So I had a three-hour phone conversation with one of my best friends from college the other day. For anyone who knows me, long phone conversations are by no means a rarity for Kim Hartman — that’s not the notable part. Part of the content, however, was.
She — let’s call her Jane — was telling me the details of her months of fighting with one of her best friends, and how there’s still no resolution or rhyme or reason in sight. This transitioned into a conversation about how the golden chalice of long-term relationships is high conflict-resolution skills.
“I think throughout my life, I’ve always left ‘make-up’ discussions with a sense of uneasiness,” I said. “After I get in a fight with a best friend, it’s like we talk it out, but I still don’t feel quite right afterward. Like I’m still sort of empty.”
“I know exactly what you mean. I’ve always felt the same way,” she said.
“Well, in the past year, I’ve learned the answer,” I said. “I now know the secret to coming away feeling fulfilled, and I realize that I’ve been doing it wrong my whole life.”
“What is it? What’s the secret?” she asked.
“A complete and total absence of pride,” I said.
“Ewww,” she said. “That is so hard to do.”
“Yeah, it really is,” I agreed. “You have to do it to the point of feeling humiliated. It’s pretty much an emotional outpouring of vulnerability. It feels kind of gross, but it works. And you feel really good afterward.”
“This is all very enlightening,” she said. “I agree with you, Kim — that that’s the right way to handle things — but most people can’t do that. I don’t know if I can do that.”
“It’s hard, but if you do it enough times, it becomes more comfortable,” I said. “Sky and I have always done it that way, but I guess I thought that dynamic was exclusive to romantic relationships. I’ve realized from my relationship with Annie (my best friend in Tucson) that it’s not. That’s it’s good to be that way with everyone you love. I mean, it sounds hokey, but it’s been sort of epiphanous for me.”
“Can you think of some examples of what you’re so supposed to say, so I can try it out?”
“Ummm, yeah, sure. Like, most people only put away their pride to a point that they are comfortable with.
“Oh my God, that’s so true,” she affirmed.
“Yeah. For instance, people say, ‘I guess I could’ve been nicer’ or ‘I could’ve handled things differently.’ They don’t say, ‘I was being a complete jerk and a bad friend. It was my fault, and I was wrong.’ Like, they only go so far, and they need to go further. They need to say, ‘I SHOULD have done this’ not ‘I COULD have done this.’ They need to have zero pride.”
I continued, during her thoughtful silence.
“People are comfortable admitting emotions such as anger, and even hurt feelings, but they aren’t comfortable in admitting insecurity or neediness. Like, they will throw out attacks and accusations instead of saying, ‘I feel like you don’t want me anymore.’ People are willing to say, ‘I LOVE you’ but not willing to say, ‘I NEED you.’ They are too concerned with trying to sound cool and aren’t willing to be completely vulnerable.”
“This is fantastic, and I’m like on the edge-of-my-seat here because I think it’s so cool that you’ve made this discovery,” Jane said. “But what if you are willing to put all of your pride away but they aren’t? Like you, Kim, can practice this dynamic with Sky and Annie because they are willing to be completely vulnerable too, but what if the other person isn’t willing to do the same?”
“Then things become hairy,” I laughed. “Both people have to put all of their pride away at the same time or it doesn’t work. I guess you either have to deal with being unsatisfied with their conflict resolution skills or just not bring up anything because they can’t handle it.”
“So what do I do about my best friend here?”
“Try the no pride, all vulnerability approach. I mean, nothing else is working, right? You told me that you cried about her. Tell her that.”
“But Kimmy, that’s so hard,” she said. “It’s too embarrassing.”
“And that’s how you know it’s the right thing to say,” I said.
She paused again before continuing.
“Have you ever cried about Annie?”
“Did you tell her that?”
“And she tells you when she cries about you?”
“God, I’m jealous,” she said.
It was then that I got up on my soapbox a bit.
“Listen, sweetheart. I’ve learned in my life that love is stronger than pride, and that it’s more important to be a good friend than it is to be right. It was right of you to bring it up and deal with it. But you’ve spent months now being mad at her instead of loving her. At this point, it’s a waste of time to keep being prideful.”
“Yeah, it is,” she said.
“Because in the end, it’s all B.S,” I said. “In the long run, this won’t matter.”
“No, it won’t,” she said.
We both paused for a few seconds to digest everything before moving onto another topic. Eventually, she had to go to a friend’s BBQ, and we said our “I love yous” and sweet goodbyes.
After I hung up the phone, I went over to Sky and embraced him.
“I can’t live without you,” I said.
And then he said it back.