On Friendship and Hardship

Strong, honest and profound friendships can be hard to come by in a fast-paced world characterized by constant interruptions, overscheduling and lives shared in 140 characters or less.  Sure, we can graze all day long but we often don’t feel fully satisfied.

A hearty friendship feeds your soul. This weekend I feasted.

Friday night the lights twinkled on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco as I drove down the Embarcadero. Beneath the warm light of the Ferry Building slow-walking tourists mixed with locals racing by in running gear. Just beyond the entry of a bustling restaurant and into a noisy bar I saw a friendly face scanning the crowd. My soon-to-be dinner companion knew what I looked like, but I was operating at a disadvantage. While I knew some of her deepest thoughts I couldn’t exactly hold up “B’s” blog post and say, “is this you?” Her wave in my direction clinched it.

What followed was a 4.5 hour meal that moved effortlessly from one story to another revealing a kaleidoscope of overlapping experiences and emotions. To anyone nearby we appeared to be longtime friends animatedly catching up over edame, wine and fusion cuisine. Laughter tumbled easily. In truth we had only exchanged blog posts and comments on and off over several years. Until that point a blinking cursor was as close as our pen pal-like relationship had gone.

Yes, we both speak English — she from Australia and me from North America — but we also speak another language. One that we learned in the heart of darkness, from shared hardship. There was no straining to understand, no awkward silence, no uncomfortable moments punctuating our conversation. The pauses, when they came, were thoughtful ones as we searched around, together, to find just the right word or emotion or answer. We could see into each other’s heart.

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We marveled at the ease with which we could laugh, ponder and reveal our secrets without fear of misunderstanding or judgment. We also talked about friendships and family ties damaged or lost along the way. The anger. The sadness. The unspoken words. The strange isolation that accompanies a loss or suffering others don’t know how to interpret — either because they lack the capacity or because they can’t muster the fortitude to tread into an unknown sometimes messy territory.

We came to these conclusions: Some people, despite our nudging, simply refuse to budge from engagement at the superficial level 24/7. (That’s not to say that small talk and niceties don’t have their place. They do).  But when there is precious time to spare, there are a set of acquaintances, friends and family, we’ve observed, who can’t or won’t visit the underbelly of our lives –even if it’s a quick reference simply to underscore that which has made us who we are now. In their presence we feel unfulfilled, incomplete.

While the avoidance behavior is more often the rule than the exception, there are those who have surprised us with their depth and insights. Who are these people, you ask? Other infertiles? Not necessarily.

Reproductive organs aside, we also belong to another cohort: Those who have a genuine desire to evaluate and learn from life’s suffering and hardship, to crack the oyster and find pearls. (Whereas the first group is all about burying the oysters.)

In this second cohort is where I spent time Saturday. After I completed the required instructions to combat a nagging respiratory affliction, and my friend of 20 years found a sitter for her children, we embarked on a slow-paced afternoon/evening of big girl fun. We indulged in reflexology, sampled a wine flight and managed to secure, without reservations, the last two seats in a cozy Italian restaurant where the pasta is made daily on site. Much like the night before the conversation ran the gamut.

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Clearly our lives had taken very different paths, and over the years we’ve had some spirited discussions, at times talking past each other. But when I wasn’t consumed with my own, I’ve watched her wrestle with a different set of demons, navigate a different set of hardships. Despite all we have experienced, together and separately, we always find the courage to hop into life’s elevator and go down, deep, to explore. With flashlights in hand we uncover and share inner thoughts, question and challenge each other and come away fulfilled, validated. And we usually we see things a little more clearly and grow in the process.

Christina Gombar once addressed this way, why some friendships lose their way:

“If you’re happy being a planet orbiting around someone else’s sun, good for you. But I find one-sided friendships as rewarding as unrequited love affairs, and as healthy. To me friendship is like a Siamese twin: the life blood must circulate through both bodies. When the spirit of one twin departs, the furiously working heart of the surviving twin cannot do all the work of keeping the other half alive; the joint life-force dies.”

Friendships come in many shapes and sizes; the very best ones feed our souls.

Care to share when you’ve been starved or fed?

***

Editor’s Note:This blog has received record traffic in the past month or so — due mainly, I’m sure — to the guest posts from New Zealand (Mali), Slovenia (Klara) and Virginia (Wendy). I’d also like to share a story from Ireland. You can read Jane’s inspiring piece here. 

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12 thoughts on “On Friendship and Hardship

  1. I am so happy that you met your Australian friend! I just love your sentence: “We could see into each other’s heart”.
    That’s really a great thing about blogging – the world becomes much nicer place after meeting some wonderful women.

  2. Pamela, this is just lovely. I feel a bit weepy!

    A lot of my family, and my husband’s family, fall into the avoidance camp, especially my older sister. And in the second group, I’m struggling with a friendship where I’m tired of revolving around her sun. I loved that analogy, because it perfectly explains how I feel. I’d thought we were equals, but no. And it hurts – even though I’ve seen it coming.

