“Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.” -John Lennon
Last week, I got in a screaming match with my best friend. We were in my office discussing a book club and my recent obsession with self-help books. Obviously, this is a heated topic worthy of a knock down, drag out fight til the death. As the tension escalated, our coworkers started walking past my office door and peeking in to make sure we were not killing each other. I have this theory that when people see women with muscles arguing, they assume it will end in cage fighting. Little do they know, I would never pick an actual physical fight with her. She would crush me. I am a lover, not a fighter, and she is tall, very tall (and sometimes mean).
On this particular day, we were like two flint rocks repeatedly striking each other. Sparks were flying as the truth bombs were dropping. We were not insulting each other as much as showing each other the light. We both assumed the truth would set us free. I called her a judgy-judger pants, and she mocked my emotion and enthusiasm. After she returned to her office, it was not long before a message popped up on my computer. “You’re right. I was being judgmental.” We both followed it up with an “I love you” and went about our day. Just like that - we made each other think and own our behavior. We were speaking and confronting authentic, untainted, stripped down TRUTH.
The next day our colleagues came by and asked, “Are you two okay? Did you make up?” I find it quite hilarious that people were so concerned. I could feel the tension mounting around us. I knew we were fine; it’s how we roll. We put it all out there. Unfortunately, in this case, the entire hallway heard our truth explosion. They were not necessarily comfortable with such open dialogue. I’m sure more than one of them was thinking, “It’s going to be awkward around here with these two hating each other.” I don’t think they could fathom that this is absolutely what the truest, best friendships look like to me.
It takes a special person to push past our everyday BS to call us onto the carpet to defend our words and actions. My best friend can critique my choices as a mom, friend, teacher, etc., and I have that instant blood draining, sinking feeling in my gut. It’s the “Oh S#%!” moment that makes me ask, “Has everyone else known this all along and she is the only one who pointed it out?” Panic sets off a physical reaction.
Sometimes I will work for hours pouring my heart into a piece of writing, and she will simply respond, “I’m not going to lie. I don’t think you are being honest,” or, “Do what you want, but this doesn’t work for me.” In these situations I have two choices. I can storm out mad and hold a grudge, or I can choose to listen and thoughtfully consider what she is saying. Usually, I opt for option one for about 10 minutes and then switch to option two. While it is uncomfortable, I do believe the best way over is always through. I come out on the other side stronger with a clearer sense of what I was trying to say. She gives me the response I need, not necessarily the one I want. I want to face my flaws head on and deal with my shortcomings. I have intentionally surrounded myself with people who will push me to grow and become the best version of myself.
Likewise, I want to return the favor. On the day of our epic battle about self-improvement books, I did have the upper hand, at least for a while. I made a strong argument. My friend got quiet. I saw the red blotches spreading across her chest. It was her physical reaction to the panic of admitting she might be wrong. She kept repeating, “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know.” There was no point pushing my argument (she didn’t realize all my self-help books have taught me to be sensitive to the needs of those around me). What could have been the perfect opportunity for two alpha females to become defensive and lash out at each other was replaced with an honest moment for growth and self-discovery. Like reflecting sunlight in a mirror, the light can be concentrated and used to start a fire, or it can be directed in a way that creates a kaleidoscope of color. The truth can burn or open and illuminate.
I am not recommending that everyone follow our lead. I can say things like, “You hate clichés, so don’t be one,” to my best friend because we have an established rapport (she bought trees to be planted in my honor for Christmas, so we are basically rooted together for life). I could not talk this way to all my friends. It requires a foundation of honesty and open communication. It takes time and willingness to hear the truth about ourselves, which is always easier said than done. Popular memes such as, “Surround yourself with people who get it” should remind us to pick our friends wisely but not at the cost of simply keeping ourselves comfortable. Honesty and personal growth are icky and uncomfortable but absolutely worth the struggle. I am thankful for the moments when the sparks start to fly. I hope I never settle for less than the real, messy truth about myself.