What would Brené Brown Do?

My recent essay written for Frank Magazine.

Last month I met a new acquaintance for lunch. As we made our way to the table, she scolded a mutual friend. Once we were seated, she was rude to the waitress. “I do no want ice in my water. Please bring me a new one.” When the waitress brought our salads, “I asked for dressing on the side.” Then, “The wine list says this cab is robust. Well, it’s not.” 

My colleague introduced us a couple of weeks before when we were seated together at a business lunch. My new acquaintance mumbled and complained about the speaker during the presentation. I was suspicious about seeing her again, but I thought she might be reaching out for help. 

But on our lunch outing, she met me in worse form. I was asking myself, is it possible to have empathy for someone and choose not to have them in my life? What should I do? Should I excuse myself and head to the ladies room to Google, “What would Brené Brown do?”

Maybe I should walk away. But no, I’d made a choice to be there and I felt a responsibility to see this through.  When we finished our salads, I asked what was going on, if she needed to talk. She grimaced and asked me what I meant. Things went south, fast. We walked to our cars and made no plans to meet again. I was off the hook, thank you very much.

I know people behave like this because they may be at a spiritual or emotional low, or maybe that’s just who they are. They choose to drag down others to make themselves look and feel better. I’m thinking about the old saying, a true friend is there for you when the going gets tough. I feel the guilt already. But this person was not my friend and quite likely will never be. I want to be empathetic, but I know I don’t have to like everyone.

I have a handful of close friends, including my husband. The others are people I can go to for anything – any time. They are my soul mates. I share my life with them in difficult times and good times. The older I get, the more I believe it’s likely there will never be more than a few close friends in my life. There’s no time or room for more.

I was with my first best friend during the last weeks of her life. She had grown wise while she suffered and died her slow death. One of the things she told me was, “Wendy, always hang-out with people who are smarter than you.” I believe she meant more than that. She meant no person is complete in themselves. No person has enough love or joy or patience or self-control, or smart, in themselves. The best of friends share.

I’m still thinking about what I will say to my unhappy lunch acquaintance if I see her again. Perhaps if I want to help, I can establish boundaries about who I am not; her mother, her therapist, or her friend. I understand pity is not empathy.

And although I do not know exactly what Brené Brown would do, I do know when to walk away.