Well it’s good to know I can count on you to stab me in the back, the first text read.
The texts kept on coming. A flurry.
The finishing move: It’s just another case of make one friend, lose three.
I shook my head, sighed deeply. All I had done was go out to dinner with a group of people while she was out of town. And true, one of my dinner mates was someone she’d had a falling out with. But we were accompanied by several others. And no one had uttered a single word about her.
Soon All the Tourists Will Be Here
It wasn’t like I didn’t understand where Michelle was coming from. I did.
In fact, I had similar fears. And I still do.
When I met Skyspook, I was stunned that no one had swooped in already, monopolized him. He was brilliant. Stable, financially and emotionally. Great with his hands. Could whip up impressive machines with a handful of spare parts. Be tech support boyfriend, troubleshooting in his underwear. His own eyes would water whenever I cried. And he took me on amazing dates. How was he even single?
That NRE was so intense, like a nonstop drug binge. And as an extrovert and a writer, I sung Skyspook’s praises at every spare moment. I wrote and wrote. Gushed on Facebook. About the small things, the big things, everything in between.
“I feel like I discovered an unknown wonder of the world,” I told him. “And soon all the tourists will be here.” Carrying him away in their knapsacks, one pilfered pebble at a time.
And it’s been the same fear with CC, all these years later. “I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll introduce you to one of my friends, who you’ll click better with. You’ll sprint off into the sunset together. And I’ll have to be content with my memories of you.”
And yet, for all my worrying, it never happens. Where with Michelle, it’s a perpetually self-fulfilling prophecy. Her friends grow tired of her and leave.
Fear Is a Liar, But a Convincing One
Fear of abandonment? It’s incredibly common. And it’s garbage unless you take practical steps responding to it.
Both Michelle and I feared the same thing. I just did things to make that outcome less likely. I tried to treat people as well as I could, give them as many reasons possible that they’d want to stay in touch. And I tried to accept that I might lose them, even so.
Where Michelle would resort to threats and insults when she sensed people even beginning to slip away, even for an instant. With just the natural ebbs and flows of contact that come with sustained friendships. When people get busy. Sick. Overwhelmed. And in growing hostile, she caused what she feared to come true: She pushed people away.
It’s Not Fear, It’s What We Do With that Fear
The biggest lesson Michelle ever taught me: It isn’t the absence or presence of fear that predicts success; it’s what we do with that fear.
As Matthew Shadrake writes in “Nothing is Deserved”:
…the way you influence people is the most important part of what you do as a person…We make all these rules about how we should “treat” people and how you ought to respect this, challenge this, etc. But they’re all aimed at a particular goal – making sure you’re good to someone. But everyone has a different set of rules, and often the advice you hear from one person conflicts with the advice from someone else. Or it challenges your long-held conventional wisdom on a subject…One of the most important assets of a friendship is that you care for someone, and try to be there for them in their toughest times.
…You can offer any number of defenses about your intentions, but intentions don’t really matter post-hoc. You can say you were misinterpreted, you can say that you didn’t mean it, you can say it was a joke, you can say you were trying your best. You can offer a thousand reasons why it’s not your fault.
But in the end? If it doesn’t work out? Then it doesn’t work out. Nothing is deserved. No one owes you anything.
My book is out!