Yesterday in therapy, I talked to Deb about the “Amber Alert” from last week. I was surprised, as I told her the story, to hear the anger in my voice. I really didn’t realize I was “angry” about the whole thing. This is just Amber. This is how she is. And over the years, we have just grown apart because of it.
This time last year, my mother asked me if I had gotten Amber’s Christmas card, a photo of her children. I told her I had not and she said she would forward me the one she got. I told her it wasn’t necessary for her to do that.
“Aren’t you guys friends anymore?” my mother asked, astonished.
“Not really,” I answered her honestly. “I mean, nothing really happened to end our friendship, we’ve just, sort of, disconnected. We don’t really have anything in common anymore and we haven’t talked in ages.” I told her the card didn’t mean anything to me and I didn’t have a burning desire to see the picture of the kids. My mother seemed to find this hurtful in some way, using her “jewish mother” tone of voice to say, “Ooook. I’ll just keep it then. I like other people’s kids.”
It seems… maybe… that I might… have seemed a little hostile when talking about this card… maybe. Deb asked me what it was about the card that bothered me. At first I really didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t realized that I was conveying serious displeasure about the subject. I gave her a few answers:
“What’s the point?”
“It’s a waste.”
“Why do I want pictures of other people’s kids?”
None of these answers seemed to satisfy Deb. “I think there’s more,” she kept saying.
I told her, I don’t understand why people send out pictures of their children as a Christmas card. I’ve gotten them from other people as well. People I don’t really interact with. People who I’m no longer (or never was) close to. People who can’t be bothered to give me the time of day for months and years at a time and then one day decide to send me a picture of their kids as a Christmas card, without bothering to personalize it in any way.
“It feels like an afterthought,” I told her, “like they didn’t really care that much. I imagine them sitting down at their dinner table with a stack of these damn picture cards, a stack of envelopes and their rolodex. They pick up a card, they right a nice greeting to the recipient and they pop it into the envelope and they send it on it’s way. They get to the end of their list and there’s one card left. ‘What should I do with this one?’ they wonder aloud. ‘Eh. I guess I could send it to Kevin.’
“The sentiment feels disingenuos. Like I was nothing more than an afterhought and I wasn’t any more important than a quick flip of the wrist, and off the last card goes.
“I’m not attached to these people’s children, and they couldn’t even be bothered to write a simple ‘Merry Christmas. Wish you were here.’ What’s the point?”
The answer still didn’t seem enough. “I keep feeling like you’re looking for me to tell you that I’m some how jealous or envious of these people having families, but I swear to you, that thought has never entered my mind… Before right now.”
That’s when the real irony of the situation hit me. I told my sister, in October, “I need good quality, non-cell phone digital pictures of the children so I can print them out and hang them on my office wall.”
“I know,” she replied. “I need to take their picture for the Christmas card anyway.” The thought crossed my mind that it was a lame card. Nobody wants a card with pictures of other peoples’ kids. But at least it would get me a picture of my neices and nephew. Out of all the “christmas card” picutres of other people’s kids I got this year, the one person from whom I would have liked to, my sister, didn’t even send one to me.
Deb asked me for more. More explanation why I was so unahppy to receive the child-photo-christmas cards. Why did it feel disingenuos to me? The only answer I could give her is that it felt one sided, like people were foisting upon me something I didn’t care about without any interest or concern about whether I was interested; without any interest or concern about me.
“Say more,” she prompted.
“To me,” I told her, “Friendship goes two ways. Sure, we all want to talk about ourselves. We all want people to listen to us as we tell them about ourselves. But friendship?, is about talking about the other person. Friendship is about asking the other person how they are doing. What’s new with them? What, if anything, do they need? Hopefully, after they have answered those questions they will turn around and ask you about you, but if they don’t, that’s when you can say, ‘OK. Glad to hear your doing well.’ and then proceed to tell them about you.
“THAT is what I didn’t get from Amber for a very long time. It’s all one sided!”
“Of course it is!” Deb answered. “You made it that way. You didn’t tell her about you.”
“She didn’t ask about me. She didn’t express a genuine interest about me. She didn’t really want to know about me.”
“She didn’t?” Deb asked me. “You said she asked about your love life.”
It’s true Amber always asked the dreaded “when-are-you-going-to-get-a-girlfriend-you-need-a-girlfriend-when-are-you-going-to-get-married?” questions, but she didn’t want to know what I would have told her, had I answered those questions honestly. She didn’t want to know that I am attracted to strong, healthy, athletic men, preferably with a nice tan and not much hair below the neck. She didin’t want to know that the kind of relationship I was interested in, the kind of sex I wanted to have, wasn’t going to result in the creation of a baby. She didn’t want to know that the kind of marriage I would want is not even legal in 45 US States. So I make sarcastic, sometimes even snide remarks, (“What are you? My Grandmother? Would you like to pinch my cheeks and talk about my punum too?”) and she either doesn’t get the point or she pretends not to and continues to push.
“So she doesn’t know the truth and the dialoge is one sided because she feels free to express, maybe even push, her thoughts and feelings and what she believes, but you don’t do the same. And I think we see this over and over again where you form these relationships where you feel like you have to sit back and allow the other person to force their perspectives on you and you start to feel like you can’t express yourself and be who you are around them. And then you start to accept this as how things are. I’m concerned that you make it OK. That you give people permission to do this to you. And then you feel more and more like you can’t be who you are and be open and honest with people.”