To speak or not to speak, that is the question…

Last night I told a friend that she had lost too much weight and wasn’t looking good. That her diet and exercise plan had gone too far.

Several years ago, after I had lost 25 pounds, a friend told me a similar thing. She said I was looking frail. I was as incredulous then as my friend was last night. She didn’t see herself as too thin. Neither did I.

I loved my size 6, flat stomach, easy to fit into any outfit, body. I felt sexy, powerful, in control. I did miss my boobs, however. I was never what you would call a well-endowed woman at my almost-B-cup-bra size, except for when I was pregnant and breastfeeding which doesn’t count because everything else was so big it was all proportional. But, in my minus 25-pound-stealth-self my girls had reduced to their adolescent AA bra size. I figured it was a small price to pay…no pun intended.

Saying the hard thing to a friend takes courage and love. It is a bittersweet gift to offer. When Trudy said it to me, I felt loved and trusted. She believed in me and in the solidity of our friendship to say the difficult truth.

So what do we not say?

And why don’t we say it?

Certainly I worry my loved one will be hurt, or mad, or reject me.

What I said last night came from a place of love and concern. There was no judgment or hidden agenda I was working out. When that is true, I feel safer saying the tough thing. When that is true it is also easier to hear the hard thing, as happened with Trudy. I felt no guile from her.

What I have learned, the hard way, is to keep my mouth shut when I feel I am harboring ulterior motives. That never goes well. The other person always seems to sense my duplicity. And as loudly as I may defend my honor, we both know the truth. My intentions were not honorable.

That is, perhaps, the question to be asked when choosing to speak or withhold. What are my motives? Am I speaking from a place of compassion and concern? I once read that it is our responsibility to speak from our hearts. That we cannot control how the other hears or receives what we say, but we should be sure where our message came from in ourselves.

I know I feel much better about myself, even if the other is hurt, when I am clear I meant no harm. That being said, I may still need to make amends despite my best intentions. It is my responsibility to do that also.

Saying the hard thing is an act of courage and love. It is also the true measure of a strong relationship.

I also told Tom last night that he couldn’t wear his plaid shorts and printed shirt, even if the blue’s matched. I did have ulterior motives, we both knew it, accepted it and laughed about it; concurring that at our age, mismatched hipster-dom simply looks like old age.
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20 Seconds of Courage

We watched We Bought a Zoo with Matt Damon and Scarlet Johansson.  It is the semi true story of how a dad reconnects with himself and his children, especially his son, by buying a zoo after his wife dies. All the heart wrenching scenes of a grief stricken dad trying to do right by his children.

 

It was an okay movie. I felt a bit duped when we read in wikipedia that the real life wife died after they bought the zoo. I guess anguished dad stories sell more movie tickets.

 

Anyway, my point?

 

Mid way through the movie Matt Damon’s character tells his children the story of how he met their mom. He recalled how frightened he was to approach her in the local cafe. As he stood outside the cafe, deciding to act or leave, he heard his older brother telling him as a child, “All you need is 20 seconds of courage.” He went in and met his future wife.

 

20 seconds of courage. I loved that concept. It made sense to me. I could use that in my life.

 

Saturday night Tom and I went to our when we have something to celebrate restaurant. Our last celebration was when I sold my house. I took him out for lobster and champagne. This time we were celebrating his raise. He took me out. They didn’t have lobster, so we had really great fish and champagne.

 

Toward the end of the evening, the table in the corner of the room, surrounded by windows overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, began to fill with a group of women. Each one came in separately clearly excited to greet her already seated friends. I’d say they were in their forties, some dressed conservatively, others provocatively, all looking their best and beautiful. They hugged each other saying, “You look great!”

 

I couldn’t stop watching them. “You can’t take your eyes off them can you?” Tom noticed. I admitted I could not. He asked me if I had noticed the couple sitting there before them, 2 people lost in a 6 person table. I had not. “So what is so interesting to you about these women?” he asked. I wasn’t sure, but I was guessing they had a great story.

