I've been thinking about friends and relationships and vulnerability lately, in particular as we've heard back from folk we've invited to our wedding. Several wonderful, deeply joyous "yesses" have come in from people we didn't expect to come (because of distance and therefore the cost of getting out here) but who have decided to make the trip for our special day. Those have been truly uplifting, affirming, deeply meaningful and very exciting for us.
On the other hand, there have also been a handful of folk we really hoped would come, people we have loved and do love dearly who have responded with "no". Some of those have been very painful for David, or for me, or in some cases for both of us. We have, whether right or wrong, taken those "nos" as an indication that we are not valued to the same depth with which we value the other, and that has hurt. With a couple of folk, it has actually caused me to pause, consider the nature of our friendships, and wonder if I needed to take another distancing step... "unfriend" from Facebook, for example; or at least move the friend into the "acquaintance" category of those who see less of my posts, and those whose posts I no longer see regularly. Of course in many ways that is a very childish response on my part. I see it as such. I know that if I cared less, I would react with less extremism, and that the fact I even consider a distancing act is a sign of how much I really do care. Therefore any such action on my part is more likely to hurt me than the other person anyway. I recognize the impulse for what it is: a desire to strike out at someone who has hurt me. And I see that the one who would ultimately be hurt by that striking out is myself. So I let my revenge fantasies fly for a few minutes, and then I breathe, take a step back, acknowledge the pain for a moment and then make the decision to behave better.
Still, I'm left with the realization that inviting people to something this important to us is an act of deep vulnerability. It is so deeply vulnerable that I have thought, more than once, that we probably just should have eloped and avoided the entire big production. And yet I know that if we had made that choice, other people would be hurt instead. Also, the decision to celebrate what has been five years in the making is an opportunity to spend time with folk we don't regularly get to see, and to honor that our relationship does not exist in a bubble. I believe in the collective connections of our relationships and our community. We would not be where we are without the family and friends that have surrounded and supported us, that continue (in most cases) to surround and support us. And so, the wedding is a celebration not only of our coming together, but for me, of all the relationships that have made ours a possibility and a blossoming reality.
I know some of you will say that our reaction to the "nos" are just over-sensitivity on our parts. So let me just clarify, that not every "no" produces this response in us. It is just a few very specific folk with specific ways of saying "no" that are causing the pain. At the same time, there is no doubt that both David and I carry some scars that make us much more likely to jump into feeling rejected than might be warranted. Still, acts of vulnerability, such as inviting loved ones to a wedding, are risky because they do sometimes bring clarity about where people stand and how deeply people value their relationships to you. Other times the assumptions we make based on peoples' behavior are inaccurate. But regardless, I think events like this can change relationships, either by making clear what they really are, or by creating assumptions about what others feel that have consequences. In the bravest folk, perhaps these hurts are invitations for deeper conversations about what a person values and how deeply a person cares about another. But after the initial hurt, it is hard to take that next step into even greater risk.
The point? Relationships are hard. They are complex. They are, by nature, risky; and the choice to be in relationships creates a vulnerability that sometimes leaves us wounded. I wish it were otherwise. I know I have done my share of wounding as well as being hurt. And for that I'm sorry. But still I choose to step into that vulnerability. I choose it and pray for the grace of gratitude and joy in the face of the unexpected depths and gifts; as well as for healing and wisdom in the face of the disappointments.