About four weeks ago after a long day out with friends, we rambled into a few different restaurants in the now gentrified, formerly funky part of town while trying to get a table for four without a reservation. It was a busy day in the city center with both football and rugby matches taking place, and these small, but desirable establishments were all full to bursting. Fortunately for us, the couple we were with that night reside in the neighborhood and whereas most people would think of our final attempt – a modern Indian place – as a treat, they think of it as their second kitchen. So when we walked in soaked from the rain and tired from wandering about, they quickly accommodated us with a table in the front and brought us our drinks within minutes.
The dinner was as lovely as the hours which preceded it had been: great conversation, easy rapport, great friends and good food. If you are a regular reader or follow me on Twitter, you know that we only recently returned to the UK after a fourteen-year absence. Reconnecting with some people – like the friends we were with that night – has been easy and delightful. Others I have either approached with caution or avoided altogether, with a small group in the middle whom I’ve left to fate a la, “if we run into them, it’s meant to be. If not, oh well.”
One of my closest female friends when we lived here way back when was a woman named Jan. Jan is beautiful; astonishingly, naturally pretty, and married to a multi-millionaire businessman who is one of the nicest, most down to earth souls one could ever hope to encounter inhabiting the realm of the wealthy. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant that evening at almost 11pm, I took one more run to the ladies’ before venturing out to find a taxi and on the way back to our table to join our group and depart, I saw Jan – plain as day, almost unchanged after so much time – sitting with her adorable husband having a meal. Unsure of whether I should approach her, I went back to my friends who insisted that I do just that. I walked up to their table and apologized for the interruption, and almost immediately, Jan yelled out my name, stood, hugged and kissed me and invited us to sit. We did not accept, not wanting to intrude, but we had what on first blush was a polite, warm ten-minute exchange before she put my number on her phone and we said our goodbyes with a promise of meeting up again sometime soon.
Except that we won’t; though I have likewise hardly changed on the outside, I have changed spectacularly on the inside. Based on the evidence of that evening, she has not. During our brief talk, she made two back-handed comments which were actually quite cutting, one of which was accompanied with an overt and prolonged eye roll. The first comment and the eye roll were to do with me and my past as a driven workaholic bitch; the other comment was about my sister. Jan had not – has not – changed; she is still beautiful, rich, married to a wonderful man with whom she shares two gorgeous children. And she is still a sniping, incomprehensibly ungrateful and ungracious wretch. But standing there that evening, she assumed that I was – am – as frozen in and by time as is she.
So many things went through my alcohol-fueled mind that night, and even more the following morning with the aid of espresso and Nurofen. Was I like that, too, when we used to be part of her Marbella weekending bitch-bunch? Or was I more often the butt of her jokes, the target of her biting quips and just too damned naive to see it? I suspect it was far more likely the latter as having been bullied much of my childhood, I’ve never been one to join in on the giving so much as I have been an unwilling recipient of it. I am, however, at times incredibly innocent by way of assuming that everyone who is my friend is as loyal to me as I am to them; how many times in my life has that come back to bite me. But I also assumed that as I had grown up and changed in the intervening fourteen years, so would have everyone else with whom I once associated. Not so.
What perhaps bothered me more is that the most offensive comments she made were specifically about me and how I used to live my life and were all wrapped up in the certainty that I was still exactly the same. Why? Because that’s what makes people comfortable: the pre-conceived notion, their caricature of you, the box in which they placed and left you and need you to stay until they’re ready to take you out and play with you again. Only the most intelligent and evolved humans are capable of change, someone once said, while the majority of people find both comfort and social success by resting both in their stasis and on the certainty that you never will. They can’t let you change because that shifts the shape of their reality, their perception. It would visit upon them an unwelcome movement in the benchmark of comparison and what they know as the status quo. It forces change upon them and that is something they can never allow.
I do feel bad in a way for singling out Jan because she is by no means the only example I have encountered of this phenomenon, and especially as of late. No, she is merely the most recent and convenient because she reacted so strongly and so quickly within then minutes of a reunion after a fourteen-year absence, and because she so starkly contrasts for me my past with my present. She was never going to allow me to change, let alone do so herself.
Many years ago, when we left here to move back to the US, I’d had a spectacular falling out with a man I then and long-considered to be one of the more loathsome individuals I’d ever met. He was and is a lawyer; he was my lawyer at the time, but he was also being paid by the company who was buying mine, double-dealing as it were, and was more around to handle and nudge me into the position most lucrative for them than he was to do anything remotely beneficial to me. I eventually fired him and filed a complaint against him; he sued me and briefly won before having it quashed. By that point, it really didn’t matter. He’d had tens of thousands of pounds off me in fees and had – more importantly – kept his other, larger and more prestigious client happy. He would be fine. He is fine. He’s now an OBE and just won some overwrought award from the Prince’s Trust.
I hated him then and for quite a long time, so when I moved back to Wales and went into the pub nearest my home – and also the best in our village – only to find out that he owned it, along with several others I might like to frequent, I got up and left. I wasn’t going to give that ass my money; he’s had plenty of it already. But out here in Wales, I am as prone to intense periods of thought and contemplation as one might imagine, so eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I started to have a look at his online – and especially his social media – presence. I read his posts and tweets, downloaded articles both about him and authored by him and everywhere saw the smug face of entitlement I’d so come to despise.
I spoke with a good friend who knows him as well and imparted to me that the subject of my ire had gotten, “Weird, zen-ish and very liberal,” but that his perception of this behavior was that it is a much-contrived “act,” precipitated by what Ire-target believes people want him to be. Knowing him as I once did, it was not only plausible but largely believable and highly likely. Pretention oozed forth from the man’s pores such that I always felt I needed a thirty-minute shower after even the briefest of encounters. So I wrote him off as still being the bright, successful, philandering, socially and financially hungry solicitor who sailed very close to the wind for the sake of all the words I just mentioned, ‘successful’ through ‘financially’ inclusive.
But then I ran into Jan. And I discussed that run-in and my consternation over it with another friend, who almost every time I see him mentions how different I am; how much I’ve changed. And I realized that I cannot both expect others to acknowledge and be comfortable with or make room for my change – or even give it a chance – if I do not allow the same for others.
I follow him on Twitter and I read articles he publishes and he seems like a very different man than the one I once knew: socially conscious, charitable, more modest in the way he lives and more concerned about those below him on whom he might have once stepped rather than those above him to whose heights he once so aspired. Is it real? I have no idea and will likely only know for certain if I one day happen to run into him, which I am again leaving to fate. When or if I do so, I will allow him the time to present himself as he is now and leave behind any notions I had of who he was then. If he is truly different, he will afford me the same.
Someone once said that only the most intelligent and evolved amongst us are capable of change. I say everyone is capable of change, but only the most gracious and evolved amongst us are capable of allowing it in others.