“I’m uncomfortable around your anger,” my best friend admitted to me.
She admitted this, because we had the kind of friendship where nothing was off-limits. The kind of friendship where we mirrored each other’s thoughts and finished each other’s sentences. A friendship that, we often remarked, felt like we were nothing less than soulmates, meeting after a lifetime apart.
With a friendship like ours, and our habit of always being honest and 100% authentic with each other, I assumed we could weather any and all emotional valleys and plateaus. But, apparently, our friendship had been built on more level land.
What she said was her truth, which I appreciated. But what it meant was that she could not accept all of me. And if she couldn’t accept all of me, then she wasn’t the friend for life I thought she was.
To be clear, this isn’t about blame, guilt, or judgment. I harbor none of those things toward her and can, in retrospect, see that what she said was just another way she was mirroring my thoughts and finishing my sentences.
Because the reality was that I, too, was uncomfortable around my anger, and what we can’t be for ourselves, others can’t be for us, either.
My anger was caused by multi-faceted and complex reasons: I’d recently lost a business due to unresolvable partnership conflicts that taught me the true price of my integrity. I had to leave a business that I considered both my purpose and my passion.
Yes, I was also feeling sadness, disillusionment, and confusion. But the first emotion demanding my respect and attention was anger for feeling betrayed, lied to, used, discarded, gaslit, and more. (Not that I didn’t play a role in these things, too; that’s an article for another day.)
My anger copped a squat in my heart center and then extended its reach like an octopus through my shoulders, arms, and hands, making my body both tense and tender. It rose upwards into my mind, heating every thought I had with suspicion and annoyance and making me touchy, withdrawn, and sharp-tongued.
I probably wasn’t an easy person to be around. I understand that. I had a hard time being around myself.
But, I knew I needed to “feel it to heal it,” as the saying goes.
And, I thought, if anyone could understand and hold me in my anger, it was this friend.
If anyone could see and address the hurt and confusion behind my anger, it was this friend.
If I could trust anyone to be with me in the fullest expression of my imperfect, raw, uncomfortable humanity, it was her. Or so I hoped.
And when she couldn’t hold me in my anger — someone who had witnessed so many of my other emotions, someone who knew my inner thoughts, someone who claimed to love me — I felt ashamed for feeling stuck, for caring too much, for not metabolizing this anger into something more acceptable — like self-loathing, maybe.
This was, of course, the beginning of the end of this friendship. It had to be. Perhaps we’d still be friends to this day if I’d have chosen her over the needs of my anger to be expressed and heard. But I didn’t. I had to leave her for the same reason I left the business — because I was choosing myself, my whole self, and yes, even my anger over relationships or situations that demanded I show up as only a facade of myself.
“I’m uncomfortable around your anger,” was a statement that my friend was unequipped to be in the same room with my anger, but it was also pointing to the truth that I had not yet made peace with this wild, sporadic, impulsive force inside me.
After I let my friend go, I embraced my anger as a fiery, forceful friend, but one that was also true, loyal, and ultimately, a truth-teller. Over time, I made peace with my anger. I learned how to listen to its message and let those messages guide me to make better choices. I learned how to see my anger as an advocate and activist for my soul and my voice. Ultimately, I channeled it into fresh creativity, exploration, and positive, overdue life changes.
Even back then, over a decade ago now, I knew that I needed and deserved friendships that could help me grow into my wholeness. Ones that would allow me to get curious about my emotions, thoughts, and beliefs, rather than hide them, ignore them, or belittle them.
Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, I find myself thinking even more existentially than ever before. As a result, I’ve become even more steadfast in my search for deeper friendships.
I don’t want to collect friends like dolls, taking them carefully down from the shelves when I want to play, careful not to rough them up or cause them distress, and then put them back on the shelf when I’m done.
I want friends who will splash through muddy emotional puddles with me, get a little torn up with me from time to time, and not just say we are there for each other through thick and thin, but follow through with that statement of loyalty.
Coming out of this pandemic, I’m not looking to make a bunch of new friends, nor am I trying to rekindle friendships that fizzled out over the pandemic. I’m searching for my “ride or die” friends. Friendships upon which there is no condition or expectation that I will show up polished and shiny. Friendships in which we are as ridiculously happy for each other’s successes as we would be for our own, and friendships that allow us to show up in vivid, emotional color.
It’s not fair to ask anyone to be for us what we cannot first be for ourselves. I know that now. But now that I have learned and accepted myself in my wholeness, I need and deserve friends that can do this, too.
And, it’s happening.
Just last week, I was going through what I called a “case of the crabbies.” I was leading with my sarcasm and feeling (and acting) anti-social and cynical.
A friend asked me, “Why are you so crabby?”
My body tensed in protection as it took me back to this long ago moment where my uncomfortable emotions were a friendship dealbreaker.
But then, I realized she was asking from a genuine place of curiosity, not judgment. This gave me the desire and opportunity to get curious about my emotional state — which eventually allowed the reasons for my “case of the crabbies” to reveal themselves so I could address them.
I deserve friendships like this. You do, too. And so do our emotions.