True friends stab you in the front. Oscar Wilde
A month or so ago I met up with an old friend for dinner. We’d planned this via email months in advance as we live at opposite ends of the country and we don’t get a chance to get together often. Like a kid before Christmas morning, I can get very excited about visits like this. I imagine how we’ll gab the night away sharing stories, arm in arm, laughing. I thrive on this type of intimacy. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Man are you ever setting yourself up for a fall. It’s true I am a bit of a dreamer and a hopeless optimist. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m a bit of a people pleaser too. Okay, maybe a little more than a bit.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Suffice to say I was eager to see my friend. We had once worked so closely together and got to know each other through the work we loved. I admire her wit, her way with words, the advice she’s given me in the past. The last time I saw her she listened intently, her hand in mine as I gulped tears after my mother’s death. I like to think I provided the same support to her, that there was something more to our relationship than her helping me and our shared work.
So the day finally arrived. No doubt I was tired. We were getting together during my busiest season. Maybe I wasn’t my normally enthusiastic, over the top self. I know my energy was low. Did she read something more in my eyes, my disposition?
I don’t know.
But when she walked in, she looked at me as if I were a stranger she was meeting for the first time. Her smile was weary, her hug wilted too quickly. Perhaps I was reflecting what I saw in her and she was simply responding to my cues. I grasped for more zeal and passion. In my case, that means filling the air with my voice. Talking.
At first, I thought the stiffness was the same sort couples experience when they haven’t seen each other in a long time, the kind inherent in long distance relationships. I was sure as the night wore on and we got reacquainted this distance between us would pass. It didn’t.
Our conversation was stilted and forced. Questions asked on both our parts seemed to be asked not out of genuine interest, but rather to maintain some façade. It was perhaps our way of trying to rescue the evening. My hands were wet. I shifted in my chair, looked around the restaurant as if somewhere out there I’d find just the right topic or thing that would lead us back to our friendship. Maybe I tried too hard. Isn’t this what people pleasers do?
I wept that night after we said good-bye. It felt like I’d lost a best friend. Had the miles and the time apart made us strangers? I have other friends who I don’t see often because of distance, commitments, work, and busy lives. But when we come together once every few years it feels like time has not gone by. I’m not sure why I felt the need to say this. Does it really matter? That’s like the bigot who insists he’s not a bigot because some of his best friends are people of colour.
I don’t know what happened with this particular friend. I did (and still do) think about writing to her and opening up about how I feel. But that thought frightens me. Perhaps she didn’t see the situation in the same way. Or maybe it was never the kind of friendship I thought it was. Perhaps she gave and I just took.
Then again, she might tell me I have a vivid imagination and I’m making something out of nothing. And that would just be another stab to the front. Something I’m not sure I could handle.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s just stupid. Get on with it. If this friendship is special why not call or write the woman and clear the air.
You’re right, of course.
Except, for me at the moment, it’s better to preserve what was. Otherwise I might discover something about myself in the process. And that just might be as tough a thing for me to accept as the loss of this particular friendship.
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