Monday, July 22, 2013

To My Daughter

My daughter Amanda, interning in Manhattan, had her college boyfriend of a year and a half break up with her this past weekend.  From 600 miles away, Bill and I have been trying to console and advise her.  It's very difficult when they aren't right in front of you.  It has been 36 hours of repeated messages and game plans for her remaining time in New York.  Our latest conversation took place early this morning, and after I heard that she was only slightly more rational now than she was on Saturday night, the sad truth hit me.  And this is the best I can offer to her.  The rest has to come to her, from her.

Dear Mandy,

I wish I could put my arms around you and tell you that everything will be alright, but we both know that this would be a response fit for a child, not a 19-year-old girl trying so hard to be an adult.  I have spent the past three years telling everyone how you are so unlike I was at your age - how you found your passion and went after it with such determination and such maturity, how absolutely fearless you have been.  What I now realize is that when it comes to relationships, you are very much like me, and this is a scary thing to discover.
At the age of 19, I acted as though I were the Sun, and my friends and family were just planets circling around me.  I was oblivious to whatever people may have been thinking about me.  Small wonder that I couldn't even get a date, let alone a boyfriend.  Your father, for whatever miraculous reason, felt like rolling the dice and marrying me.  We both know what his flaws were.  Our marriage was not an easy one, from the start, and it got only slightly better after you were born.   We could have thrown in the towel any number of times, but then we would never have made it to where we are today.   I was too self-centered to try and figure out why he acted the way he did, and he was too busy reacting to me to realize that I was immaturely reacting to him.  Where are we today?  We understand each other's idiosyncrasies, we know where each other's line in the sand is, and when one of us occasionally crosses it, we know to take a step back and not say the first thing that comes into our minds.  We each know where the other is at in terms of our careers and our hobbies.  It took over 20 years of work to get to this point.  We have always loved each other, but now we love and understand each other in a mature way.

Also. there is a finer line between romantic relationships and friend relationships than you realize.  The same behavior that can doom a romantic relationship to failure will also destroy friendships.  As I progressed from high school through college, the gap between me and my friends widened imperceptibly with each passing year.  When I finally cut ties with them two years into my marriage, I rationalized that it was because I had "moved on", but now I know just the opposite to be true.  The sad truth is that they just got tired of putting up with me.  I was, as they call it nowadays, a toxic friendship.  Afterwards, I floundered through what remained of my '20s and my '30s with no real friends.  You say that you have difficulty making friends.  Welcome to most of my adult life.  I was the center of my own universe, taking up most of the space in that universe and leaving very little room for anyone else.

I wish I could give you a magic bullet that would provide instant wisdom and experience.  The saddest part is that you may think you are understanding all of this, but I'm not sure that it is possible for you to actually "get" this message until you are much older.  I don't know if you will be consoled by the fact that I am finally in a place in my life where I am completely happy with most of  my relationships.  As I said, your father and I are happier than we've ever been - because we walk in each other's shoes every single day, and that is the biggest different between a mature relationship and an immature relationship.  Gail, as you know is my very best friend, and why is this different from my friends of years ago?   Friendships are formed because of commonalities, but more than that, real friends understand not only the similarities, but also the differences, and we recognize and sometimes even celebrate those differences.  I know her line in the sand and she knows mine.  Have we crossed those lines occasionally?  Yes, but a mature friendship recognizes it, apologizes for it, and goes to extraordinary efforts to keep it from happening again.

I am happier now than I have ever been in my entire life, and maybe it took 25 years of my adult life to get here, but I can't go backwards to try to change anything.  I can only go forward, and that's what you must do as well.    The lesson here is not about romantic relationships or friend relationships.  It is about human relationships.   Try to step outside yourself to understand what others may be thinking or feeling on any given day.   You have proven in the past that you are capable of amazingly selfless acts of kindness on a broad scale.  Try shrinking those acts down and applying that thinking to your every day life.  As I said, you may be incapable of doing this until you have logged a few more years on this earth.  Sometimes we are doomed to learn the most important lessons the hard way.  Lord knows, I was.  But whatever you do, don't give up and turn into one of those perpetually angry, pessimistic people. You are so much better than that.  Just like I was and still am.  You are, after all, your mother's daughter.



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