A girlfriend I've known for 14 years has abruptly ended our friendship. She blast-emailed a photo of herself holding her new puppy and wrote a long paragraph about how "deformed" she looks because a cancerous spot was removed from her nostril.
I remember the surgery -- I was supportive during it -- but the wound has healed nicely and she looks the same as always to me.
I wrote back and said (basically), "You don't have to point out your imperfections. I'm sure I and all your other friends who got this email blast see you through the eyes of love."
To my astonishment, she instantly ended our long and dear friendship, claiming I told her to "shut up." I reviewed every word of that email and several subsequent apologetic emails and nowhere did I use that phrase, nor even intend it. I did not say it in my two "please forgive me" phone calls. I am hurt and surprised, and grieving our connection.
She said, "My father said that to me when I was 16. No one tells me to shut up... ever."
And so, my love for her has been sacrificed for a memory from when she was 16... which was 52 years ago.
Even though I feel a strong sense of loss, I know there are lessons I can learn from this.
This is what I see right now:
Apologies don't always make things better. Sometimes, we inadvertently re-open wounds we didn't even know the other person had -- and pay the price. Treat people more gently. Some friendships are more fragile than others.
Respect someone's need to end a relationship. Once someone has announced they wish for no further contact, take them seriously. Some people are not the type to forgive, no matter how much one apologizes. I've apologized probably dozen times, to no avail. I may as well have done it only once, because she slammed the door in the first instant. Had I been less invested, I would have accepted her firm decision sadly but gracefully.
You may never know why. People who end relationships -- friendships, romances, even marriages -- often have reasons of their own. Those reasons may or may not have anything to do with the other person's actions. You may never know or understand the real reasons why the other person has made the decision. The reason given may or may not be the whole truth, nor even part of it.
People outgrow one another. How many marriages have ended because one or the other partner says, "We just grew apart." It is entirely likely that for whatever reason, one person may feel that someone else is no longer up to their standards. My friend Brad lost his best friend after 25 years when the friend became a Born Again Christian and decided Brad was a "bad influence." A girlfriend I knew long ago stopped being my friend when I had my first child and she was still in college, because she felt I was too "baby-focused." We reconnected a few times, after she'd had children, and she apologized, but things were never the same.
So how can we heal from the loss of a precious friendship?
I regret that I am forced to use this strategy again myself now, although I learned it long ago. I am working these steps as I mourn the loss of this friend. I know I will go back to this process when something triggers memories of her and do parts of it again, maybe several times. Each time the pain will lessen considerably until I look back on that friendship with only positive memories.
The 5-Step Lost Friendship Healing System
Accept that the decision is final. If you have apologized for anything you did and made it clear that you want the relationship to continue, and the other person refuses your offer, let go. You really don't have any other choice, and continuing to beg and plead is not only bothersome but in some situations could be seen as harassment. Sure, maybe someday, something will happen, but you will never be able to go back to "how it was" even if the person let you back into their life right now. It's like a broken piece of china -- it will never be "good as new."
Write a letter you will never send. Start the letter very specifically: "Dear
Remove objects that trigger your pain. If you have photos around the house, take them down and put them somewhere out of sight for now. Don't destroy them. If you have gifts or mementos that remind you of that person, put those away, too. Tuck them into a box you can sort through at some future time, when your emotions are more level. At that point, you may want to give them away or throw them away. People often make rash decisions out of emotion.
Write a letter to yourself. Imagine you are your friend. Write a letter from your friend to yourself. Use your friend's way of speaking, and if at any point he or she gave you an explanation for why they ended the friendship, write that, too. At the end of this letter, write these words longhand, "I forgive you,
Check in with yourself. When we grieve something, we tend to forget we ever felt happy, and sometimes doubt we ever will again. "I'll never find a friend like that!" and "I miss her so much every day!" are common thoughts. But 30 days after you completed the steps above, pull out those letters and read them. Do it again 6 and 12 months later. Each time, you'll be surprised. You'll feel emotion, sure, if the loss is still fresh. But you will also be amazed at how much you've healed. You may have even started looking for new "applicants" for the open friendship position in your life. You may have found new ways to enjoy your life without your friend, taken up new activities or hobbies or interests. These are all healthy signs, like green sprouts coming out of the soil, indicating growth and good things coming.
This five-step process will help you get on the right path to healing from the loss of a friendship. I know it's already helping me.
Wendy Keller is an author and speaker. Her work is dedicated to helping human beings handle the heartbreaks and sadness of life and emerge healthier and stronger. To find more inspiring blogs and helpful content, click here.