Monday, June 11, 2012

My forgotten friend and me

By now you must know, I don’t have much sympathy for people who get married and fall off the face of the planet. Let’s redefine “planet.” I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to parties every Thursday or Saturday night; I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to Shabbat meals with 20 people – these meals are generally made by singles, and if married people aren’t invited, I can’t hold it against them. I’m not even talking about people who get married and move out of Jerusalem – I can’t expect them to travel in all the time! 

                But I can expect them to pick up the phone. The people who don’t pick up the phone are the ones I have no tolerance for. Those that don’t go out at all, even with small groups of friends or one-on-one, because they feel the need to be home with their spouse every night. People who become completely absorbed in their spouse, so that they make efforts for his or her friends and family, but neglect their own. I understand it might be in the name of shalom bayit, of wanting to please your new partner, hey, maybe it’s even in the name of love. Whatever it is, it’s no excuse. (And might I add, though I’m no psychologist, it seems unhealthy.)

                Where has my passion against these people come from? Obviously, my own experience! Interestingly enough (to me, at least), I wasn’t burned by a married friend when I was single; it happened once I was married myself. And perhaps because I took such efforts to keep in touch with my single friends once I got married, the burn stung so much more.

I was going to use this as an opportunity to vent. To go through the whole sordid story of my friend who got married and dropped off the planet and blahblahblah.

            But I’ve decided to take a different path.

I’ve decided that instead of focusing on the hurt this friend has caused me, should look inwards. I’ve patted myself on the back that after I got married, I maintained contact with my single friends. That I went out at nights despite being tired, made phone calls and Shabbat meals and put forward my strength when I felt that I had no strength left in order to maintain friendships.

But have I really been all that great? Have I really made the efforts I think I did? What about old roommates of mine who I never talk to? Sure, we were never great friends to begin with, but we did live together. We knew the intimacies of each other’s lives the way only roommates do. Have I been in touch with them?

What about my friends in America? The time difference makes it super-difficult for me to call since I’m exhausted at night, and besides, during the day there they are working. So I don’t talk to them as much as I’d like. But maybe I can make more of an effort?
And I, who pride myself on hosting friends for Shabbat meals – can it be that in my two years of marriage, I’ve never left someone out? Never made someone feel bad that I invited him and not her? 

I’m only human. Of course I’ve made mistakes. Of course I’ve hurt people unintentionally. So instead of focusing on the hurt I’ve endured from my forgotten friend, maybe I should focus on being more considerate myself. On not thinking that I’ve got a great handle on prioritizing and I know how to maintain relationships and blahblahblah. The truth is, pregnancy and post-partum adjustment were hard for me; maybe I think I was making monumental efforts to be in touch with friends when in reality, they were minimal efforts but only seemed monumental to me because each phone call and each outing after birth was a personal victory.

But like I said, I’m only human. As humans, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and generally vindicate ourselves in our minds. We blame the other person. And even though I do believe my forgotten friend is in the wrong, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take this opportunity as a wake-up call to examine my own actions.

Did I mention I’m an orthodox Jew? :-) 

If not, I mention it now because what I’m writing might sound like mussar or even dogma, since the idea of examining your actions is pretty popular in orthodox theology. But I think that whether you’re religious or not, it actually makes sense. I can nurse the hurt I feel and let bitterness grow inside of me, or, to be trite, I can take the lemons life has offered me and add some sugar or Splenda, and have lemonade! Of course, easier said than done (especially in this country, where Splenda is scarce). 

But I think it’s worth a try.

By the way, I’m not advocating “turn the other cheek” theology either. I believe in the validity of hurt feelings, and that, if you can’t get over these feelings, confrontation is the way to go. Maybe this is exactly because I’m an orthodox Jew, and the Torah says, “Don’t hold a grudge in your heart.” Of course, the Torah also warns against hurting another person with words, so the words in these confrontations need to carefully thought out. But again – why be consumed by bitterness? You’re the only one who will suffer in the end (I say to myself).

Whether the confrontation works is a different story. In my tale, it didn’t. That’s what made it all the more heartbreaking. That’s why I've been haunted by this question of friendship, what it means, what happens when people grow apart, and so on. That’s also why I’m trying another tack. Trying to use this opportunity to grow as a person. Whether I succeed or not will be a different story.

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