I sat across the lunch table at Chili’s listening with increasing discomfort to my friend, a woman I’d known for nearly forty years, tell a story that absolutely horrified me. She is a superb storyteller, funny and smart and full of great analogies. Only a few of the many reasons we’ve been the best of friends for most of my adult life.
Only now, her most recent story caused me considerable embarrassment.
She and her husband had just returned from a trip to Ireland, where they had taken a walk on a country road. Two young chaps in a horse-drawn carriage offered them a ride. My friend, let’s call her Selena, tore into them about animal abuse. Her husband had to drag her away before the exchange got violent.
Selena, who is very active in animal rights, expected me to agree. Not only do I vehemently disagree (what does she know about the nature of this animal’s life? The ride could be the best part of its day for all we know) I was shocked by this woman who used to be very worldly and travel-savvy.
Not her country, not her culture. I have traveled extensively and seen many things that appall me, but it is not my place to attack, demean or browbeat others who have a fundamentally different way of being…especially outside our borders. However Selena has become what can only be called something of an animal rights Nazi, unconditionally intolerant of anything, anywhere that doesn’t fit what she believes is right.
That kind of righteousness gives me the heebee jeebies. Travel has made me more tolerant, not less.
The Rift of Politics
It wasn’t just that. She insisted that I “give Trump a chance” knowing that I’ve been raped and molested, and that I had ( now totally justifiable) fears. I can spot a predator a long way off. I’m not the only person who lost friends over the last election.
I heard the fabric of our friendship rip.
Later she angrily came after me about a comment that she claimed was “insensitive” to people suffering from anorexia and bulimia. As Selena knows full well, I struggled mightily with both for four decades. She’s had weight issues, but not eating disorders. Nobody has been a bigger cheerleader for every ounce she lost through Weight Watchers than I have. It felt like a sucker punch.
Our lunch rules used to be that one of us would go first, and the other would listen as long as it took to get caught up. Selena had gotten into the habit of interrupting me every few sentences to veer off in a new direction. After a while I gave up. She clearly wasn’t interested. That’s okay; she doesn’t have to be. However then I was treated to about an hour or so of listening to her discuss all the latest illnesses and symptoms she and her husband have been experiencing.
Old People Talk
Not to denigrate her reality, but if there is one thing I cannot bear about old people it’s the incessant focus on what ails them. I’m not interested in a blow-by-blow account of your latest stool sample, thankyouverymuch. I make fun of my epic injuries. It at least, for crying out loud, there is a major story attached to them. To wit, yeah, I broke my back last year. While riding a horse at the full gallop in Kazakhstan…and I was 64. If we must discuss our bodies and what we pull off them to inspect later, at least can there be a worthwhile tale other than someone beaned you with a ball peen hammer during a political argument at the repair shop?
I had a 33-year friendship with a mentor who, in all those years, only once mentioned the word arthritis in her fingers in passing. She was in her nineties. She just had more interesting things to talk about, just as we all do when we’re busy and engaged.
As I sat watching my four-decade-long friendship die in front of me, I was forced to ask some hard questions.
When was the last time she’d taken my calls?
Several years ago. Each time she heard my voice I got the identical response: “Honey I can’t talk right now. I’m too busy.”
Look, the hints were there for along, long time. We can ignore or deny the signs, desperately wanting the friend we knew to show back up.
What We Have Left are Remnants
Selena had moved on a long time ago. All we had left were the thin threads of memories of much closer times. My role in her life was to provide her with bragging rights to having a “best friend” who swam with sharks, climbed Kilimanjaro, rode horses all over the world and kayaked the icy waters of Iceland.
The simple truth is that she didn’t want to deal with me any more. That is her perfect right.
One of the reasons Selena always loved me was that I never asked her to be anything other than who and what she was: incredibly smart, funny, talented, vivacious, lively and very, very opinionated. It’s not my place to try to mold others to accommodate me. That her life choices have taken her down a different set of paths is just life. Neither of us is wrong. Our paths have sculpted us into very different people.
It’s been nearly two years since that lunch. I got one angry, demanding email requiring me to explain why I hadn’t been in touch, which came eight months later. The tone was enough to push me away even further. I just let it go. Selena needs to be right, and a conversation had the potential of leaving us both angry and unhappy.
That’s not how I choose to remember Selena. I remember the girl who would to beat me at the “bare boob flash” game in the restaurant parking lot. The woman who told stories that made us laugh so hard we farted, which made us laugh even harder til we cried. The woman who was so full of life and love and acceptance. She still lives inside me and I treasure everything we had.
And I also honor that she has chosen differently, and I can’t follow.
Whether we are twenty or forty or sixty-plus, as I am, the matter of losing close friends can be heartbreaking. We reflect those with whom we spend the most time. If one of those connections somehow goes toxic, it’s time to move away, preferably without rancor or blame. I don’t need or want my friends to agree with me on everything. However I do need, as we all do, to feel valued. How many times did I have to be told “I’m too busy” before I get the message that I’m no longer a priority?
Way too many times.
Just because a friendship has been a part of your life for decades isn’t justification for hanging on for old times’ sake. Housecleaning has to happen in our inner circle of friends as well. As we evolve and change, we sometimes have to shed those who no longer support where we’re headed.
In many ways I miss her, but what I miss is what was, not what is. But just as with our kids and our parents, those we love need permission to go their own way, even if it is away from us.