Of Joy and Friendship and Acceptance

I often share stories of difficulty and pain about “going home XO.” Here’s one of joy and love about seeing people from my childhood and adolescence.

Earlier this week, I went to the wedding of my friend’s older sister. My group of friends was very close to the kallah growing up. She lived with her parents until now, when she got married, and we hung out at that home a lot. She was our honorary older sister, as one friend in our group is fond of saying.

In the frum community, when an “older single” gets married, it’s a huge celebration. I may not share that worldview, but I was very happy for her joy, and excited to join her simcha.

When the kallah got engaged, my friend (the kallah’s younger sister) called me. I hadn’t spoken to her in a while. I had been avoiding her. She knew I wasn’t frum, but she had been living in Israel for the past few years, and though we had kept in touch via phone, she hadn’t seen me – hadn’t seen my short dyed hair, hadn’t seen my tattoos, hadn’t seen me in non-tznius dress.

I told her, when she called to invite me to the engagement party, that I was afraid of her reaction. But of course I would be there.

I needn’t have worried. When I walked through the door and she saw me, her face lit up and she caught me up in the tightest, most emotional hug.

Another friend was at the engagement party, but I had hung out with her and her babies in pants and short sleeves before, so I knew she wouldn’t be judgemental. I had felt in the past that she had been attempting to do “kiruv” on me by inviting me for shavuos, but during that engagement party we discovered the misunderstanding: I had attempted to break the news of my XO status to her gently, and had apparently been so gentle that it didn’t break (sorry – I get one corny pun per post!). When she invited me for shavuos, it was because she thought I didn’t want to go to my parents but was still frum.

At the wedding this week, I saw another two friends from that group. I had seen one at my grandmother’s shiva because she is my second cousin, but the other friend and I hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in six years. Neither of these two, as far as I know, knows I’m not religious. I never spoke to them about it.

But I am single at 30. And I have buzzed red hair, I was wearing a dress with an open neckline and above-the-knee hem, and my wrist tattoo was somewhat visible.

I expected at least some shocked or uncomfortable looks.

I am happy to report that none of that happened. We gabbed and laughed and caught up and decided to create a GroupMe chat so that even the two friends without smartphones could join (though the one friend whose kosher phone doesn’t have texting will have to be updated separately still).

And I am so relieved, and actually looking forward to our plans to get together soon. I even offered my Staten Island apartment as a good place halfway between Brooklyn and Lakewood!

Many other little interactions at that wedding reminded me how awful people can be, and how wonderful my friends are.

In a situation often filled with so much heartache (a few XO friends have expressed surprise that I keep up with my high school friends) I am fortunate to have childhood friends who care about me as a person more than as a Jew.

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