Historically my best friend and I have had the kind of friendship in which I’ve leaned too heavily on her at times, and in which she’s broken it off twice in the past twenty plus years we’ve been friends, and a couple of months ago it seemed as though we were heading for another falling out. The catalyst was a difficult conversation in which I changed my usual sweep-it-under-the-rug mode of communication by expressing my hurt feelings over her exclamation that she knew I couldn’t handle poverty after I conceded that I couldn’t. Poverty is not a romantic and cozy countryside cottage. It’s more like a drafty log cabin where plumbing doesn’t always work, and I haven’t adjusted to it that well.
In the beginning of this transition I thought I could live anywhere, do anything. The manual labor I performed at the grocery store in my mind warranted that I could get a job working on an organic farm, and live and work there. I’d be off the grid practically, and my dog could go with me. It would be rent-free, and I’d get a stipend for working the farm. What better way to live than off the land, working just for what I need? I didn’t need all of these extravagant extras. I could handle it because I’ve spent most of my life living with a low income, without luxury. I presented this epiphany to Kim, and her reaction was that she couldn’t see me doing that.
I’m the kind of woman who likes to get her nails done. I’m not frilly by any means, but I prefer not to leave the house without wearing make-up. When I travel, I take too much, including a different pair of shoes for every occasion. So it’s not a far reach for Kim to think I’m not exactly farmhand material.
But every time I’ve mentioned my career options to her, she’s had a similar reaction.
“I just don’t think that’s what you really want to do,” she’d said when I told her I was considering going to school to become a nutritionist. “You just don’t seem as excited about it as I am about my career change.” She’s studying to become an acupuncturist.
It was the same with my idea to become a personal trainer, which she couldn’t see me doing at all, which is understandable because when I lived near her in high school and college I spent my time drinking, doing drugs, and eating junk food. But I guess I thought she knew I worked out regularly and had my own personal trainer and thought it might be inspiring to help others, to show them they could turn around their lives too. Recently I’ve struggled to get a regular workout routine, and I wasn’t enthusiastic about borrowing more student loans to become a nutritionist, nor do I want to commit to a full year of farm work, which is what most farmers want. So Kim’s opinions aren’t incorrect. But does she have to be such a naysayer?
“I can’t handle poverty,” I told her.
“I KNEW you couldn’t,” she’d replied. My translation: You’re not strong enough. That’s not what she said, but it’s what I heard.
Upon my new decision to live a life of openness and honesty, I had decided to let Kim know that my feelings were hurt. This was over a phone call because she lives two states away from me. I can’t remember everything that was said, but I was careful about how I worded my feelings, in an attempt to avoid blame, using statements that begin with “I feel like.” Uncomfortable words were exchanged and I wish I could remember them but I can’t. A couple of days later (a couple of months ago) my dog was diagnosed with stage three kidney disease, so that occupied most of my head space, and I haven’t talked to Kim again since then.
In Kim’s opinion, friends should be open and honest with each other, and if I feel judged by her then I shouldn’t be her friend, which she wrote to me in an email afterwards. I replied that I was committed to the friendship, thinking at the time that I wanted to refrain from my usual cut and run attitude. She mentioned again that we shouldn’t be friends if I feel so shitty by the things she tells me, and asked if I really wanted a friend who’d just sit back and smile at everything. She said that I was playing the victim and that it was time I quit, and that she wasn’t going to take responsibility for something she didn’t do. She’d mentioned many times on the phone that she wasn’t going to take on what I’d told her, and internally my reaction was confusion. I wasn’t trying to make her take on anything, just trying to let her know my feelings. And she can go fuck herself. She’d also said she loved me and has seen me make so many breakthroughs, a statement that I found condescending. I think she’s trying to be supportive but there’s this part of me that feels like she uses it to gain control or power over me, some kind of way in which she’s placing herself above me, which could all be in my head, but I really don’t know.
