Closing doors, opening windows, emptying spaces

Last night I received a nice email from a former friend. It was an apology for things that have disrupted and eventually ended our long friendship. I read it last night, again this morning, and am now organizing my thoughts here before composing my reply.

I had the pleasure and privilege of lunching with trainer J and new tribe friend C yesterday. While J and I have had many, many free-roaming and far-reaching conversations over the months of working together, this was my first real opportunity to have an extended conversation and get to know C. I am not kidding when I say her charm, kindness, and wisdom have turned me into a huge fan-girl. Funny that a 3-hour lunch with people of such a varied age range – J is 28, I am 55, and C is 67 – could be so lively and entertaining.

One of the things C stressed as topics arose throughout our lunch, life is all about our choices and the ripple effect of the consequences. I wholeheartedly agree, even as I am not always so assured or as confident in my own, particularly when it comes to relationships.

This old friend made her own choices about our long 50+ year friendship and through the years has said many hurtful, stupid things. To be fair, I am quite certain we both have, because we are both very human. Looking back on the final series of events in my mind, I recognize that the choice to cease all communication and to terminate our friendship was more mine than hers and was my defense from what I viewed as relentless and ridiculous personal attacks.

I have zero regrets about that decision. At the time, it was among the hardest things I have done in recent years, yet it was important for my own emotional health and growth.

Now she has apologized for her words and her behaviors, and I believe the apology to be genuine and her regret for the cruel words and harsh judgments between us is real. She expressed the desire to close this chapter, reconnect and renew our long friendship. I now that is what I find myself mulling over today.

Forgive her? Of course; it would have been far more harmful to me to withhold that or to remain hurt and angry. Throughout the time since our friendship ended we have crossed paths at least half dozen times. While it was awkward at best to outright frosty hostile the rest of the time, I do not think or speak poorly of her. We had a falling out, but I wish her every happiness and success. The shortcomings in each of our personalities are well known to all who know both of us, and I have bent over backwards in my pleas that mutual friends not take sides in this dispute. There are so many things about her that overcome the qualities of her personality that I dislike and I seek to enhance the positives I found within her. For my own peace of mind, it is always better to focus and remember that she was my friend for most of my life and through some of the best and worst of events any person should have to endure.

That said, I am not sure our shared values are now enough to overcome the empty spaces that continue to exist. Many of my closest friends will refer to me as a Pollyanna or my generation’s rendition of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. I take no offense at such characterizations; I really want to be someone who sees the good in people and merely be aware of the extent of the less desirable aspects. I have had enough issues overcoming my own negative girl; I did not then and certainly do not now need the embodiment of her message in someone in the friendship realm of my life.

With the conversation with C and trainer J ringing in my ears and both their thoughts on choices, I recognize that the woman I am today is an enhanced model of the one who struggled mightily to let go of a harmful friendship. I am not immune to the weight of the years, shared memories and experiences. I will never cease begin grateful for her support and encouragement during some really impossibly painful periods in my life, nor will I ever stop caring for and about her and her welfare. In the fair and balanced backward view, I have to acknowledge that her methods and her thinking, her overall negative outward voice are in contrast with the person I am and what I truly value in those in my realm. As my confidence and my own sense of self have evolved, I recognize that I do have choices in who I invite to be part of my life and how we spend our time. I am not so dreadful that I have no choices in the matter, that I should be grateful for anyone who is capable of tolerating being around me.

I cringe inwardly realizing how much of my adult life has been spent feeling inadequate and inferior to others in my personal life. Sometimes even in my choice of employment, I have undervalued myself and my contributions and sought acceptance and validation from peers and superiors, a few of whom had questionable values or quality of character.

After thinking about this off and on throughout this day, I recognize that my old friend and I will always be connected, that I value our shared history. However, as adults, at the places we are in our lives now, trying to rekindle the closeness we once enjoyed is not a task I want to pursue. Trust once broken is hard to rebuild, and while there is no specific instance that could be labeled betrayal, sometimes the harshness of our judgments and that ways we hurt those we profess to care so deeply alienates affection to an irreparable state. When our paths cross, I will be courteous and genuine in my interest in her life and times. But I have little desire to pursue anything that involves direct sharing of my successes and disappointments or leaving myself vulnerable to the impact of her thoughts and judgments. Where once I was completely transparent and unguarded in sharing my thoughts and feelings, I have finally matured a bit and learned to be more guarded with sharing my personal treasures with those who have wounded me with carelessness or casual cruelty.

In the perfect world people are not careless or cruel to others, yet I know I myself have been guilty of both on occasion. I have been stricken with regret when I realized my error, and I deserved the consequences of those actions. But I learned, and I try very hard to not let my temper or impatience or insecurity overwhelm my values and code of good personhood. Being human, though, means the only thing I am perfect at is my own imperfect actions.

But as I remind myself, life is long and there are many more opportunities to make good and better choices.

For today, I will acknowledge the apology and graciously accept it. As for the rest, I have no idea what may happen between us and what the future may hold. I will retain an open mind on the topic, yet with a very guarded heart.

