The challenge of making adult friends

By Caitlin Kelly

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen in the bow of a dugout canoe. Probably the most unusual shared experience!

I recently came across this fascinating series of interviews on the website of The Atlantic, The Friendship Files.

Each is a meditation on an aspect of friendship, a subject often overlooked for focus on family, marriage, dating and children.

This one, on the tight bonds between expats, struck me, as some of my closest friends have been expats or have moved to a country (or several) far from their country of origin. I was born in Canada, but have lived in England (ages 2-5), Mexico (14), France (25) and the U.S. (30 to the present), which really makes me an immigrant to the U.S., not an expat (short for ex-patriate, not patriot!)

So while I have met a few fellow Canadians over the years, and am soon having coffee with a film-maker from Calgary, and presenting May 1 at a journalism conference with another ex-Calgary resident who lives here, I don’t have a lot of Canadian friends here. Many of the Canadians in or near NY are wealthy bankers or lawyers or corporate types, so our paths just wouldn’t cross socially or professionally. I’ve attended a few alumni events (very rare for my alma mater, University of Toronto, sorry to say) but have never met anyone I wanted to follow up with.

But some of my friends are people who do live far away from their homelands, like the author of the blog Small Dog Syndrome, an American long happiest in London, my neighbor across the street who spent a year in high schol in New Zealand, my Canadian best friend from university who went to British boarding school and lived for a while in Tanzania and our neighbor across the hall here in New York who has moved permanently to Holland, to marry her British partner. My sister-in-law and her husband, now back in the U.S., lived for many years working in international schools in China, Malaysia, the Netherlands.

So there’s a lot we don’t have to explain to one another, even from the start. That helps a friendship.

For me friendship is a delicate stew of shared interests and experiences, and being an expat or immigrant living far from your home country, culture and language (no matter where) — tends to create very relatable moments, whether a nervous visit to the doctor (fumbling for medical terms) or post office or choosing a word with a dirty meaning by mistake — damn you, baiser!

The French have a great phrase, “coup de foudre“, basically love at first sight, and I tend to be like this with a potential new friend. I tend to feel an attraction — style, intellect, history, cultural interests, sense of humor, the sort of work they do and value — right away.

But there are so many tricky elements to finding and nurturing a new adult friend, and year after year of COVID fear and social avoidance have made this more difficult. You can’t hug someone on Zoom!

I’m happiest with someone who has also traveled widely — and even many of the richest Americans don’t. They work all the time or choose luxury spots not my style or budget. Nor do I have children, a typical glue for many adult friendships. So this is difficult in a country and culture where even taking two weeks off in a row is seen as lazy and weird — I prefer three to six weeks when possible, more European than workaholic American.

But finding a new friend — and continuing and deepening the relationship — takes more than shared interests. It takes time, energy, honesty and vulnerability.

It also means having the strength to work through conflict because it can happen; I lost three women friends who had been very close when I dared to ask them to look at a behavior that was hurting me. They refused and ended the friendship; I mourned one of them for many years. But I don’t regret it, either.

I’ve started to get to know two or three people from my spin class…because I go two or three times a week and show up consistently. It takes time! One was a speechwriter for a former NY governor and journalist, and one is a lawyer with a major local firm who does a lot of coaching and mentoring. Both are super-smart but also friendly.

My two closest friends in New York came through journalism and a church we attended for a long time. I’ve recently seen two women at the gym who seem cool, so I may ask them for coffee.

The pandemic has really changed — and ended — many friendships, as we’ve faced different challenges (we have been very very lucky to not have COVID or lose a loved one to it, for example) and the basic proximity of meeting for a coffee has become a risk for so many.

We’re super excited to welcome a younger pal visiting next week from Oregon and, the following week, a friend I knew at boarding school when I was 12…and haven’t seen since!

How are your friendships these days?

Have you been able to find and make new friends as an adult — how?

And what do we really know about one another?

By Caitlin Kelly

I found this recent piece by New York Times writer Frank Bruni, about losing some of his sight, moving:

And that truth helped me reframe the silly question “Why me?” into the smarter “Why not me?” It was a guard against anger, an antidote to self-pity, so much of which hinges on the conviction, usually a delusion, that you’re grinding out your days while the people around you glide through theirs, that you’ve landed in the bramble to their clover. To feel sorry for yourself is to ignore that everyone is vulnerable to intense pain and that almost everyone has worked or is working through some version of it.