I decided not to continue with the drama, the back and forth emails, and just didn’t reply to anything else. I thought, You want to end this friendship, then fine, let’s end it. I thought, I just don’t know what to say to you anymore. Maybe she was right and we should end the friendship. Because here’s the thing: I am tired. I find this friendship a lot of work, and none of my other friends are this intense. I want friends who support me in whatever I do, even if they think it doesn’t sound like me, because if that’s what I want to do, what the fuck do they know, and how is it their responsibility to tell me what they think is right for me? I can make my own mistakes, and I don’t know anyone who has listened to anything anyone else ever suggested unless it was something they’d already made up their minds to do anyway, because no one changes their mind after it’s been made. I felt like I was getting kicked when I was already down although of course I know that wasn’t her intention. She’d say she supported me, and I believe she thinks that, but the comments that she doesn’t see me doing that, and she doesn’t think that’s what I really want to do, these kinds of comments just add to my confusion, watering my own seeds of doubt. I’m not asking for someone to pretend everything’s great when it’s not. I’m asking for a friend who allows me to grow in my own way in my own time without negative input about how the paths I’m considering are so far off base.
In the process of trying to learn how to be more open, I’m not sure who to tell what, when, or where. I know not to talk to my mother or Kim about the men in my life because usually they have a negative opinion. When I break up with a guy, they tell me how wrong he was for me all along, confirming my suspicion that they didn’t approve, and when they don’t approve, I feel like I’m being judged. “You’re not being true to yourself,” is the message I hear, because deep down that’s how I feel, regardless of whether or not that’s what their intentions or opinions are. And while I feel that I’ve spent a lifetime of not being true to myself, I don’t know how to be different. I can’t change overnight, and find the right man and the right job. Of course I want very much to find the right man and the right job, but I can’t just be like poof! Here’s the most wonderful man in the world who I adore, and the fulfilling career. I am told that I don’t open up, that I hide, but when I talk about the men I’m dating or the jobs I’m considering, I feel like I get judged. My sponsor tells me differently, but it seems to me that no one ever says, “Wow, I can totally see you doing that! That’s so you!” I don’t hear anyone saying, “You two are perfect together—that makes so much sense!” I don’t feel like I get congratulated on my choices, and there’s a child inside me who wants those accolades, to get the gold star. Instead I get, “I can’t see you doing that.” At least from Kim. It’s fucking painful. To feel like nothing you do represents who you really are.
Because the thing is this: The choices I’ve made are the result of not knowing what the fuck else to do. It seems as though this is the path my higher power set for me, and I am just trying to stay open to that. I just try to do what’s in front of me. I can’t say that in my heart I know that it’s the right thing. I wish I could but I just can’t. Of course there’s still a child inside me who wants the world and wants it now, but at some point I have to grow up. I just don’t know exactly what that looks like.
Kim sent me an email a couple of weeks after the initial drama to say that she knew I might still be upset with her, but that she was thinking of me. It was a nice email, but I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know what else to say to her. I’d told her how I felt, she’d replied that I was playing victim. What else can I say to that without raging? I still don’t know what else to say. So I didn’t respond.
She called me a few days ago and while I wanted to ignore her I called her back a day or two later, grateful when her voice mail came on. What would we talk about when we talk? I’m not interested in arguing. I don’t feel like it’s fruitful to repeat the same opinions and feelings that we disagree over. I didn’t want to tell her that I’m now getting my MBA just to hear her shoot it down. Therefore I feel like we don’t have anything to talk about.
We finally got in touch yesterday and I ended up telling her I’m getting my MBA—technically I’m getting a dual degree: an MBA and a master’s in marketing. She’d asked right up front what I was up to and was I going back to school—I assume she’d seen my Facebook post asking about online MBAs. So I went ahead and told her in a way that I hope was without apology. I just told her that it seemed the next logical step as part of trying to stay open to what’s in front of me, that this seems to be my path so I’m embracing it. Period, end of story. She didn’t shoot it down, but instead said that as long as I was happy, and several times she said, “Wow, that’s huge. That’s a big decision,” a statement that I don’t know how to interpret, so I won’t. I just told her no, not really, just seemed like the next thing to do. The truth is that I’m just going to try it and see. I may not make it past the first class.
Our friendship is changing, and I don’t know if it can withstand this new dynamic, one in which I don’t apologize for my lifestyle or lament over my decisions, and I plan to practice honesty by voicing my opinions and feelings. Sometimes it seems like we don’t have much in common anymore. But I guess time will tell.