Now, both Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson are gone, and while it may not have weighed so heavily on Johnny -- who allegedly either did not take her call or hung up on her -- Joan apparently died hurt and unresolved about why her mentor felt so betrayed by a decision she made, that he never spoke to her again.
I am by no means bragging, but I don't think I have ever carried a grudge to that degree and in fact, have trouble understanding how people do. I know siblings who have not spoken to each other for years, and it usually revolves around one feeling the other did or did not do or say something at a crucial time: perhaps letting the other know when a parent was near death; ("I didn't want to ruin your vacation") perhaps not protecting them against parental abuse; perhaps being the one Mom or Dad liked best. Hey, no one says you have to love your brother or sister or want to spend every holiday with them. But as Joan would have said, can we talk??
Granted, feelings inside families are complicated landmines. But even amongst long-time friends, it is often unintentional omissions or slights that lead to extreme resentment. I know two women who haven't spoken for more than a decade, since one became convinced the other had not invited her to a reunion. Even when promised she had been sent evites, and presented with witnesses, the bruised party could not get over it. Is that really worth ending a lifelong friendship over?
I recall being confused when a friend wasn't returning my calls, and when I finally asked, he explained he was mad because I hadn't invited him to a birthday bash. After I finally realized what he was talking about, I explained that it was not my party, I was one of five people being feted, and it was a boring family thing he would have hated. Moreover, I asked if his three-day-a-week therapist had never once suggested he confront these things as they happen, rather than letting them fester.
Men and women clearly argue differently and while there are exceptions, guys usually get past it. They might loudly debate Kobe vs. LeBron or Giants vs. Jets. I once watched two at an Oscar party heatedly debate whether a nominated Disney theme or a Springsteen song would be remembered 10 years later. These were healthy arguments and everyone went home without resentment.
The only men I know who gave up on a 20-year friendship had a screaming argument over how much to spend on an upcoming event. Money, likely, is another perilous subject. I have friends, of both sexes, who constantly plead poverty when it comes to meeting at a vacation spot or flying across country to visit... and yet, proudly display new Mercedes and Prada purses.
Do I question them on their priorities? Rarely, because I weigh the risks against the past memories, and current joys, of our times together. By the same token, I have at least two girlfriends who are still pissed I didn't give up vacations or fly across country for their daughters' weddings. They openly expressed their disappointment, I tendered my excuses, and we are all still great friends. Clearly, there are legitimate reasons to stop communication, but I would hope it would be over something truly serious and deeply wounding. And something that no amount of forgiveness or sincere an apology would alter.
In the end, it's not about denial or even weighing the risks against the consequences. It's about confronting these things head on when they happen and hopefully finding a way to get past the hurt, the anger, the denial. Johnny Carson should have taken Joan Rivers' call, even if just to tell her how he felt.