Friday, March 21, 2014

On Friendship and Forgiveness

The other day I was talking to Tumbleweed about the concept of forgiveness, versus cutting people out of your life. Some people are constant forgivers, and some are instant cut-and-run types. I think there has to be a happy medium.

What causes some people to choose one option or the other? She and her sister were raised in the same family, yet they have different approaches. My brother and I were also raised the same way, but he is more forgiving and accepting, and I am more ready to throw my hands up and walk away. I always thought it was because of my military upbringing - we moved so often that I didn't have much of a chance to learn how to develop long-term friendships, the kind that endure plenty of ups and downs and rough patches. But if that's my excuse, why isn't my brother the same way?

I can't speak for Tumbleweed or her sister, but I think perhaps part of the difference for my brother and me is that he has always had far more energy for socializing. He just likes people more than I do. I feel that I have limited energy for other people, and I like to save that energy as much as I can. He's also always been way more confident than I am, and I have struggled with a low self-esteem for as long as I can remember.

Do I ever forgive? Yes, of course. Sometimes it may take me longer to let someone back into my heart after I feel I've been hurt, but I often will. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed with my life and have to take a hard look at who's getting my energy, energy I may need for myself, and make cuts that are more based on me feeling we aren't a great fit as friends than me feeling the other person is awful. The Friend Breakup, if you will. Again, I'm not sure if this makes me a callous person, or a careful person.

Sometimes, though, I think you have to draw the line on forgiveness. If said friend has done the same thing to you over and over, and it hurts you or upsets you every time? If you've talked to this friend about their actions, with only short-term positive results? It's probably time to let go. Perhaps you simply grew in different directions, like many married couples who opt for divorce. It's okay. It happens to platonic relationships as well as romantic. I've certainly been "dumped" by friends when our interests began to prove too different. I've also been dumped because my depression would lead me to hibernate and reject all social invitations for too long. I don't think less of people for this; you can only have someone turn you down so many times before you simply stop asking.

Accepting the level of a friendship is what is often difficult for me. I may think I'm closer to a person because we chat a lot, and we seem to be sharing personal details of our lives. Then perhaps one day it'll dawn on me that this person isn't as willing to open up to me as I to them, or they never seem to invite me out when they're with their other friends. I'm all too familiar with being hidden, as I dated an otherwise wonderful man for over a year who never included me in activities with his friends. Why? Because I wasn't an adrenaline junkie like them. He was ashamed and his friends didn't understand why we were together. "You don't do the things we do," he tried. "They eat food, don't they?" I countered. That was the beginning of the end for us. All this to say, I'm sensitive to that feeling, and I'm not okay with going through it again.

Being vulnerable to another person is difficult for almost everyone, so I won't pretend I'm especially delicate in that regard. I do tend to open up to people quickly, like an eager puppy in a new home, hoping this one will be my forever family. The downside to this is after a while, if I realize it's not mutual, I'm probably more stung by the realization than is reasonable.

For me, a lot of the closeness I feel with someone doesn't come from spending physical time together so much as it does from chatting or emailing. I'm much more comfortable opening up to someone when I don't have to also think about eye contact or body language or tripping over my words or - worse than any of that by far - the potential of crying in front of another human being. Some might argue this is a result of all the Facebooks and Myspaces and Twitters and all that (some who might be in their 60s, maybe?), but I recall having nothing but Juno email in high school. I emailed regularly with a friend from church, and in my mind, we became closer through those lengthy, slow email chats than we had ever been before he left for college. Before that, I was a poetry writer. That was how I felt most comfortable expressing myself. And my best friend in high school and I kept notebooks, which we would pass back and forth, writing each other letters during class. I don't think we got particularly deep, but I do think we communicated almost more that way than we did face-to-face.

My over-sensitive nature to feeling like I'm putting more into a friendship than I'm getting back causes me to withdraw, quickly and sometimes suddenly, when I perceive the imbalance. I don't want to be the one who loves more, because that means I'm the idiot. In my fearful mind, the other person is merely putting up with me, only to mock me with their real friends later. I'm the sad little tagalong who doesn't get the hint.

How do you forgive someone for simply not being as quick to trust as you are? You may feel they've broken your trust by not returning it, but that's not really fair.

I retreat, I lick my wounds. I'm wary of how much I share with that person, and I tend to wait for them to initiate contact for a while.

But forgiving someone who really has hurt me? Who has lashed out at me, or proven themselves incapable of both supporting my sads and celebrating my joys, time and again? That's not just my personal insecurities or fear-based suspicions. That's something that requires real forgiveness, something I struggle with. If I hurt or offended someone and don't know I've done it, I'd want them to tell me... but then I wonder, would I do the same if I were the one hurt? It's hard to own up to that... to say to someone who has deflated and emotionally injured you, "you have the power to hurt me." It takes a lot to tell someone you're sorry, and it takes a lot to tell someone you've been hurt by them.

If I know I've been a jerk, I feel I'm a big enough person to apologize. If I don't know, I'm helpless. And if I'm the one hurt? Well, so far I'm only really capable of telling Boyfriend when he's hurt me (funny how being naked on the regular with a person can make you more comfortable with them in other areas of life, eh?). Anyone else, I'm scared they'll laugh at me for being too sensitive, or make it clear that was their intention in the first place. Scared little Peanut, still acting like a stray dog after all these years.

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