The process of putting the thing you value most in the world out for the assessment of a stranger is a confidence-shaking business even in the best of times.
-Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty
Truth and Beauty, a memoir about the friendship between writers Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, was one of the most difficult books I never read.
A few weeks ago, a friend gave me her copy of Truth and Beauty and asked me to give her my take on their friendship. Having never read anything by either author and knowing almost nothing about their lives, I entered into my reading without any preconceptions. But, just a few pages in, I was sickened by Patchett’s assessment of herself, of Grealy, and of their friendship. In the end, I only managed to read the first and last chapters of the book.
Why? Because it hit a sore spot. Because their friendship, unfortunately, reminded me of too many unhealthy friendships I have had.
In the above quote, Patchett is referring to the vulnerability an artist experiences, but I think it is not too unlike the vulnerability a friend experiences. And, it is Patchett’s abuse of Grealy’s vulnerability that is the source of my upset. Patchett portrays Grealy as needy and self-absorbed, and paints herself as the stoic and forbearing friend, who puts up with her friend’s addictions and dysfunctions. Later in the book Patchett justifies her approach: In our friendship I had spent a lot of time telling Lucy to pull herself up, to get over the past and move on. That was my role, the best of my Catholic education in action, and I didn’t worry about it because I knew that she had other friends, friends who were as close to her as I was, who were more tender.
That’s a cop out, in my opinion. In the end, I don’t think Patchett really liked Grealy.
Real friendship requires truth; and most significantly, it requires both friends to be honest about their regard for one another. The only way we can be truly vulnerable in a friendship is if there exists true AND mutual trust, love, respect, and admiration. Tolerating someone is not ok. Needing someone who obviously can’t meet your needs is not ok. Finding the beautiful balance of a true friendship is not easy…but it’s worth it.
I encourage you to take a look at your friendships. Are they mutual? Do they drag you down or make you feel needy? Or, do they give you wings and encourage you to see the best in yourself? I hope the latter, because you are worth it!