I was a young man. She was a young woman, an ex of a friend. Both of whom belonged to my church. She was attractive: slim, blonde, fair-faced but most importantly, a pleasure to be with. I had no real aspirations on her if I’m honest – she had quickly hooked up with another guy after the end of her time with my friend. I suppose had she been available, I would’ve been interested, but there was no pining after her that young men can find themselves doing at times. However, we became good friends, and our mutual interest in drama led us to form a drama group within the church together.
The relationship with this new bloke (who quickly became her fiancé) didn’t bode well. We (the circle of friends in and around the drama) noticed the drama developing between them: rows in front of others that one associates with couples long married and prone to that crushing familiarity and weariness of the other’s foibles. Murmurs rumbled around us of things like incompatibility and ‘recovering from the rebound’ of a previous relationship. And there was the first lesson not learnt: I was not a good enough friend to be able to sit down to address this problem with her before she walked down the aisle. We all did the ‘polite’ thing and butted out of it and just talked about them out of their earshot.
And so they married: the ceremony was standard, uneventful, as expected, with the normal tones of romance. I had a feeling of unease though, as if I just knew this bloke (who was genial and friendly enough, don’t get me wrong) didn’t really appreciate the beauty of this rose. Was I jealous? Maybe I could see myself in a different life with the opportunity to propose marriage to her, able to be loving and devoted, but as I said, there was no real chemistry between us. I was a concerned friend, but saw no vision of me jumping out of my pew and saying “STOP! I wanna kiss the bride!”
So it really was a surprise when one day, only weeks after she married, she traveled the 15 miles from her marital home to see me. I still lived at my parents’ house then, and my Dad made a quick excuse to go out once I introduced this attractive young woman, thinking he would be a bit of a gooseberry. She sat down and exchanged small talk for a brief few moments once I’d brewed some coffee before she suddenly landed the bombshell in a conversational pause:
“You know, I always thought when I was younger that if a man raised his hand to me, I would leave him immediately!” I was young and inexperienced, and I do have something on the autistic spectrum radar, which makes me often unaware of non-verbal communication and inept at reading emotions, but I knew enough then, without going into the theory of implicature in conversation, to grasp what she was saying, albeit indirectly. She should have packed her bags already, and left that unhappy marital home, and chalked up the brief marriage to experience. But the young man she was talking to… no, appealing to… was unable to offer advice or even a shoulder. I was dumbstruck, literally. I recall mouthing something like “oh! That’s… awful! Emmm?..” and that was maybe it. Silence followed. I think she changed the subject, but the rest of the conversation cannot be brought to mind now. She wasn’t there for a nice chat; she wanted somebody to do the right thing by her. But I had no idea what the right thing was. Marriage is sacred, isn’t it? Our vows mean something. They have to! Why walk to the end of an aisle and utter them, in the presence of everyone dear to you, and God, and not believe they mean anything?
She left my house, and I never saw her again.
She hadn’t shown up at church for a few weeks, so eventually I asked a friend about her. Those were the days before mobile phones, and long before Facebook, so communication was not so easy: I had just expected to see her and talk again after a church service. The friend I asked, said “oh hadn’t you heard? She left her husband, and moved into a flat in Belfast somewhere. She’s not coming back to church, she’s too ashamed.” I cannot describe the emptiness I felt. Somehow I knew I’d not see her again, maybe ever. No point in trying to ring a telephone number I didn’t know, or visit an address few knew too, and as I said, I was lost for words anyway the first time, what more words would come to my useless tongue? At least she was out of that relationship!
Much later, after some soul-searching over why I couldn’t help a friend who sought my comfort, I realised what I should have said on that day:
“Your marriage vows mean something, yes, but they work both ways. His are as important as yours, and he promised… promised to love, honour and cherish you! In what universe does abuse measure up to the standards of love and cherishing? He has already broken the vows, so you are under no obligation to stay. Get out! I’ll go with you now and help you pack what you need. Go back to your parents, tell them. I’ll go with you. If you can’t face your own family, or you want to get away from where he can find you, I’ll ask my parents; I’m sure they’ll let you stay here for a while once I explain. Take my bed, I can sleep on the sofa. Stay as long as you need until you sort things out. Do you think you’ll need a counsellor? If you just want to talk, I’m here, or if you just need a shoulder for your tears.”
That is what I have promised myself I will say if I ever encounter a friend in this situation again.
Though we never met again, many years later, she came back to my mind in my prayers. For about a year, every time I prayed, I said one for her, then the desire to pray faded. A year after that, I met a friend who had known her too and asked if he knew how she was. He said, “yes, she settled down and married again, and has two kids now. She backslid from her faith for a long time, but about a year ago, I was told she came back to the Lord.”
9 responses to “Friendship Fail – Guest Post by Grammatteus”
What a great post! Initially sad, but eventually, a blessing. The strength that can only come from God, was the ultimate power that could renew a life that was seemingly lost.. Love it. Blessings.
Thank you. I should also thank Bird for allowing me to guest post here. This was one I felt not exactly appropriate for a few reasons on my own main blog, the alternative ulsterman, which is chiefly concerned with faith issues, usually local to my native province. Maybe I should expand my own blog more… but nice to ‘expand out’ and appreciate the new (and larger) audience.
Cudda, Wudda, Shudda situations like this shouldn’t result in self recriminations since you didn’t have the experience at the time to be able to say all the things you later decided you should have or could have. You would have needed to be an much safer ground too in order to be able to offer help before the wedding and could have not only lost her friendship but also created a row with her then husband to be.
Perhaps if you’d known her to be ‘The One’ you’d have found the protectiveness within you after hearing about the violence but without experience of such a situation you wouldn’t have known what advice to give or where to send her. I doubt there were many women’s refuges in Ireland at the time.
I’m sorry she had such a rocky road but am glad she found happiness.
Understand what you’re saying. Hearing that she was happier and eventually returned to where she started spiritually helped me to ‘heal’ my guilt. I simply post for the posterity of advising anyone else caught in the same dilemma. TRUE friends should be honest (but not derisory or condemnatory) – our daughter’s friend approached my wife with news that she knew, but could not keep from us. She was right, and mature enough to know that she HAD to tell us. Our daughter was furious that the friend had ‘betrayed a confidence’ but I told her that this young girl had risked her friendship in order to do the right thing, knowing she would incur wrath. Only wish our daughter had kept in contact with her after we moved house. Friends like that are rare, unfortunately.
And no, she wasn’t ‘the one’ – she appeared later and stayed (27 years so far!). I know I would step into ANY situation for HER! 🙂
Reblogged this on 10eveningflowers and commented:
An inspirational post – A must read
amazing and i am re-blogging it 🙂
Thank you very much. Appreciate my story going even wider.
Whatever you decide to do- marry young, marry later, marry late, or never marry- just make sure it’s right for you. And if you post a blog about things you can do instead of getting married at 23, make sure it’s not condemning those who chose to get married before 23, and make sure you list things that are actually more fun than being married to your best friend.
What a wonderful post on the power of prayer!