“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (Christopher Robin to Pooh)
– A. A. Milne
“What is a friend? I will tell you – it is someone with whom you dare to be yourself.”
– Frank Crane
“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately
without growing apart.”
– Elisabeth Foley
As my programs come to a close for the school year, I have been working on a project about friendship for my students. I started out wanting each of them to pick a quote about friendship and talk about how they could use their particular quote to make a difference for others. The kids have had an interesting response to the project but it has had a particularly interesting impact on me.
As I have mentioned before, when I ended my marriage and dealt with the fall-out that followed, it was quite a learning experience for me in a variety of ways. The biggest lesson I learned was about friendship. The people who stood by me did so in a variety of ways and their support, kindness and respect provided me with strength and love. However, others were not as supportive and although I understand some of the reasons why, there are certainly friendships that seem to have changed over the last three years. Not a bad thing or a criticism, just a reality check about the way life changes us – through time, events, etc.
I was in a wedding about a month ago and was incredibly touched by the words of one of my good friends. We stood in the hair salon watching the bride get ready and she turned to me and asked if it was hard for me to be a part of a wedding. She is the very first friend who ever thought to ask and I have been in or attended at least half a dozen weddings since I ended my marriage.
The honest answer is: No, it doesn’t bother me. I completely believe in love and in marriage – mine just wasn’t the right one. I love the spectacle of a wedding and the idea of a forever marriage. More importantly, in this particular wedding, I truly believe that the bride and groom are great for each other and being a part of their special day was an incredible honor.
What surprised me was that my fellow bridesmaid thought to even ask. She cared enough to take the time to find out.
After a recent miscommunication/argument with an old friend I thought a lot about what it means to be supportive of someone – in my case supportive of someone going through a break-up, divorce, etc. She said that she couldn’t believe it if I felt she hadn’t been supportive during the end of my marriage and asked if I expected her to assassinate my ex-husband to show support. I was pretty floored at her response particularly because in my mind supporting me didn’t necessarily mean hating my ex-husband – or causing him bodily harm. I didn’t hate him, I just was in a marriage that made me feel unhappy, unsupported and uncreative. I wanted something different and better and I wanted him to have that as well.
Regardless of whether or not this particular friend was supportive – her question made me think about the difference between hating him and supporting me. It also made me think quite a bit about how to articulate the issue. In my mind, supporting me meant being there – it meant listening without judgement, loving me even with my flaws, letting me vent, etc. It meant recognizing that I had my reasons and that I wasn’t going to badmouth my ex or make him the bad guy just because that provided others with a clearer reasoning for everything that was happening. It meant realizing that my life was changing and although it certainly was going to affect others as well, I was the one taking the brunt of people’s anger, confusion, feelings of betrayal, unanswered questions etc. and none of it was helpful or supportive.
The best way I can explain how people were supportive is probably to give examples:
One of my very best friends was travelling when I notified her of my separation – she immediately responded by phone and email despite being thousands of miles away and simply said “I love you and I will be there for you no matter what happens.” In the months that followed — and to this day — she is incredible at just being there – by phone, email, visits – as a friend.
Another friend took a time out from her own life for a weekend to go away with me – we walked, ate, enjoyed the sunshine. She listened when I wanted to talk and she changed the subject when I needed her to. She made me feel that despite the fact that my life was changing, I was still me — and I was doing what was best for me — and the rest of the shiite would sort itself out.
A friend I had previously worked with made sure to meet me for dinner, lunch, drinks — whatever was convenient every few weeks. She knew that between the separation, a move, a job change, etc. that I needed someone to just help me take a break and she gave it to me without ever making it seem like it was associated directly with the divorce.
Finally, my friends from graduate school distracted me with everything from invitations to get dinner to emails, from phone calls and get togethers to work on assignments to trips to NYC for the day — they were great cheerleaders for my life and my success and they gave me encouragement to focus on the amazing things I was doing instead of making the divorce such a defining moment.
There are other people who did great things to – they called more often or suggested dinners out. They sent cards or emails simply asking how life was going and telling me they cared. There were friends that came to things I was doing in grad school or shared in related activities and triumphs. In addition to being a great cheerleader for me, my sister made sure we got regular pedicures and that I took time to relax! There were also friends who simply reminded me that the best was yet to come and in doing so made sure that I took the time to put myself first, get my thoughts and feelings in order and took time to pamper myself.
None of these things had anything directly to do with my ex. Sure, there were people that remained friends with him and we had to have discussions about what that meant in terms of boundaries or how much I would share about my life, etc. There were also certainly times when I wanted to just vent and sometimes that included needing the ear of someone who wouldn’t defend him or invalidate my own feelings/experiences. But, the friends that made the biggest difference did so by recognizing — in whatever way they could — that I was going through something life changing and that meant that I might need an ear, a shoulder, a date for a night out, a personal cheerleader, a distraction – even if I wasn’t always great about asking for it.
This friendship project, and the quotes above, really stood out for me as I thought all of this through. They are the best examples I found that illustrate the support, kindness and respect that I try to offer my friends and that I have come to expect from others. I am so grateful to my friend at the hair salon for reminding me of the little ways we can show we care and to this project for giving me the inspiration to articulate all of this and get it out there for you!