The nerve

Posted on March 5, 2014

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femme de dos

The other evening, I was at a business dinner downtown and something happened that rarely happens. I became so nervous, I couldn’t speak.

I was prepared to stand up and give a short speech about my company. I was prepared to be surrounded by some ambitious and successful people. I had a cute outfit on, I had my business cards with me. I even made sure I had a mint. I thought I was prepared for anything.

But I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready for my ex-boyfriend’s best friend to stroll in and join us.

No big deal, you’re probably thinking. Stuff like this happens all of the time. Just put on your big girl panties and be polite.

If there hadn’t been so much history, that’s probably what I would have done. But history is history. Even though I haven’t thought about this guy for years, the truth is that were some essential conversations that probably needed to take place before I could muster up enough nerve to even say hello.

Usually, when a break-up happens, a woman turns to her girlfriends for support and commiseration and maybe a martini and a manicure, too. And a man turns to his buddies for, I don’t know, a beer? A night at a strip club? Whatever it is that men do when they want to get over someone who’s dumped them.  That’s what usually happens. But in my case things were a bit more complicated.

My boyfriend of the time and I shared the same group of friends. We spent weekends and holidays and almost our entire 20’s together.

When 30 was just around the corner, everyone starting pairing off and getting married and I realized the guy I had been dating for three years wasn’t the one. He agreed. So we broke up and I moved across the country (as in 5000 miles away) and I returned a year later wiser and more grounded and positive that I had made the right decision.

I stayed friends with this group, despite the obvious awkwardness. None of these girls had been a proper shoulder to cry on when the break-up happened, as they were all cautiously consistent in letting me know that my ex was their friend, too. Many of our conversations had centered on our shared, very stressful profession . When I traded in 65+ hour work weeks for a realistic schedule and a social life, our conversations began to dwindle. But when I fell in love with the man who is now my husband,  things started to turn ugly.

My husband-to-be was blatantly ignored at their parties. Each time a was story told, it would come back to the crazy, fun things my ex and I had once been a part of. Sometimes my ex was invited to the same events without us knowing until we arrived. There were conversations about how my marriage was going to fail; some people even refused to come to our wedding.

But these were also friends who lent me their homes to live in when I was between jobs. These were also friends who helped me buy a car, who made me laugh when I wanted to cry, who banded together in support of me when they witnessed a family member’s mistreatment, who put up with what I now call my ‘obsession with chakras’ stage.

In the end though, I decided that the bad outweighed the good. In the end, I decided I needed to choose the person I wanted to marry over friends who weren’t ready to accept my changes. And (if the truth be told) in the end, I resented them for making me choose in the first place.

So when R. walked in, I froze. The woman he married had once been my roommate, had made it to my wedding despite being holed up at a hospital the night before and, even though I’m not Jewish, had invited me to be a part of her son’s bris. The woman he married also delivered many low blows when I decided to start my own company, often rolled her eyes at my ideas and told me I was an airhead, was an active part of that conversation about my doomed marriage.

I couldn’t speak that evening because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have the nerve (or the need) to be rude but I lacked the courage (and the callowness) to be kind. The ambivalence was terrible but it was also necessary.

Relationships are never all good or all bad, are they? As tempting as it is to make ourselves the ones who’ve been wronged or to assert our superior goodness to someone else, the truth is that there are always many sides to every relationship. Sure, I can always tell you a part of the story that would have you on my side. But a part is not the whole. And that wouldn’t be honest or fair.

When it was time to give his speech, R. got up and said a sentence about what he does. He spent much more time talking about what his wife does, which I thought might be some kind of reminder of the friendships I had left behind. He also made sure to say, “And it’s so good to see everyone here tonight,” which I thought might be an olive branch, that is, if he looked my way while saying it. Then again, I’m not sure if he did. I pretended to be interested in my water glass while all of this was going on.

My knees were shaking when it was my turn to go  but, with years of public speaking behind me, I knew how to play it off and give my spiel. I didn’t make eye contact with R. and he left before the meal was served.  Later, I found out that he and the person who organized the dinner are very good friends. I can’t help but wonder (a bit narcissistically) if he knew I was going to be there all along. If that’s why he showed up in the first place.

I sat with some fascinating people that evening. I enjoyed my salmon. I exchanged ideas and information and inspiration with some of the most amazing people I have met in a very long time.

And I remembered who I was. And who I’ve become. And how, even though I’m a relationship coach, how very far I have yet to go.

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Posted in: Change