 

I watched a little longer hoping not to get caught eavesdropping or staring. Tom suggested I go over and introduce myself. He guessed my interest saying they might have a great story I could blog about. I looked him straight in the eye, the kind of straight in the eye that implied his idea was crazy.

I explained to my partner of 5 years, husband for 9 months, that I am basically a shy person. I couldn’t interrupt this table of friends to get my curiosity quenched. It was a ludicrous idea.

 

Then I heard it…loud and clear,

all you need is 20 seconds of courage.”

 

I made up my mind and walked over to their table. They looked up expecting to see the waiter and instead they saw me. I explained I am a local blogger and admitted I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I went on to say my husband encouraged me to come over because I imagined they had a great story of how they met, how often they gathered and what it meant to them to gather like this. They all smiled at me and to one another.

 

Their story. They met at Slippery Rock University their freshman year all teaching majors. Two remained in the education school and the others switched majors, but they remained friends throughout their college years and their lives. They explained they now live all over the country and haven’t seen each other in 25 years. This was their reunion. I teared up.

 

They asked me what I did. I explained I am a psychotherapist specializing in women’s issues. They invited me to sit down. “We need to talk to you,” they all laughed. (One of two responses occur when I tell someone I am a therapist. Either every one shuts up or no one shuts up.)

 

I took their pictures with several of their cameras and invited them to email me the long version of their story so I could share it with all of you. They took my card and said they would.

 

I feel better for meeting them. I feel sweet about life and friendship and courage.

 

All it took was 20 seconds of courage.

I AM NICE!

Many years ago-sounds a bit like the beginning of a fairy tale-the foundation of who I was, or thought I was, crumbled. I grabbled with the question, “Who am I?” I felt the enormity of the question, as well as, my terror of not knowing the answer or, worse yet, how to find the answer. My illusions had died and I didn’t have a replacement reality. I felt like a blank slate.

 

Because I am a visual person (that much I did know about myself) I envisioned my blank slate status as a big, yellow legal pad. With that image in mind, I drove to Staples, found a tablet and bought it. My plan was to notice myself and document who I met. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the project and a lot scared at the blankness of the tablet before me. I also remember some excitement at the prospect of defining myself rather than being defined by others.

 

So, I took my pad with me where ever I went.

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Girl Friends

Recently I have been noticing groups of women, girlfriends, hanging out together. Usually I saw them at restaurants, engrossed in lively conversation.  Sometimes they had flocked to the ladies room, after a movie, agreeing and disagreeing on the merits of the film as they wash their hands, one or two including themselves in the dialogue by yelling their thoughts from their respective stalls. Over the holidays many of the women’s gatherings included gift giving, wrapping paper and boxes filling the table and the floor around them. I noticed myself in these moments. I was aware I felt warmer, safer in the world, knowing the emotional gifts that are generated by women caring for one another. I have said many times, “When women are supported to speak from their hearts, magic happens and the world changes.”

I had been considering the magic of “girlfriends” when I heard that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes to the pleading of her two close girlfriends. As they stoked her hand, calling her by her nickname Gabby, and implored her to get well-so they could go out for pizza and gather this summer, as they did last summer, in New Hampshire for summer vacation with their families-Gabby began to she fight to open her eyes.  She did! Her doctor, who was in the room at the time, admitted he never believed in the healing power of friendship, but after witnessing what is now being called “Girl Power,” he believed.

Girlfriends are SO important. They are the ones that say, “Call me any time, day or night.” The ones that will tell us the truth when we ask, “Does this make me look fat?”  Girlfriends understand, often with no words spoken. I love and need my girlfriends. I feel better when I talk with them. I feel safer in the world because of them.

How about you? In celebration of the media blitz… Girl Power, please share your story of that special woman in your life that means everything to you.