Yesterday, Ava came home very upset. Like really upset. She was emotional and distraught and seemed overwhelmed and lost.
She explained that she had been betrayed by her friends…her “friends.” Not only had there been some flakiness surrounding the science fair (which Ava takes so seriously it sort of alarms me), she found out that two of the girls at her slumber party had snuck into her room and read her diary, after telling Ava to “please leave” because they were “talking about something private.”
She was absolutely betrayed and could not make sense of it on any level: why would they lie? Why would they hurt her like that? Don’t they really care about her? Aren’t they her friends?
As she asked these questions I did my regular searching-for-the-right-thing-to-say routine, in which I inevitably realize I am not cut out for this shit and should not be trusted with somebody’s emotional development.
I listen to her feelings and empathize and commiserate. I feel the urge to say supportive, encouraging, hoo-rah good-mothering comments to her, to boost her spirits and make her feel better…but I just can’t. I can’t get them out. I hear them in my head: “Oh, maybe they were having a bad day. Be a bigger person. Look for the good in them.” Blah blah fucking blah.
But just like in The Stuffed Seal Incident, I can’t bring myself to say them, mostly because that crap never worked for me or helped me and it pretty much always just pisses me off. All that positive self-talk crap.
So instead, I say the truth.
“Ava, people suck. People are self-interested and self-centered. Every person, no matter who they are or how much they love you or you love them or how good they seem, WILL, inevitably, at some point, let you down. They will fail to meet your expectations. They will hurt you. This is not because they are bad people, but rather because they are human. And as humans, they are flawed.”
Maybe that seems pessimistic or negative or defeatist, but I don’t really think it is. And here’s why: because it’s true.
And the truth, in my opinion, is where the freedom lies and real growth can occur.
All that positive self-talk just polishes my anger into something more palatable, or covers it up long enough that I forget it’s there. Ah, but the truth. The truth changes things.
Now if any of you have a close relationship to a human being who has never once failed to meet your expectations, please let me know and I will adjust my theory…but as far as I can tell, not a single human has ever lived on this planet without royally fucking up at least once, injuring the people close to him or her in the process.
I’ve done it. Sometimes I don’t even know I’ve done it. I let people down without even knowing they expected something of me. I’ve been so lost serving my own interests that I don’t even realize my friend needed me. So I’m an asshole consciously and an asshole unconsciously.
That’s actually kind of impressive.
Anyway I was on a roll, so I kept going. “Ava, this doesn’t mean we just roll over and accept the way people treat us without question. We get to choose who is in our lives and who isn’t, and you can cross those girls out immediately if you want, and with reason, but either way, the sooner you let go of the expectation that friends and acquaintances are going to treat you in thoughtful, considerate ways all the time… the sooner you’ll be a happier person.”
And she thought about this. And thought. And thought. And finally said “Yeah, I see that, because I hurt people all the time and get mad and feel bad about it. But I just want them to see that they were wrong.”
And so I said something to her that changed my life when a good, [very mean, very real] friend said it to me: “Well, would you rather be right or would you rather be free?”
She looked at me like I was insane.
But I think she got it one some level…
I chose not to go on, chose not to explain that it’s freedom from bitterness and resentment and pain – freedom from that aching feeling that comes because the world just won’t do what I want and nobody behaves and no matter how hard I try, you fail me. You hurt me. You let me down.
And I think they won’t. But they will.
And I will.
Because we’re human. That’s what we do.
Oddly, when I see that, when I see the humanity in the other person, when I see that they are just like me, I am finally able to forgive them, to move on with a clearer head and less pain. Or at least it doesn’t last quite so long.
And maybe I will walk away, ultimately. And that’s cool. But whether I choose to love them despite their flaws or kick ‘em to the curb, I don’t have to carry that sickening feeling of betrayal, of deep-seated hurt – because I wanted you to be something you literally cannot be. (The Person Who Never Lets me Down.)
I don’t know.
It took me 30 years to learn these lessons. Just kinda hoping she gets it a little earlier.
But seriously, what kind of asshat kid reads somebody else’s DIARY? Little bastards.