Imagine that our hardships, our hurdles, our demons were spelled out for everyone around us to see. Imagine that each of us donned a sandwich board that itemized them.

“Single parent, child with special needs, nowhere near enough help.” A woman I know would be wearing that, and her acquaintances would rightly find her ability to hold down a full-time job and her unflagging professionalism in it not just admirable but heroic. They’d instantly forgive her any tiny lapses of memory, any fleeting impatience, because they’d understand what a miracle it was that the lapses were only tiny and the impatience merely fleeting.

In a world that glamorizes money and power and objects, it’s easy to assume someone with more of these than you is gliding through life. Not true, not true at all.

One of the wealthiest people I know manages multiple chronic illnesses, runs her own business, raises two teenagers and faced cancer when I did, which is how we met. (We’re both fine!)

Only through true intimacy can we finally find out what others are facing, or have survived and somehow kept on going — terrible accidents, unemployment, being a refugee (even surviving torture and imprisonment), losing a child, or several.

While Americans often tell total strangers a lot about themselves — which more reticent cultures find weird and uncomfortable — it can take years for some people to share their darkest moments with us. Maybe it’s shame. Maybe it’s fear we’ll reject them or dismiss their trauma. Or, worst of all, try to best it.

One of my closest friends, after a truly terrible multi-year wait of endless surgeries and medical and legal appointments, finally won a major lawsuit against the company whose negligence damaged her body and altered her life for good.

I despaired of her getting what she so badly deserved, but she did. No one would know this to see her, smiling and well-groomed and well-dressed and calm.

But she somehow soldiered on.

Many of us do.

What friendship really looks like

Friends show up at their friends’ funerals — and to support their family

By Caitlin Kelly

The spread of social media — “friends” on Facebook you’ve never met, “likes” that mean nothing when the chips are really down — has done little to define true friendship.

Like this horrifying story from The New York Times:

In early 2020, after Ava noticed Mr. Justin angling for her attention on TikTok, she learned that friends in New Jersey and Florida were selling him photos of her as well as her personal information, including her cellphone number, which Mr. Justin used to call and text her. In another instance, Mr. Justin logged onto a classmate’s school account and did math homework in exchange for information about Ava, her family said.

In what world do your friends sell your image and personal information to a stranger?

The 15-year-old girl ended up with a dead teenager on her lawn after he fired a shotgun through her front door. Awesome.

This recently hit home for me, in a less physically violent way, after — one more time! — a bitter envious stranger decided to badmouth me and try to hurt me professionally.

Using social media, of course.

Last year a “friend” on Facebook took a screenshot of something I said on my private page in real anger about an editor — and sent it to the editor, costing me a professional relationship.

I cut 200 “friends” and won’t accept any more.

There are too many days now it’s really toxic media, destructive media and why-do-we-even-bother media.

It’s sort of funny, sort of disgusting.

Only those whose own lives are small and shitty and disappointing feel the need to take down people who are visibly happy and successful, as I am.

So this latest attack, a fellow writer I even worked with years ago on a story, came after a friend of mine to discredit me by making false accusations, which I won’t detail or dignify here.

Nice try.

A true friend defends us, and they did.

What a coward this attacker is…and so charming to assume I couldn’t possibly have a good friend ready to stand their ground.

As I’ve said here before, I come from a family typically unable to express love, affection, support and belief in my value — as a daughter, cousin, professional. There’s been a lot of anger and name-calling and bitterness, ironic from people with a lot of their own success and a lot of money.

But the blessing it gave me?

One — self-respect!

I don’t give a shit what they think of me because they’re a dry well.

And I have tremendously loving and loyal friends, in Canada, in Europe, in Australia and New Zealand.

They have my back, if not literally, emotionally.

Because, being an ambitious and successful woman of strong opinions (OH NO!), I’ve been pissing people off since my teens.

Not with the explicit goal to piss them off, but not kowtowing to their disapproval or envy or attacks.

Women are trained from earliest childhood to smile, be nice, don’t argue, don’t bite back, suck it up, it’s “just a joke.”

