Once upon a time, my best friend and I knew a woman who was going through a difficult time.  Her father had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and the news naturally was hitting her hard.  The three of us saw each other often for drinks and dinners, and one night, around the time all of this was happening, we all got blotto, mind-bogglingly so.

Deep into her cups, our friend poured out her grief for her father.  She got so upset that we all retreated to the ladies’ room, where our friend unleashed both her tears and the contents of her stomach.  As we crouched in the stall with her, trying to comfort her, a fourth woman walked in.  And on witnessing the noise and the hubbub, she gave the best counsel she could: “Honey, he ain’t worth it.”

We laughed.  To the fourth woman’s puzzlement, we laughed long and hard.  And when we had a chance to explain to the fourth woman what was going on, she laughed too.  Gallows humor, perhaps, but what else were we to do?  Our friend’s father was definitely worth her tears, although we agreed that most boyfriends were not.

* * *

Robbie and I were talking about blogs the other day.  He rarely reads them unless I point him to them, but then, of course, he has opinions–ones that I think are incredibly insightful, especially when they jive with my own.

On this particular occasion we were talking about comments, and how at times commentators are really too nice.  I have a penchant for argumentative comments, as I have admitted here before, but it’s as an antidote to commentators who act as a chorus of yes-men for the blogger.  Or perhaps that should be “yes-women.”  I didn’t think of the effusion of support that people in comments often offer as gendered until Robbie pointed it out. “You know,” he said, “everyone in the comments was doing that woman thing–that ‘there, there,’ thing.”

I knew what he meant.  The coffee-klatsch is alive and well in the 21st century, and living in bloggers’ comments.  We get to bitch about our sex lives, our families, our pets, our lovers–and most of the people to whom we bitch offer a sympathetic ear.

But a sympathetic ear is not always what we need, and it’s hard for virtual friends to perform the function of real friends.  When virtual friends say, “there, there,” they sometimes get it wrong; sometimes, their response is as automatic as a generic (but vivid) “Honey, he ain’t worth it.”

This was especially clear to me last week, while reading Gray Lily’s blog.  Like most people, Gray was having some relationship speedbumps.  Unlike most people, Gray wrote about them in a compelling and dramatic way that left her readers upset and concerned for her.  Her many readers wrote in to tell her that the man in question was not worthy of her time or attention.  I understand; it’s “he ain’t worth it”.  Except that sometimes he is worth it, and so is she, and so is the relationship . . . and people need to hear that, too.

I feel like I am not making my point here, or perhaps I am making it and making it again, in an obvious way.  I feel like I am not making my point because, of course, this isn’t a point about my friend, or someone’s comments, or even Gray Lily.  It’s a point about me.  At different times my friends and family have told me that the tears I have shed for Robbie are not worth it.  Heck, Robbie and I have often said to each other that our relationship is not worth the pain it puts us through.

But it’s very hard for outsiders to see what is really going on in a situation, inside that bathroom cubicle where the hurt is.  As my mother always says, “Nobody knows what’s really going on in a relationship except the two people in it.”  It’s hard to know how precious or horrible or fantastic or dull life is for two people who chart a course together–or even two people who share one enchanted evening.

Sometimes, it’s just hard to know.