Having spent many years geographically far away from my family, with several job-related moves in the mix, friendships have sustained me. Over the years, some friends have honestly come to feel much more like family. Those special friends have filled the seats at our holiday table; they've been by my side as I had my babies and when cared for my terminally ill mother; many of them have helped me navigate some very hard times. I can't imagine life without many of the people who have become important, over time; they have been "the wind beneath my wings-"
Until a friendship ends.
In many ways, friendships are much like love affairs. New friendships have a sparkly feel to them: it's easy to feel giddy, when there seems to be so much potential in a new friend. The initial attraction or "courting" phase is much like falling in love: You like the same things; agree about issues; perhaps share a similar sense of humor. Chemistry is critical, and it feels like magic when you find those people in life. Much like dating, it's a process, and that process can be exciting. You get to know each other; you test the waters, and if you're lucky, you find someone who really fits -- and a friendship is born.
When I was younger, this process often went quickly, and friendships bloomed and fizzled easily. In my youth, there was more drama, and the emotions were sometimes shallower; beginnings and endings didn't feel as important. It's not that I took friendship lightly -- on the contrary, things often felt very intense; but, then morphed and changed quickly. However, in youth things ebb and flow constantly, and friendships were a casualty of my inability to understand commitment and work. I didn't understand then the importance of good communication or hard work -- the idea that sometimes you have to push beyond hurt feelings or mistakes and dig in to sustain a relationship.
Consequently, some of the friendships I've had since my childhood (one of my closest friends has been close to me for 42 years!) are the ones that I've come to value the most over the years. Those friends know where I came from and where I am now and love me still, just as I do for them. It's amazing that we've sustained such tight relationships through years of enormous growth and change. There were plenty of things to work out along the way, and each lasting friendship is a miracle of sorts!
As I've aged, my lack of understanding about how to nurture and sustain a friendship has changed completely. Good communication, working hard in relationships, digging in... These are things I do understand now, and I've learned to work hard at it. Learning to accept who I am and what I have to offer, and what I don't, is part of that growth. We can't be friends with everyone we like. Over time, I've become much slower to make friends; I've learned (the hard way) that it takes time to really know someone. Having figured some things out with age, I work hard in relationships and really value those who reciprocate. I don't let go easily. I chew on things and dig in, hoping to make relationships that have become important, stay important. It isn't always possible, however. It takes two, and in the end there have been losses that are hard to deal with.
I get it: things happen; emotions shift, and not all friendships last forever. Even the ones you're sure will. It took a long time to get that. In my heart, in my head, once certain thresholds have been crossed, it's always been hard for me to let go, or moving beyond a relationship that was once vital and precious in my life. Admittedly, it's something I still struggle with. Sometimes "digging in" can lead to healing and resolution, but some friendships can't be saved. It's never easy, and it shouldn't be.
There are different kinds of endings; I believe some are easier to come to terms with than others. When we meet people at a certain stage, or a particular place in time -- perhaps our kids are the same ages; we get along as couples, or we live near each other -- it works because the fit is right. Early on, you might let some things go, or overlook little issues, that over time may cause cracks. Convenience and/or comfort makes for an easy blindfold. It's easy to overlook smaller conflicts when you find someone you think will fit into the big picture -- particularly when you're a young parent/new to a place/going through life changes/ etc., and you hope to find a tribe. Over time, as things shift or change however, perhaps some of these friendships don't hold up. If it's a mutual break, and both parties can see that situations have changed, it's much easier to accept, and move on. This has always made more sense to me, though any end has its unique bumps.
Then there are endings that are painfully one-sided. One party changes; one person is no longer interested or invested; two people drift apart and the ending feels unbalanced. I've been on both sides of that equation, and it never feels good; it's never easy. If you're being left behind, it's hard not to wonder what you could do differently, or try to mend things. It's hard not to feel injured and defensive. Been there, done that. If you're the one moving on, it might feel like the right step, but it isn't necessarily pain-free. It's easy to feel guilty and torn, despite your conviction that the friendship isn't right for you. If you share other friends, it's even harder. There's often an inevitable awkwardness socially, for both parties. Mutual friends may feel torn; you run into each other everywhere, and it can feel like you're in a sticky mess all around. Whichever side of this situation you're on, has its challenges.
In my mind, the hardest end to a friendship is when things just get screwed up, and there's no turning back. Hurt feelings, difficult situations, and painful moves that lead two seemingly close friends, to separate and end a friendship, is like a death. Sadly, things don't always go the way we want, and not all fractures mend. When you've done all you know how to do, all you can, when "I'm sorry," doesn't turn the tide, and wounds run too deep, there is an inevitable time when you have to cut the ties and let go. Most of us have been there. It sucks, and I'm terrible at it. Terrible.
Life is complex, and one person's expectations or hopes for a relationship doesn't always gel with another person's. Relationships that once seemed indestructible, and on which I hung my hopes, didn't stand up, and it's a very hard pill to swallow. Admittedly, I've gagged on that pill, and found myself stuck spinning my wheels, before finally accepting that I just need to gulp that pill down.
The end of a close friendship is a death, and there's mourning to be done. It's one thing to mourn someone who is truly gone, and another to mourn someone you still run into, or who still pops up on Facebook, who your kids still ask about or you still think of often. They're not really gone, but the relationship has died. The grieving process can feel twisted and surreal; letting go is much more challenging.
If we indeed marry our best friends, as is often suggested, than marriages that last are truly a gift, and is it any wonder that a divorce can feel like a death? But are our other friendships any less sacred? Why do we work so hard at those friendships, but not always the others? Both take work and commitment abd both fill an important place in our lives, but when it comes to work, it's not always the same. Is it children or legal worries that keep us married, or is that friendship truly above all others? Is it any real mystery that so many marriages don't last, when so many friendships putter out as well?
Time does indeed heal all wounds; I believe that. I also know that the loss of an important friendship can take a lot more time than many of us want, but we do heal. New friendships are born and fostered. Through our moves, and life's changes, I've learned that there are always new experiences and surprising new relationships to be had. Being open to them is key. It's easy to hold people at a distance when you feel like your life is just the way it should be, and miss out on new, rich relationships that you might never have considered otherwise. It's also easy to keep your head down, when you're feeling lost. I've learned to look up and around a little more. Sometimes there's something special right in front of you that you didn't notice, trying to hang on to relationships that weren't working anymore. It's healing to learn that from loss, can come rich, new experiences.
Through all of it, I've learned to stand on my own more comfortably. I've looked much closer at the mistakes I've made and the ways I need to change, as well as the things I just can't change -- the things that are integral to who I am that may not work for some others, but are too much "me" to give up or change. It's all growth, and that's a good thing. It may not be easy, but I do believe that change is a good thing. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
Do you have friends that have been in your life forever? Do you have a "bestie," and what makes that friend the person you turn to? Have you lost a good friend; tell me about it, in the comment section. Share your thoughts.