Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Compromising Friendships -- by Laura Houston

Last month a friend I will call Megan sent me an email at 4am. She had hit an emotional wall and landed in one of those dark spaces that you can’t crawl out of alone. She needed some help. Immediately. She’s not the kind of person who ever asks for help, and we have only reignited our friendship when I moved to New York a year ago, so I was surprised she reached out to me.

Megan and I are nothing alike, but we were once strong allies when we worked together more than 15 years ago. We stayed in touch as we hopscotched across the country, attending graduate schools, taking new jobs, or just packing up and setting down somewhere else.

I admire Megan for her unusual way of being. She’s no one I would ever think to be friends with, but I found her to be an amazing sounding board for new ideas and spiritual philosophies. I like to explore religious ideologies, but I am disgusted by extreme religions. I get angry with people who disrespect my time and privacy by knocking on my door trying to sell their brand of religion. I hate the people who would mix church and state in order to further their agenda of hatred. I cringe at the bigotry and sexual discrimination extreme religions bring to any society. So what was I doing in a friendship with Megan who is a deeply devoted, fully entrenched, Bible thumping, born-again, conservative Christian to the point where she prayed for good grades as much as she studied to get them? I joke with her that she is just one bite away from being a rabid Christian and she acknowledges her faith is a little hard to take. In fact, in her circles of academia, it has left her socially alienated.

So it’s rare for Megan to turn to me, her heathen friend, instead of turning to God or her minister. I told her I would meet her as soon as I could.

We met at a café, and sat in a booth in the window where only the hostess could hear our conversation. It went something like this:

“I’ve prayed. I’ve been obedient. I’ve been good,” Megan said. “And all I got was lonely.”

“Yeah, well, people who don’t pray, and who aren’t obedient, and who aren’t good also get lonely,” I said. “It’s a natural human condition.”

“You’re bleak,” she said. “Anyway, I thought by now I would be married. I thought my purpose in life was to be a mom. But all I have is a career in a big city where I don’t fit in with all of you liberals.”

“What makes you think you can’t be a mother?” I asked her. “It’s not too late.”

“It is,” she said. “I’m 48 and going into menopause.”

“Have you ever looked at the web site I write for women who become moms later in life or read any of my blogs?”

“Yes,” she said. “I find it sort of sad that so many women wait so long to have children and then feel traumatized by it.”

“Don’t hold back any punches,” I said. “And don’t put your shit on older moms because we did what we wanted and got what we wanted. We never said it was easy. We only want to talk about our conflicted feelings.”

“It sounds like you’re whining.”

Megan is very, very honest. And sometimes she is right.

“So what if we are? You whine because you don’t have kids. We whine because we do,” I said.

One of the reasons I have worked hard to keep my relationship with Megan is because we can be brutally honest with each other from totally opposite perspectives. Even if it hurts. Megan is a good mirror for me because she can leave her religious views out of her counsel with me but sometimes I am not so good at leaving mine behind with her.

“I think your conservative religious views are creating barriers between you and what you want,” I told her. “Who says you can’t be a single parent? Who says you can’t marry a Jewish man? You can fall in love if you let yourself.”

“I’m not willing to step out of my comfort zone on those things.”

“Then you’re not willing to compromise, which means you’re not ready to become a mother.”

“That’s crap,” she said. “Why do I have to compromise to be happy?”

And this is where Megan had me at a stop. Because this is a question I ask myself a lot. I hate compromising. It’s a challenging thing in a marriage. In fact, that’s what a marriage seems to be all about. Throw some children into the mix and it compounds itself exponentially. When I was a freelance writer, it drove me crazy to go through the trouble of producing a creative, provocative campaign only to have the client compromise the creativity in case the higher ups didn’t like it. Compromising doesn’t just drive me insane at times, it makes me sad.

But in the end, I have found most compromises are worth it. Most of the compromises I have made in life have made me happier in ways I did not expect. Not all. I don’t compromise on things that affect me personally such as my creative writing, my bed sheets, garden roses, or my time with family. I won’t compromise on the size the bathtub needs to be, and I will only buy Apple computers and Toyotas.

“You compromised yourself by being friends with me,” I told her.

She deliberated this while I dug around inside my bag for my phone. I was ready to go. I missed my kids.

“Yeah. I do. I wish you were a Southern Baptist girl who read more literature and didn’t dabble in different religions or yoga. I wish you were more like me so we could be better friends,” she said.

I laughed at her.

“You’d hate me if I were like that. I’d be just like you, and that would bore you because I would agree with everything you said.

She poked her ice with her straw.

“I just want kids. That’s all.”

“Then compromise,” I told her.

“Not my faith,” she said.

“You’re too late for that or you wouldn’t have written me at 4am.”

“Huh,” she acquiesced.

“It’s not so bad,” I said as I slid out of the booth. “Don’t equate excellence with perfection, and you’ll see that concession has its place.”

“Did you learn that in one of your hedonism classes?”

“No. I learned it from my kids.”

We left the cafe and I headed south to yuppie town; she headed north to her academic kingdom. We did not hug or squeeze hands goodbye because that’s not how we are. She has emailed me a few times since our meeting. She sends me links to volunteer organizations where she can work directly with special needs children, and we discuss what she can accept rather than what she wants. We’re finding middle ground.


Blogger Karen du Toit said...

It is very rewarding to have friendships from all over the spectrum! I love my Christian and Atheist friends all the same! As long as you keep on respecting each other...
Later Moms have compromised later in life! Is it not so?

4:08 AM  
Blogger Robin Gorman Newman said...

Interesting Laura. It's so easy to establish expectations for one's life and to want things to play out a certain way. Many, if not all of us, myself included, would welcome control. But, who has that? And, whether it's meeting a mate or becoming a mother, having flexibility is what it's all about. Some might view that as compromise and therefore it seems undesirable...but it's really about being open to what is possible, even if it looks or feels different that what you always envisioned. Happiness sometimes manifests in unexpected ways....even if the path is challenging.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Jackie Shannon Hollis said...


What a great friendship that is. I admire the honesty and the willingess to stay in it from such different place. If we can't do that with our friends, how can we expect the leaders of thw world to do it?

As you know, I went through my own struggle about not having kids, it's all worked out just fine, but it is that willingess to stay with the feelings, see where they lead. And it was important for me that it not be a "compromise" between Bill and I. Seems like compromise ends up feeling like both people only kind of got what they wanted. Often I find that compromises tend to continue to eat away at me. But or we keep going at it until we find a way where we don't feel so much of that "giving in" that seems to go with compromise.

Oh, and... a lovely woman, who happens to be a Johovah's witness, knocks on our door once a month. We stand at the door and have a fine conversation, about the garden, paint colors, writing, she hands me her booklets and we enjoy each other's company. And she goes on her way. She's pretty and kind and I like her. This has been going on for over 15 years.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Cara Meyers said...

I never expected to be where I am in life today. I never expected ANY of the monumental challenges that I've been forced to undertake in my life. Sometimes it's not even compromise. Sometimes it is just life's plan. And sometimes there really IS no compromise. You just have to take what you are given and work with it as best you can.

7:10 AM  

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