So those of us who shrug and laugh at this bullshit are even more scary.

Why aren’t we scared?????

Because we have pals, and allies, who know us and love us.

I try hard to be a loyal, loving friend — sending cards and flowers and gifts, making regular phone calls, showing up when times are shitty, not just celebrating a win.

I admit, I am shaken when someone tries to take me down. Who wouldn’t be?

But, really, the best revenge is to laugh, call a true friend, and enjoy a good old chinwag.

Where the heart lies

Our NY view of the Hudson

By Caitlin Kelly

If you have moved around a lot, it can be hard to decide where your heart truly lies — where “home” is.

I’ve lived in six cities and two towns in five countries — my native Canada, England (ages 2-5), Mexico (age 14), France (ages 25-26), the United States (age 30 on.)

I always felt too American for Canada — too bossy, too direct, too ambitious, too much in a hurry.

Now I feel too European for the U.S. — I savor time off. I don’t flagellate myself hourly for being less “productive” than my many peers and competitors, many half my age. I like long vacations and two-hour lunches. I take naps.

So while home again in Canada for the first time in two full years, the eternal question arises again: where’s home?

While I spent decades in Toronto, and have many many memories there, is it home?

Home, to me, means a place I feel truly welcome, and while we have lifelong friends there, Toronto housing is absurdly overpriced — nasty little houses an arm’s length apart are $1 million and condo boxes $600,000. No thanks!

Then…maybe a house in the Ontario countryside? Same problem. The cost of housing is inflated by demand, beyond what is workable for us.

Then….another province?

Or another country?

Tempted by Montreal’s many charms…

I follow several Facebook pages now on living in France and look at a lot of French real estate online. Because of COVID, I don’t see spending the requisite time and money to search more seriously.

I lived there for a year at 25 and have been back many times. I know a few areas a bit: Paris, Normandy, Brittany, the Camargue, the Cote d’Azur, Corsica. I speak fluent French. I love the way of life and physical beauty and ease of getting around thanks to the TGV network. But if we moved there full-time would any of our North American friends ever come to visit?

Would we easily make new deep friendships?

So…who knows?

My mother died in a nursing home in 2020, her apartment sold a decade earlier to pay its costs.

My father buys and sells houses, forever restless. So there’s no family homestead to attach to emotionally…I left one of his houses at 19 and never again lived with either parent.

So, for now, my heart remains in Tarrytown, a small town north of Manhattan on the Hudson, a town so pretty we are constantly seeing film and TV crews arriving to set up on our main street. I landed there when my first husband found a psych residency nearby and we bought a one-bedroom apartment. I had never been there nor ever lived outside a major city. It’s dull and hard to make friends, but we enjoy a great quality of life with Manhattan only 45 minutes south and gorgeous scenery for walks and bike rides and a lot of history.

With 45 gone for now (but who knows?) life feels so much calmer and less terrifying than it did between 2016 and 2020 when, like many others, thoughts of fleeing were a daily part of our life, however impractical.

Where does your heart lie?

Trust. It’s everything.

12/27/95–On Military Route “Arizona”- A sign warns of mines that were planted in a field during the Bosnian war. In a report published by the Bosnian and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre, it stated, ” In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is still remaining more than 80,000 mines/ERWs. Mine problem is present in 129 municipalities/cities, or 1,398 affected communities/settlements.”photo, J.R. Lopez, New York Times.

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve been reading Broadside for a while — thank you! — you know I’m generally an openhearted person.

I like people and approach new situations, professional and personal, with a sense of optimism.

Working as a journalist means I have to quickly put strangers at ease and gather useful information from them. We have to establish trust fast — something of a contradiction.

Working as a journalist also means assuming most people are not lying to me, or want to do me harm in so doing, because a journalist who publishes lies is someone with a very short career. So we fact-check when possible and seek out sources whose background and credentials are as legit as we can find.

When it comes to personal relationships, trust is also paramount, at least for me.

My first marriage, to a physician, lasted barely two years; he bailed and remarried, quickly, a fellow therapist (!) he worked with and with whom he spent a lot of personal time. I was wholly reliant on him financially, so I had to trust him. I had little choice then.

