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When being right is all wrong


With Joyce.

A week ago, I was on the road for a speech and met a woman who broke down crying because she and her sister hadn’t talked for months. She didn’t know how to make the first move.

“Call her!” I said.

As if it were that easy.

“Call her!” I said again.

Over time, I’ve experienced a handful of conflicts that have blown apart some of the best friendships I have ever had. The last month taught me a lesson that I want to share. It’s this: Stubbornness is a very expensive commodity.

People are imperfect and relationships are fragile. Someone once explained to me that, just because a friendship makes it 20 years, it doesn’t mean it’ll make it 21.

That’s a hard lesson. So is the lesson that you don’t win much when you know you are right.

The blow-up I had with my best friend Joyce came during a kayaking vacation with the girls down in the Florida Keys in 2002. In two decades of friendship, we’d never voiced a single cross word with one another. On that trip, outside stresses had us on edge. When we left the Keys, we ended our friendship.

I was devastated. After a couple of weeks, I sent a letter asking Joyce if we could talk. All I got back was a short e-mail that said she wasn’t ready. She lives four hours north of me, but we were a million miles apart.

Three years later, I wrote again and said I missed her. She wrote back and told me she missed me. But, things were still not right. During the next six years, I saw her twice: Once, for lunch. The other time, for her father’s funeral. We occasionally called and had long talks, but there were no visits. Just talk.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in North Florida to start work on a novel. Joyce’s husband was gone for the weekend and she urged me to stay. In two minutes, it was clear how much we had missed. There was love and laughter and understanding and promise. Joyce cuts through the b.s. of life and cracks me up with her insights. I’d missed that so much. I’d missed how comfortable I feel hanging out with her. She gets me more than anybody does.

We’d wasted so much time. I am sure neither of us can even remember exactly what it was that caused the blow-up, just that that she was sure she was right, I was sure I was right, and in the end, we both were a couple of dorks. We have vowed to never go to that dark space again.

The fact that I have to share another story like that could make it seem like I get into things like this a lot. I don’t. I have been blessed with an army of friends, but there are a few stubborn soldiers in that army, including me.

Three weeks ago, my friend Teresa and I got into it because, just like the Joyce situation, we both had outside stresses that made us emotionally vulnerable. In our case, we both were on edge because we were going through bad break-ups. There were some snippy e-mails, and then silence – the kind of silence that wraps itself in anger and hurt. Thank God Teresa it ended quickly.

“Fawn, can we talk yet?”  said the one-line e-mail from her yesterday.

“Why yes we can,” I wrote back.

I’d missed her so much. Last night, we shared a bottle of wine at dinner, toasting our friendship and vowing that we should never fight again. But, just in case we do, the fight can’t last any longer than this one: three weeks.

Believe me, three weeks of being hurt is one hell of a lot better than three years. If you’re missing someone who matters, go fix the problem.

  1. Fawn,
    I am so impressed with your being able to get past such a painful, lapse in those friendships.
    I have tried, unsuccessfully, to reconnect with a dear friend, i left behind in Hawaii. We had a fall out over something so stupid. Sadly, we only exchange infrequent emails. Other than answering questions I may ask about her family, there is no longer any sisterly afection.
    Worse, she is ill, so there is no guarantee of the “future taking care of itself”.
    So glad you shared this with everyone.
    Love ready your material. Let me know if you are ever near the Albany, NY area. Would love to come see you.
    Charlotte (scarlett oahu)

  2. Hard won wisdom, indeed. This is a WONDERFUL article. If only everyone could be sane and emotionally mature – or at least, see reason after cooling off.

    I’m sorry you’re suffering, but God knows – and I think you do, too – you are widely loved and admired, and only a phone call or an e-mail away from as much support as possible.

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