Yesterday, my phone rang three times in the span of two minutes. I didn’t hear it since I had it on silent, because people rarely try to get a hold of me through verbal communication. (They know better.) But I’m an addict and check my phone every few minutes to see what notifications have popped up. So when I looked at my phone and saw that my best friend who abhors talking on the phone as much as I do called me three times and left a voicemail, I have to call her back.
Of course, I preface the whole conversation with “This better be good.”
“I got bored,” she says. And that is why we’re friends.
We talked for about twenty minutes, which for two women who’s relationship is primarily maintained through texts and the occasional Facebook post, is no small feat. It was the most random, useless, unnecessary conversation to be had. We talked about coffee, her new teaching job, politics, the weather, and how I’m still single, until her boyfriend finally arrived to pick her up from Starbucks. In less than twenty minutes, we were up-to-date on each others lives, said our goodbyes, and probably won’t speak for another few months.
But the conversation left me feeling completely at peace. I felt happy. I was filled with a sense of meaning and purpose. I meant enough to someone to warrant a phone call, and unless the call is from a collections agency, that is enough to leave me with a smile on my face. She showed interest in my life. She made an effort.
Truth be told, I’m actually horrid at maintaining friendships. Most of the time, I let the phone ring without the intention of returning the call. I ignore the texts, “don’t see” the Facebook posts, or am “too busy” to make plans. Most of the time, I’m quite frankly a terrible friend. Most of the time, I’m embarrassingly selfish and undeserving. Most of the time, I don’t pick up the phone to make the effort. And I’m the one who’s lost something because of it.
This morning, my sister came into my room and said I needed to drop her off at her friend’s house in a few minutes. I was reading and not all that excited to have to put on real clothes and venture out of the house. “Why?” I asked testily.
“Because she’s crying on the phone and I need to make sure she’s okay.”
Cue me feeling cold and heartless. I drove her over, and on the way asked why her friend was upset. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m going over to find out.”
I can remember the days when I would have done that. I would have without hesitation jumped in my car, stopped by the store for chocolate and a fashion magazine, and rushed to my friend’s side and demanded she get everything off her chest. I would let her rant, cry, yell, or just sit in silence. I would be anything and everything she needed me to be, because that’s what friends do.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped being that kind of friend. It became tiring, emotionally draining, and in some ways absolutely distressing. Part of this was because I had developed friendships with people who didn’t care about me as much as they cared about what I could give them. The other part was because I had become a sort of petulant child who didn’t get what she wanted. Life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, so I retreated.
The friends I had, the ones who were going out and living the life they wanted, were shining examples of how I was a failure. They had everything I wanted, so cutting myself off was some sort of ridiculous, immature sort of poetic justice. If I couldn’t have what they had, they couldn’t have me. If I couldn’t have the education, the career, the marriage and kids, the success that my friends had found, I didn’t want any part of it.
There is no possible apology I could make that could undo the unfair, jealous thoughts I allowed to run rampant in my mind during those couple years between my final year of college and the end of my first year of grad school. Emotionally, I was a mess. I’m lucky I didn’t end up running into the far reaches of the Olympic rainforest and become a sick combination of a hermit and cat lady. I was so lost.
I had made the ultimate mistake of cutting off contact with the only people who would be able to talk me down from my flights of insanity.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled 6 things every woman should know. The fourth thing on the list was about maintaining female friendships. While each of the points were important, this one held a special place in my heart. I’ve lived through the darkness of not having that close female friend you can call when the world seems to be closing in. I’ve been in the place where you’re sitting on your bed, tears in your eyes and a hole in your soul and not having someone to turn to, someone who won’t judge you, someone who will love you even when you aren’t all that sure you love yourself.
Women have a terrible habit of looking at other women as competition. We see them as interlopers first and friends second to last. They can sweep in and take everything we’ve worked hard for: our job, our man, even our other friends. A successful woman is a monument to our own inadequacies. Women see other women as the enemy, and nothing takes the joy out of life more than living it as if we’re constantly preparing for war.
What we don’t see is that if you are feeling this way, there are thousands of other women suffering under the same misguided, self-perpetuated delusion. We’ve created walls to keep out the only thing that can truly understand what it means to be a women in the less-than-woman-friendly society we seem to have erected for ourselves: other women.
We should be each others greatest allies, closest confidantes, and best resources. We should be there for each other, ready with chocolate and a listening ear when times are tough, or a bottle of champagne or shopping spree when life is good. We should share in each other’s success, not become envious that they aren’t our own. We should find value in friendships and the love and support they provide, rather than seeing them as stumbling blocks on our way to the top.
We shouldn’t try to do it all on our own because of some ridiculous sense of independence. There is nothing wrong with admitting that sometimes live is better lived and tragedy is better dealt with when you have a caring friend to walk through it with you.
I read Dean & Me (A love story) by Jerry Lewis yesterday. I cried in the prologue, which wasn’t promising. The book began with the demise of the friendship. And even though I knew nothing of these two men, I was devastated. They were finished, done, like a bad, heart wrenching breakup that you aren’t all that sure you want even after it’s over. It didn’t seem right.
It took Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis twenty years to be able to talk to each other. I read that and I couldn’t imagine. Twenty years without the person who had come to know you better than anyone. Twenty years without your partner in crime, best friend, confidante, support system; the person who knew the best and worse about you, but stuck around anyway. It would be like losing a part of myself.
Then I sit back and realize that in the case of some my friendships, I’m already about a quarter of the way there.
Every time I walked away from a friend, I’ve lost a piece of my heart. Every time I was selfish, unkind, less than compassionate, and petulant, I was only hurting myself. Every time I put myself first, I was blatantly disregarding God’s command to love our neighbor. And I’m sorry. I’m truly, deeply sorry.
Maybe with God’s grace and forgiveness, and my friends unexpected patience, I can find my way back.
Perhaps it starts with returning a phone call.
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