Jose and I have spent time apart. I traveled alone for six weeks in Europe in June-July 2017, as blissful as I could be. I love solo time and traveling alone, exploring to my heart’s content.

I had an amusing evening in Berlin, sharing a table with three handsome young men (all co-workers), one of whom (as part of the conversation!) took off his dress shirt.

It was all good fun, nothing more.

Trust is the basic foundation of every interaction we have, from infancy to death:

— our parents

— our physicians

— our caregivers

— our teachers and professors

— our school/college administrators

— the police

— the courts

— our clergy and religious leaders

— our political leaders

— activists

— our relatives

— our romantic partners/spouses

— our employers

— youth group leaders

— our co-workers

— government agencies whose job it is to regulate/fine/shut down offenders

If you’re a person of color, or non-Christian, or gay, you have now become a target for hatred — with more and more deaths-by-vehicle, targeted by sociopaths or a pervasive police brutality that is deeply shocking, if no longer surprising.

You can’t even go out for a bike ride or a walk trusting in your personal safety.

And, as I’ve written here before, trust can be quickly shattered, and is difficult to regain….after dating a con man in 1998, being laughed at, literally, by my local police and D.A., my worldview would never be the same again.

My family relationships, too often toxic through anger and alcohol, taught me to be wary of intimacy.

Trust also underpins every freelance personal and professional relationship:

— our friends

— our colleagues

— our clients

— our agents

— our editors

— our social media networks

I spend a lot of time (too much!) on Twitter, where I have some 5600 followers, including some very senior people in my industry.

I’ve made several very good friends with people I still have yet to meet face to face, whether in Brazil or Tennessee.

So this past weekend, we did!

SO MUCH FUN!

A gay couple, one of whom works in our industry (journalism) and her partner, came up to our home and shared a long lunch that started at noon — and ended at 5:30.

We all took the chance of getting together and hoping we would be as we are on social media — fun, funny, playful, smart, interesting.

We were and we did.

I call these Twitter blind dates, not that we want a romantic thing, but we go into them really only knowing a tiny profile photo, a bunch of tweets and LinkedIn profile. Hoping for the best!

I’ve done this many times, never disappointed.

With a retail expert who lives in Virginia.

With a travel blogger and an archeologist (2 people) in Berlin.

With a pair of travel agent sisters in Zagreb.

With a fellow blogger, in London, https://smalldogsyndrome.com/.

We’ve been repeat house-guests a few times, and that also requires trust — that we’re quiet and thoughtful and don’t smoke or do drugs or will break or stain or ruin things. We bring food and drink and a gift and we always send a thank-you note.

We also trust our hosts to offer us a clean, soft bed. To let us have quiet alone time. To offer good food. To not (as one did to me?!) leave a filthy cat litter box beneath my pull-out bed.

I also once house-sat for a family of four headed to Tuscany from Vermont — unpaid. I was perfectly happy to walk their small affectionate dog. I was not at all happy to also get stuck watering their large garden in a heat wave and (!?) cleaning their pool.

That friendship died with this abuse of my time and energy. I trusted them to be fair with me, and they were not.

Do you trust easily?

Boundaries matter

By Caitlin Kelly

For some people, including me, setting and keeping tight boundaries around our time, energy, bodies, and psyche presents a real challenge.

I grew up in a bossy, often angry family that rarely, if ever, asked: “How do you feel?”

It wasn’t deemed relevant. Or I guess they assumed I’d speak up, which I rarely did.

I left my mother’s care at 14 when she was suffering from mental illness and not doing a great job with it. The stress was too much for me.

So I did set a boundary and a major one, early. But every time I hear the Cat Stevens song, Father and Son, it wrings my heart — the father pleading, “Stay, stay” and the son replying “I have to go.”

Sometimes you just do.

But it also matters when it comes to work.

Americans – with the worst/cheapest/nastiest labor policies possible — are used to working like dogs, not taking vacations or sick days, working in “at will” states where you can be legally fired for no reason at all.

So setting boundaries is just very difficult in a culture that expects us to be on and eagerly available pretty much all the time.

Last week, I walked away from a writing assignment worth $1,250 with a new-to-me editor at a major website.

I’m not thrilled about this. I have done this three times in my career, when the stress outweighed the income.

That’s a significant loss of income for us and was only possible because we have savings.

