Do I Know You?

Like many people, occasionally I find myself sifting through my social media and networking “friends” to remind myself of how I met that person, why I connected with that person, and whether or not I still want to be connected. Given our new president and the current political divide in our country, I’ve found myself doing this a little more often in recent weeks. I’m guessing some of my “friends” have been wondering the same about me since I’ve become more outspoken about recent events. It’s sad, but I admit that I thought some of my friends had more compassion and more courage, enough that they would speak out against a bully or a dictator. And I was shocked when some of my friends made generalizations and assumed I was “one of those” just because I believe in improving human rights for all. In fact, a couple of times I wondered, “Who are you? Do I know you? I mean, do I REALLY know you? And do you really know me?”

Generally it takes me a very long time to make friends but when I do, I make friends for life. So when something happens to cause a friendship to fade, I find myself unsettled. Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Did I not say something when I should have? I find the whole process of a “deep dive” to determine what caused the end of a friendship to be disheartening and disappointing. I have a lot of questions and usually I can come up with answers. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no clear understanding of why a friendship died and I can’t help but wonder if maybe I didn’t know that person as well as I thought.

In my former job, I worked with a few people on a daily basis and got to know them very well. One woman frequently vented (and joked) about her mother’s dementia. Another woman shared her struggles as she tended to her father who was recuperating from a broken hip, then grieved openly when he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after. He died a few months later. She had to take a bit of time off of work during all of that and we all pitched in to carry her load. Sharing those kinds of sorrows create friendship bonds, or so I thought. I guess I was naïve in thinking that because we had “suffered” together, we could continue to be friends even though I crossed over to a different company. But since I am no longer on the team and don’t see those people on a daily basis anymore, they’ve stopped including me. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

I’m reminded of when one of my brothers went through a nasty divorce many years ago and his friends chose sides. My brother joked about how he was grateful that the divorce left him with six friends, enough for pallbearers when his time would come. I laughed at the time, but stopped laughing when I went through my own divorce and came out with less than six friends.

It’s easy to make friends when your kids are young. They make friends at school and you get to know those parents and you all end up at school events together, or you live in the same neighborhoods and take turns watching each other’s kids or carpooling to games or dances. But what do you do when all your kids are grown? How do you make new friends then?

Perhaps instead of making new friends, I should focus my effort on sustaining the good friendships that I have by reaching out more often. But what do you do about those friends who don’t reciprocate when you reach out and work to maintain a friendship? Some friends are satisfied with the standard, “How are you? Good. Me too. No, nothing’s new. Great catching up! Talk to you soon.” I’m finding that no longer satisfies me. I know we’re all tired and overworked, but aren’t we supposed to be there for each other? Share our struggles and our successes?

What it all comes down to is, I value my friends who share the trivial along with the grand, who are not afraid to cry amidst laughter, who dance with me when no one else is on the dance floor, and who take turns at being the initiator of our conversations. I want the friend who asks me how I am and then waits to hear the answer. And I want to be that kind of friend in return.


Life Lesson 2.0

Over the weekend I went to a high school graduation party for the daughter of one of my cousins. My cousin’s mother—my mother’s sister—was there. I attempted to greet her with a hug and got a very cool reception and no hug. It was most definitely an awkward moment. A little while later, I watched as one of my brothers arrived and this same aunt gave him a warm smile and welcoming hug.

So what did I do to deserve the cold shoulder? I’ve been trying to figure that out for a few years now and the best answer I can come up with is that my first marriage ended in divorce. I’ve never done anything to personally upset this aunt, that I know of. None of my children have ever done anything to upset her. And she started acting weird shortly after my divorce was final. Maybe all these things are coincidental, but my instincts tell me they’re related.

Divorce is ugly. It’s the rendering of a lifelong commitment two people made to stay together in good times and bad, no matter what. In my case, anger and violence caused me to walk away from the “forever” commitment I made, and I am convinced that my children and I are alive today because I did. I regret that my marriage came to an end. I don’t regret walking away from the abuse. Actually, my ex filed for the divorce, not me. He decided he’d rather be free of me instead of getting help for his anger. In his mind, I caused his anger. And for most of our married life, I believed that too.

It’s been more than eleven years since my ex and I first separated, and it pains me that some relationships with friends are still strained. We had been married for twenty years and had many “joint” friends. But we lived in a small community and people, consciously or subconsciously, took sides. For those friends who really struggled with our divorce, I made it easy on them by moving two years later. Truth be told, I was relieved to move away. I couldn’t stand the whispers every time I entered our church or a restaurant. I went back for a funeral a couple of months ago and was horrified to again hear the whispers.

Losing a friend hurts. It still hurts, even after all these years, when someone I once cared about and who cared about me still can’t find a path to be friends with me. One friend, whom I thought was a close friend, has turned down several invitations to get together for lunch or to come to a party at my new home. Once or twice “I’m sorry, I can’t” can be reasoned away. Any more rejections are difficult to ignore. Some days I feel like there’s a conspiracy against me because I moved away and I’m not one of “them” anymore. And because my ex still lives there, their allegiance is to him. Some days I feel a label is etched on my forehead: REMARRIED. Is that what my aunt sees when she looks at me?

I was blessed to be given a second chance and married a wonderful, loving man. Aside from my children, he is the greatest gift I’ve been handed in life. He grew up in a home filled with love and laughter and respect. He still struggles to understand the degree of anger and violence my girls and I lived with—when you’ve never experienced something firsthand, it’s difficult to comprehend it. He accepts me for who I am and tolerates my faults. He doesn’t raise a fist or hurl threats at me. He gives me lots of hugs. And he listens, a lot. It is because of his love for me that I know I am worthy of love.

My husband was married for thirty years before his marriage ended in divorce, “amicably.” Is that even possible? After all these years his ex refuses to separate herself from his family, and that has caused us all some angst. Even though she remarried and has a new life, she still believes she belongs at all of my husband’s family’s events. She would just love it if I agreed to be best friends with her. How can I even begin to think I could be friends with someone who hurt the man I love?

I left that graduation party thinking my aunt’s coolness toward me is her baggage, not mine. And I keep thinking about the lesson that asks, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” And the verse from Luke 6:37, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Important lessons. I am paying attention. I am still learning.