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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Time for the leopard to change her spots

I find the things I'm about to write incredibly confusing.

I think I'm starting to understand this friendship thing. Maybe. To be more clear, I believe I'm beginning to understand the part of friendship which allows people to go away. I think it's because for the first time in my life I'm allowing myself to move beyond my selfish need to "keep" people, into the part where I understand that they have lives separate from mine. Not only do I understand it, I find myself participating in it.

Probably it began when, for the first time in seven years, I forgot the birthday of a friend. It's not really remarkable that I forgot; this particular person hasn't really spoken to me for about three of those years. This was by his own arrangement and I had no say in the matter, but I continued to send email birthday wishes for two years and then, this year I forgot. Darrin reminded me.

I realized after I sent this year's birthday email that I didn't feel at all guilty about not remembering. It's not like my friend went out of his way anything to keep our friendship alive so forgetting his birthday seemed to be a minor incident. But I was a little bit fascinated that I felt only mild surprise at my forgetfulness. And I sent the birthday hail only because it's a habit, not necessarily because I wanted to.

This all happened about three months ago.

Following that incident I went through enormous emotional bouts where I would feel angry that friendship even existed. I knew why I was angry and it had nothing to do with the mechanism of friendship. It was because I was feeling the need to let go of some people and I didn't want to. It was a silly temper tantrum, as some of those people had already made it clear that I did not figure prominently in their lives (although some may have said differently, one gets a picture of reality when there are no attempts at contact from them, and any that I might make are allowed to fall flat or ignored). And my feelings had nothing to do with the people, themselves, and everything to do with my perception of me.

I didn't want to let them go because then I would be just like everyone else.

More than that, I think I didn't want to let them go because I really wanted to be someone who didn't let people down. I thought of all the times I was made to feel unwanted or unloved by my family--I think I wanted to save the world from feeling the same way. Maybe I thought if I was different, if I loved differently, if I never made one person feel that I didn't want or need them, everything that had been missing in my life would somehow be restored.

It doesn't work that way. What was not mine will never be mine. I can't magically make a childhood in which I was loved and nurtured and accepted by forcing those things on people who are currently in my life.

I know. All this makes me seem incredibly delusional and needy. And I suppose that's not 100% untrue. But the good news is, I'm getting over it.

Last week that birthday boy I forgot earlier this year took it upon himself to write me a rather nasty little email. I'm certain it was not his intent to be know...just explain...


To my surprise I found myself shocked and hurt for only a day. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, double checked my behavior with a few close friends and with those who had oversight in my relationship with the email author. All corroborated my belief that things were not as he portrayed them and I had no need to worry.

So I replied to his email, letting him know I had a great deal to do in the next few weeks, that I had some firm deadlines that could not be changed, and I would have to wait to send a reply until I had more time.

You see, while something seems to have motivated him to spend time letting me know how much he holds me in disdain, I really don't have time to do that to another person. And I don't want to. Also, I want to be very clear that whatever his impression of me might be, I've moved on. I have no desire to rehash whose memories are correct, or worry about what he's thinking of me, or wonder if we'll ever be friends again...because we won't. I clearly had already answered that question for myself sometime before his birthday rolled around because I don't forget a friend's birthday and I forgot his.

While I was thinking about this, I realized I had accepted the friend cycle. Wholeheartedly.

Perhaps it's a necessary component of humanity. It keeps us from drowning in drama and hurt feelings while allowing us to temporarily enjoy the delight of getting to know one another, spending time together, and moving on when the time comes. It also helps us continue to get that friend twitterpation which only happens when meeting a person for the first time with whom we are compatible. We're inseparable. We constantly talk about the other person. We plan activities, spontaneously phone or visit, and think of a future which will never happen in which we share family vacations, become next door neighbors, and our children are best friends for life. And then, in time, we tire of each other and move on to the next person who makes us laugh spontaneously, or shares a common interest, or makes us feel for just a moment that we've come home.

It used to make me want to scream--that part where you spend so much time drawing close to one another, but you know it's not forever because you're just friends. It doesn't make me feel that way anymore.

Today my computer decided to be uncooperative. I spent hours cleaning it and looking for problems. All that requires waiting time. So while I waited I went to Facebook and browsed through the pictures of a friend. Months ago such an action would have left me yearning to see that person, wishing my friend would call or chat, thinking about how accepted and loved I felt when I was with them. Today I realized I felt none of those feelings. I felt happy that we've shared so many fun moments. I was very glad we had met. But as I browsed the photos, it was clear that I figured in none of them. My friend's life is very much separate from mine and we're both comfortable with that.

So perhaps the friend cycle doesn't end with separation and distance, but with acceptance that we can only be involved as much as our real lives allow--which might morph into a situation where we rarely speak and we only think of one another occasionally, but with fondness. Maybe it means each is granted the right to relegate the other to a secondary position while they spend time with the people who are present, those they live with daily, and to whom they are committed--and that's okay.

Maybe I'm not monstrous because I've begun buying into all this just like everyone else. And maybe one day it will seem second nature, unremarkable, normal--and the person who will seem extreme and crazy will be the former me who wept over ties that thin and stretch, and relationships which wane, and former best friends who forget each other's phone numbers or addresses and only remember they were best friends when an odd memory interrupts the daily operations of life.

I used to be Winnie-the-Pooh: "If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus one day, so I never have to live without you."

I'm not Winnie-the-Pooh anymore. I still have a lot to learn, but I think I'm ready to move on and let go.

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