It’s not a habit of mine to bail on work!

But nor is it a habit to work with editors or others who are unpleasant or disrespectful.

I could have stayed.

I could have kept working on this story.

These days, decades into my career, I make my mental health the priority.

Setting and keeping a boundary can mean changing the dynamics of a relationship, or ending it entirely.

It comes at a cost, and has consequences, sometimes those we don’t expect or can’t foresee.

But who counts more?

Understanding my mother…now

By Caitlin Kelly

Long-time readers here know my mother and I were estranged for the final decade of her life. I won’t repeat all those details. She died in her chair, watching TV, on Feb. 15, 2020, my best friend’s birthday, in a nursing home in Victoria, B.C.

Her friend and executor was kind enough, at 2:00 a.m., to say Psalm 23 over her body, a gesture I’m really grateful for.

She was cremated and I was to have gone to B.C. — basically impossible thanks to Canadian border closings and quarantine demands — to scatter her ashes there.

Now they’re in our living room, in a nasty plastic container they arrived in (for now) and it’s oddly comforting.

Because our relationship was so difficult for so many years, we usually lived very far apart — I in her native New York, she in my native British Columbia.

The closest ever? I was in Paris on a journalism fellowship and she lived in Bath. We had a few very good visits, until the week I was to fly back to Canada for good, and she ended up in a locked ward of a London psychiatric hospital.

So there was always tension and fear and anxiety for me with her.

A cliche, but true — her death has released me from this, and for that I’m very glad.

It has also, thank God, lessened my anger and frustration over the behaviors and decisions that cost us thousands we couldn’t really afford, over her unwillingness to address her alcoholism, even to acknowledge my annual Christmas cards and newsletters, including 2018, when I got early-stage breast cancer. (She had had a mastectomy.)

But, to my absolute shock, she left me a significant sum of money.

I would never have imagined this.

I assumed she was, by then, broke.

I assumed whatever she might have had would go to someone else.

I assumed…nothing.

That money is now in my bank account and I keep flailing about emotionally, alternating between guilt (it’s unearned) and gratitude.

It’s even enough to buy a small house, although — as one friend said — not in a place I would actually want to live!

I spent a lot of years, decades, dreading the next argument or insult or unwanted phone call alerting me to some fresh chaos. I left her care for good at 14.

She never taught me to cook or dress or wear make-up or how to handle money.

Even my minimal sex education was a booklet she left on a table.

What I did learn was how to be independent.

How to make and keep good friendships.

How to confidently and effectively manage my own affairs.

Only in a recent conversation did I finally, belatedly, understand something fundamental about her that I had always taken too personally.

She did not invite or enjoy intimacy.

Her alcoholism and bipolar illness and tough personality all made sure it was very difficult to get close to her.

That kept her safe.

It hurt me, but with hindsight and distance I now see them as coping mechanisms.

Better late than never.

Want to find love? Make a list!

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re still hoping to find a partner, it can feel like an exhausting and overwhelming search.

I spent my 20s dating a lot of men, but not wanting a long-term commitment from anyone, certainly not marriage. I didn’t want children and I wanted, long-term, to get to New York, a difficult thing for most Canadians.

So after I moved to Montreal, I fell in love with an American medical student from New Jersey. I was able to obtain a “green card” allowing me to live and work permanently in the U.S.

We spent seven years together, but should never have married.

I liked this piece in The New York Times’ Modern Love column:

I experienced repeated collisions of misaligned values and discovered personality traits I wanted to avoid. Dates that caused me to be versions of myself I didn’t like and cost me time that I could have spent on my couch: just me, a Vicodin and a book about sadness.

To break this cycle, I decided to track it all. Make sense of the patterns and change them.

Cue the Trello board. As of today, the board has six stages and eight traits. It’s similar to the business development process of a salesperson, with each stage representing a step toward a successful deal and each trait representing a characteristic that is more likely to lead to success.

The stages are: To Vet, Vetting, Vetted, Scheduling, Scheduled and Dating. Each person is represented by a Trello card — a kind of digital sticky note.

Before I go on a date with anyone, his card progresses from left to right, passing through these stages until we’re dating. If we never get that far, I archive his card, in which case an archived card is all he will ever be.

