Almost a year ago, I met a man. I was looking for an architect who would do some pro bono work for small, local businesses. These small businesses were willing to make a financial commitment to their businesses and make physical improvements to buildings in a blighted area. I wanted to make sure that the end results were beneficial to the district and the business owners. I wanted to get the most bang for our buck, as my organization was giving out grants to encourage these improvements. A name of a local architect was recommended to me, and I gave him a call. From our first phone conversation, we hit it off. I explained what I needed and what my organization was hoping to accomplish. He generously offered to meet with building and business owners. We made an appointment for an initial meeting the following week.
From the start, it was apparent that we were on the same page. He was excited to participate in these revitalization efforts. It was one of those meetings that was enjoyable from the start. It helped that he brought a box of delicious, locally made cinnamon rolls. We hit it off immediately, and our conversation flowed effortlessly from one topic to another. I was excited to have him on our team.
I arranged meetings with individual property owners after our initial meeting. The City’s building code required an architectural rendering for major renovation projects. His willingness to assist property owners on a tight budget was invaluable.
Our friendship continued to flourish. We frequently had lunch together on the spur of the moment. He would send me a simple text. “Soup?.” and I would reply, “OK, at noon.” We met an an Italian restaurant several doors down and in the middle of both of our offices. His office was about a block from my own. I enjoyed having a casual friend. I was new in town, and he was the only person I had met who wasn’t either an employee or a board member. It was refreshing to just talk about nothing.
I knew he was married and that he had four grown daughters. I knew that he was a fundamentalist Christian, and we often had heated debates about religion. His wife was the assistant pastor of his church. One time prior to a board meeting, he sent me a text that said, “I’m praying that God sends you peace and that your board meeting goes smoothly.” I jokingly sent him a text back that said, “I hope God has better things to worry about than my board meeting.” He expounded religious platitudes, and I shot him down each time. While I am a Christian, and pray with regularity, my life has not been one to embrace religious platitudes. Lose a couple of children, and it causes a person to see God quite a bit differently than the normal (lucky!) person. While we enjoyed a unique friendship, nothing out of the ordinary had sent up any warning signals. T knew that he was my friend, and that I often had lunch with him.
In December, my organizations published a request for proposals for a large consulting contract. My friend was one of thirteen teams of consultants to respond with a proposal. His company made the short list and was asked to participate in a community forum and present their ideas and vision. A large committee would make the final selection of which team would get the contract. There was a complex and comprehensive scoring system that the committee used to make the final selection. While his team had performed admirably, they were not selected to win the contract.
I was concerned about how he would take this news. I knew he would see it as a rejection and a failure on his part when in fact, he and his team had done a fantastic job. I called him personally to give him the bad news. He was livid. I understood his anger, but I told him that I would honor the committee’s decision. Later, when I was home for the evening, he sent me a text asking if I could talk to him. I told him, “Of course,” and I spoke to him for well over an hour. I was relieved that this had not ruined our friendship.
About a week later, I met one of my board members for lunch at the Italian restaurant. It was a busy afternoon, and the place was packed with people I knew. I went from table to table greeting people as I made my way to the back of the room where my board member was already seated. Next to our table, I saw my friend. I smiled as I made my way over to him to say hello. He saw me, and the look on his face was one of panic. I saw that he was with a woman, but so what? I didn’t understand why that would matter. His body language made it clear that I was not welcome, not even to say hello.
I ate my lunch in anger and confusion. I had a feeling about what must be going on. This was his wife, but so what! There was absolutely no reason to shun me simply because he was having lunch with his wife. Why hadn’t he just introduced me to her? I was furious.
When he and his wife finished their lunch, they made their way to the door stopping to speak to people on their way out. I was not one of the people he spoke to as he and his wife left the restaurant. My face burned with anger and shame. Shame is what I felt, but I still don’t know why. I had nothing to be ashamed of, yet I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt like a second class citizen. In fact, I felt like a slut. There was no reason for that feeling, but that is what I felt. Like a BAD GIRL….and I’m fifty years old! I vacillated between shame and anger for an hour after lunch. I waited for him to call to explain or apologize. NOTHING.
So I called him. I laid it on the line. I said, “What in the hell was that all about? Why did you ignore me? I understand that you were with your wife, but why would that matter?”
He apologized all over the place. He said, “You wouldn’t understand. My wife is horribly jealous. I didn’t know she was coming to my office, and she was berating me about a business matter that she didn’t think was ‘Christian.'” I was flabbergasted. They were having a conversation about what was deemed Christian behavior….while he shunned a friend. What kind of Christian is that?
I held nothing back. I called him a hypocrite. I called him disingenuous. I reminded him that I had taken an hour of my family time while I was home to talk to him about his feeling of rejection over not getting the contract. Once again, he apologized.
Obviously, I can no longer consider him a friend. He crossed a line. The saddest thing of all is that once again, I was angry at myself for allowing myself to value his friendship. I’ve spent a great deal of time considering why I let people into my life so quickly. Why do I trust people only to have them turn around and treat me with complete disrespect?
This incident occurred a couple of months ago, but I’m just now able to have enough perspective to write about it. He has continued to text me and to try to make amends. When I was in New Orleans, he kept asking about my trip, but I did not respond. When I returned he sent texts asking if I was home safely, but I still did not respond. When the texting grew in intensity, I relented. I replied that I was consciously backing things off to a level of colleague or acquaintance, because I felt that this is what is right in this particular situation. A friend does not HIDE a friendship. Period.
Hiding anything is the result of guilt. Anything worth having in you life should not be hidden. Period. I refuse to allow anyone to treat me with such disrespect ever again. His actions made me feel bad about myself. I felt guilt simply for being ME. I felt that I had done something wrong, when my actions had been nothing but honorable. He dishonored me to honor his wife. That’s fine. That’s his problem, but I can never consider such actions the act of a friend.