I’ve Been to Woodstock & Here’s My Story – Ellen Ingraham

This is the first in a series of guest posts written by women who attended Women At Woodstock in 2012 – and have revelations, life changes, and personal stories to share. This is contributed by Ellen Ingraham, WAW “class” of 2012. Did you attend Women At Woodstock? Do you have a story to share?  I invite you to send me your story too – I’d love to hear from you and share it with everyone in the Women At Woodstock community! Click here to submit your story. 

– Ann Voorhees Baker

About Women’s Friendships and Breakups

by Ellen Ingraham

Ellen Ingraham

Ellen Ingraham at one of our lunches at WAW 2012

I read a book once that was about when women’s close friendships break up. It made me realize how little information is available about this very common occurrence.

I agreed with everything the author said – especially how there are no rules or etiquette or process or steps to take when a female friendship abruptly ends. There are no greeting cards to send or mediators that specialize or rituals in society. Yet in my experience, it is a haunting pain, leaving never-ending visceral vestiges of shame, regret, resentment and anger.

What disappointed me, like with many books I read, is that there wasn’t a good ending. The author never gave advice as to what to say or do or how to go on.

Over the years, I have grown personally and spiritually and now I can often see my part and have become a better “friend-picker” for what I need. But when I think of that dear college roommate who was annoying and I decided to “take a break” only to lose touch forever…or when I run into a former BFF who I still love and like so much and it is after ten years just beginning to be not-as-awkward…I wonder if there could have been a better way.

How About You? Why Do Close Girlfriend Relationships Break Up?

In my experience, if it is a close, confidante-type relationship, it usually breaks up with a bang. It is over an incident that many years later neither party will be able to remember. And it is never about that one incident. It is a build-up of resentments that have not been spoken about.

Over the years, I have become a better-picker of friends. I would say that like most woman, I consider myself to be a good friend. I have many great traits – loving, supportive, funny. I am in many personality and strength assessments what you would call a “Relator”, meaning, I like to make friends, but what I most enjoy is to get closer to the ones I have. I will put effort into staying in touch with a few women that I like to refer to as my “A Team”, and want to continually deepen those relationships.

I also have what I will call “areas that need improvement.” I am chronically late, moody (not that I snap and am crabby, but that I have times where I am too tired to put forth effort, and times where I am in my zone and there for you whatever you need). I can be judgmental and if I think I know what’s best for you, even when you have not asked for my opinion, I will tell you rather than just listening and asking great questions. Although I work on all of these defects of character and more, they are the parts of me that will stay and to be friends with me, one must accept rather than try to change.

Where I have gone off-course in my friend-picker in the past is putting my attention into getting closer when I am with a friend that does not want to do that. In fact the closer I get, the worse they feel.

I used to say to myself, quite smugly. “They can’t have an intimate relationship.” This may have been true, but it was also my fault that I was not giving them what they need. In their mind, I was constantly crossing their boundaries.

Have You Recreated Bad Relationships From Your Past?

Often, I picked women who had a lot of hidden anger; silent, and not so silent rage was what I had experienced growing up and so therefore (as anyone who has been in therapy has learned) subconsciously I recreated the situation so I could “fix” them. This picker-habit persisted until I realized I was doing and took action to change the pattern. [This is why children of alcoholics tend to marry active alcoholics, and people that get divorced tend to re-marry the same person in a different package if they have not recognized and addressed their issues.]

Another deal-breaker-in-situ in the past was when someone told me I was their best friend. This always thrilled me at first, I mean, who doesn’t want a best friend? In retrospect, it changed the friendship as I started assigning new attributes to the relationship, because “that is what best friends do.”When someone calls me their BFF today, I say to myself, yes, they are one of my closest friends, and leave it at that. I still get a thrill that someone holds me in such esteem, but I cannot let the outside label change how nicely our friendship is progressing by assigning new attributes to it that were not there before.

Recently, one of my closest friends and I had a big blowout. It was really scary for both of us, as we love and depend on each other. I asked her for a week’s break, and went away to a wonderful retreat called “Women at Woodstock”. We met when we came back, at our favorite coffee place where we sit outside under a huge oak tree by a river with a quaint bridge and a red mill across the way. We both said how we felt, and then left to ruminate.

The friendship is back on track and we are both happy that we got to say how we feel, that we both listened with compassion, that no one needed to be right, and we made it through the bump.

I think I am a better picker now. How about you?

Women at Woodstck (WAW) – The Aftershocks

Immediately after naming the post WAW-Aftershocks, I started describing a volcano: WAW was a really striking, beautiful, impressive, loving, voluminous spouting of love and support. I then realized aftershocks are from earthquakes. Hence, I am now calling WAW a volcano with the aftershocks of an earthquake. Yes, that impressive.

At the end of the three days, I kept hearing: “This retreat was a life-changing event”; the founder, Ann Baker, was thrilled to hear that as it was her Vision to create a retreat that would have that kind of impact. Yea for Ann!

Since I was so grateful to have won this retreat in a contest on Vibrant Nation, I carried a notebook and carefully documented the greatest quotes I heard and aha moments I had, specifically to share with the Ladies of VN.  I somehow lost the notebook between the Emerson Spa outside Woodstock, NY, and my trek home to unpack in NJ. (Can anyone relate?)

As I am ruminating about female friendships, I can’t help but to think back about the beautiful women I met there, and the lasting impression they have made in my life. I wish every one of you, all women over 50, could have had this same experience.

What I brought home with me was more than a notebook. It was a new energy and excitement about being over 50. Instead of feeling that aging is a necessary evil, I embrace it, I am proud of it, I want to wear a sweatshirt that proclaims our war cry: “I am in the F*%$ You 50’s!”

The war is on the anti-aging industry that tells us we are not good enough.

Our motto, often shared at WAW, states the truth – as we get older, we care less what others think.

I hope that all of you can join the WAW retreat this year!  If it is not possible for you, I challenge you to start your own group at home. I am sure you will be astounded at all of the accomplishments women over 50 have in their lives, and can celebrate and support each other with your dreams in the future!

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