Did I Call You or Did You Call Me?

I was having coffee with a couple of my students a few days ago. For many months they had been faces on Zoom, but now, they had bodies and they were sitting opposite me. It was good to see them in person, we spoke for a while and then one of them said, “You have a lot of good friends that you’ve known for a long time,” she said. “You talk about them with so much love. How do you keep so many people so close?”

“I reach out and make sure we stay connected,” I said.

“Do they call you as much as you call them?” she asked.

“I don’t keep score. If I want to talk to someone, I pick up the phone. I don’t think about  who made the last phone call. Some people aren’t good at reaching out. I am, so I do it, and if it’s something important and they don’t respond, I call again.”

I have a girlfriend who always drives when we go places. She
likes to drive, I don’t, so we each do what we like and it works out. We don’ follow a set of rules so there are no expectations. No quid pro quo. Not tit for tat. No “I drove last time so you should drive this time.” We just show up in the way we feel comfortable and we always enjoy each other’s company.

A person I know cut off someone she cared about because he didn’t call her as much as she called him. “Why do you care?” I asked her. “Is he present when you talk to him? Is he there for you when you need him?” She answered yes to both questions but she still refused to talk to him. She suffered from the separation, they had been really close, and sadly, they are still at odds.

I learned a lot about this in 1988, when someone I loved was dying of AIDS. During his final days, he called everyone with whom he was estranged or felt awkward, he made amends and he forgave each of them and asked them for their forgiveness. He didn’t want to die with unfinished business. When he told me about it and I left the hospital that day, I thought to myself, “Am I going to wait until I’m dying to make peace with people? What if I started now and never ended a conversation without closure?” I do my very best with that.

I knew someone for many years when he suddenly cut off contact with me. He “ghosted me” in the current vernacular and I had no idea why. I sent texts and emails asking for an explanation but he remained silent. I didn’t like it but I let it go. I figured he’d come around at some point. We had so much history, it seemed inevitable and two years later I got an email from him. I checked in to see how I was feeling about him. I thought I’d be angry but I wasn’t. He had cut me off, it wasn’t the other way around, and I had no beef with him. I called and asked him what had happened. I really didn’t
know. It turned out he had taken offense when I didn’t thank him in the acknowledgments of one of my books. I was surprised. He had photo shopped one picture of a friend, that was it, and it hadn’t occurred to me to thank him in the acknowledgments. “If you told me, we could have talked about it,” I said. “Why did you wait two years?”

“I wanted to call you for the last year and a half but I just couldn’t do it. Too much time had gone by and I felt foolish.” He had wasted a lot of time when we could have benefited from each other’s company and some damage was done. I still loved him but I didn’t completely trust him any more. We stayed in touch. We spoke from time to time, and when he suddenly passed away a few months ago, I was glad I hadn’t held a grudge.

Even when they get sticky, some relationships are worth fighting for. If you make a commitment to be honest, there are bound to be disagreements and different ways of looking at things. But if you don’t run away, if you stay in there, speak up and listen to each other, if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to see the situation from his or her point of view, when you come back together, you feel closer than before. When you think about your life, is there anyone you’ve lost touch with?  Why don’t you reach out?