When I was in college I befriended a woman named Lauren, with whom I had some but not many things in common. This was never a major issue in my mind, as I have never considered similar backgrounds or interests to be determinants of a successful friendship. I admit that my views on this are largely theoretical (i.e. where do you draw the line in determining what constitutes enough/not enough in common? My guess is that this determination is either arbitrary or based on personal preference). But they are also based on the practical: some of my closest friends are from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds than I am; others are incredibly artistic, while I cannot draw stick men; a few are different races than I; most are less educated; and many of them have been married for years or have children, while I can claim neither. To me, a good friend is someone who is loyal, loving, caring and engaged. And I don't think personal background or interests come into play in this.
I always assumed this was the case with Lauren. We went to different colleges and studied vastly different subjects: her, Graphic Design; me, Political Science. Afterward she moved to Colorado; I moved to the further north on the East Coast. But we were best friends -- we stayed in touch non-stop, shared everything and seemed to be on the same page about what friendship is and, therefore, what it entails. We never had similar stories to tell, per se, but I didn't see how this was relevant to our friendship. In my mind the fact that she dated someone significantly older was her personal choice, and it was my duty to support her. It was like her decision to move to Colorado and purchase an SUV. I assumed she felt the same way about me and my choices, which included dating someone I met when I was only 21 and getting rid of my car when I moved to the city.
When Lauren moved to the Northeast a few years later to begin a career at a successful regional magazine, I was delighted. It was still going to be a hike to see her, but theoretically it was possible to drive, while driving to Colorado wasn't. I looked forward to us seeing considerably more of each other. When another friend asked me if I wanted to take a trip to the city in which Lauren lived, I didn't even hesitate to answer. Yes, of course, I would love to go with her! I would get to see my best friend!
But the weekend didn't go as smoothly as planned. I had a fairly good time, to be sure, but external circumstances intervened, and she seemed to spend the weekend irritated with me. It made me sad even as it happened, as I wasn't sure how to prevent or placate such irritation, but I didn't consider it a real reason to worry. I obviously had encountered irritated loved ones before, but I had never encountered it with Lauren.
My tack in those types of situations had always been one of two extremes: to cry, apologize, almost over communicate my view of what had happened and change to accommodate the other person's preferences or sensitivities; or, to cut all ties with said person, of the view that I had done nothing wrong and that he/she was merely being childish/selfish/unreasonable. I tended to take the first tack with those I was close to and the second tack with not-as-close friends or acquaintances. Given that this was my best friend, option #2 wasn't a real option. So, I cried, apologized, over communicated my view of what had happened and set about trying not to irritate her the rest of the weekend. When it ended, I headed further south and we went our physically separate ways. But I never thought our ways would be completely separate. The last thing she said to me that weekend was that she loved me and wanted me to let her know when I got home safe.
For the next six weeks Lauren never took my calls or responded to my emails. And she never acknowledged the package I had sent her to thank her for her hospitality and welcome her to her new home in her town. When I innocently inquired whether she had received it, her response was nothing short of gut-wrenching: she hadn't received the package, but she was no longer interested in being my friend. We were too different, she said, and we always had been. Our weekend had proved that, but that fact was most evident in her relationship with an older man and in my long-term, on-off relationship with Mr. Wonderful. She wished me the best but no longer wanted to maintain our friendship.
And that was that.
Everyone I knew was stunned by her reaction. It seemed heartless, cruel and tone-deaf. If we'd always been different, why was now any different? And did a weekend that was spent with awkward third parties lead her to believe that the problem wasn't that we hadn't seen each other in a while and were out of our elements but me? How could she be so quick to cast me aside and to blame me? I didn't have the heart or the energy to cry, apologize, over communicate my view of what happened or set about trying to remedy the situation. I just let her go. In my mind, the friend who so easily walks away from another is a fair-weather friend. The stakes are considerably higher when that friend is your best friend.
Earlier this week I journaled about my tendency to overcompensate and to try to prove myself when I feel or am made to feel insecure. I traced that insecurity and pressure to prove myself back to elementary and middle school, when I was awkward, nerdy, unattractive and decidedly uncool. And then I traced it to high school, when I wasn't awkward but wasn't flirty and felt pressure to prove myself as someone that guys should want to date. And through college, when I successfully proved that I could be an all star in our department but only did so because I was embarrassed I had floundered academically so long prior. And through grad school, when I tried to prove that I could "hang" intellectually, and in my first career jobs after grad school, where I tried to prove that I had what success requires. But most of all in my friendships, as well as through my eight-year relationship with Mr. Wonderful, attempting to prove that I love and fit him and that he should look no further.
As I journaled this the other day, my plan of action became utterly clear to me: I decided I just have to stop.
I'm not the coolest person in the world, but I'm not the lamest either. And I'm not the most beautiful but, in the words of India Arie, "I've learned to love myself [and my body] unconditionally." I'm also not the most intellectual, but I was incredibly successful in both grad school and college. And though I could succeed in the realm/industry I went to school for, I haven't strived for it because I haven't come up with a suitable answer to, "Do I enjoy it enough to pursue it all costs?" Most importantly, I do love and fit Mr. Wonderful -- this isn't a play where I have to act that part; I've proved that I love him time and time again. I'm well aware that I am not the best at a million other things, but I'm learning to be secure in what I am. I'm proud of what I accomplished and the people by whom I'm surrounded.
So, when I got an email from Lauren this morning, after roughly three and a half years, I didn't cry, apologize for handling things poorly then, over communicate what I think happened, or set about making up for lost time and restoring our friendship. It wasn't me who killed it. But I also didn't fill up with anger inside and respond, "HOW DARE YOU, AFTER ALL THIS TIME?!?" She either knows what she did was wrong, or she doesn't. Me telling her how hurtful and childish her behavior was isn't going to convince her of it. It will only make her more defensive.
But my response was of neither extreme for one single, solitary reason: I no longer care what she thinks about me -- about the choices I've made, how successful or unsuccessful I am, my relationship with Mr. Wonderful, or whether or not I'm worthy of her friendship. As Sally Field said, I've decided not to judge myself through her eyes or anyone else's -- be it my peers', my colleagues', my other friends' or Mr. Wonderful's. I am who I am -- loving, giving, smart, worldly and attractive, and I am proud of that person as I measure myself by my own high standards. I have a long way to go, and I hope I will never settle for less than what I want for myself. But I am done trying to be what anyone else expects. Including Lauren.
"Hi there -- thanks for your note," I responded. "I, too, was in our college town this weekend, as Mr. Wonderful's Mother passed away and I was in town for the memorial service. I thought of you, too. I hope you are well as well." And that was it.