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I’ve Changed My Ways—Do I Also Need to Change My Friends?: Ask Harry & Louise
Our husband-and-wife team advises a man wondering whether to try to reconnect with friends from a former phase in life. By Harry Jaffe, Louise Jaffe
Comments () | Published January 3, 2012

Dear Harry and Louise:

I was a bit of a wild man for a good part of my life, into drinking, carousing, “pugilism,” etc. I never held much stock in obeying society’s rules and didn’t care for others’ opinions of me, whether positive or negative. I’ve been through some major changes over the past few years, and that way of life is over for me. With those changes, many people who were thought to be friends have been discarded. In most instances, that has been a positive force in my life, but there are people from my past, some of whom I haven’t had contact with in years, with whom I would like to reestablish contact. I’m not talking about rekindling old flames, I’m referring to letting the worthwhile people from my past get to know me and see the changes in me, and not having to leave behind everyone from my past.

I’m not sure which way to go. There are times when I think I should just walk away and never look back; there are others when I think that is cowardly, and I’m no coward. I have no desire to be judged, and I’ve had my share of detractors in the past.

Which way to jump?

A (Mostly) New Man

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

Jump straight ahead. There is one caveat: You must leave your fear of the big J, the judgment of others, behind. The judgment will be there even though you are a stronger person. The judgment would be there if you remained the same person. The judgment would be there if you were living beneath the earth, rarely rearing your ugly head to feel the sun on your face. Some folks are compelled to put us into little labeled boxes and then place those boxes on a neatly organized shelf. This helps them create order out of the disorder of life. This also helps them validate their own lives.

There is one way to prepare yourself for the onslaught of this judgment: Be as generous as you can. Stay with me here. When you enter the room, put your energy toward being kind to each person you talk to. Remember that each person you see today is amenable to a warm smile and a genuine inquiry about his life. There is nothing phony about this. With practice, your head space will actually enjoy the relief of focusing on someone other than you! Oh, the judgment will still be there (I wish this were not true, but it is), but you will now be better prepared with the realization that you cannot fit into the little boxes of small-minded people. This outward focus provides stronger armor than all the defense mechanisms you have carried around for years.

Cowering from the judgment of others has plagued me, as well. It took me about a decade and a half to realize that the criticism doesn’t diminish (dammit) so I had better change my perspective in order to come up for air. So if you feel like a slow-turning steamliner trying to change course in rocky water, you have my complete sympathy.

Reach out to those who knew your younger self. They did help shape who you are today, even the ones who saw you at your worst. They had their horrible moments, too, and you helped shape who they are today. Remember that even at your strongest, you can still fall, miserably and embarrassingly, flat on your face. The people who have known you the longest may prove to be the most kind and forgiving.

Does it help at all to know that those with the smallest minds often criticize the loudest? Does it help to know that these folks possess the most peripatetic minds that quickly move on to the judgment of someone else? These axioms did not help me as I wrestled (okay, wrestle) with the judgment of others, but they have been proven true over and over again.

You are no coward.

• • •

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HARRY SAYS:

Why so dramatic? Why the need to describe your next move about reconnecting with friends as a jump?

You have already taken the biggest leap by deciding to change from the knucklehead who liked to drink and fight to a man who’s less rowdy. All well and good. My question is: Can you truly discard your old ways? Change is never easy for boys who like to live hard. Take it from me (or ask Louise). I’m still working on it. And an even harder question: What will you become with your new, clean-living ways?

Once you answer those nuggets, you can consider which old friends will accept the new you. Rather than jump, take it one at a time. Some will spurn you because they doubt you can change. Others will be open and accepting. Be patient, and prepare for rejection.

But if you really want to leave your bad ways behind, concentrate on yourself. Worthwhile friends will come along.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

The letter writer refers to his next step as a “jump” because he is feeling like a new person stepping into a potentially new life. Your lack of sensitivity about the truth of his change reveals a cynicism that is disappointing.

HARRY SAYS:

You are so adorable—and gullible. The guy has yet to accept his newfangled life, and he’s already getting weepy about which friends might accept him. He has to rely on himself and less on how others might judge him. We can agree on that, at least.

LOUISE SAYS:

You confuse weepy with contemplative. They are not equals. We are equals in our agreement of facing and defeating the judgment of others.

HARRY SAYS:

It’s the judgment of himself this fellow must overcome.

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Posted at 02:49 PM/ET, 01/03/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Blogs