A few weeks ago one of my close girlfriends sent me a message asking if she could show me a letter she’d written to me. She told me she’d recently been in therapy and a number of memories from her childhood had surfaced, some of them involving me. I knew straight away it wasn’t going to be an easy letter to read.
I made sure I was in a good headspace, and took my phone down to sit on the beach.
Tears welled in my eyes. The letter detailed the ways in which I had bullied her when we were both in middle school; the names I’d called her, the way I’d excluded her and put her down. How she had gone looking for the root cause of negative thought patterns and discovered long-repressed memories of being tormented by someone who was supposed to be a friend.
“I wish I could just shrug my shoulders…but I continue to feel resentment around these issues and it’s difficult for me to continue our friendship,” she wrote, “I had almost unconsciously thought to just move away from our relationship and continue our lives without each other, I didn’t want to cause you pain by raising these issues and I didn’t want to revisit old wounds…”
I sat on the beach with my stomach sinking lower and lower as I read about how she’d felt all those years ago, knowing how hard this would have been for her to write.
But then came the final sentence, a lifeline.
“…but I don’t want to lose our friendship. Is there a way we could open up a dialogue about this?”
My heart nearly burst out of my chest. I could not believe the kindness, grace and mercy she was showing me in that moment by not only opening up and sharing the wounds of her past, but giving me a chance to right the wrongs I’d committed.
I called her that afternoon and apologised profusely over the phone. While I don’t consciously remember the events she described, I can see how it would have happened given my eleven year old view of the world. I was projecting my own insecurities onto her in an attempt to dispel the pain I was feeling. Like most girls at that age, I was shockingly self conscious and unbearably insecure. I didn’t know how to handle it, so I took it out on her.
We chatted for hours that afternoon about what we remembered from school and what we were going through at home. And as we spoke, what struck me most was the beautiful sense of connection I felt in the wake of our vulnerability. It felt warm, safe and uninhibited. It was like our friendship had been on the brink of collapse and instead of letting it fall apart, we took it to a whole new level. The beauty of that feeling sparked a revelation; these are the kind of conversations we need to be having.
While the rise of social media has the potential to strengthen connections, it’s also created a culture of disposable friendships in which we’d rather throw someone out and start again than have the difficult conversations that are essential for building and sustaining relationships. While it’s great to make new friends, the deep connection and intimacy we’re all craving comes from consistent vulnerability, navigating conflict and building trust over time. And like anything in life, the more we invest in these relationships, the deeper they become.
I am still in awe of the bravery it took for this amazing woman to not only delve into her past but to share it with me, having no idea how I would respond. That letter – even though it was painful for me to read – was the most beautiful gift. And even though what followed was messy, scary and hard, I will be forever grateful that she chose to bring it up rather than letting our friendship go.