  3. the misfit

    Brilliant and insightful, as usual. There ABSOLUTELY are people who will not walk with you into any form of sharing. Even if you’ve just listened to them share something about themselves. I think sometimes this comes from benign motives – I know lots of people who won’t START the subject but would never CHANGE the subject if I said something. They’re just being gracious. And I’ve listened to bachelor friends who would like to have been married years ago say something about how it’s hard, and really there are no guarantees that everyone who would like to be married will be, and I say that I know I approach the topic from the other side, but I have certainly seen in my life how painful it can be to anticipate something that might never come. They know what I’m talking about, of course. And they change the subject…instantly. Maybe the married woman-single man dynamic doesn’t admit of that kind of sharing? They may be right and I wrong. So I tread lightly on those friendships, now. But other women have no such excuse :).

    And I also realize, now and again, that I have GOOD friends from whom I listen to oceans of sharing. And I talk, too (I rarely stop talking) – about my home decor projects, and my shopping trips, and my siblings, and my weekend. I chatter up a storm and they listen. But while they pour out their hearts, I never mention the difficulties in my marriage. How much I’m suffering as I not only lose my two childless girlfriends (one pregnant, the other adopted), but have to be confronted with their babies all the time, and I learn that badly as I thought I might deal with that – it’s much worse. They never see me cry. I never say, “I don’t know whether I’m going to make it,” though I don’t. It took me a long time to realize this, but the thing is – it’s not them. It’s me. I don’t bring up these subjects, because…I feel it’s unfair to ask other people to carry these burdens with me (they’re SO heavy. But I bear their burdens with them and it doesn’t seem like too much). And because I don’t want to have to go from sharing how I feel to training them what not to say. I don’t want to hear, “Why don’t you just adopt?” AGAIN. I KNOW they mean well, they just don’t know. So I, the oversharer, the overinvolved friend, who has for years worn my heart on my sleeve – I won’t let anyone see my real life. Except on my blog :). I’m not sure how – or whether – to change this. But as usual, you’ve made me think.

  4. Hey

    This “B” sounds awesome! Where did you find her? hehe.

    Truly, a feast in every way. I’m satiated. And thinking about what to do with the relationships that are a little bit broken, but feeling confident and encouraged that I can make choices, not only about the relationships, but who I am, and who I will become.

    Thanks once again for lighting the way and taking time to point out the path.

    You rock.

    Glad you had a great Sat too.

    B big hug and kiss.

  5. Pamela

    Hey B! Glad you stopped by for a visit before returning to Oz.  Can’t wait to see you in your native country. Still working on the travel plans. You’ve made it very easy! ox

  6. Sounds like a wonderful pair of evenings. I’m so glad you had the chance to meet in person your Australian friend.

    I would love to see each/both of you, sometime, too.

    XO

  7. Mia

    I lost many friends so far, in in this TTC journey. The last one that really hurt was when I just suffered a miscarriage, told my best friend from fifth grade, then she didn’t call me for three weeks, only to call back and tell me that she is pregnant. I lost it, and same with my friendship with her. That was months ago now, and she is due any minute now, and all I can think of is how unfair it all is, and how guilty I feel for being so jealous, angry, hateful and sad. I miss her so much, but I cannot make myself be able to call her while she is pregnant. I just can’t. So i sit and suffer in silence, since now, I feel that the only person who really gets me is my husband. But reading this blog has been illuminating, liberating, even relieving. I wish I could find more women to talk about this face to face, like you have. But I am glad that at least many women can surmount this seemingly unendless grief, of not being able to conceive.

  8. Pamela

    My condolences, Mia, for your loss…

    I’m sorry, also, to learn about the added pain of your friendship gone awry. It’s doubly hard to experience a friendship that goes off the rails, especially when you need it the most.

  9. Helena

    If it helps at all, Mia, I had exactly the same experience with my first miscarriage (I was a little wiser as to what to expect from friends with my following 2 miscarriages). While totally traumatised by what had just happened, a friend called me 3 wks later to say that he and his partner were pregnant. Of course, I would like to think that I dealt with this news with some grace. I did not. And while I did bring myself to congratulate them (via email) when baby was born, I have not been in contact since that fatal phone call. And baby is now 2. I wonder if this says a lot about me (I am currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth”, an excellent look at the part our egos play in our lives) but I do think it’s a damn hard call to be the “bigger” person after such loss. Actually, make that an impossible call. Would they be any different if roles were reversed? You can be rest assured, they would not. I would like to think that some time in the future, after I’ve reconciled not having children and time has done its thing, there may be an opportunity to rekindle our friendship. But I suspect not. My parent friends seem to take huge offence at my inability and pain to be around their pregnancies, new borns etc, as though I’ve done something wrong and owe THEM an apology. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that friendships do come and go and some simply don’t withstand this kind of stress test. But just remember, a lost friendship makes room for a new friendship. You are so not alone. All the best.

