I was talking to a friend today and it struck me, as it sometimes does, that it’s kind of amazing that we are friends. You see, I knew him once long ago, and we were friends. Then our lives took some twists and turns and we lost touch, no longer friends. Then, because of Facebook, we became friends again, and closer than ever, until, because of Facebook, we were no longer friends, at all.
It was the kind of ending to a friendship that seems final even as it unfolds. The wound he inflicted was so public and hurtful and unnecessary that not even our mutual friends would have faulted me for never speaking to him again. And, quite honestly, when I blocked him on Facebook and erased his contact information from my phone, I had every intention of doing just that.
But then an odd thing happened. He didn’t let me go. For over a year, I heard from him every few weeks. Sometimes it was an email with a news article that he thought I’d like. Other times it was to tell me about a hard-won achievement of one of his children. Still others it was as simple as a text that said “I miss knowing you.” I didn’t respond to most of his communications, except for the ones about his children, for whom I care deeply. And even then, it was with a terse, “Thanks for letting me know” and nothing more. I figured eventually he would get the hint and leave me alone. But he didn’t.
Finally, after a year of this, I responded to one of his emails and asked him what he wanted and why he kept writing. His response was winding and nonsensical and quite possibly the most rambling and illogical apology I’ve ever received. But it was a start. We began slowly, creeping toward a friendship again. He knows me well enough to know that, once wounded, I will dart at the first sign of betrayal again. So he has been steady but not pushy. Available but not needy. He shares his stories of his children and his girlfriend, and pretends not to notice when I fail to reciprocate. He offers advice when I ask, but shows restraint when I don’t. He acknowledges that he has much work to do to regain my trust and friendship, but claims willing to assume that task. He tells me that he will never hurt me again.
I asked him today why he didn’t let me go, and he said this: “Because I don’t like my life without you in it.” The simplicity of his answer makes me believe him.
I have spent much time since my divorce analyzing the creation and maintenance of healthy boundaries, because I didn’t have them in my marriage. My life was my husband’s life, his needs became my needs, everything that was unique to me fell away and was lost. I didn’t know how to create healthy spaces for our relationship, for him, and for me as an individual. I thought love and forgiveness and acceptance meant compliance and submission. But it doesn’t.
My friend does not fault me for shutting him out for a year. On the contrary, he tells me how grateful he is for a second chance, and how much he admires my ability to offer it without extracting a penance. What he doesn’t realize is how much this experience has taught me. I am learning how to forgive without submitting, how to be open without feeling a fool, and how to trust that I really am special enough to someone that they will not let me go when I stand my ground.
It is easy, when we are hurt, to throw up walls for self-protection. And sometimes those walls are good and valuable and necessary. They allow us an opportunity to re-group, to evaluate, to determine our next course. But sometimes they also serve to close us in, to limit our future opportunities for connection, to trap us with our bitterness and fear. I am tentatively feeling my way along… discerning the difference between the healthy boundaries that serve my sense of individuality and allow my soul the room to breathe and grow, and the walls that keep out the people who might truly care for me and keep me from reaching my full potential.
I think I needed that year’s break from my friend, and I don’t regret it. I needed to figure out whether I could be his friend again, and I needed him to show me what I was really worth to him. But mostly, I needed us both to know that I could live without him if I had to, and that my self-respect had its limits.
I guess I don’t know if we’ll be friends forever. But I do know that he has helped me learn invaluable things about myself through this process, and for that I will always be grateful. Sometimes life is messy, but even in the mess there is wisdom. If we just look hard enough.