I remember the first Christmas break after I came home from college.
My high school friends and I had just seen each other at Thanksgiving. Everything had been fantastic, with lots of reminiscing. Laughing about someone sporting a new beard or talk about who was still liking who.
Yet something had changed. We had more time to be together but there was less to talk about. Just how many times could you tell the same funny story?
Maybe a handful of us still felt close. But the vast majority? Not really.
Friendships. Some abide through thick and thin — no matter what happens in your life — no matter if you go through a time when you are not all that easy to like.
That friend is sticking around.
We revere those relationships. The famous book “Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood” showcases friends who have had each other’s backs all their lives.
These kinds of friends are of unmeasurable value.
But what about friendships that fade away? Perhaps the friendship doesn’t survive losing the context of how it began. High school. A job.
Or maybe one of you slams the door. It’s unpredictable. Jarring.
Men especially seem to have more trouble hanging on to friends. Issues get in the way, such as work roles leading to a growing sense of competition, moves all over the country due to work or family issues, letting a female partner take care of the social end of things and getting out of practice. All of these may contribute.
“My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends”, compiled by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger is an anthology about female friendships. It includes essays by women friends who were left, and women who did the leaving.
This has happened to me. Once, by someone who I thought would be sitting by my side, me at 90 and her 91 – (her greater age always an important detail…), laughing and cussing that we couldn’t hear each other. Going for walks. Or if one of us hadn’t made it, still sensing the other’s presence somehow.
My kindred spirit opted out with no explanation other than, “I (meaning her) am a bad person.” She’s not a bad person so I was left to sop up my heart that had burst all over the floor. Over years and (to my embarrassment) after a couple of angry, pleading phone calls, I slowly emotionally divorced her as well.
I was intrigued to read what others had to say on the topic.
What I found was more comprehension, more perspective of both my friend and me. It was a wise choice on the editors’ part to include stories on each side of the dynamic. As you travel from one story to the next, you hear the pain of being either person — the self-doubt of the one left behind, and the guilt of the one choosing to go. Perhaps there was a darkness that had always existed in the friendship, or simply, the light, that was so bright at the time, weakened in its intensity.
And so the end.
An emotional dilemma seems to be discovering the meaning in a relationship, even after it ends. It’s important not to see those years as a “waste of time,” simply because it’s now over. That’s true for divorce, but also for intimate friendship. It’s not helpful to wrap yourself in anger or shame to demean what the friendship stood for in your life. What you learned. How you grew.
I’ve been told that many of the friendships described in the book have been reconciled due to the story being told. Perhaps that’s a statement about the idea that time heals. Or that misperception and misunderstanding can be resolved, with responsible effort and sincerity.
Other friendships that are lost won’t have that chance. They have to be grieved.
Their time has past.
And that can be lived out as well.
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This post originally seen on Midlife Boulevard.
Note: Dr. Rutherford was not solicited by the editors or paid for this post.