirky that seems to happen often to them–more often than it seems to happen to others. One of my friends once told me that her thing is that toilet paper always seems to run out for her in public restrooms! She finds herself changing toilet paper or letting staff know about empty rolls more than most people. I’m guessing she’s right that toilet paper running out is her thing, since I can’t really recall that ever happening to me!
My thing is people asking me for directions. I’ve noticed that, wherever I go, people will often stop me to ask me for directions to the place they’re going. I told my kids about this not long ago, and they’ve seen how often it happens. Now it’s our little joke when people ask me for directions when I’m with them. The kids wait patiently when I’m trying to help, and then we smile and talk about it after the person has moved on. My older son recently said to me, “People really do stop you for directions all the time!”
I love it when people ask me for directions and I actually know what to tell them: “Oh, the best way to get there from here is….” This may sound kind of silly, but it genuinely makes me happy when I see the relief on their faces. They finally know how to get where they need to be. No longer confused, now they have a plan to get from Point A to Point B. It’s up to them to get there, but once they have a plan and sense of direction, they have a new confidence as they set off for their destination.
A couple weeks ago, I had a unique opportunity to give directions. I was walking back to my office across the UNCG campus. I came across a student who is blind and was walking with a white cane. I had noticed that he walked back and forth a couple times on the sidewalk among the buildings on campus. He paused moments before I was to pass by, and he turned and asked if I could help him find the building he was looking for. I started my usual way of providing directions by pointing in the direction he should walk, and then I realized he couldn’t see, so I said I wasn’t sure how to tell him the directions and offered to walk that way with him until he was comfortable he knew where he was going. He said, “Sure, if you’ve got a few minutes…,” and we were off. It wasn’t more than 30 seconds before he had regained his sense of direction, and he headed off confidently in the direction of the building where he was going, and he said he knew exactly where to go once he was inside the building.
I especially love when I can help people with directions when I’m in new territory that I don’t know well myself. Earlier this year, I was in Montreal for a conference. I had an afternoon to wander and explore the city, so I set off with just a general idea of where I was going. I walked by the Conference Center where the conference was being held, and then kept walking around to explore the sights and scenes in Montreal. I’ll admit I was more uncomfortable there than when I travel in the US, since many signs were in French–a language I think is beautiful but don’t understand at all! As I walked on, I noticed a woman approaching me, and I could tell a question about directions was about to come my way. Oh no! I didn’t know where anything was in Montreal, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be of any help. But then, lucky for us both, she asked me where the Conference Center was! Of all places she needed to go in Montreal, it was the one place I knew how to get her there. I pointed her in the direction of the Center, and she happily went on her way. Again, from confusion to confidence, all because the directions to the next stop were now clear. Even in my own discomfort, I was able to help as we both navigated this unfamiliar territory.
I have to confess, though, that even though giving directions is my thing, there are times when I don’t know where to tell the person to go. When I can’t help. When I don’t know how to guide people from where we are to where they want to go. If I can, I may try and help them find the information they’re looking for, such as by looking up an address on my phone or asking another person standing nearby. But sometimes, the best I have to offer is a general direction to travel, in hopes they’ll find someone there who knows the directions.
As we are gearing up to launch the Healthy Relationships Initiative, I’ve thought often how our goals for the initiative are similar to offering directions to someone who is trying to find their way. The truth is, we may all know our desired destination for our relationships–We want to build happy, healthy, and safe relationships with the important people in our lives. Sometimes, though, we just don’t know how to get there from where we’re starting from. Just like someone can feel lost and confused when navigating around a new city or part of town, people can feel lost and confused when navigating new relationship experiences and challenges. Unfortunately, though, it’s harder to find a map toward healthy relationships than it is to find a map toward a geographic location.
Through Healthy Relationships Initiative, we aim to build a network of information and resources to offer a “map” for building happier, healthier, and safer relationships in our community. Sometimes, seeking help for your relationships means learning brief bits of information–such as through our Toolkits and through information we’ll share on our social media channels–that you can apply to your relationships. In other cases, stronger relationships can be built by attending educational programs and activities where your guides walk beside you and help you learn and practice relationship skills so you can grow more confident and competent in navigating new territory in your relationships. And, sometimes, reaching out for help for your relationships may mean connecting with a counselor or other family service professional, with whom you can walk together as you navigate the complexities and uncertainties of your unique situation. In any case, when you’re feeling lost and confused about your relationships–or even if you’re just in need of a little boost to make sure you’re heading in the right direction–know that there are people, resources, and organizations in our community that are ready and waiting to offer you support. You just have to reach out.
I can’t promise that it’ll always be easy to get the help you need to support your relationships on the first try. But, given what I know about many of the people and organizations who work in our community to support people in their relationships and families, I can promise you that there are places to turn when you are ready to reach out for help. Many of them are ready and waiting to offer you not only “directions,” but also to walk alongside you as you work toward building the happy, healthy, and safe relationships that you desire!