Some friendships fade into memory. You both just grow your separate ways. It’s an organic occurrence.
And then there are those that require more formal proceedings.
Linda* was in my life for 13 years. We met during our first year at university. I was totally friendless and she was “friendly” (maybe desperate and needy is closer to how it felt). I had a rocky start after I left home for the first time. It would be most polite to say that she was a supportive and caring friend – except that she seemed pretty intent on the latest emotional carnage and debauchery headlines of my life at the time.
To stay in this relationship for as long as I did, I told myself three things:
- I should be grateful that someone that knew me from this less pleasant period in my life wanted to know me, let alone be friends;
- That it wasn’t nice to shun someone that was making the effort to keep in touch;
- There was no real harm. After all, it’s not like we live near to each other.
So this is how it was for me: When Linda wrote I didn’t particularly look forward to her e-updates. Like glossy magazines – nada substance that sustained any interest. Not even an outfit or an interior decorating tip I could use. She hid behind the chronological life events that she shared. And in case you were wondering – it was the same thing in person. Ho-hum.
Admittedly, I rarely wrote back as a result and only did so when a phrase with a guilt inducing intention would trigger me.
This pattern must have been wearing on me for the truth to bubble up from within rather quickly one day.
My soul’s wisdom surfaced:
You recognize friends. You don’t make friends.
There are no ‘transactions’ in friendships. Friendship is a symbiotic, playful, heart-warming affair. Space is shared, each is heard. The conversations are dialogues (or turn-taking monologues gratefully aware of the gift of the other’s presence). The ‘tick-tock’ of time is magically transformed with the fairy dust of intimacy. Gorgeous. Effort-less. Bliss-full.
My experiences of this came to mind:
These friendships feel like conversations of great depth, realness and imagination. We vacillate between being drawn to the same things or introducing each other to experiences and expertise. And what if there’s conflict? There’s no projection or if there is, it’s acknowledged as such and we talk about it. It’s not personalized – I don’t make it about them and they don’t make it about me. It’s about what’s going on within. It’s a problem that needs a flashlight and compassion on everyone’s part and together we create the conditions for that to happen.
Blame just cannot exist in that environment. Only revelations can happen.
The best part?
I never work on these relationships. The focus is on each of us evolving ourselves so that we can delight in each other’s company. We recognized each other as friends when we met. Just as growing apart can be organic, so can growing together.
Being my own friend, I had to ask: “Why are you putting yourself through this with Linda if you know differently?”
Here’s what I came up with: The odd time Linda and I, we’ve had moments of understanding and connection, but it’s rare and always brief. I used to think it was enough. Our last contact was one of those. She’d just had a baby, so I guess it’s not hard to connect over that. She has an air of “there’s a right way to live” about her. I thought she knew something that I didn’t. Had something that I didn’t.
Editing my existence so that I could be an acceptable read was intolerable self-invalidation. Rather – could I actually be living the right way for me? And could Linda be living the right way for her? Was it possible to work this out after all? It was just a thought until …
Email from Linda: You are not to give my email address out to anyone I don’t know personally. Refer people to LinkedIn for business related queries. Period. Oh and hope you’re well.
She lives in another city and my friend, Mike* had just moved into her neighbourhood. He’s meeting people to make himself feel at home in Toronto and he happens to be interested in exactly what Linda does for work verbatim. So I connected them via email.
I needed to remind myself that I hadn’t committed a crime, though I had a minuscule moment of considering that I had based on what she wrote.
I envision people clamouring to speak to one another about work they’re passionate about – connecting to one another to help and be helped and not knowing the difference. And everyone loving the effort-less-ness of it all.
I imagine McLuhan’s “global village” except not by chance, but rather by design and friendly too. And so I experienced her response as a whack upside the head with a rolled up newspaper.
I read and reread the e-mail – she had forwarded Mike’s message below hers – looking for reassurance that I hadn’t read him wrong. I hadn’t. He sounded as lovely as I know him to be. I would have been thrilled to meet him. I couldn’t have seen her response coming from a mile away.
And that cast the history of our friendship in a clear, accurate, ugly light. I hadn’t really been paying attention…or even engaged. I tolerated her friendly overtures and despite my passivity and indifference slipped into the illusion that we were “friends”.
We weren’t. We aren’t. Anymore.
Linda helped me to see the pattern of passivity in myself derived from the things that I told myself to maintain my behavior and psychic investment with her. Once I had that insight, it could really be over. I literally and suddenly had no need, no desire, no energy whatsoever for that kind of interaction.
We divorced on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Different approaches to life. I thanked her in my heart for being who she is and for teaching me that the quality of a connection does indeed count. Though the encounters were brief and therefore seemingly innocuous, they infected me in ways that I didn’t even know. Dulling my perspective how the constant negative slant of newscasts do. I certainly didn’t need to fend off her disapproval or try to win her approval even psychically.
I decided that what she thinks of me is none of my business after all.
I wrote her back: Thank you Linda for letting me know your preferences. It has given me a lot of clarity. It has also helped me to realize my own preferences. I will not be in touch anymore. I would like a different experience for myself and my friends when I put them in touch with friends.
Ruthless compassion is making yourself count for real.
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