I know something is wrong, my friend. I feel it in your too-quick response when I ask if you’re okay. I hear it in your veiled excuses and unnecessary apologies, your cancelled appointments and rejected invitations. Your smile looks like work now, and your eyes are flat like mirrors instead of windows.
I know that you are hurting, but I don’t know why.
I know you, but I don’t know you, because you’ve built a fence right through our friendship, and it does not have a gate.
We’ve been friends for a while now. We’ve spent endless hours at the park and at the school and on play dates here and there. We’ve talked about news and kids and weather, about all the things that are light and full of air and float up to the surface. But we have never filled our lungs and held our breath and risked our comfort to dive down deep, to plunge below the surface. We have never ventured where the pressure builds and the risks increase – and the discussions really matter.
Our conversations have an edge, my friend, and I have noticed it, and I can see that you are so afraid of falling over. There is caution tape all around the words we string together, and I have learned to tiptoe carefully without touching your guardrails and setting off alarms.
And this is okay with me, if this is all you expect from our friendship. I won’t cross the boundaries you have made. I would never push you past the caution tape and shove you off the cliff.
But I am not sure how to help you. I don’t know how to dismiss that there is so much more that I can’t know. You see, my closest friends and I, well, we have thrown caution to the wind. For this friendship to grow, I need you to jump the guardrail, too, and here is why:
I want to see your REAL.
With me, you do not need to show your PERFECT or your POLISHED. Please don’t unpack your unruffled or rehearsed or preapproved for me. Friend, I don’t need your censored or your flawless.
I just need your REAL.
Because here’s the truth that you’re not seeing: I am a mess.
I am imperfect and unpolished, sometimes angry and upset and unprepared. Some days I feel like a failure. Sometimes I need advice. Once in a while, I need to be completely open, painfully honest, unrestrained. I need to vent to someone safe, a friend who understands.
Sometimes, I need to be REAL, too.
Always, I am flawed. Because I am human. And so are you.
But we aren’t really sharing that, are we? We are just peeking over the fence.
Maybe this friendship is exactly what it is supposed to be, but I care about you, and I hope that you have other friendships without guardrails. I hope those friends are seeing what I see and encouraging you through whatever challenges you face. I hope that you laugh together and cry together when you need to. I hope that you have plunged beneath the surface, that you have faced the risks and felt vulnerable, that you have experienced the beauty and the peace that lie below, in the depths of those friendships where you set your REAL free.
If your REAL is stirring and you are feeling brave, you are welcome to dangle your feet over my cliff and glance below. You will see me there with a few close friends. We will probably be in our gym clothes, looking a mess, though we honestly never made it to work out. We will be taking a break even if our homes are a mess and our schedules are overbooked and our to-do lists are out of control. We will be eating snacks and sharing drinks that we won’t tell our kids about. There will be no make-up there, nothing hiding the wrinkles or the sun damage, no magic tricks or expensive illusions to conceal what really is. We may be sharing our horribly embarrassing moments. We may be crying about our parenting missteps. We may be analyzing our fears and regrets.
That sounds like scary stuff, I know.
But it is REAL. And when we smile and laugh and celebrate, that will be REAL, too, not part of a calculated game of emotions that we pretend to feel.
Friend, I am worried about you, and maybe I am not your match, but when you find the friends to make that jump with you, I know you won’t regret the plunge.
You won’t even miss the guardrails.
In fact, you might feel safer without them.