I evaluate my potential dates based on eight traits. Five of those traits I try to learn about before the date. The remaining three I think about after the date.

Before the first date, I try to determine the following: Does he make me laugh via text? Does he live in L.A.? Does he like his job? Is he down to go backpacking? Will he get on the phone?

Years ago, after my miserable two-year marriage — he walked out barely two years to the date of our marriage, and remarried a colleague within the year — I found the acronym PEPSI, and used it think more seriously about compatibility with potential partners.

I stayed divorced and single for six years.

I had a few marriage proposals, one very serious.

But I didn’t want them, from those people, one from a man I had had a huge crush on in my 20s after I profiled him for a Toronto magazine. Oddly, later, we dated seriously for about six months, but there was a large age difference — that didn’t bother me at 24 but did at 39.

I did want to re-marry, even though my first husband was unfaithful, which broke my heart.

I have spent a lot of my life alone and, while I’m pretty independent, I much prefer having someone loyal and loving to share my life with.

I knew a few women like me who kept striking out and finally made a list of what they most wanted in a partner.

Everyone thinks: cute, smart, rich.

After a few decades in the trenches it’s a lot more like: funny, smart, kind, flexible, accomplished.

I wanted a unicorn — someone virtually impossible to find in New York City — a man who was both highly accomplished but also modest about it.

Someone able to be deeply serious and responsible about the matters of adult life (bills, savings, health issues) but able to laugh a lot.

Someone generous emotionally, able to easily express affection, something I struggle with.

I found Jose online while writing about online dating for a women’s magazine.

We would never have met otherwise — even though we had people who knew us both.

This was then part of my thinking if I met a man who seemed interesting.

So, how compatible, really, were we?

Hence PEPSI:

P for Professional

E for Emotional

P for Physical Attraction

S for Spiritual

I for Intellectual

There were some serious doubts on both parts.

P met the bill, both of them.

E…well, two very stubborn people!

He felt I wasn’t nearly spiritual enough for him, a devout Buddhist. I told him that seemed mighty judgmental.

I feared he wasn’t intellectual enough.

Yet here are, 21 years later!

Some of the qualities I think essential in a life partner include a phenomenal work ethic, a spirit of generosity for himself and others, awareness of the world and how it works (and doesn’t), a commitment to making others happier.

Resilience is huge. We’ve been through a lot of stuff — deep family conflicts, his turning full-time freelance, his diabetes diagnosis, my breast cancer. I wanted someone with a spine and a heart!

We each arrive to the quest with our own specific deficits and needs, our strengths and weaknesses.

But knowing who we are and what we value most is a good start.

Commitment is key.

The challenges of estranged grief

My late mother. Elegant, complicated.

By Caitlin Kelly

There are times that a deeply personal and private experience intersects with the larger culture. In journalism, it’s called the hook or the news peg, i.e. since everyone is now talking about it or thinking about it, it’s worth discussion and an assignment.

And my primary goal, often, for writing about a topic, especially a difficult and painful one, is to be of service, to comfort and to connect people to others who know their journey and who truly understand.

To explain to those who don’t understand and might become less judgmental as a result.

My mother Cynthia died Feb. 15, 2020 in a nursing home in Victoria, B.C. a seven-hour flight from our home in suburban New York. We had not spoken in a decade and even though I sent cards every Christmas and included a newsletter, no reply.

We had had some good years and some good visits.

But we had also had some very very bad ones.

She had been through so much in her life, including divorcing my father when she was 30, traveling through Latin America alone for years, living alone in such places as London, New Mexico, Mexico, Bath, Montreal and Toronto, surviving multiple cancers. She never re-married.

Intimacy was not her strong suit.

So, have I grieved this loss? Yes and no.

Which is why I wrote this story for The New York Times, probably the most revealing and personal words I’ve ever published there.

I was scared.

I’m actually a quite private person, and choosing to discuss painful issues before millions of readers worldwide is objectively somewhat frightening.

Here’s some of it:

When the phone call came from my mother’s nursing home, I knew there could be only one reason. She had died at 85, sitting in her armchair watching television.

