Sometimes late at night when life is stressful it’s hard to shut off all the running dialogue in my head. When it’s been a particularly hard day, it’s the highly critical voices that keep jabbering long after the rational and kind voices have fallen asleep. I lay there in bed thinking, perseverating, contemplating but it’s fairly useless a process because no matter how much I turn it over in my head, no matter how I try to counter the criticisms I hold over myself, no matter how bright the future is apt to seem the next morning I cannot shut it off.
I recently had a rough interaction with someone I’ve known for a long time. We were friends, I suppose, depending on how one defines that. For myself, I consider someone a friend based upon the conversation we have, the deep moments (online or offline) we share, how well we respond to one another in vulnerable times. Some friends are those people I call when I have to get the voices to be quiet. Some friends I won’t burden with my blatant insecurities. It all depends on how safe I feel in that friendship. This friendship was, I thought, filled with fairly deep moments and a great deal of vulnerability. We are divergent opposites in nearly every way but we’d been able to find our common ground over the last 10 or so years and that’s encouraging. Unfortunately, the rough interaction ended our friendship and though my instinct, generally, is to pursue and repair relationships, in this case that’s not possible. This friend has no interest in being in relationship with me any longer.
It leaves me hanging, then, suspended and questioning. I envy people who can move on after friendship break ups. I lay awake at night and wonder where I went wrong, perseverate about things I said and did, regret this, regret that, justify this, justify that. In the end I am laying awake and wondering, “What if all the worse things someone believes about me are actually true? Am I a bad person?”
Now, before you rush to tell me I’m not a bad person, it’s important that I tell you that this questioning isn’t about tearing myself down and wallowing in guilt, or at least I don’t want it to be. I realized the other night as I considered all of the relationships I’ve had to walk away from, that I can count them on one hand and that’s saying something. Instead of patting myself on the back about that though, I do think it’s important to take seriously the gripes that those people have issued about me and about my character. Am I controlling? Am I divisive? Am I insincere? I ponder those questions because I sincerely want to avoid being those things. I don’t want to dig in my heels and just feel better about myself. I want to be better than I am.
I don’t take these criticisms into me. I don’t let them take up residence in me but I do listen to them, like I listen to the Jehovah’s Witness who comes to my door and catches me at home. I listen and try to understand. I listen and nod my head. I listen and question with people with whom it’s safe to question but I listen. I have to ask the hard questions. As much as I thrive on affirmation I know it’s important to engage the criticism, I know it’s wise to listen and hear and then answer in the best possible way. In the end I can only respond with love and sometimes the loving thing is to walk away from that relationship. It doesn’t mean that the gripes weren’t rooted in some truth and it also doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.
The reality is that relationships are always messy. They are a mishmash of personality and injury and history and vulnerability. I am not going to friends with everyone and probably it’s not terribly healthy to try to be friends with everyone anyway. But I can ask myself the hard questions in the wake of the “rough” times and if I’m doing it right, I can silence the insomniac voices in the night by responding with love, for myself and for those lost friendships.
What about you, dear reader? Have you ever had a friendship end suddenly? What did you do with the feelings that were left on the table?