In her spare bedroom, she had wedding favors, decorations, and fabrics stacked to the ceiling. She had quit her job to move in with her fiance in another city, and as a result, her full time job for the past two years had become wedding planning.
To pull samples down to show me, she had to navigate the unwieldy pile with caution. There were custom printed drink stirrers and napkins. Umbrellas for cocktails served at the welcome dinner. Fabric to make “welcome bags” for all of the out of town guests. In between showing me how perfectly she had matched shades of green and styles of fabric, she complained about being overwhelmed by it all. Knowing that her whole world was wrapped up in this wedding, I tried to be sympathetic.
When I told her that I couldn’t make it to the October wedding, because it was during exams and in another country, she was disappointed. Actually, that’s probably an understatement. She sent me repeated emails saying that she wished that I could work something out and asking why I couldn’t fly in on Friday and fly back out on Sunday, in time to make it to DC for my Monday exam.
Since she’s not in medical school, nor is she friends with anyone in the health field, I was polite and apologetic, as I thought I should be. After all, she had no idea that medical school exams actually require studying most of the weekend before and that most students aren’t going to risk missing an international flight the night before, or getting delayed.
I knew that she didn’t understand my rationale, or any part of it. In fact, after Rich and I called off the wedding, she chided me for having “rushed things” anyway. She said that she felt like I was pushing to have the wedding during a certain time period and not spending enough time worrying about the details. If the "details" referred to the problems that Rich and I were having, then that was probably true, but I knew that she hated that I was being so low key about the wedding details and just trying to get down the aisle before second year started.
To me, though, when it came to choosing between taking four extra months to find a particular shade of pink for the reception flowers or being married so that I could move in with Rich and be settled before second year, there was just no contest.
That was the fundamental difference between her and me. She took two years of full-time planning to create her perfect wedding. I put a deposit down on my wedding dress on the first (and only) day I had to shop and told my mom that she could run wild with the reception details. The wedding was just a day to me, and to her, it showed.
In November, a few days after she sent out an 800 picture wedding album, I got the most passive-aggressive text message ever.
“I have to say that I’m a little shocked that I haven’t gotten a response to the wedding album yet,” it read.
That was all that it said. No inquiry about how I was doing or if everything was OK. Still, she’s my friend, so I wrote something cheery and flowery back, saying that I was in the middle of exams again and hadn’t had a chance to look at the album yet.
It was an honest reply and one that I felt that, had I been on the receiving end of, I would have replied with, “Aww, no problem! Just wanted to make sure you got the link! Good luck with your exams and call me soon!,” or something similar. Instead, she wrote nothing back. Perhaps I should have regulated my honesty, because I knew that she was mad that I hadn't made time to look.
I didn’t hear from her for another two months or so, until I arrived back in DC, to find her Christmas card waiting. The Lawyer and I were unloading things from the car, and while he unpacked bags a few feet away, I started ripping open envelopes in the mail pile. When I opened her card, the first line read,
“I’m sad and disappointed that I haven’t heard from you.”
I handed The Lawyer the card.
“Are you kidding me?,” he said, sighing. “Can she be any more dramatic?”
For the next couple of days, I agonized over what I would email back. I wanted to wish her a happy new year and be nice, but I did feel like I needed to lay down the law as far as her passive-aggressive messages and expectations of me.
After all, why is the complete burden of keeping in touch on my shoulders? Why is she so “sad and disappointed” in me, instead of just calling or emailing herself? If we really are lifelong friends, there needs to be some acknowledgment that other people have other lives. Sometimes those lives are hard and demanding enough that they fall out of touch for a while, despite magical weddings that took two years to plan. In fact, if you’re going to be friends with medical students or doctors, you kind of need to accept that.
“She’s going to be really disappointed when she has no more wedding things to do,” The Lawyer commented, acknowledging the wedding photo used for the Christmas card and multiple references to newlywed life. Then, he gave me a pointed instruction.
“Don’t you dare apologize to her either.”
He knew me too well.
When I started practicing what I would say to her, I couldn’t even phrase a sentence without the word “sorry” in it.
I’m sorry that I haven’t been in touch.
I’m sorry that it took me so long to look at your wedding album.
I’m sorry that I had exams and couldn’t make it to the wedding.
So, after much careful wording, I did send her a nice email, referencing the fact that I told her that this would be my busiest year of medical school and using the word “sorry” only to say, “I’m sorry that you feel like I neglected you.” Because that’s what it comes down to.
As children, we're taught that we should be understanding and compassionate of our friends' feelings. We should say that we're sorry when we are, and be the first to apologize. I've always been ready and willing to assume responsibility for my wrongs, but what happens when you're apologizing not for things that you've done wrong, but literally for living your life and trying to keep up with your profession?It's a hard transition to make, but sometimes we shouldn't apologize for things that we haven't done wrong. Friendships are about give and take, and even if I wasn't in medical school, there would still be times in my life when I couldn't keep up. When I'd stop communicating just because I'm tired, or distracted, or starting a new relationship myself. We all have moments where we disappoint our friends, but apologizing for it? Sometimes we need Lawyers to regulate us and to remind us that apologies aren't necessary.