In recent months several friends and acquaintances have been reporting either reconciliations or communications from relatives that may lead to a full reconciliation. I have been delighted for them. Some have reconciled even though they had been assaulted physically by the relative who estranged them. Some had experienced verbal abuse. In each case they were delighted to hear from their returning relatives.
So far no one whom I know is turning down an opportunity to reconcile, even if they might express feelings of wariness to others. Which leads to my question: Does it make sense to reconcile?
The question occurs to me this week after hearing that a person who behaved with alarming animosity wants to be a part of the organization that he said that he hated. I wrote about that situation earlier today on my Ordinary Woman blog. If the decision in that case were mine alone, I might tell him no. That he could not come back. That his behavior was too over the top for him to be allowed to come back. That I had no assurance that his feelings had changed or that he could control his behavior. But I am not related to him and it is an organization, not a family.
Under what circumstances do we choose to reconcile? When does it make sense to set boundaries and say, "No. You cannot come back. I do not want a relationship with you." When do we go from being an Estrangee to an Estranger.
(Note: A reader here has mentioned the negative connotation of being an "Estranger". I concede that the term Estranger sounds less positive than the term Estrangee but so far I haven't thought of a better term that would describe those who decide to estrange themselves. Suggestions are welcomed.)
Once upon a time I had a friend who stopped talking to me because she heard that I talked to someone whom she did not trust. She didn't talk to me for four years. Then she turned up one day. She apologized. She didn't have a good reason for her actions but she apologized. I accepted her apology and we were friends again for a while until she involved herself in something that was unethical. I lost respect for her. I decided I didn't want to be friends.
Did I make a mistake in forgiving her after four years of her refusing to speak with me? I could have accepted the apology but kept my distance. I wasn't hurt by forgiving her. I gave her a second chance and it didn't work out. I learned something. When someone behaves badly, it is because they are choosing a certain way to live their life. I have to pay attention to how they are choosing to live their life and decide if there is any way that I can have a relationship with someone who chooses to live their life that way. There are some things that I choose not to ignore.
I don't want to have relationships with people that do certain things. I am not a saint. I am a sinner like the rest of us. I don't expect moral perfection in anyone but there are some things that would disqualify a whole lot of people from those whom I would want as friends.
Another situation that I want to mention is the one involving my mother and me. In 1978 my mother told me that she didn't want to talk to me any more. I accepted her decision and lived my next three years in blissful ignorance of whatever she was doing in her life. I say blissful because up to the day that she said that to me I was the one who felt obligated to listen to her problems.
If she broke the heel off a shoe and was depressed, it was my door that she came to crying. If she had a headache and was hung over and needed someone to do something for her because she didn't feel well, it was me whom she asked for help. In 1978 she offered me estrangement and I grabbed it! How cool was that? I had freedom from knowledge of her train wreck of a life for three entire years!
Free at last! Free at last! Oh dear God, I was free at last! Right up until someone called me in 1981 to ask me, on behalf of my mother, if my mother could call me. I said yes.
My mother and I reconciled in 1981. She didn't offer an apology. I didn't ask for one. There was some question about whether she remembered saying in 1978 that she didn't want to talk to me. But if she didn't remember what she said, then how come she hadn't called for three years? I didn't insist on an answer to that question and I never asked for an apology. I let our relationship resume. I again was privy to her train wreck.
Long story short, I cut off my view of the train wreck in 2002 after being insulted and verbally assaulted one too many times. I often wondered if reconciling in 1981 was a good idea or not. But the answer is yes. If we hadn't reconciled in 1981 I would not have experienced that miraculous improvement in our relationship that occurred from 1992 to 2002. I would have wondered for over twenty years what things would be like if we reconciled. Now I know. For a while it was more of the same old same old. Then for ten years it was better. Then it was the same old same old again. But the ten years of the relationship being better made it worth it.
I am not so puzzled by whether to forgive someone or not as I am on the question of whether to reconcile. Generally forgiveness is a good thing, good for both the person who forgives and the person who is forgiven. But reconciliation? When does it make sense to reconcile and when doesn't it make sense? Are reconciliation and forgiveness the same thing? I don't think that they are.
Like the answer to so many things, I don't think the answer regarding whether to reconcile is the same for everyone. I learned something from the reconciliations that I experienced, even though the reconciliations were temporary.
I learned that usually people don't change and that there is a reason why things happen a certain way. I learned that there can be something of value even in relationships where we don't get along. I learned that even when I receive an apology that the apology does not mean that the person has changed. I learned that people can surprise me in both good and bad ways.
I read a quote in a recently much celebrated speech given by Randy Pausch. He said, "Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you." He said, "When you're pissed off at someone, give them more time."
With Randy's words in mind, I would say that reconciliation is the door through which people can walk and come back and surprise us. By being open to reconciliation we let those who have estranged themselves have an opportunity to surprise and impress.