What Would You Do?

I was out to lunch with a friend the other day and we overheard two women at the next table talking about the men in their lives. We got very quiet ourselves and did a lot of eye contact, but not enough to giggle or anything untoward like that.

The two women were both very well put together – probably in their forties or early fifties. I noticed after listening for a while that neither had on a wedding ring – not that that makes a whole lot of difference anymore but it carries my story along because choice is easier, you’ll see what I mean in a minute.

The one to my right was saying how wonderful her life is now that Joe (not the name I heard her say) is in it. While she was speaking the other started twisting her hair and her mouth did a funny wrinkle – as far as my peripheral vision, which is always good at the eye exam, could see.

To my right I heard about Joe. He is dedicated, fixes dinner when she comes home late. Their shared house is really special, so much nicer than when she was alone in it. He hasn’t been doing all the other things he and other lovers did before. He’s always there when she needs him, he works at home, how nice that is. He volunteers for her favorite charities – how refreshing that is, no one ever did that before, including him when they were together before.

I check in with my peripheral to see how her mouth is and the state of her hair. It’s all a bit tighter, but nothing to worry about yet. The 54 year old boyfriend is still being explored with joyful bullet points when I feel an energy pull peripherally and note the friend has stopped twisting and her mouth is set. I look at my friend and see total engrossment.

“Has he paid back the money he borrowed?” I hear from the peripheral. “How is it going with the daily expenses you mentioned to me last time we had lunch?” “What about…” I see a stammer, eyes narrow and blink to my right. More than anything I feel the wall come, the confusion, the flight of purpose. I want to create a distraction for her, I want my water to spill, the waitress to come, dogs to bark.

There is silence at both our tables and I fear my friend and I will be exposed in our reverent listening, our solemn hush. But their silence is so emphatic that when my peripheral begins to speak again, we can all listen without restraint, so intent are they on their own world.

“When I was growing up,” she said, “I heard about women who kept men. I didn’t understand, and in our age the lines are blurred. I can’t tell who is supposed to pay for what and what anything means. But I’ve been your friend for a long time and I feel like I know you and I know I love you. It’s hard for me to see you with Joe and get the crusts of love he offers you. It’s hard to see him take advantage of you and it’s hard for me to see your goodness and neediness and openness. Maybe if you were less of a person. Maybe if you were a schmuck I wouldn’t care so much. But I love you and I can’t stand to see you like this.”

By now we were not the only ones listening. The woman to my right stood up, I think she was crying and I know her face was red. She left. My peripheral, by now, friend, put her hands to her face and sobbed. She left a few minutes later.

I’ll probably never see either again but I know I got a lesson. I notice I think it’s easier to leave a relationship with marriage at its base. But I also know that a marriage is the relationship we have with our self, our needs, our visions and, yes, our illusions. The slightest of relationships is as sticky as our illusions. We cling or let go or let be as we relate to our self.

What is your lesson? Is it better not to say anything and keep your friend. Or would you risk all and speak up in the hope of being heard?

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