There is value in being open and vulnerable*, and a price to pay for avoiding it. When I look back, ‘avoiding’ is what I was doing when I tried to cover up my imperfections, or tried to make a good impression on friends.
Madeleine and I met in the 70s at a women’s ‘assertiveness training’ group. In those days, most women actually had to learn to stand up for themselves, as they had generally been conditioned to be humble, to ‘know their place’. We were also both from somewhere else, still trying to understand and adjust to Toronto. She was from Singapore via Australia, and I was from Montreal. So we both had some struggles with building a feeling of ‘belonging’.
We quickly became friends, with our equal love of passionate discussions about everything from relationships and psychology to politics and world affairs. It turned out that when we socialized with husbands in tow, we could have formed a ‘foodie’ club with our interests and the pleasures of each other’s company.
The friendship grew and went on for years, until I became a mother. Within a few years, the theme of parenting two children became dominant in my life, interfering with everything. For various reasons, I felt quite incompetent. As challenges increased, so did my sense of inadequacy. Fewer and fewer people were welcomed into my home – after all, ‘what would they think?!’
In those days, at times, it often seemed as if we parents were in some kind of competition, sharing and comparing parenting theories. I waffled between a variety of theories, or having no idea at all what to do next. For a long time I felt lost in a swamp. I returned phone calls less and less.
So when Madeleine moved back to Singapore, I didn’t pursue or nourish that relationship, and we lost touch. I often thought of her over the decades, and felt sad to have lost such a special relationship.
In recent years, with a little more insight, I eventually realized that (a) I wasn’t as terrible a parent as I thought, and (b) the parenting isn’t over. It’s never over. I have lots of gray hair and I worry very little now about how others see me. Some wish I’d worry more!
So it was quite a thrill the other night when the phone rang, and the voice on the other end was none other than Madeleine. I invited them for dinner, and that night we did a few decades of catching up. And lots of passionate discussions, just like those evenings decades ago.
How lucky I have been lately! Again, I had a ‘second chance’ – the chance to make amends, to explain, to ‘correct mistakes’, to make up for lost times – and missed hugs.
I allowed my vulnerability to be present, talked about things I once thought better hidden behind my pretensions. Madeleine listened with compassion and wisdom. We’ve both come a long way, and we both have long valued this now renewed – and refueled – friendship, for good reason.