On Losing and Keeping Friendships: the Bitter, the Sweet, the Reality
June 06, 2022
I have not been great at keeping friendships going.
In 1982, when I left Buffalo (where I went to college), I didn’t stay in touch with friends for very long. I saw my post-grad trip to Israel, which was supposed to be the beginning of a year of worldwide wanderings and then living abroad somewhere—which is almost what happened—as the start of a completely new life. In those days, it was harder to stay in touch (as in it took more effort), and the longer I was in Israel, the more my life/me seemed so far from what it/I had been in college, and the more distant I felt from those friends.
To be fair to me, those former friends didn’t reach out to me either. Years later, I maintained a presence on Facebook for a while, so that I could be found. My positive spin is that we needed each other during that time period, but then moved onto other friendships for the phases that came next. Yes, this explanation does make me feel better.
When I returned to the States in 2000, with a husband and two daughters, to what was supposed to be a temporary stay, I, unfortunately, repeated the inattention to friends left behind in Israel. Again, the paring off was so casual, but the missing out of those continuous connections is something that I still regret.
It took a while to realize that I was wrong. Friends, the good ones, aren’t for phases and to be easily replaced; no, they are to accompany us through phases. They give us the support and company we need to continuously find our way.
So, when I moved from Virginia to Florida a year ago, I was determined to not let the same thing happen again. Thank goodness for Zoom and, perhaps, the fact that my friends and I are in our 50s and 60s, and they have also realized how important it is to keep onto the friends who have made it with us thus far.
But amidst all this action and inaction and decision-making on my part, there is also the fact that despite my desires, sometimes friends no longer want to be friends. A friend-divorce.
Recently, a friend broke-up with me via text, which followed a phone conversation that had been surprisingly contentious, even in the pauses. She said that I didn’t give her the support she needed and decided to end the friendship. Bye. When I told the women I volunteer with at the garden about this, they quickly said, “She was looking for an excuse to end the friendship.” The harshness of her action was mitigated by the pointed, yet supportive, voices of these few-hours-a-week friends. I miss our weekly talks, but, clearly, she did not. It saddens me that a process, for isn’t that what a friendship is, was cut short. It’s not that I invest in friends to get something back, but when you spend time with someone, and show them who you are and tell them your stories, you expect (“hope” is how I will frame it going forward) that this a foundation upon which a lasting friendship/relationship will be built.
This past year, I reconnected with a friend who I hadn’t been in touch with for a few years. At first it worked; we clicked again. But then I realized, as older daughter knew I would, that she had seen me as an acolyte more than a friend. When I said that, there was no more contact from her.
Before that, I was ghosted by a friend who had also worked at the company that relocated me to Virginia in 2000. It had been so nice to have someone who I would get together with a couple of times a year to catch-up on our lives and the lives of our children. I thought that this was the casual friendship I had gotten right. Until I failed her in cancelling attending her third housewarming party in five years because her home was an hour’s drive away and I had a lot of work (weekend grading, the bane of the English teacher’s existence). You would think that a 15-year friendship could survive a cancellation for any reason.
It seems that we each set different bars (tests?) to who is a friend and who is not. There’s the any person I can have an enjoyable meal with is a friend policy, and then there’s the only the people who meet and maintain my criteria can be friends policy. Turns out that friendships are as hard in midlife as in middle school. Friendships are not always a safe haven.
As I write this, I can feel myself working through the uncomfortable feelings I have about these friendship losses. I’m moving toward focusing on the good friends I do have, and how wonderful that is—how wonderful they are.
Clearly, you can’t guarantee anything in life and certainly not our relationships with other people. The older I get, the more I realize how essential friends have been throughout my life. I’m not the introvert I thought I was, for I have always needed a good friend(s). Most did not have longevity, but that’s okay, they each added to my life and for that I am grateful. And I am grateful, too, to those friends for whom judgment is reserved for food, not friends.
I agree that your friend who just ended it was looking for a reason. It may have less to do with the friendship, and more to do with what's going on in her life at this time.
A very, very dear friend and I"broke up" for almost three years after 40 years of thick and thin friendship. Our expectations of each other had changed. Frankly discussing the changes and what we expected in a friend didn't help. It was sad. But recently we found our way back, both of us a bit changed and both more realistic about our expectations of each other.
Another friend once said to me that friendship was like going to a dance, you dance with some people more than others.
I feel very fortunate to have a handful of close friends that I know I can count on for anything, any time. Some I met in school, some when I was a young wife and mother, and a few in later years. Each were different kinds of friends in different periods of my life —a different dance, as it were, to different tempos. A few I see or talk with very infrequently, yet I know they are there for me should I need them, as I am for them. A few I see or talk with several times a week. They are the friends who left food and other gifts of comfort on my dining room table recently when my husband was hospitalized for 9 days.
True friendships are hard work, and as I get older, I find I don't have the bandwidth to maintain that connection with as many people. I'm guilty of winnowing out a few in recent years simply because I cannot keep up the pace.
Posted by: Judith | June 08, 2022 at 09:15 AM
It's good to know that this situation is more common that we think, which is one of the reasons I wrote the post. One thing about being older and wiser, was that I thought that the friends I had were the ones who would stay with me. It seems we are always learning new things about ourselves and the people in our world.
"True friendships are hard work." They're also what enable us to do hard work.
Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comment.
Posted by: Laura of RToaW | June 09, 2022 at 08:50 AM