Next week I’m visiting my mom in North Carolina, and my best friend from high school lives about an hour from my mom, so usually I visit her too. This time I’m not sure if I want to see my friend, who I’ll call Kim. The last few times I talked to Kim I opened up to tell her I felt judged when she told me her opinion about my latest career change idea. Her opinion usually was that she didn’t feel like whatever I chose was really “me.” She liked my idea to become a nutritionist, but had said that she didn’t believe I felt passionate enough about it, not as passionate as she felt about her career change to become an acupuncturist. After I told her I felt judged, she said that I shouldn’t be friends with her if I felt that way, and I responded that I had no intention of cutting out, that I’m committed to this friendship, because my past experience has always been to leave, and I can’t keep friends that way. She came back and told me again that I shouldn’t be friends with her if her honesty was that devastating to me. So at that time I thought, Fine. Have it your way. You don’t want to be my friend, then don’t. Her repeated suggestion to call it off, as she’s done at least twice before in the past 22 years of our friendship, seems to me like her own desire to abandon the friendship. And to that I say, You want to leave? Then fucking leave.
Kim is my oldest friend. She was the first true friend I had after two years of spending time with girls who drank and drugged the way I did, who were impossible to have a real conversation with. We dressed in black, wore dark lipstick and eyeliner, stared straight ahead when walking because God forbid we make eye contact and connect with another human being. But Kim was different. Not different in the way that she wasn’t bitchy to the world, because it was the 90s and a surly attitude was just the teenage way, but she believed in connecting with her friends. She was the editor of the high school literary magazine, and I was in her creative writing class, and she loved my writing. It meant the world to me, and she was shocked that I cared because I carried an armor of apathy to shield me from the other high school students who really terrified me. I’d already nearly gotten my ass kicked in seventh grade by the leader of the trailer park GLOW girls, whose sidekick looked like Matilda the Hun, and so I spent the rest of my teenage years with what’s now known as “resting bitch face,” an expression whose owners claim is just their natural look, but I can assure you that it’s possible to put a pleasant expression on your face.
When I think of how I haven’t told Kim about my new love or my latest plan to return to school, my thoughts are followed by, You don’t get to know about my life anymore. I wonder if I want to call her and let her know I’m visiting, then I decide that no, she can fuck off.
What bothers me is that now she’s friends with my sister, who she’ll never be able to form a relationship as codependent with as she wants to, but it annoys me because I imagine the two of them judging me because I choose AA for my solution while they can stay sober without it. I suspect they think I judge them for not going to AA, or that Kim thinks I judge her for not going to AA, but I don’t think my sister does. I feel that for me, my recovery needs some kind of solution, and that solution can’t be just what I alone think is the right thing, because I’m not a higher power and I don’t know without help from a higher power which I find not just through prayer but also through other people. But not everyone needs AA, bottom line.
When I look back, our friendship has thrived when I was in a position to lean too heavily on her, which has been most of the time. When things are going “well” for me, she breaks up with me. When I went to London, she left me, saying I was a terrible friend because I’d bragged about going there on my own. When I got married to my first husband – and I hesitate to say that was a good time in my life – she left me, saying I wasn’t being true to myself, which was true.
Recently when I told her I’d enrolled in an online MBA program, back when I thought that was what I would do, she took a different tack and said, “As long as you’re happy,” and I know she meant it this time. She didn’t judge or criticize, although she did mention several times that I’d made a huge decision, and my translation, which may be untrue, is that she’d noticed I’d made a big life decision without confiding in her about it during or afterwards. She may have been hurt, which is not my intention, but what can she expect when, in the past she thought it necessary to tell me what she thinks I ought to do with my life?
Clearly my resentment is still present and in need of dissolving. Writing about it here is part of my way of doing that.
When a friend tells me she wants to make a change, I believe that my job as a friend is to support her and to tell her that, and that I believe she should do what she feels is right, even if I think it’s a dumb idea. Unless her plan is one that could be a danger to her or anyone else, I support my friend. I don’t compare my own similar life change and talk about how my own plan is better than hers. I don’t tell her I’m more passionate about my own career change. I don’t tell her that all of her ideas reflect that she’s not true to herself. I don’t tell her she ought to do something else. I don’t tell her she’s really a wonderful person but she just doesn’t know it herself. Because when someone tells me that, although I know it’s not true, it sounds to me like they’re saying I’m (permanently) incapable of reaching my true potential. It’s not a solution.
Maybe the lesson in this is that I need to learn forgiveness, but I’m not ready for that one.
What I’d like to know is just how honest does a friend need to be? Kim’s belief is that it’s her duty to be brutally honest, including informing me of her judgments and criticisms about my actions, thoughts, and feelings. My belief is that my friends live their own lives and make their own mistakes, and my opinion on that is none of their business. For example, one of my friends cheated on her husband just for sex because her husband didn’t want to have sex with her (and of course there are other problems). Is that my business? No. Is it my job to tell her I think that’s wrong and what she should do about it? No, especially if she doesn’t ask me. I can gently ask if they’ve considered counseling, or offer my experience with infidelity (because I happen to have had exactly that same experience), and that’s all a friend should do. Contributing to someone’s feelings of rejection, shame, and guilt is not something I want to do as a friend, or even as an enemy, because there’s no growth in that for anyone.
Maybe I’m not honest enough with my friends. Maybe I’m too passive. I just don’t know, because I’m used to keeping my feelings and opinions to myself. I have spent my life hiding when sometimes I just want to say, Get real! And maybe that’s one lesson for me to learn here.
As for the other lessons, I’m sure that more will be revealed.
In the meantime, enjoy this clip from a documentary about one of my favorite childhood television shows featuring role models for fifth grade girls everywhere – or at least in the Georgia town where I grew up during the late 80s. It goes without saying we also idolized all other big-boobed, scantily-clad sex symbols, including Barbie, Daisy Duke, Wonder Woman, and Dolly Parton, to name a few.