One of my oldest friends called me a few weeks ago to get together. She mentioned it had been 2 years since we had seen each other. That seemed like an awfully long time to not connect with someone who had been such an important part of my life.
I had felt the distance between us for some time and I told myself that this was just another loss I was going to have to accept. There seemed to be so many. As I changed, the faces of the people I spent time with did too. I know friends drift apart, but I also knew this one felt different. I knew…but I didn’t ask. I didn’t ask because I was scared. If I asked, then I’d have to deal with the discomfort. And that rarely is motivating.
We opted to go for a hike after our 2 year hiatus. The conversation was easy. We caught up a bit and shared some of our recent highlights. And then the pause…”I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something for the past two years.” She continued to tell me how hurt she had been when I was not as supportive towards her as I could have been at a time when she needed it. And she was right. I wasn’t. I was juggling so much at the time and what she needed from me was something I was not in a place to give. And instead of telling her that, I kept it to myself. I retreated. I said “I’m here if you need me,” and waited for the request. But the request didn’t come.
What I didn’t know was that she didn’t want to have to ask for help. She didn’t want to ask for my support. She didn’t want to have tell me that she needed more than I gave. She wanted to “be strong” and deal with it. And that- that feeling- I know oh so well.
So instead, she held it in. She held in the hurt and the resentment and the frustration of unmet expectations. She let it sit in the compartment that keeps us from trusting the ones we love. I hurt her. Was it intentional? Of course not. But I did.
When I told her my angle, I was honest. She had believed I was a good communicator and I am. But not always with the people I’m closest to. It took some deep digging into myself to see it. The more I attach, the more I fear being left and the more I will avoid conflict. And if I sense conflict or the risk of being rejected, I will detach. It’s a lifelong pattern I recognize and work through. The human thing is tough!
But I was also in a place I was not able to be what she needed me to be. Take out my faulty communication, I was still going through some really tough stuff myself. So much so that I didn’t even notice that I was a less than impressive friend. I was wrapped up in my own internal drama. And I also didn’t see it.
We say hindsight is clear and it is. I am grateful for it. Because listening to her hurt reminded me of how painful it is to hold on to resentment towards those we love, or once loved wanting them to be something they are not or can’t be. Or wanting what they are unable to give us at a time because of their own limitations.
I know this feeling. I have held on to strong expectations of others they could not meet. I have felt abandoned many, many times. I have been let down even more. I have detached from those I once loved instead of communicating how I felt. I have retreated and shut down when I could have made another choice….to speak up, to ask for what I need, to be vulnerable and to be loving while doing so. It doesn’t HAVE to be so hard and so painful. There is another way.
And my beautiful friend reminded me of this. By being brave and honest and bold.
How many times have you shut someone out instead of talking to them? How many opportunities have you ignored because they seemed too uncomfortable and you told yourself- I just don’t care. Bullshit. You do care. We all care.
You don’t have to change. I don’t have to change. But what if we did? What if we started to talk to each other regularly with compassion and honesty? What if we shared what we felt instead of shoving it down in hopes it will just go away? What if we spoke out of love instead of out of fear? What if we forgave each other for not meeting our expectations—the ones we can barely meet ourselves?
What would THAT be like?
Being open and vulnerable requires trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in the people around you. It doesn’t always come natural to expose ourselves. But the more we practice and open up, the more we may learn just how good it feels to be authentic…to be true to ourselves…and to feel confident enough to live and love as we are.