Not speaking up can be one of the most dangerous things any relationship will ever encounter. Bottling things up, keeping a running total of hurts, offenses and injustices until eventually there is no salve for the open wound. Until finally, when the pain of not talking, of not sharing and explaining gets too great and that person explodes… or perhaps simply walks away.
When a friendship, or relationship, ends like this usually one person is left in shock, not understanding what happened, where the outburst came from, or why the other person won’t say what is wrong. Often, there is nothing that the shocked person can do to save the situation at this point, and in the days, weeks and months afterwards they go through something similar to the grieving process (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance).
After my best friend of many years wrote me what can only be described as a lengthy “Eff you” e-mail, I found it so hard to forgive and forget. I don’t remember when – what year – the execution of our friendship took place… I have since deleted the electronic version during a bout of depression, and found and shredded the paper version amidst the raging triumph of (partial) acceptance.
I never fully came to terms with the circumstances that surrounded our expiration, but I did come to understand that from her point of view it wasn’t so sudden. That she had been grieving over our friendship for months without saying a word. That she had been upset, frustrated, angry and depressed, and had finally accepted that our friendship must go. It was awful that it was news to me, because I know that had I known what was going on in her head I could have responded to her feelings, her needs. I could’ve been a better best friend to her, and in turn she a better friend to me. And we could have remained best friends throughout these past several years.
Some might chastise me, “How can you call yourself a real friend, a best friend, if you didn’t know that she was upset with you? With things going on between you? That she was done?”
My response? “There was more going on in life than just the issues between us, and some people are just really good at hiding their emotions and never speaking their thoughts.”
And actually, I do remember asking her on a few separate occasions, if anything was wrong, if she was upset with me. Nothing ever came from those inquiries and rather than press, I left well enough alone, assuming that her troubles swam elsewhere and hoping that our friendship would help to buoy her spirits in other choppy waters. I shouldn’t have assumed.
Six weekends ago she got married. The weekend after, I attended the wedding of another best friend.
Shawn Alexander (not of Redskins fame) said, “Time heals all wounds, unless you pick at them.”
This fall, I realized that my wound – inflicted during her abrupt departure from our friendship – had almost completely healed. I hadn’t picked at it in years, and I wasn’t hurt anymore, nor was I angry or depressed. But I was something… what was it?
Then I realized – I was saddened that I wasn’t there. At her wedding, watching her Happily Ever After. This person whom I’d loved, supported and respected for so long (and in fact, still cared for) had found her match, her partner… and I didn’t even know him. That I wasn’t there to see their happiness, to feel it and celebrate with them.
I’ve only dreamed about my own wedding once or twice, but over time there have been several friends that I just knew I’d be there to see their weddings – and she was one of them. But her Facebook status confirmed it: she was married. And I wasn’t there.
I sent her a message… an electronic olive branch wishing her a hearty “Congratulations! I am so happy for you!” The branch was also colored with a twinge of remorse:
“I am *really* happy for you, but if I’m being honest I was also a little sad. I guess a part of me, for so long, always figured I’d be there to see you get married to your happily ever after. I regret that our friendship ended because of things left unsaid and with an assortment of hurt feelings and frustrations. Truly, I never meant to do ANYTHING to hurt you… I hope you know that.”
I tried not to expect a response; and I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it if one did come. But a few weeks later, she replied:
“I thought about you that day- I thought how I really wanted you to be there, and in the months beforehand I went back and forth about inviting you. I just didn’t know where we were with everything. But in retrospect, it really didn’t feel right that you weren’t there.”
“And in the end, it was totally unfair of me to hold on to stuff until it got to the point of no return. That’s completely my fault, and I’m sorry for that.”
There is was. The olive branch accepted, returned. The final bit of poultice cleaned off of a wound, now healed. The potential for a friendship to re-emerge from charred memories that used to be ablaze with pain, a phoenix that can arise from those now-cool ashes and accept an invitation to coffee, or dinner, with a simple “Yes, I’d like that very much.”
Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver, the other gold.
~ Girl Scout song