Thursday, 30 May 2013

Falling Out 2

How many times can a heart break? Seven times seventy-seven, I'd say. My heart has been broken so many times, I've lost count. And it is interesting what broken-heartiness can do to you. It can make you into a tough, angry, insensitive person, and it can make you into a caring, deeply creative, sensitive person. Or both.

I had a particularly bad break when I made a new female friend in my early thirties. She was twenty or so, talented, fun and both amused and frustrated to find herself a fish out of water. She was as brilliant and enthusiastic as the sun on a July day. Always the youngest around, she gravitated towards me, and although I was much older, I learned all kinds of things from her: new kinds of food, new dances, even how to use crayons. (She: "Are you AFRAID of the crayon?") I read over her papers. And I offered a listening ear when she told me about a troubling atheist classmate. I gave solemn advice about the atheist classmate. Atheists, ick.

As luck would have it, she started dating the atheist classmate, and my earlier sympathetic denouncements of the atheist classmate came back to haunt me. My young friend worried that I would not like her classmate-boyfriend, and although he seemed like a nicer guy than she had first described him, I could not be sufficiently enthusiastic. The upshot was her out-of-the-blue, incandescent-with-rage email that accused me of, among other things, racism.

In my town, the worst thing you can call someone, especially a white person, is a racist. And I hadn't started writing for the CR yet, so I was still very thin-skinned. The unfairness of the email struck me so violently that I burst into tears, and as soon as I could, I went to see my spiritual director and cried my heart out. I hadn't felt so betrayed by a female friend since elementary school, and I was completely bewildered. I decided that the easiest explanation was that my friend had not really seen me as a friend but as a mother/mentor figure and had had to violently break ties with me so as to bond with her new man without getting mad at her real mother. Or something. And I said I would never be friends with someone so much younger than me ever again.

But the next term, Lily arrived. Lily was not much older than my friend (who had left town with her man) and she was even more beautiful--model-beautiful, in fact--but she was a lot quieter, a lot deeper and an old soul. Somehow we became friends, and we still are friends, even though we have had at least  one really bad fight. Fortunately, that fight was on the phone, not over dratted email.

As Single women in your thirties, chances are that you are going to make friends with people much younger than yourselves because you are more likely to share the Single lifestyle with them than with women your own age. This can be challenging because many of the young are still in flux. They are still working things out, and their adult brains may not be entirely hooked up yet. Although you may think you are equals, they may even project all kinds of ideas onto you---"mother figure," for example. Mothers are not just loved by the young;  they are avoided, rebelled against and sometimes even hated. Being a mother-figure when you are not actually old enough to be your friend's mother is a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. It's safer if your young friend has an old soul.

It is safer, too, if you stop yourself from ever writing an angry email to a friend. In the case of younger friends, I belatedly think you should avoid anything at all contentious. "Hey, you know, you will have a  lot of trouble in life from Macedonians if you make such anti-Macedonian remarks to Macedonians" is best saved for the phone.

Meanwhile, I suppose you have to watch against a tendency to turn your younger friends into your children. This is more of a murky area for me, for I never had any older friends who did this. I imagine, though, that some older friends could become overbearing, especially if they are much richer or successful or advanced in their careers and convinced that they know better than you what is good for you. They might completely underestimate their effect on you, too, as pop culture constantly tells us (especially women) that our social value to the young decreases us we age. (This, incidentally, is nonsense, but it is hard to forget that it is nonsense.)

In that case, I think the best thing to do is tell your older friends exactly what you are thinking, only in friendly language. "I love the time we spend together, but I feel X when you say Y" is a good start when talking to an overbearing older friend. Overbearing older friend might not have any idea she is overbearing. I rarely have any idea of what effect I am having on people, as one of my theology profs once observed. (Apparently I often intimidate people [like left-wing priest-professors], and I really don't understand why, as I am so small and powerless.* Maybe it's because I say whatever most things that come into my head, e.g., "Not only was Cardinal Ratzinger completely right about the liturgy, he was terribly handsome," because my filter is rather eccentric.)

Anyway, I very much wish my young friend had told me right away when she felt annoyed with me instead of letting her discomfort build up until she wrote me that horrible, friendship-ending email. A nice coffee date and an explanation that she had to work through a lot of issues as she got so intimately involved with a man so different from her would have been nice although, I suspect, too much to expect. As for me, I think I could have listened more carefully and to what she said about at least one issue on an earlier occasion.

When sex is in the air--as I suspect it was--older woman friend is rarely a match for wily young lover. Sex is a freight train, and sometimes when your friend is stuck in the tracks, looking with avid interest at the steel behemoth racing towards her, all you can do is skip out of the way.

*That said, any adult who assumes he or she is powerless should do a good examination of conscience. Some priests assume they are powerless flower petals ground down under the boots of the parishioners, entirely unaware of the emotional and spiritual power they have over those very same parishioners. Some young women have absolutely no idea that their clothing, conversation and behaviour are driving male friends to distraction because "I'm so ugly/famously pure, it doesn't matter what I wear/say/do."  At any rate, if a friend is driving you crazy, it is most charitable to assume she doesn't know and to tell her--but very probably not by email.

Update: Tomorrow is Gentleman's Day, so send me some question for les gars and I will post them up tomorrow. If any men are still reading, they may answer them and ask their own questions for you to answer on June 1.


c'est la vie said...

I have a question for the well-travelled gentlemen: have you observed any special difference between dating practices and expectations in the UK and in North America? Thanks.

Kate said...

I'm glad you also noted how older friends should be careful to not be overbearing. Sometimes I'm hesitant -- I'm in my mid-twenties -- to make friends with women in their late 30s because there seems to be a tendency to treat me like a younger sister or niece -- which can be nice at times, but it's difficult to have a true friendship on that, and it can get ugly if you don't take their advice on all matters. Also it can be a little frustrating if you're younger and have less money to always feel you're "in debt" to the older friend because of her generosity in giving you favors you'd really prefer not to have.

not quite young anymore said...

I was once a young woman whose friendship with an older woman exploded (not over a man). In my case, there was an entire novel-worthy psychodrama going on in my head that my friend (herself not blameless in the situation) never knew about.

Older women, never ever underestimate the kind of power and influence you can have over younger women.

Younger women, never ever make an older woman (or any human) into an idol. It's not going to end well even if the woman you select is a paragon. (Mine wasn't.)

amlovesmusic said...

This is an interesting post for me, because I tend to get along really well with women 8-10 years older than me, whether they are married or not. I am a bit of an old soul, so I think that helps. And I am not one for silliness like other girls my age(the duck face pictures girls take? Yeah, not happening with me!) Plus I tend to think things through before acting, and I am more cautious, etc. I have yet to have any issues with my older female friends. I love them, and for some reason they love me. I will never forget one statement a friend made: "I want to drop-kick girls your age.....but not you!"

However, sometimes I feel like maybe I take advantage of them? I feel bad in my friendships because I do not have the money to repay their kindnesses to me. As an older woman yourself, how would you like your younger female friends to show that they value you?