Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Sometimes We're Mean to Each Other"

Spice has her first best friend.

She's had such a different experience than Sugar. With Sugar I did the round of playgrounds and play groups since she was a baby and she had formed her first friendship before her second birthday. With Spice I didn't have the time, energy or inclination to spend hours in the playground or to give up whole mornings to cutting sandwiches in the shape of butterflies and coordinating nap times to meet up with other moms who I had nothing in common with, just so our kids could run around and torture each other into being friends. Spice seemed content to follow her sister and I around and to play with Sugar's friends and their siblings rather than kids her own age.

Then she started pre-K and there was the one person in the world who was as close to a twin as someone could be without being born to the same mother. I'll call Spice's best friend Arwen - because she is the most adorable, little half-elven looking child. I will tell the amazing story of their connectedness next week on their birthday - but for now, suffice it to say, they love each other and are the best of friends. But they struggle too. Maybe they are too much alike. They are both strong, independent girls who like to go their own way and frequently their extreme individuality clashes and they have power struggles to see whose path will be skipped down first.

Yesterday I was in the playground with them and they were struggling against each other. For a while they were each content to do what they love best. Spice wanted to climb a structure and Arwen wanted to hang from the same structure. But soon enough, Spice wanted Arwen to climb with her and Arwen was determined to continue hanging and the power struggle began.

Later, as they sat on the bench eating pretzels, Arwen looked over at me, then gestured to Spice. "Sometimes we're mean to each other," she said. Then she smiled at Spice who nodded and grinned in agreement and they went on eating. There was no indication from either of them that they couldn't navigate the meanness they sometimes heaped on one another. Just an acknowledgement that it happens sometimes. They could both see it, had both accepted that's just the way it is, and both seemed confident that their love for each other and their desire to be together was more than enough compensation for the occasional mean words and actions.

That moment struck with so much force. Wow. Could it really be possible that these little kids know SO much more than we adults do. Or really more than adult WOMEN know.

I'd had a conversation the other day with a man in which we discussed what happens when male friends are attracted to and pursue the same woman. He insisted that this wasn't a problem. That it might change the way they each thought of the woman, but not of how they viewed their friendship.

"Bros before hos," he said, letting me know it's more than a phrase, it's a set value system that is never compromised. It doesn't mean that a man doesn't touch his friend's woman. It means that even if he does - the two men forgive each other and move on. No matter how a woman could be involved with them, the two men place their friendship above all that. That men place their friendships before anything.

It's not that way with women. We recognize that we SHOULD place our friendships ahead of other things, but we rarely do. Men, ideals, other friends...we let things get in the way and we walk away from each other too easily if our ideals don't match or we cross certain lines. In fact, we set up lines and wait for each other to cross them.

We women have high expectations of each other. We judge each other relentlessly and find reasons to look down on one another. We hold each other to our own standards - and often the ones we hold each other to, without flexibility, are the ones we have the hardest time achieving ourselves. I've seen it again and again.

It's one of the reasons I don't make friends easily. I don't like judgments. I try to not judge others, and try to steer clear of those who constantly judge the people they come in contact with. And yet, I fall prey to those thoughts all the time. It takes a constant and conscious effort to recognize my own tendency to judge and to force myself to curtail acting upon those judgments. Sometimes I fail.

I realize now, with the words that Elf spoke and both her and Spice's reactions to them, that I have failed to hold back on my judgments of the two friends I have most recently lost. I viewed their actions from the perspective of my pain rather than from the love in my heart for them and I found them lacking. I focused on their flaws and their faults rather than on the goodness I had seen in them before. And rather than doubting my own pain, I doubted my heart for opening to them accepting them into my life.

When I put all judgments aside, I believe that both of my friends acted out of their own pain, their own insecurities, desires, needs and life experiences, just as I acted out of my own. If I am true to my own values and beliefs about people and actions and motivations, I would forgive them, would let go of the hurt they did to me. I would even open myself to the possibility that I could be friends with them again.

I wonder if I am truly that evolved.

With one, I may have the opportunity to find out. With the other, well, I think she is too mired in her own pain, her judgments are too woven into the fabric of her identity for her to let go long enough to see beyond them.

She not only walked away from our friendship - she dug her heel into it and maliciously ground it to dust as she went. I can forgive her for that, it's an indication of how deeply hurt she was. But, she could never allow herself to see my pain, to believe that it, or anyone's pain is as valid and capable of causing mis-action as her own. My challenge with her is to forgive her and continue loving her while knowing that she will allow herself to feel nothing but negative emotions for me. It is amazing to me that anyone can hold on to negative feelings for so long, can harbor and nurture them even while pretending to the world that they don't exist.

It probably would equally amaze her to know how much I love her, how much alike our experiences have been, how happy I am for all that has happened to me, no matter how painful, because I have learned valuable lessons. Don't get me wrong, I'm still angry with her - and I'm sure that would surprise her too. I'm sure she doesn't think I have any reason or right to feel anger towards her. But, I know, in fact I will make sure, that I release that anger and hurt with time. I am determined to one day release the judgments and be left only with the love I've always felt towards her.

The other friend may be the greater challenge. The ultimate release of judgments and hurts towards her would mean to trust her again. To be willing to put my heart back in her hands, where I once thought it resided so safely. I know I'm not that evolved now. I don't know that I ever will be. This situation reveals, so clearly, the great, gaping chasm between my head and my heart.

My head believes in forgiveness, even knows that the heart's well-being depends on it. The heart believes in forgiveness too, but will likely never forget. Cannot forget being tossed aside and disregarded after it had been so carefully placed in hands it thought would always protect and look out for it.

Ultimately, I wish that I could be like Spice and Arwen, accepting that sometimes friends are mean to each other, sometimes they hurt each other, but that the love, the bond heals all. I just don't know if I can ever be a little kid again.


Side note: It is VERY rare that I ever think men do anything better than women do. So if anyone ever wants to point out to me that there is one way in which I truly believe men excel over women, remind of this blog entry.


Jeannie said...

Looks like you're doing some deep thinking. Happy for you. Been thinking about how you wished we could be like the girls - simply recognize that we could be mean and move on with our friendship. It was bothering me how we, adults can't do that like them. How we always talk about being like children and not to lose those good qualities. Then it hit me. Unlike children, we have a lived a life that includes joys, pains, celebrations, tribulations, etc. And because of that we can't be like the children - we carry the burdens of adulthood - knowledge, wisdom, experiences that we acquire along the way. That's why it's so messy for the both parties - the one seeking forgiveness and the one who needs to forgive. It's hard. What children do remind us of is that it is possible to forgive and move on but the road to forgiveness and reconciliation is much more complicated for adults.

Julie - I have faith that all will be good. It's going to take time. I'm just glad that you're making peace. Love you.

Hope Perlman, aka Ms.Hap said...

I've had a couple of break-ups with friends, with my two best friends, actually. Both of the friendships did heal. I am back in contact with them. But the break-ups taught me that I need to protect myself a little bit from these women whom I trusted and loved. That still hurts.