I had the last word…
…and then spent nearly a decade ashamed of what I had said.
I regretted the loss of our friendship, but as the years passed I told myself I was silly for dwelling on what had happened. Likely we would have drifted apart anyway as we graduated from college and moved to different states. What was I really missing? After all, you can’t change the past.
It’s true. I can’t erase my hurtful words. Nothing I can do will allow us to relive those years along a different path.
But that doesn’t mean the only thing to do is try to forget.
I’m learning it’s never too late to revisit a conversation or situation if I’m not satisfied with the way it ended.
It can feel very difficult to reopen conversations and the longer we wait the harder it can be. After a while it feels pointless to try. What difference can it make to say something now?
We might feel foolish for our inability to let it go and move on. Maybe we fear the pain of reopening old wounds. If we wait long enough, the other person involved may become unreachable.
It’s still not too late.
We can’t change what we did or said in the past. We can’t change the present to what it would have been if we’d acted differently then.
We do have a choice in what we do and say now.
For nearly a decade I couldn’t even think about the beautiful parts of our friendship. My shame overshadowed those treasured memories. Finally I decided to do something about it. I found a way to get a message to my friend and apologized for my words and behavior.
The moment I pressed send, I felt free.
I was still nervous to hear her answer and wondered if she would reply at all, but once I sent my message I realized her response was her choice. I couldn’t make her forgive me. I couldn’t make her stay angry.
I’d chosen to take a step to write a different ending to our conversation. My own actions and words are all I can really control.
Now maybe the conversation you would like to reopen feels impossibly big. Maybe it seems too small to matter. Maybe it happened many decades ago or within the past minute.
Revisiting conversations isn’t just about apologizing for our past behavior. Maybe you said yes, when you really wanted to say no. Maybe you stated one preference or opinion, when, upon further reflection, a different choice feels more true to you. Maybe you tried to act like someone else to fit in and now long to be known for who you really are. Maybe you shared an idea only to have it misunderstood.
Whether it’s a dramatic event or a mundane day-to-day decision, not expressing ourselves as who we truly want to be can leave us feeling ashamed, frustrated, or unsettled. The specific details aren’t as important as realizing you always have the choice to change course and show up in a way that feels more authentic to you.
Think about a conversation, situation, or relationship in your life where you aren’t content with the way things stand.
What is it about that situation that feels unresolved to you? Are there words, actions, or decisions that aren’t in line with your values and purpose?
Do you know what you’d rather say or do instead?
This is worth exploring deeper. I’d like to invite you write an unsent letter to the other party involved in the conversation you’d like to reopen. Unsent letters are a fantastic tool for giving ourselves space to express our feelings and for uncovering what we really want to say. Don’t worry about censoring what you write. No one will ever see this letter. Just get all your feelings, wants, needs out of your head and onto paper.
Set the letter aside for a little while and then reread it. What do you learn about the situation that you didn’t see before? Have your feelings shifted? What is one small word or action that would change this situation for you?
As a further challenge, try writing a letter from the other person back to yourself. Writing from another’s perspective can heighten your compassion and understanding and help you see your own actions in a different light.
Now that you’ve expressed yourself in a safe space and thought about how you would rather show up in this conversation…are you willing to take the next small step?
It may be that simply writing the unsent letter was enough to bring you closure. If the other party is no longer reachable, there might be limits to what more you can do. But maybe you want to write another letter—one you plan to send. Maybe it’s time to pick up the phone or knock on a door.
No matter what else you do, I’d encourage you to take a moment and reflect on what you’ve learned from this exercise that will help you show up more authentically in future conversations.