Reading: Friendship Roadblocks: A Tale of Two Phils

Relationships & Divorce

Friendship Roadblocks: A Tale of Two Phils

I knew I had to put myself out there to make new friends when I moved. But I certainly wasn’t expecting this roadblock…

By Suzanne C. Frank

I’m a member of a local Toastmasters club, which is a worldwide organization dedicated to promoting communication, public speaking, and leadership development. It’s also a great way to meet people who are likely outside of your usual friend group. I joined my club in early 2019 because I was new to the area, and I know that finding new friends can be very difficult as we get older.

Club members have opportunities to take on different positions of leadership. Our most recent president was an excellent example of a skillful leader. As a former social worker, he knew how to engage with people. He’d call and ask us how we were doing, what challenges we had . . . in preparing for our next speech or in general in our lives. A strong public speaker, he shared a lot of himself in his speeches. He revealed a troubled, abused childhood. He shared Vietnam War experiences, and how after the war he pledged to never hurt another living being. He became close friends with a few of the members and saw them outside of the club. He was a real car guy, loved telling jokes and being a good friend. 

During our Zoom memorial service for him . . . oh . . . I forgot to mention he died recently . . . very suddenly . . . of natural causes. And it was really shocking to all of us. During our Zoom, most of us had something to share about what he meant to us. A few even shed tears. One member shared that because of our former president, through his friendship and mentoring, this member was able to start dating again after a devastating divorce. 

My New Year’s resolution had been to restart my pre-pandemic efforts to make new friends. I had joined this club with that intention, but the pandemic set up roadblocks to that. We found during the Zoom memorial that his death seemed to have brought us closer together, our collective grief served as a glue, and really strengthened our connection. We acknowledged this might be a catalyst for our group to rededicate ourselves to our meetings, which had been lagging because of the grinding pandemic and the limitations placed on us for in-person meetings. 

With his death just before New Year’s, I felt sure it was a sign that we were meant to deepen our friendships. It would be his parting gift to us.  

After the memorial Zoom was over, I went into my kitchen and got ready to eat with my family. I was wrung out emotionally. 

Tony, my husband, came downstairs, a little tipsy from his Zoom happy hour with his fellow singers. He shared that one woman in the group, who had spoken in the past of an abusive ex, told them that the ex had died. Tony was chuckling as he said, “he had been a controlling and verbally abusive partner. She said she used to call him ‘mean Phil’, but now that he’s dead she’s calling him ‘Land-Phil’.” 

I looked at Tony and said, “Are you saying that that fellow’s name was Phil? Because our former president, the one who we just eulogized, his name is also Phil.”

“No, no, you know, I’m sure it’s not the same person,” Tony said. 

Well, we live in a small area and frankly, how could it not be the same person? I texted her and asked, “What was your Phil’s last name?”  

It was the same as my Phil’s last name. 

I felt whipsawed. I went from being sad but uplifted and hopeful for friendships . . . to being stunned and horrified. It was so absurd. I was gobsmacked by this coincidence and revelation. I called his former girlfriend and we spoke for a long time about her relationship. And from what she said, he really was a ‘mean-Phil’. Then, I recalled a few of his comments in our group that, in retrospect, were really callous.

So now I’m at a bit of a crossroads. I would love to make more friends, and up until moments before my learning about mean-Phil, I had been expecting that I would become more friendly with the members of my club. That maybe, I’d see them outside of the club. But now, I know something about Phil that the others don’t. And it’s something substantial. This knowledge makes me feel differently about him. It makes me question, for example, just how was he encouraging this other member to act towards women? What advice was he giving? 

Maybe Phil was at a crossroads as well. Maybe that’s why he was so willing to help this guy in dating, because he recognized the deficiencies in his own behavior.

So, I’ll use this experience as a springboard to find other groups to join in my search for new friends. With my Toastmasters club, there will always be this piece of information that I can’t unknow that creates a distance, especially when it comes to conversations about Phil. I must be mindful to not reveal it accidently. I don’t want to unearth ‘Land-Phil’ to my fellow Toastmasters.


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