I put on my 1950s style little black dress and a pair of sassy red heels, and I went to that wedding.
Not because I hardly even knew my cousin and her soon-to-be husband. Not because I like crowded spaces and loud music.
Because people are important, and important things take work. People take time, and showing up when you don’t feel like it, and making an effort to to be available, and patience to grow relationships and even extending olive branches when you really don’t know someone.
I was so pleased with myself that I know this now. I was so pleased with myself that I am consciously trying to build and strengthen family ties, even when I feel like I don’t really know the other person and that they might not even want to really know me. I was proud that I had put my money where my mouth was, and that I had whole-heartedly shown up, not half-heartedly gone through the motions.
Then I went home and found a sobering blow: my childhood best friend was married on the same day.
Or at least, I always thought we were best friends. I think I always had suspicions that maybe she didn’t think we were best friends. But I thought we were, and I thought we always would be. Because, of course.
You could say our families grew apart. That might be an understatement. You could say we grew apart. That would be trite. Looking back, I think we were pursuing (consciously or otherwise) totally different things for our relationship together. I think we had different ideas of what life was supposed to be like, what friendship was supposed to be like, and how we were supposed to relate to each other. The older we got, the harder I tried – and the harder it seemed to be able to connect with her in any meaningful way. The suspicion that I might not be her best friend grew into the suspicion that she really couldn’t care less, but that she was a nice person and would be nice to me.
That, in turn, grew into shame. Shame of what, I couldn’t quite say. Shame that I was a “needy person” perhaps. Shame that wanted a relationship the other person didn’t want. Shame that the other person seemed to have their life all together and mine was all a part, and that person was in a different class than me. Shame that I kept trying to pursue a friend who didn’t need another friend.
I think it was shame that finally did us in. I quit trying to hang on to the friendship, ashamed I’d tried to keep it going for so long. And I was the only one that was trying to keep it, so away it went. That only intensified my shame. I should have let the friendship die a long time ago. Clearly, I was the desperate one. Clearly, I was the pathetic one. Clearly, never showing my face again was the best option.
Years later, she “friended” me on Facebook. I was startled. An olive branch? Perhaps I’d over-reacted; maybe I was too emotional — took too personally what was only a busy time in her life. Along with the request was a brief note, trying to catch up. An interest in my life? No; she friended me, but totally hid her wall from me, never followed any of my posts, and never followed up again. A nice person, who holds me no ill will, but no desire for friendship, either.
It made me sad. Actually, it made me more ashamed. Getting my hopes up over a superficial “friend request.” Entertaining the fantasy of returning to childhood friendship. Delusion and desperate as ever. She was the one who friended me, but kept me at arms length. Still, I felt a little guilty seeing pictures of her “tagged” on her wedding day. It felt as though perhaps I shouldn’t know this was happening — that I shouldn’t really be privy to this part of her life. She sent me no invitation; why should she? We hadn’t seen each other in countless years. I’m sure I couldn’t have been further from her mind on her wedding day.
But it took my breath away. I remember us as kids, occasionally mentioning hypothetically some-days when we’d be married, speculating about the future. If you told me that on her wedding day, we wouldn’t even know each other any more, I think you would have broken my heart. Maybe my heart did break, just a little.
I can extend grace to my nearly-unknown cousin from a position of superiority. I don’t know you; I don’t need to know you. But I will grace you with my presence, just so that you know that I am willing to be your family, should you ever want one.
But I find I don’t know how to extend grace to my once-friend, who at one point allowed me nearly the same grace-from-superiority: I don’t need you, but I will pity you, and extend to you some shallow friendship. I’ll friend you on Facebook – a token gesture – but not actually invest in you.
It took the wind out of my sails. Partly, I think I am still mourning a lost friendship — a loss I tried to cram down and ignore, in an attempt to escape the shame, rather than face the loss. Although I must say, it’s only been in the last several years I’ve really learned about loss and grief and mourning. But partly because I realize that while there is a sacrifice to Showing Up when you don’t really feel like it, “grace from a position of superiority” really bites.
This is where I run into my current conundrum. There seems to be no use in pursuing people who are simply not in a place or position or a desire to have a relationship. Yet at the same time, it seems devaluing of human beings not to extend the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship. But is it really an opportunity for a meaningful relationship if it is an offer from a position of superiority — of not needing, but allowing that if the weaker one wants it, to grant it? I think myself so beneficent to have attended my barely-known cousin’s wedding, but how can that really be meaningful to her? So, I showed up. Big whoop. Sure, you have to start someplace. But a real relationship is about a lot more than gestures.
I’m not hurt that my once-friend didn’t invite me to her wedding. I hurt that not all friendships are forever. I don’t hurt that I wasn’t her maid of honor. I hurt that relationships with other human beings are so fleeting and fragile that you can think you’re best friends one year and another year be lifetimes apart. I don’t hurt that I didn’t find out from her about her wedding. I hurt that we aren’t in each others lives at all any more and have no grounds for commonality or friendship. Even if I saw her today, what what I say? What could we say? There doesn’t seem to be any scant reason for a conversation, except the distant memory that, once, we were friends. And we won’t dishonor that memory. But we can’t resurrect it, either.
It’s hard to reach out to people and to be genuine and honest. But if it’s not genuine and honest, it really stinks. Forced, shallow and polite relationships really stink. Yet real, true, honest relationships needs a lot of work. Period. Good things require time and patience and mindfulness about tending. So how do you know when to let go, and when to keep patiently hoeing out the weeds? How do you know when “showing up” is part of the patient work, and when it is almost a condescension? And why do many chasms, originally there or grown over the years, never come to redemption?