It Doesn’t Always Work Out

Many years ago my friend Jenny (RIP) was having all kinds of personal problems. She ate lunch every day at a Chinese restaurant near our offices at San Diego State, not so much because of the food, but because of the fortune cookies. The longer I knew Jenny, the more aware I became that personal problems were a ubiquitous aspect of her life (mine too, yours, too, possibly).

One year I made her a “painting” collage thing of dozens of photo copied fortune cookies floating in a bright, blue sky. Out of each one came a fortune — all of them bromides. We’d decided at that point that these sayings — almost nonsense in some cases — were useful and often true. There was, “It’ll all work out.” “Tomorrow is another day.” “Put a good face on it.” “In the fullness of time.” “One day at a time.” “Time will tell.” “There’s no way to know.” “Wait and see.” “It was meant to be.” “The course of true love never ran smooth.” (We have Shakespeare to thank for a lot of these.) A bunch more. Jenny put the picture on a wall between her kitchen and dining area, by the back door and the entrance to her studio. The point of the “art” was to cheer her up. Maybe it worked.

I’ve noticed that these phrases come out of my mouth when a friend is sharing his/her problems with me, telling me what’s on their mind. I understand now that the important part for them is not my stellar, sagacious advice or perceptive insight, it’s “It’ll work out.” or “I’m so sorry. Time will tell, I guess.” In most situations I don’t want to GIVE my opinion beyond a general observation such as, “That sucks.” The exception? If I have something concrete to offer like, “It’s OK. I’ll loan you my can opener.”

Going further? Usually ill-advised. My friend Jenny pushed me beyond the bromides after I moved away from California and we could no longer hang out. Her “boy”friend (a man of 80) was an abusive shit — to her and to her friends. Her daughters despised him. BUT Jenny felt she needed him (she was physically disabled to some extent) and couldn’t break away. The reality was that she loved him. Our relationship shifted to a phone relationship when I moved to Colorado. I became the “sob sister.”

I loved Jenny like a sister. She was my longest-time friend and when I finally had to say, “I can’t listen to this any more, Jenny. If that’s all you call to talk about, don’t call me any more,” it was very very hard. The experience of moving to a new town where I knew no one and leaving a career of 35+ years was pretty intense and scary for me, but my life never entered our conversations. Jenny didn’t understand how harrowing it was to hear one recitation after another of this man’s abuses from a 1000+ miles away.

Finally I asked her, “Jen, do you love X?”

“I do,” she said. “You don’t seem to understand that.”

I did understand that. I’ve “loved” abusive men myself. It’s something I still find beyond description and not exactly love. But I understood that until she loved herself more than she “loved” X I was going to endure these nightmare phone calls from a friend I couldn’t help.

“OK, Jen. Don’t call me as long as X is in your life and hurting you. I’m too far away to do anything to help you. I love you.” Click.

She wrote me a very angry letter and said she’d forgive me under certain conditions. I tossed it and cried. Sometimes these situations go beyond, “It’ll all work out.” It doesn’t always work out.

Still, these apparently facile and trite attempts at consolation and hope are often useful and true. The time remedy, especially… My injured shoulder is starting to feel normal again, and last night I had a real night’s sleep, the first one is more than four weeks. I can almost use my shoulder normally. All of those bromides applied to this situation 100%.

22 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Always Work Out

  1. Happy Sunday my friend. 💛I can relate to this post. I’ve been emotionally dumped on and I was, at one time, the dumper. I’ve experienced abuse. And I finally stood up to it and got out. I didn’t see it as “love” more than dependence. I really don’t NEED anyone,…this made my current special partner nervous. But I’ve not backed down on boundaries. When I found myself complaining about the same things I had to make a change. I have a friend who creates conversations solely around herself. It’s difficult. I started avoiding calls and texts. She has a husband {of 47 years} and I finally told her, “I’m glad you have him to share all of your health and other concerns, but I REALLY need to hear the positive things going on in your life and I want to share hope too . Can we try and talk about other things?” Of course she knows I’d be there in any emergency situation. We talk less often, but I commend her for more equitable dialogue. I hope you 3 are doing well. I finally published my children’s book on Thursday after many formatting and technology issues. I think I can breathe a bit and actually write and be active in my favorite space~here! 💛🐶🤗

  2. Quite often people just want us to listen. Those bromides are perfect, as they don’t really tell anyone what to do but offer a modicum of assurance.

  3. Yes. I’ve had a friend like that too… It does get tiresome. It is sad that you had to tell her the truth and she didn’t/couldn’t accept it. I collect all the “fortunes” from my cookies. Some are generic others are prophetic, and still others make me laugh. When handing them out we never know what the reaction will be. Time will tell and it will all work out in the end!

  4. It’s so hard to set boundaries like you did with your friend. For some reason (perhaps I’m too good at listening) I am the recipient of tales of woe – that go on and on for years. It DOES wear on me too. I finally said something like “well I guess you’ve decided to stay married” each time the sob stories started up. Eventually they came less and less. Even so, it is still exhausting to be an emotional dumping ground. The fortune cookie bromides do offer an “I hear you” response which often does the trick.

    • It is exhausting. I think in my friend’s problem is that the whole world had been swallowed up in her crappy relationship and she didn’t even think that there was anything else in the world but her health problems (which I think were exacerbated by the “boy”friend) and her relationship. I guess mostly I hoped what I said would wake her up. I missed my friend and still miss her, but…

  5. Oh, this post brings up so many stories in everyone’s life. Yes, I agree, All will be well and it will all work out. Good? Bad? Who knows.

    I’m having a bromide situation with CBC News. The media turned off their comment section in FB and forces us to access their site to read and comment online. CBC is so biased. I have to write about this.

    When it comes to men relationship, I dropped them like a hot potato. With my women/sister/bff, I tend to be patient with them. More than often, the relationship grows cold.

    As for the fortune cookies, I like playing a game by adding “in bed” at the end of the phrase. I did write about this here.

    What your fortune cookie tells you

    • I like your post! I like the fortune cookies that come with lottery numbers. So that would be 31-42-85-20 in bed. 😀 I don’t deal with men romantically any more first because I’m pretty old and second because I made terrible choices. And women…I have great women friends but for the most part we just keep things positive.

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