  10. Mia

    Thanks for the kind words, it means a lot right now. Actually to make things worse, I got pregnant again with our last frozen embryo, one month after the whole incident, and I agonized over calling her, but was very worried and anxious over the pregnancy as well. I had another miscarriage at 8.5 weeks, one week a great loud heartbeat, the next nothing. It was the longest I had ever been pregnant. It made it worse for me that I knew my friend didn’t even plan to have a baby and she accidentally got pregnant,when I have been trying for five years. I really feel very bad for feeling so jealous, its not her fault she is pregnant, or can get pregnant so easily. I don’t like this hateful new me, it’s surprising and disturbing. It took my body seemingly forever to heal from this last miscarriage, my heart feels like it got run over by a highway full of trucks. I can’t even explain why I cannot bring myself to be happy for her, or why I have unsubscribed to every facebook friend who puts pictures of their pregnancy or babies up. I started calling Facebook gallery of torture, till I had the presence of mind to start hiding people, just to protect myself and not cry every time I hear that my college friend is pregnant for the third time, or see
    pictures of self proclaimed kid phobic friends who accidentally got pregnant, and now have these gorgeous kids they complain about constantly. My world feels like its shrinking, even my parents have stopped calling as much since the last miscarriage because they don’t know what to say. Being Asian, my parents view this whole thing as a ” lifestyle” choice on our part, not a diagnosed illness, after the first 2 IUIs failed my mother in law actually told me why can’t we just try to do it “naturally”‘, meaning have sex the regular way without the help of technology. I couldn’t even answer the question, was too busy trying not to be offended on so many levels, meanwhile maintaining my decorum so I don’t offend her by saying what i really feel. I hate having to attend baptisms, baby showers, even parties now, cause its divided into parents with kids, and us childless or single people in other side of the room, but even on that end of the room, I feel out of place, being married for a while now, too old to go to trendy clubs. It not only the anxiety and heart break of infertility, it’s really this massive shift in my social life, just not fitting in anywhere, people not knowing how to act in front of me and my husband, the isolation and added guilt all piling up slowly. I would like to be a more gracious person, to be the bigger person, but like you just said, it is nearly impossible, when social expectations and even structural expectations have failed us. Maybe I will wake up one day and not feel like this anymore, for now, i am trying my best and hope people understand.

  11. Mimi

    Hello from Tokyo.
    Please allow me to introduce myself.
    I am a married Japanese woman, 44 years old, born and raised in Tokyo.
    I used to live in NYC for 15 years.
    4 years ago my American husband and I moved to Japan. I tried two IVFs in Japan and the states…I stopped after only two times since I was mentally and physically exhausted. The two tries were enough for me to go crazy! Back in 2004, I was a June bride with an ordinary dream- start a family of three or more immediately since I am 8 years older than my husband. My dream was broken. Staring at a baby stroller zigzagging thru streets of Manhattan, only thing came to my mind was when was my time to join the race of baby stroller pushing competition.
    The word “what if” was not in my dictionary when it came to having my own child.During my neurotic days of baby making, I felt as if I were a broken product that even a specialist could not fix. I walked away from the world of IVF (full of what ifs) 5 years ago, but the label “BROKEN” was still on my back. As much as I want to peel the label, the pain to peel off became a part of me. Letting go is the most difficult thing.
    Within 4 years of moving back to Japan, I lost my mother and my best friend from college.
    The two women who influenced me the most are gone.
    I was truly counting on my best friend after my mother’s departure; I never doubted that we grew older together like sisters especially since I do not have a sibling of my own. My another dream that I had with my best friend was broken.
    Life is BITCH, indeed.
    My husband is the best gift God ever given to me. He has been right beside me when I faced the most difficult times of my life. But these broken dreams are hovering over my head 24/7. It is really great to hear that you found true friends who can share your passions. Maybe one day I might find a friend I can show who really I am.
    No rush. No one can replace my best friend. But I do not give up finding one.
    In your blog, I see myself in every entries and comments.
    Your blog connects people going through the similar experience all over the world.
    Thank you very much for opening your hearts to us.
    Thank you again to read my thoughts.

    Mimi

  12. Pamela

    Dear Mimi,
    Thank you for sharing your story, and for your strength against so many losses. There is no greater comfort than being understood and accepted and loved just as you are, something your mother and best friend, I’m sure, proved time and again. I’m glad your husband has been such a pillar of support.

    Your heart is open, which is the first step in finding and forging new friendships …

    While we are far flung on this blog, you are most definitely among friends here. Warm regards, Pamela

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