“Some of my losses are still walking around.” That wry remark was uttered by a woman mourning the “death” of several friendships. It’s the kind of loss many of us become familiar with, but it seldom nets any sympathy cards .
I discovered this at the ripe age of ten.. My best friend and I had been inseparable since first grade. Then her family moved away and our only contact was by phone. No FaceTime or Zoom in those days, but they wouldn’t have helped anyway. Betsy’s phone chatter was increasingly about her new friends, with zero interest in me. What I felt was – in a word – abandoned.
I was too young to understand that the end of a friendship is a kind of bereavement, and the adults in my world failed to recognize that. I was admonished to “stop sulking.” Or told, ,”You’ll find new friends.” (That meaningless compensation is thrown at the widowed, too, in terms of finding new love.)
Friendships rupture for more reasons that geographical distance, of course. The more benign way is when your interests gradually diverge. But sometimes it’s one person’s spouse who creates a distance. One of my friendships expired soon after it began, with promised dinner dates for the three of us routinely forgotten .It turned out that the husband preferred to be alone with his wife, without a third person joining in.
A major issue that puts a relationship on life support is lack of respect for each other’s needs. When I began writing my first book I told everyone I had to be “off the planet” each day until 3:00. It was the only way I could submerge myself in my book. All my friends were cooperative except one (a therapist!)\. For years she insisted on calling while I was writing because that was easier for her busy schedule. I was too afraid of losing the laughs we used to have together to speak up for myself. But my resentment and her scorn of what I was doing threw a dark shadow over us. The crisis came when I told her she didn’t have to understand my need, but she had to respect it if we were to remain friends. She couldn’t – and we didn’t.
However, if we’re asking to be respected, we also need to do the respecting. This extends to empathizing with someone’s pain, even if you secretly think she’s better off without the other person. Instead of tuning out we can in tune in, and jettison words like ,“It isn’t as if someone died.” Something did die – a closeness that’s still missed, memories no one else shares.
The hopeful side is that, some broken friendships can be salvaged IF at least one of ypu is willing to risk reaching out. Last year a long-time friend and I stopped speaking due to a miscellany of misunderstanding. After some months of cooling down, I realized how much I missed her and what a good friend she had always been. But how to swallow my pride and risk making an overture? Sometimes a birthday or a holiday is an opportunity. I sent a text to say “Thinking of you on your birthday.” I was afraid she might ignore the message or send an impersonal one-word reply like, “Thanks.” Period. Her answer arrived the next day. “Thinking of you, too.” We were on our way. We’ve met several times since then and have wisely refrained from rehashing reasons for the rift, but with more appreciation of one another.
True reaching out makes us vulnerable, but so do all relationships. The choice is ours.