When considered closely, the expression “Stirring up a hornet’s nest…”, like so many other aphorisms I use (and hear or read) frequently, is quite a puzzle. Bumping into or stepping upon a hornet’s nest is something I can imagine; an accidental encounter with the buzzing, dive-bombing, only-trying-to-protect-themselves-and-their-kin wing-ed beasts. I have had those encounters and the hornet’s sting is no joke. Which takes me back to the phrase: ‘stirring up’; to me, that word choice indicates a behavior that is an act of volition, not an accident. Why, I ask, would one choose to stir up a hornet’s nest?
Is curiosity an adequate reason? You wonderfully astute readers will have gotten ahead of me here, I suspect. I am wondering why I have stirred up this hornet’s nest of thoughts, memories and feelings about friendship. Another ‘yoicks’ moment. I think it is a case of curiosity to begin with, which morphs into an unsolicited stream of reflections. Here are some of the random scraps that been surfacing.
I’ll start with the concept of ending friendships. There are the ‘naturally faded away’ ones, that happen as a result of changes in circumstance: moving to a different neighborhood or city, marriage or having children when friends are still single or non-parents, leaving a job and other such innocuous, but life changing events. Then there are the endings that I have tried to disguise as circumstantial shifts.
Confession time: there are those whose presence in my life was driven by things like living or working in proximity or having children who enjoy play dates together. A cordial relationship develops, but on my part at least, there is no experience of real connection. In fact, I find that I am bored, avoiding, even averse to being with this person. Excuses and evasion begin to dominate and with some guilt and more relief, I start to pull back. I’m sorely tempted, as part of this confessional note, to defensively explain some of the annoying episodes that take place when I am ‘done’, but the other person believes we have a true friendship.
I can also defensively rationalize my choices: ‘Only so much time in my day; I want to spend it with people I enjoy; life is short; I don’t have to take care of people who are needy…’ Question: are these rationalizations or legitimate reasons? I guess the uncomfortable part is a sense that I have been duplicitous; failing to be forthright and explain my behavior, which a little voice tells me would be ‘the right thing to do’.
Here’s a story for you. Once upon a time, as I was involved in one of these distancing scenarios, the acquaintance inquired of my spouse “Are you still having the XYZ parties? Why are we no longer invited?” Obviously I wasn’t present, and this happened many years ago now, but in some way the individual asked if we were no longer friends. The response, inelegant, but nonetheless, painfully true, was something to this effect: “It’s actually Cathy who doesn’t like you…” Ouch, ouch, ouch. I was ‘outed’ as a ‘hater’, which was shocking because being caring and generous was (is) such a large part of my self-image.
Okay, here is another tangential commentary, admittedly inserted here because my innards needed to scramble away from that confession. There was a scene in some movie that I watched in the last few months… couldn’t tell you what film, although you may recognize the quote. An adult and a child (man and boy, I believe) are walking along and the man is awkwardly explaining something to the boy. The boy interjects, offering the word ‘haters’, to summarize a clumsy description and the man seizes upon the word, saying: “Yes, ‘haters’, we didn’t have that word back then…” I found that moment to be both touching and hysterical. The next generation has certainly coined language that is sorely needed.
One last note… I have been on the other side of this equation. I have also been rejected, dropped, jettisoned. It is disturbing, upsetting, confusing and the sense of injury lingers for a long time. Please forgive me if my courage fails. I’m not quite ready to air those hurts and grievances in this forum.
But I am extremely curious to hear if anyone reading this has thoughts about this equation, theoretical reflections or personal experiences. It’s a knotty issue, me thinks. Thanks for listening.