We sit at the bar with a beer in front of each of us, and though we’ve probably shared hundreds of these in and since our college days, those days have long since passed, and we’re now the kind of friends who have the opportunity to catch up over a drink perhaps once a year if our paths—theirs with a successful career that takes them non-stop around the country, mine a little closer to home with a husband, children, and a crazy business—happen to cross.
As always, we pick up right where we left off—our friendship is a conversation that flows easily and one from which I walk away feeling more solid, more sure, more fulfilled, happier. Always and without fail. And though inconsistent in frequency, thoroughly consistent in feeling. I can count on this friendship. I have always felt about this friend—and told them so—that I was out of my comfort zone with them. Not in the sense that I was uncomfortable, but that I knew I would learn something about myself in a challenging-but-entirely-worthwhile way. I do every time we talk.
On this evening, talk turns to life and love, and I’m once again surprised to hear that this friend has not yet settled down, fallen head over heels, or found “the one.” When asked to explain a bit, the response is true to character. (This friend is not someone who settles.) ”You have a few dates with someone, and if you know pretty early on that the person isn’t a fit—isn’t someone you know you want to end up with—it just doesn’t seem worth it to continue dating. I mean, is it worth it?”
And suddenly I feel my heart race. Not in excitement or anticipation but in absolute dread. I am simultaneously frozen in my seat and dying to dash out the door and into the cold street outside—with or without my coat. I find myself unable to meet the gaze that is firmly set on me, and I fight back tears as I stare at my hands, the wood bar, the corner of my napkin peeking out from under my drink, anything but this friend’s face who has asked the question no one has ever asked me and that I’ve never even dared to ask of myself.
"Is it worth it?" they ask again.
The following thoughts come to mind in the following order:
1. Please don’t ask me this. Please don’t ask me this. Please don’t ask me this.
2. Please don’t be YOU asking me this. Anyone but you.
3. I cannot cry at this bar.
4. Please don’t ask me this. Please don’t ask me this. Please don’t ask me this.
And when my mind finally goes quiet—in the span of a few seconds—I feel my resolve, my effort, my façade fade, and in that moment, the very small, tenuous, tired thread from which my marriage was hanging broke. It was subtle and silent, but I registered the fracture and turned to face this friend, who sat patiently with nothing but the most sincere look of understanding in their eyes. No instigation, no judgment, not even a bit of regret for having asked such a loaded question—and I knew I could and would answer honestly.
"I wish I could say yes, but for me, no, it is not."
I didn’t know then—at least not logically in my mind, I think deep in my heart the knowledge was there—that I would end my marriage, but I did just a few weeks later. (Full disclosure, lest you think this was a spur-of-the-moment decision after drinks with an old friend: ending my marriage was a gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, beyond difficult decision that came after much consideration, many months with a therapist, and countless sleepless days and nights…but the breaking thread happened in the midst of that very long, arduous process just as I describe above.)
For reasons I cannot detail here, I’ve had to step away from this friendship recently—another decision that was and is both difficult and necessary—and it wasn’t until this past weekend when I stumbled upon a passage from a book I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit I’m reading* that I’m able to sort through and explain to myself what happened between us.
"People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake… Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave… [Their] purpose was to shake you up, drive you out of that marriage that you needed to leave, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you had to transform your life…then…beat it. That was [their] job, and [they] did great, but now it’s over. Problem is, you can’t accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life. You’re like a dog at the dump, baby—you’re just lickin’ at an empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you’re not careful, that can’s gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it."
"But I love [them]."
"So love [them]."
"But I miss [them]."
"So miss [them]. Send [them] some love and light every time you think about [them] and then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of [them] because then you’ll really be alone, and [you’re] scared to death of what will happen if [you’re] really alone. But here’s what you gotta understand…If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about [them], you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot—a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with that doorway? It will rush in—God will rush in—and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using [them] to block that door. Let it go."
I have no idea if my friend reads this blog—I wouldn’t be surprised by either possibility—but it is my hope that they feel the light and love I send their way with each thought of them as I let go. My life is entirely new because of that conversation—that friend, really—and for that and for them I will always be grateful, no matter how our own story ends.
*It seems terribly and awfully cliché that this newly-unmarried gal is toting around a copy of Eat, Pray, Love in her purse. Truly—it’s hard for me to even have it on my nightstand (not that anyone but two toddlers see what is on my nightstand these days.) I just feel so…divorced…when I think about people seeing me with this book. So much so that being able to disguise my latest literary pursuit might trump my vehement anti-e-reader sentiments. Trust me when I tell you that the first time I read Eat, Pray, Love years ago (on the recommendation of a friend and to see what all the hype was about) I dismissed it as whiny and selfish…now it’s like Elizabeth Gilbert is inside my mind. Not sure how to feel about that, but it’s honestly pretty helpful when you think you’re completely crazy and convinced you are the only person on the planet who is sad and struggling and having a tough time with something that seems to most people, well, whiny and selfish. So if you see me with my very dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love, please don’t judge. I’ve already got that covered.