I’m finally in a place where I can write about The Friend Breakup (TFB) of this winter.
While not going through each agonizing detail, and to protect parties both innocent and guilty (….and pretty much everyone is both), I will say this: I f’ed up. Big time.
But it was complicated.
I will also say this: I was not given the benefit of the doubt, and my repeated pleas to offer context and my perspective were largely ignored. I never intended to inflict pain, but I did. I betrayed someone’s trust. So too was my trust betrayed.
Regardless, I was written off by three close friends. My heartfelt apologies didn’t work. Two plus weeks of outreach was answered with radio silence. I had no choice but to move on.
Have you ever had an apology that’s not accepted? It is BRU-TAL; the pain of helplessness is acute, and agonizing. As a matter of fact, moments ago — nearly four months later — I had to visit Us magazine online to distract myself from returning to the dark and twisty place, or indulging in late-onset self-pity. The tears are still just beneath the surface.
So what did I do?
I cried. A lot. I listened to sad songs and looked at photos. It wasn’t all that different from my first real heartbreak, junior year in college, or even when my father died. I am aware how melodramatic this seems, both presently and in hindsight. But I am trying to keep it 100 with you. It truly felt that bad. It felt like everything that I thought I knew about the world was wrong.
I should probably share that The Friend Breakup overlapped with my parting ways with a career choice that hadn’t been working. In that way, it was kind of like a double whammy — two simultaneous tidal waves of rejection from opposing directions. I almost drowned with grief, taken by the undertow again and again before I was spat out, with a twisted bathing suit and sand in my teeth.
I felt slammed together and ripped apart all at once. I felt disappointed with myself and with life.
To be crystal clear: I was in the wrong. Some close to me would say no, but if I believe those who think I’m 100% innocent, I’d have to believe those who thought I was 100% guilty.
What I believe is that things are almost never 100% anything.
But I was going to have to find a way to get over what happened. So I began a quest to find the lesson. I had to discover what this pain and suffering was meant to teach me; I was determined to learn something from it.
OK, again, so what did you do?
Well, first I did what any self-respecting hyperactive neurotic individual in my position would do: a couple of weeks of 5:30 am yoga sculpt classes and three full closet excavations so that I could counteract all of the ass-time I spent completing three intense jigsaw puzzles and six hours of binge-watching the R. Kelly documentary. Whoa. And I thought I had problems.
In the transitional moments, I upped the self-care and therapy. Slept a bunch. Took crying walks. Listened to Super Soul Sunday, some on repeat. I got curious; it is my nature. And in my inquiry — some with help and some solo — I found what I was looking for.
A note on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday: You can laugh all you want, while she’s (still) laughing her way to the bank. You can laugh at me. The truth is that some of the conversations on SSS have changed me.
[Disclaimer: Some of the episodes are awesome. Some are less so. Some are crazy and annoying. Some are profound. I guess it’s more like Nordstrom Rack for the Soul; it can be full of grey Halogen lounge pants or Tory Burch sandals for 50 bucks — you just never know.]
I was out on a walk in early February listening to Oprah’s chat with Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is. A woo woo warning: this one’s a little out there. But about 16 minutes in, I had a breakthrough.
I’m going to paraphrase the best part here.
The Three Businesses: There’s your business, there’s everybody else’s business, and there’s God’s business (which — being not much of a god person — I call the universe’s business).
Byron Katie: Can you imagine if we all took care of our business?
Oprah: Our business is the only business we have any control over.
BK: If anyone feels lonely, separate, then ask yourself — mentally — whose business are you in?
O: Do I know what’s right for me? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve your problems for you.
HOLY FLASHING BURST OF LIGHT AND CHILLS. It stopped me in my tracks. There it was: The Lesson.
When I took the action that had the negative impact on my friends, I was decidedly not in my business. In fact, I was fully inhabiting someone else’s. I had been trespassing. And to what end? I’ll never know.
But I understood, at last, the weight of what had happened, and how substantial the violation must have felt. Almost immediately, I reached out, via text, and said my piece.
And different than before, where all I wanted in the world was to be forgiven and let back in, I sent the text without any investment in a response. I could let it go. I could get over them letting me go.
I’m not saying it’s been all Reese’s and rainbows since then. The feeling of loss still stings and it may always sting.
But two things: The second time, I apologized not from a place of victimization and longing to be accepted back, but from a place of authenticity and self-forgiveness. Also, I realized how much I had changed, and that some of the relationships I mourned had been increasing ill-fitting, like your song of the summer that feels foolish just a few months later.
I’ve identified a three-step process for getting through personal heartaches.
- You gotta take accountability and speak your truth, come what may. Only you know what’s in your heart. Some people just aren’t ready to listen and some people didn’t care enough in the first place.
- You gotta forgive yourself for screwing up, especially if you didn’t mean to hurt anyone. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Humility is a beautiful thing.
- Finally, you’ve got to tend your garden, which I’ll explain.
During the depths of my deepest sadness around TFB, a wise woman told me: ‘Ah yes, it’s time to weed the garden.’ I heard what she was saying, but I take a more empathetic approach.
I’m upfront about my own imperfect soil, and I realize all too well that I’ve been ‘weeded,’ and that it’s okay. I prefer to say it’s time to tend the garden.
If I’m honest with myself, I think the composition of my soil has changed. I’ve evolved — who I am and what I need and what relationships work best for me in this season of my life.
Some of the flowers that used to grow well in my garden have ceased to bloom. Perhaps the ground is too acidic or too alkaline for them now.
Maybe they just need some time off. Or maybe they will exist only in my memory, at the peak of their beauty, or as a dried bouquet hanging upside down, a faded remnant of something that once was so alive.
In the garden, old friends have gained new ground in the space left vacant by the clearing out. New friends, it seems, have sprouted all around me. It’s a new beginning on an old patch of land, both familiar and surprising.
I have tended to my garden, and I know that what remains wants to flourish alongside me, our roots growing together over time.
The Beth List: My Garden of Friends
- Daisies who convince me it wasn’t all bad and make me laugh.
- Daffodils who remind me how far I’ve come.
- Sunflowers who hold space for my sadness.
- Tulips who keep coming back.
- Peonies who offer softness in truly challenging times.
- Lilacs who offer practical support and advice without an agenda.
- Orchids who call me on my shit and make me better.
- Lilies who impart wisdom.
- Irises who see the best in me.
- And my rose, DBM, who holds my heart through whatever comes.