I recently attended my 30th high school reunion. I was nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I had decided not to go. High school wasn't a laugh-riot for me though I wasn't bullied. My marks were good. I had friends.
Sadly though, one of those friends betrayed me. After two years of being with the first boy I'd said I loved, the first boy I had sex with, we broke up when I went to school in another city. Days after we broke up and just days before I left, I went to a party. There, on a couch sitting on my now-ex's lap, was my friend.
You could say that what she did was fine -- after all, he and I had broken up. We weren't technically going out. That's essentially what she said.
But I know better.
Friends don't do that to other friends. There are enough guys in the world that, unless you're convinced this one is your soulmate and you're willing to sacrifice your friendship for that, you can obey the law of the sisterhood. She and he broke up a month or two later when she started dating another guy.
It took me years to get over my anger. Her name made my blood boil. The thought of her having any measure of happiness in life seemed like a bad karmic joke. Eventually I got past it, though I've nursed a simmering resentment for the decades since.
So when she was one of the first to RSVP to the reunion, I decided to just stay home.
At the last minute, however, I changed my mind.
I'd had a mind-shift. I remembered back to what I knew of her before she dated my ex. She craved attention from men. She was self-absorbed. Almost childish at times. With what I know now, it's easy for me to recognize that she desperately needed validation from others (men!) that she was worthy. She's now on husband #3 so apparently she's still looking.
But I was able to recognize that her dating my ex wasn't about trying to hurt me. It wasn't about me at all. Surely she knew that my still-aching heart would be a casualty of her choice. But obviously I didn't matter more than her need to have someone pick her.
I decided that I would attend the reunion and that I would let go of 30 years of bitterness. That I would note the fact that all of us had undoubtedly changed in three decades, including me.
So I did.
She sought me out. Not to apologize – I doubt that even dawned on her – but simply to catch up. In the course of our conversation she made note of another event, when she'd suddenly quit a job that I'd got for her. A good job. I had thought it was because I'd been promoted and she was jealous. Turns out she quit because when she asked for an upcoming night off to attend a school dance the supervisor said she could have it off...if she gave him a blow job.
I was stunned. I'd had no idea.
I realized how often we make assumptions about others' actions based on a piece of information, not the whole story. I asked why she'd never told me what happened. "Because I thought I'd done something wrong," she said. Instead, without the maturity or perspective that comes with age and confidence, she quit.
What my friend did to me still sucks. It's still something that I hope my daughter never does to a friend. But the bitterness has, for the most part, evaporated. I feel sorry for her. For her unquenchable need to be adored. For her own inability to admit her shortcomings. For her continued quest to fill from the outside what can only be filled from within.
She recently had a health scare and she told me that when her third husband came into the hospital where she'd been taken that the look on his face – total panic – made her finally realize how much she mattered to him. In that instant, she said, she realized that this was truly the man for her. Her marriage, she said, changed. It became a priority.
I was glad to hear. Finally.