“I feel like there’s something wrong with you.” One of my dearest of friends started one of our quarterly conversations with this sentiment.
I was quick to assure her that I was fine, if not wonderful. Really. “No! We’re great! I just spent a month vacationing with friends and family and we’re getting ready for Burning Man and the Bear is at a really fun age and we’re good. Seriously, everything’s fine.”
“Okay, well, I hope you don’t get mad at me but I really think you need to hear this and I feel like you’d do the same for me if the roles were reversed and I think being a good friend is telling someone the truth and I want to be a ‘good friend’ instead of just an acquaintance…”
“Every time I see a picture of you or visit you, you’re wearing the same outfit and it’s starting to make me sad.”
It was true. I’ve always been one of those people who finds something she likes and just clings to it. Usually said article is extremely comfortable and somewhat flattering (although this wasn’t necessarily the case for the wood-and-leather clogs I wore every day in high school, but was certainly at least halfway true for the cargo pants I wore during that era…) This has gotten much worse in the last three years, however, as my life has become completely based on sitting around the house with a small child.
See, I have this great wrap skirt that I bought a few years ago at a hippie store called Loose Lucy’s. It’s lime green, flowy and doesn’t constrict when I’ve had a little too much to eat on vacation. I wore it through my pregnancy because of its expandability and will wear it around the house year-round because of its incredible comfort and versatility. Usually, I pair it with a light lavender t-shirt that’s fitted and comes down below my waist, giving me a fantastic hourglass shape while obscuring my little bit of loosened-by-pregnancy skin with a great big stencil-type graphic. This outfit is comfortable without being trashy, versatile and casual and cute and bright and easy. I love it. And, so, in my typical fashion, I wear it a lot.
But, unlike before, I can now get away with wearing clothes more than one day, so, I usually take advantage of that, safe in the knowledge that the only people who will see me are my husband, my daughter, and strangers in the grocery store. Plus, it’s not like I’m doing anything strenuous, so who cares if I throw it on two days in a row; as long as it doesn’t smell, it’s fine, right?
At this point, the ensemble is loaded with holes. The skirt’s ties have had to be reattached at least twice. There are bleach stains from when I spilled cleaning solution one day while scrubbing the tub. I know, it looks rough but, again, I figure nobody’s going to see me in it so who cares? It’s really become more of a functional uniform than what one would call an “outfit”. And, really, I’m fine with that.
But my friend – the dear, wonderful one – recognized this as a cry for help. A mother of three, she told me about how, when her children were born, she would throw on a pair of black overalls over clean underwear and a fresh shirt every day, believing – like me – that it didn’t matter what she looked like. She told me about how, slowly, this subconscious idea that she wasn’t important [or doing anything important] enough to care for on a daily basis started to become a belief and how it moved her into a rut that affected her whole life, causing her to stop caring about things that really mattered and falling short of her personal standards. And she told me she was worried about me because she saw me slipping into that based on my self-maintenance and didn’t want me to have the same mental experience she did.
I was floored. First of all, I see this friend about once every two years and talk to her about 4-5 times a year, usually after months of “I swear we’ll catch up soon!” We’re the types of friends who can go for ages without talking but can pick right back up where we left off and know that, if something awful is happening, the other one is there. (Pretty good for a friend I made while exchanging sarcastic commentary from the back row of a Shakespeare class. We were like Statler and Waldorf with boobs.) So the fact that she was perceptive enough to observe this habit of mine over photos I posted on Facebook and stop to consider that this may be a sign of something deeper says a lot about how much she cares. My heart hurt with gratitude.
Still, she couldn’t stop apologizing and justifying this sartorial intervention. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m a bitch. I’m a bitch, Liz. I just hope to god that if I started dressing in the same thing every day like a crazy person, you’d tell me. You’re too pretty to do this to yourself. I’m sorry.”
About a month ago, I had another one of my best friends call me and tell me we “needed to talk.” She was busy with other things all day so she couldn’t talk until 9 a.m. and I spent all day going nuts, trying to think of what it could possibly be that I’d done wrong. Later, on the phone, she gently explained to me that, for some reason, when we get out in public, I tend to get really judgmental and I cross the line with my jokes a lot. I also really hurt her feelings during these times.
I felt like shit. Not only did I have absolutely no idea that I was doing it at all but I had no idea where these sorts of things would even come from. This is one of those friends that I’m so nuts about that I constantly joke about how I sound like I have a fangirl crush on her and how I feel like she’s way out of my league as a friend. In my whole life, I’ve never had a friend who stuck with me and was so good to me as this one and I was sickened and heartbroken by the idea that some stupid, completely unconscious side comments would make her doubt her inherent awesomeness for even a second. (I know, I sound totally worship-y but she’s really, genuinely a great person. Ask anybody.) I was disgusted with myself on a really deep level.
The thing was, though, that this had apparently been going on for a really long time and, because she knew that I really do love her, she’d never said anything until now, figuring that I didn’t mean it (which is true, although that doesn’t make it acceptable.) And, instead of just saying, “You know what? You turn into a real bitch when we’re out in public and really suck as a friend. I’m done here.” she came to me and told me about it in a rational, straightforward tone and said, “I know you don’t mean it and I have faith that you’ll work to change it.”
I don’t mean to sound completely conceited or self-servicing but, frankly, that’s perhaps one of the greatest compliments a friend could give to another, I think. Valuing someone’s companionship enough to want to keep them around despite their shortcomings is one thing but believing in your friend’s ability to become a better person enough to point out a major character flaw? That shows an incredible amount of respect and faith in my rose-colored book. And, naturally, it makes me want to meet that set of standards for a friend who obviously cares a great deal about me. Those types are rare; I can’t afford to mess that up just from being a stubborn idiot.
I know looking at criticism as one of the greatest blessings in my life is a little weird and may make me sound like a glutton for punishment but I’m sure I don’t care. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not going to keep friends around who are hypercritical and constantly tearing down my character or holding me hostage over my flaws, but having friends who believe that I deserve to be a better person than I am and gently demand that I try harder? I don’t think many people have that sort of luck.
So, yes, I’m throwing away the skirt and the shirt. Because someone loves me enough to tell me not to dress like a crazy hobo.
And that fills my heart with happiness.