I don’t like social tension. I don’t honk, unless it is an emergency. In college, I didn’t “make out” with random boys at parties because I was worried about how awkward I would feel the next day if I ran into them on campus. (This policy was easy to maintain because I favored Laura Ashley dresses in college. Apparently, not everyone finds this look sexy.) I try to make other people comfortable, I make eye-contact, I am polite to store clerks, waiters, and waitresses, and I smile at complete strangers. When they smile back, it makes my day.
I also wave “hello” at my friends’ ex-husbands.
We live in a small town and lives are intertwined here. Our families traveled together, we shared holidays and birthday parties, and we are forever connected with happy memories of watching our kids grow up together. I know all to well that divorce feels awful, so I feel compelled to be nice when people split up. Even though we won’t be hanging out anymore, I want the ex-husbands to know that I don’t hate them.
On the other hand, I am also very conscious that my wave can’t be too enthusiastic. I don’t want my friends’ ex-husbands to think I am being friendly because I am interested (I am not) or that I am more loyal to them than to my girlfriends (I am not). Getting these subtleties down is one of the first tasks of becoming a divorced woman.
I drove past one of the ex-husbands today and gave a friendly, just-right wave. He didn’t wave back. Granted, it was a rainy day and we were passing each other in a busy school zone, so maybe he didn’t see me, but that started me wondering…maybe he doesn’t want to be friendly with his ex-wife’s friends. Or maybe my wave was too eager. Or maybe he just doesn’t like me anymore. Wounded ex’s can sometimes be irrational, so maybe he blames me for their divorce. Maybe he thinks I am “pro-divorce” or something. Maybe he thinks his wife would still love him were it not for the poison whisperings of her crazy divorced friends? Maybe he thinks I am that kind of person.
It is hard not to be so concerned what other people think. I know I shouldn’t care, but I do. It takes effort to strike the balance, just like anything else. In order to put myself forward and not be attached to what I might get back, I try to maintain a state of “ignorant bliss coupled with openness to constructive feedback,” which ironically sounds sort of like a diagnosis, but is a happy place that works for me.
The choice to be yourself is a risk, because rejection or misinterpretation feels personal – although most of the time it isn’t. No one is thinking about you as much as you are thinking about what they think of you. (…enough about me, what do you think of me?) Having a thick skin isn’t the solution either, because when you wall off from hurt, you also wall off from joy. Anytime you put yourself forward, there is a danger that you will be misunderstood and hurt, but I think it is worth the risk. The reward is connection with other humans, whether it comes in the form of a return smile from a stranger – or a just-right wave from an old friend who has become an ex.