Managing expectations

My Monday got off to a anger-fueled start … not a good boost to the new week. Here is the reader’s digest version of the why:

My kids’ dad widow has a blog. Every couple of weeks I check in over there, just to see what she is writing about and if it includes any disparaging remarks about my kids. It’s activity akin to repeatedly shooting myself with a half-loaded gun and waffling between relief when the firing pin clicks on an empty chamber and hope that it will not hurt when it fires a round into my foot. This morning the stepmonster is cruel, one-sided, and out-of-context in relaying events about my children and a vacation in Hawaii. It infuriates me, because no mother likes to read tales reflecting her beloved children in an unflattering light or described with questionable or compromised truth. The only course of action is to simply stay silent and hope my kids are living by their vows to not read her blog. Engaging her in a debate of facts is pointless.

But I’m still angry with her. My kids are grown adults and choose to have no contact with her, and I am supportive of their choices. If they chose to make peace with her I would be supportive of that as well. M is not so sure, being a stepdad. He imagines himself in stepmonster’s shoes and how they kids might treat or speak of him outside our presence. While I can understand his concerns and actually I have no words of comfort of confidence for him on this topic, I encourage both of us to manage our expectations and to have faith in their character.

Our life as a family is completely different from M’s family or my own growing up. M and I, with the kids … we are closer. We are more honest. We actually enjoy being together and hanging out. We air our grievances and fight our fights. Loudly sometimes. We hurt each other’s feelings, we apologize, and we forgive. And there have been hurtful words that are forgiven but difficult to forget and completely put behind immediately. Despite that, our relationships as a family are scared, and that means everything to us. M and I both have our issues and scars from our upbringing and it influenced our choices as parent and co-parent as well as our anxieties and fears now. As we get older, M seems morew aware that these are not his biological children, and there is some distant, unacknowledged fear of being alone in some home somewhere surrounded by other abandoned old folks after I am gone.

Things can change, but in truth I do not imagine C or G talking smack about us behind our backs. They probably share all sorts of goofy tales, because we have a long and storied history of superbly goofy moments. I can think of several examples my son and my daughter love to share about their upbringing that make me feel like moonbeam mom. But it’s okay; I can always break out the naked baby pictures.

With my history as a horrible daughter learning to manage my expectations for my children is important. I did not have a good relationship with my parents, particularly my mother, and I can see how she would have felt abandoned at the end of her life. Let me be clear that I did the minimum expected for her and I was humane in my dealings with her, but there was no comfort, no affection, no enduring sadness from me other than basic human compassion of what I would feel when another person is at the end of her days. It is striking to me that the difference with what I feel and how willing and how far I am will to extend myself for my kids, my friends, my adopted family members. I came to realize that I was more willing and did not have to force myself to be patient and kind in assisting even the neighbors I barely know is more than what I felt and would willingly do for my own parent.

The reasons for the difficult relationship is a deep, life-altering wound. It is unfortunate that I could not overcome and be more to mom at the end, but I understand my limitations and accept them.

M’s concerns about the kids and how they speak of him and/or how they feel are real and I understand where they come from and what contributes to the low-level anxiety. But we have a lot of future left in front of us, a lot of time to overcome past disappointments and manage our expectations. While my daughter may still have some lingering resentment and reserve toward him for being a stricter and blunter parental authority than she would have liked, she is now an adult and recognizes the value and the reasons why we both parented the ways we parent. Truth be told she has always been the more emotionally volitile, absorbing the worst temper and emotional overactive genes from both her father and I. Time and maturity help even it out, find the balance, and I believe there is still time ahead of all of us. I know in the clutch she’s there to the best of her ability. Where M and I tend to stongly disagree is that “best of ability” from my upbringing and parenting does not meet his ideal standard. M is a rescuer and a warrior, someone with a big heart, strong spirit, and an unfortunate self-righteous streak that must be constantly monitored and managed.

Through the years his stance has softened, his black-and-white melded into a larger swath of gray. The breakdown and estrangement from his father and family has been truly liberating, and the “shoulds” he has held onto for most of his life are melting away into something more realistic. It was hard for him to breakdown the pedestal upon which his father stood, to see the harshness in his behaviors and actions. His father is a good man, but his hard pragmatism eventually eroded and burned out most of his compassion. By the time I met him 20+ years ago I found a generally nice man when things were going well and a hard-headed emotional abuser when things were not going well. As the years passed the line between going well/not going well moved significantly in the negative direction. I know M misses his father and will grieve when he does pass, but I think he truly sees how skewed the vision of that idolized man and the real man I could never truly warm up to as I would have liked.

From his family of origin, M has struggled with not demanding respect and fealty from me and the kids. I am with him by choice, and the kids have always demonstrated appropriate level of respect, which unfortunately fell far below what his family tended to demand. It has been a push-pull adaption through the years, because being a stepparent is not an easy or cushy role. It sometimes seems that we, as a blended family, have had to learn how to manage our expectations in a more meaningful and practical manner, but I know that it is true of everyone, everywhere. To expect perfection is to be constantly disappointed, and to expect nothing is to become cynical and lose capacity for gratitude.

As the years have passed and we grow older I can feel the changes and adjustments in our family life. The kids are now adults, with independent lives. Now more than ever, managing our expectations for our relationships seems even more important. I always hope that the stepmonster will not live up to her private nickname, yet I am never surprised when she says or does something deliberately provocative and hurtful toward my kids. It infuriates me, every time. If it were shaded more truthfully or with more balance I would be far more rational about it. Because it is expressed to show the worst sides of my kids without any context makes want to slap her.

Thankfully I cannot think of a single occasion where I will have to see her again and have to restrain myself.