Michele Willens: FACE IT: Can We Ever Stop Being Disappointed In Friends?

I’m a glass-half-empty kind of gal. My son brings home a B plus, A minus grade and, well, I don’t see that A part. I pass a physical with good marks, but focus on that bone density dive. So I am a cockeyed pessimist by nature, and this is most in evidence when it comes to friendship. I may host a great gathering but before I have even cleaned up the mess, I am thinking who did not come. Will I ever reach that desired point of non-judgmental, letting-people-be-whothey-are maturity? Will I ever outgrow counting my Christmas cards and sneakily checking the mantels of others?

I know I am not alone in this: one woman I know was so hurt by not being invited to a 50th birthday party (one she had offered to host, incidentally) that she seethed for a full year before finally confronting the party giver. Another was equally touched by those who paid home visits following an operation, and pissed at others who did not. Those who analyze for a living might say it all goes back to feeling just out of the in-group as a teen. My husband and I were at a record company gala one night and found ourselves on the wrong side of the VIP rope, waving to the couple who invited us, within. “Kind of sums up our lives, doesn’t it”? he said, and we had to laugh.http://editorial.huffingtonpost.com/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=635511&blog_id=3#

How I wish I could laugh rather than cry, or plan vengeance, or keep score. Wouldn’t it be nice to get to, “Of course, I will support that cause because it is worthwhile,” rather than, “Hey, I came to their benefit three times and they’ve never once come to mine!” Clearly, people have very different ideas of what true friendship entails, and some of us would do well to lower our expectations before we die of disappointment.

This is fresh on my mind, having just completed a three week run of an off-Broadway play. There were my words, straight from the heart, on that stage. Never have I felt so professionally and personally vulnerable. Amazingly, word of mouth kept the houses full, and reassuringly, my very specific story seemed to resonate with a lot of folks. And yet there I was thinking of all the people I thought would support me in this endeavor, who did not. I could easily go to those dark places: “What’s the last success she had? ” “Does he think this is a cute hobby”? “I’ve been to every one of her book parties!” “I stayed in town an extra day to go to her little show.” How I wish I could vomit out those festering emotions and move past.

“It does not mean people don’t love you,” counseled one friend. It’s a busy time, people are overwhelmed, not everyone likes the theatre, said others. All good and true thoughts. None quite assuage the pain of absence, but they will have to do if I am to start to see that glass as half full. Not so easy after a lifetime pattern, but wouldn’t it be nice to think we can become more rather than less tolerant as we age?

In the end I need to ask myself: did I write this play to have my friends applaud, (if so, that says more about me than about them) or to reach a wide audience of strangers? It is the kindness of the latter that gave me such highs every night as I sat in the back of that theatre (often curled up in a ball on the floor) counting the laughs, the tears. The play follows the arc of a young girl from the 1960s to the present. She is initially a dreamy thing, whose innocence is eventually abused. Many years later, she is one of the walking wounded, who finally finds the courage to speak the truth. “It is a forgiving play,” one audience member said to me after. I liked that word a lot and it has stuck with me.

If I can write it, can I now live it?

Michele Willens’ play FAMILY DINNER, just closed at the Beckett Theatre in NYC.

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