It turns out some friends aren’t “forever.” And it turns out that’s OK.

According to daysoftheyear.com, today is “Best Friends Day,” which makes it as good a day as any for this post, which has been brewing for a while.

I’ve been letting go of an old friendship – one I once described as a “best” friendship – that isn’t healthy anymore. ­­­I can be a little slow on the uptake when it comes to this kind of thing. Sometimes things aren’t right for a long while before I realize that hey, this shit needs to stop (see also: husband, former). I think in my relatively dumb youth, I burned too many bridges out of carelessness or callousness – too lazy to do the heavy lifting that being a friend sometimes entails – so now in middle age, I’m reluctant to let fall even the ones that have had giant orange “CONDEMNED” signs on them for years.

My friendship with Jane has, if not a “condemned” sign, at least caution tape strung across it. It took years for me to see how out of balance things had become — to realize that I wasn’t just being used, I was being used up.

I had been reluctant to say, “hey, it hurts my feelings when you do [this thing she kept doing], would you please stop?” – and then one day I finally said it, just as clearly and specifically as I could… and it made no difference. So I said it again. And she did it again. Lather, rinse, repeat…  and finally, I thought oh, I see, now. There is no room here for my feelings. It is OK for me to let this go.

Still, I fretted. I told some other friends a story or two to get their take on it. They said, dude, that is not how a friend behaves. I’d gotten so used to thinking of Janie as the definition of “friend” that it took me by surprise to see that by objective criteria, she’d not been that to me for a very long time, and that when I need a friend, I don’t call her.

It still bothers me. Years ago, she’d been a dear and true friend, and I am not a “what have you done for me lately” kind of person. It’s been hard to give myself permission to let this friendship fade into friendly acquaintanceship, but I’m coming around to it. It’s liberating, in a way. What a relief to let those calls go straight to voicemail instead of answering with a kind of dread: what is going to be drained from me this time? How am I going to be dismissed in return?

It seems I’m not alone. Over the years, Jane’s other friends have dropped by the wayside, some backing away slowly, others cutting off contact as if with a machete. While validating, this does not make my best self feel better. I maybe should’ve been able to find a better balance. All these years, though her physical and mental illness, through her marriage and divorce, I’ve been her unconditional support – and it turns out that “unconditional” was a mistake. I should’ve had conditions, and the first one should’ve been to put my own oxygen mask on first, just like they say on airplanes. My allowing myself to be disproportionately used is just as much to blame as her doing the disproportionate using. It took two of us to get where we are.

Which is where, exactly? Well, I don’t intend to tear down this bridge. Time may make some repairs, the caution tape might come down, and Jane’s life and mine could reconnect on healthier terms. For a while, though, I’m going to heed the warnings, and quit crossing at my own risk.

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Vanity, Self-pity, and Wallowing, oh my!

(So, this was written in a particularly down moment, in a mindset I don’t occupy for long — but the fact remains, I’m having a tough time with the aging thing.)

Lately when I look in the mirror all I see is “age spots” and lines, dark circles and sags, pastiness and doughy bulges… all capped by flat, mousey hair in one hell of a stupid cut (thanks to the most frequently recommended salon in town, an experience I won’t repeat).

I’ve become plain. I know this because I wasn’t, always, and the difference is something I can feel.

Recently I had lunch with a friend who confessed she’s having a hard time with turning 50. I didn’t realize she was hitting that milestone… at 47, I look easily ten years older than she. Not intending to hurt my feelings, she asked if my LinkedIn picture was taken many years ago, and, haha, if I thought my term on the school board accounted for the difference in my appearance between then and now. “Because I think of that picture, and then I saw you one day and how tired you looked, and I was wondering if it was really beating you up… but I guess we’re all just aging.” This is not a catty person. She was just talking without thinking – and I think I don’t seem like someone likely to be hurt, so maybe sometimes people don’t take the care they might otherwise.

It did hurt, though.

“I shouldn’t leave the house without makeup.” I always thought that was a ridiculous thing for a person to say about herself! But what an easy conviction to ridicule, when you’re young and pretty. Young and pretty people, take note. Those conditions are temporary. You too will grieve when they pass you by.

I know how my friend felt, looking at me, because I’d just had a similar experience with  another friendly acquaintance the previous weekend. It had been a few months since we’d seen each other, and we were chatting away. As the afternoon sun crossed her face, I suddenly thought, wow. I can see just what she’s going to look like as a nice old lady. You know how sometimes you look at a child and get a glimpse, through some little mannerism or expression, of what they’ll be like as a young adult? It was like that. I saw the thinning, speckled skin, the graying hair in a perpetually unflattering style (why do we have bangs? In my case it’s because my hair just breaks off, now), the thin lines not just around her eyes and mouth but beginning to appear, crepe-like, across her cheeks.

It was an unsettling moment… one I relive in the mirror, daily. Oh, vanity. (Did I say anything to her about it though? NO I DID NOT.)

So I guess I am vain, but I also have a hang-up about spending money on trying to look nicer when there are college tuitions and retirement to be saving for. I think of my friend Jane, a near-constant smoker who, though unemployed and without prospects, willingly forked over hundreds of dollars last week to have some kind of filler injected into her face to push out deep lines caused by three decades of sucking on Marlboro Reds. (No sense in just quitting fucking smoking, I guess.) She looks just the same as before, as far as I can tell. I think of many friends who spend regularly to maintain flattering and gorgeous (if somewhat improbable) hair colors. Looking good is worthwhile to them, and it shows. They are lovely.

I admit to feeling a little judgmental toward Janie, mostly because I don’t want to lose her to lung cancer. But I truly don’t begrudge anyone their salon expenses. So what holds me back? There’s a kind of Puritan superiority buried in this frugality, and it’s just as unbecoming as my mouse-brown hair. Are highlights in order, expense be damned? Because surgery is out of the question, as are injected fillers or neurotoxins.

Do makeovers really help a tedious midlife crisis, or am I better off just trying to come to terms with how I look now?

The most appropriate response to all this is “SHUT UP AND GET OVER YOURSELF BEFORE I SHOW YOU WHAT A REAL PROBLEM LOOKS LIKE.” I know that. I have friends who’ve lost their beautifully colored hair to chemotherapy and would trade that for mine any day.

It’s just that having someone say to (and about!) your face, essentially “you look really noticeably worse than you did five years ago”… well. It stings, maybe worse than those injections. Here’s hoping the effects are just as temporary.