I was her only child, but we hadn’t spoken, or even tried to be in touch, in the previous decade. She was a Mensa member, a world traveler of independent means and a voracious reader. She was also bipolar and an alcoholic. Worn out by decades of dealing with both, which meant years of chaos and broken plans, I had finally, reluctantly, exhaustedly, just given up trying to have a relationship.

For every anguished iPad farewell made to a dying Covid patient, or during another Zoom funeral or someone dearly loved and mourned, there are many people like me, estranged from their parents, children or siblings when those family members pass away. And because of this, we may not grieve the same way people typically expect. For some, the end of an unhappy and complicated relationship just comes as a relief.

As I write this, the story has gathered 49 comments, and they are so so painful to read, as so many others share their stories.

I was stunned to see how many people — through Twitter and Facebook — praised the story’s honesty about such a difficult topic and how many people struggle with estrangement in their own families. I had no idea.

It’s very hard to be estranged from a family member, as I still am from a half-brother who is 23 years my junior and father of year-old twins, a boy and girl I may never meet.

It’s also hard because it’s really taboo to admit you don’t speak to your mother or father or siblings or any of them. The myth that “family” equals love is a strong one. Those of us who don’t have that experience seek out others who get it. Our husbands and wives and best friends know. Our therapists know.

But it tends to remain secret and private because you can never trust someone new not to gaslight you or deny your lived experience since theirs has been so happy.

There is a great deal more detail, of course, I couldn’t include in this article. There are more characters and more history.

But the gratitude readers have shared has been deeply moving.

It’s a matter of trust

By Caitlin Kelly

From Seth Godin’s blog:

Traditional con men do their work one person at a time. It’s a laborious process, earning trust and the benefit of the doubt before ultimately ripping someone off.

Toward the end of my dad’s life, shameless/shameful phone salespeople did just this and stole his trust, his time and his money.

Like most things, industrialists want to do it faster and bigger.

Scammy direct mail used to be obvious even at a distance. The labels, the stamps, the typography–it all signaled that this wasn’t personal.

And the occasional phone salesperson, calling from a boiler room–we could tell.

Now, as data acquisition continues to scale and become ever more granular, the hustle is getting more personal.

It’s in an uncanny valley–almost real, but not quite. And of course, the distance keeps getting shorter.

So the mail merge, the phone spam, the faux intimacy of a stranger. They continue to blur the lines between personal and personalized.

The end result is going to be a shrinking of our previously-widening circle of trust.

The benefit of the doubt is priceless. I have no patience for people who want to take it away from us.

I think about trust a lot.

I grew up in a family much more comfortable expressing anger, verbally, or not discussing feelings at all. I spent my childhood between boarding school and summer camp, surrounded by strangers, some of who were horrible, some of whom became dear friends.

When you’ve seen that people don’t want to listen to you, or misuse and twist what you’ve shared with them, trust isn’t something you later just quickly hand over to everyone!

I’ve learned this the hard way.

So it’s left me very wary.

In my 20s, I made the fatal error of telling a few coworkers II thought were friends something potentially damaging to me personally who, of course, used it against me. I left Toronto and never went back.

In my late 30s, divorced and lonely and my self-confidence at a very low ebb, I met a charming, handsome man through a personals ad — remember those?!

He said he was a lawyer and had a business card and personal stationery that seemed legit and spent a lot of time on the phone arguing with his “partner.”

He was just a con man who had already rooked a bunch of women in Chicago, done time for his crimes, and was now picking off fresh prey in New York and a few other states at once.

It became the most frightening experience of my life because the police laughed at me when I realized what a victim I’d become and the district attorney laughed because “no harm was done.”

Riiiiight.

The breast cancer diagnosis I got in June 2018 (early stage, no chemo) finally broke me open. I had to trust a whole new medical team to be kind and gentle and skilled — from the tiny black dot tattoos they put on your skin to guide the radiation machine to the techs who lay me face down there daily for 20 days.

Journalism is an odd business — because my role is to win trust fast from total strangers.

How un-natural!

But I’ve learned how to do that and I’m good at it. Mostly it requires empathy. Really listening carefully without judgment.

There’s also now a very deep and widespread mistrust of journalists, which really upsets me. The monster who screamed FAKE NEWS at us for four years made sure of that.

So we’re really at a crisis point when it comes to trust.

I’m not at all sure how we re-build it.