I can’t be the only one who does this: I scroll mindlessly through Facebook and see an acquaintance who posts something totally out of left field, like a political sentiment that’s completely outrageous, a new business venture, or an announcement laced with hate speech. I suddenly perk up and wonder about our connection, and what’s going on with them. Then, inevitably, I realize our values are misaligned and I have to unfollow or unfriend them. Is it irrational?
In real life, it takes a lot for me to walk away from a friendship (and a relationship). Historically speaking, it’s been very difficult for me to cut people out of my life completely and use the radio silence method.
Unfortunately, I used to hold onto all friendships and relationships, even if they didn’t serve me. My personal constitution obligated me to make it work. Regardless of the circumstances or situation, I thought I should try harder, write more, call often, check-in regularly, be close to all people. Then, something happened a few years after college: one of my best friends stopped talking to me. Snap. Like that. I didn’t know why. I had been at her wedding, had visited her on the East Coast countless times. Naturally, I thought it was my fault. I figured I’d done something wrong. Over the next few years, I reached out to her to learn if we were talking again (we weren’t). For a long time, actually, I was convinced that I had offended her. I cried, I ruminated, I surveyed other people about what I had done.
Then I got a birthday message from her. That small gesture helped me flip my script; I realized she’s terrible at keeping in touch, is busy with two kids, work and a husband, and doesn’t do well with long distance relationships. I decided to stop taking it personally. I also decided to stop trying and let it go.
That was an awakening for me. Let it go.
What a relief. Knowing she had her own life that didn’t overlap with mine, it occurred to me that she self-selected out of my life. She opened up space and bandwidth for local friendships and new experiences. I examined our college experiences with fondness and love, had great memories and laughs together, and realized it was enough.
This was not easy, but it was necessary. After all, it had taken years to get to the point of being okay with not being close. I felt liberated when reaching the point of being content with the outcome.
Someone once told me, “if it doesn’t end badly, it doesn’t end.” I didn’t initially believe her when she said it.
And then I was involved in a serious friend break-up (as well as other romantic break-ups) and realized how accurate the above sentiments are. I had been walking on eggshells with a different old friend for years. She and I had grown apart, our values no longer aligned, our ethics on other ends of the spectrum. We stayed friends for historical reasons, but clearly didn’t have much in common anymore. She accused me of being jealous of her engagement. I was angry for not being allowed to bring my boyfriend to her wedding. I felt unheard, she felt neglected. Our relationship ended with business-like emails (which are copied below, if you would like to read them) and returning keys for our apartments.
I couldn’t tell if I was relieved, glad, sad, disappointed, expectant, or mad. I probably felt a combination of all the feelings. I wasn’t sure if I’d be okay. Then, I remembered how I felt while involved in the latter months of this friendship: unhappy.
We parted ways and haven’t had contact in three years.
* * *
People drop in and out of our lives. We pop in and out of theirs, sometimes for a very long time, and sometimes for short spurts. People self-select, meaning they choose something different for themselves. There may be a million reasons as to why a friendship or relationship ends (or starts, for that matter). Typically, we befriend people who share our commonalities and values. Sometimes we grow apart because we are changing, due to factors like maturity, unique experiences, or other things that can’t be easily identified or explained. Change can hurt, and it feels weird to leave a relationship. It’s a blow to the ego to be left. The feeling can be disorienting when you’ve relied on someone for so much time.
It’s okay to let go of the relationship if it doesn’t serve you. In this case, allow what was to be enough. You don’t have to work so hard to make it as good as it once was. Instead, focus your energy on the friendships that serve you better. (And, make sure the relationship you have with yourself is fulfilling, but this is likely to be another blog post soon.) You and your ex-friend might not have a deep connection anymore. You might want to stay together, but the other person might need to leave. You can’t coerce or force her to stay. He might be holding you back, but it feels good to keep him there for comfort or historical reasons.
I think it works out as it should. The friendships you’re fretting over might need more effort, or they might need a rest. Only you can decide what’s best for you. And remember: we self-select in order to make room for something better.
If you’re curious to read the friend break-up email, click the dotted line below.
This is my 100th blog post! Yay!!!
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From her:First of all, it seems to me that you have been having major issues with my engagement and then marriage. I don’t know if it stems from jealousy or what but it’s been hurtful to me. You didn’t attend my bachelorette party when everyone else, no matter what commitments they had going on, managed to attend. I know that Molly sent out the email for it back in January and the fact that you could not adjust your schedule to attend was pretty much a big “fuck you” to me. And the hurtful actions then continued. You never call me, never make an effort to see me and then you were almost 1.5 hours late to the wedding celebration on the 4th of May when everyone else including my friends with children, were able to get there on time and celebrate our joyous occasion.I was thinking and (hoping) that I would receive some sort of call or even a text message on my birthday but you could not even make an effort to do that. That was a horrible thing to do to someone and writing something on facebook the day after simply does not cut it in my opinion.I have been nothing but a loving, supportive friend to you over the past 18 years and your I find your behavior obnoxious, hurtful and just plain ridiculous. The least you could do is get in touch with me and address whatever issues you are having.
I want to apologize first and foremost for not reaching out on your birthday. I had every intention of calling but the day escaped me. I really feel badly for this and hope your day was great and your year tops the excellent one you just had. I’m so sorry.
I haven’t been in a place to have a sit-down discussion on where I am, but now I guess it’s time. I’d like to address your positions. I’m very happy you and Dylan found each other. In fact, I couldn’t be more pleased that you found someone so well-matched and lovely for you, and your relationship moved in this direction. I was thrilled when you got engaged and even happier that you married each other. I have no jealousy about this topic, but what I do hold is resentment that I was not allowed to bring a date – my serious boyfriend – to your wedding. I know you needed to keep the attendance small, but still feel hurt that someone so significant to me was not allowed to come. I’ve gotten the impression that you don’t like him or respect me for dating him. If you saw red flags, I would have been open to hearing them rather than avoidance that he exists.
Actually, this is not so much about Mark, but about our relationship: that I feel undervalued and notice myself walking on eggshells much of the time. I have been assessing our long relationship and remembering so many good, fun times and wondering about other times when we’ve taken unspoken breaks or had fallings out. It’s really hard to grow apart, and yet I think our values and styles have changed. I imagine that while you’re reading this, you’re growing angry with me. But, I hope you’ll think about our long friendship with love. I love you and care about you and only want the best for you and your family. Right now, though, I feel unsupported, blamed, and lectured. These styles of communication don’t make me feel close to you. It feels like the litany of grievances only grows longer by the day and I don’t hear your feelings, just how obnoxious, hurtful, and ridiculous I’m being. It feels like I’ve done everything wrong, but I see it differently. And yet, when I look at the big picture, I see two old friends both feeling sad. Or, maybe that’s what I want to see and you don’t feel that way. I can only say I’m at a loss for what to do next.
I’m sorry you think something different than my truth about your bridal events. In both instances, I had a gestalt class that I’m 110% committed to. I’m sure this feels like I didn’t – don’t – care about you, but that’s not my perspective. I remember talking to you before and after your bachelorette trip and apologizing for my absence. I also recall learning about your experience while sitting on the grass at my apartment and wishing I could have attended while hearing the joy in your voice.
In sum, we are at an impasse and both have beliefs about how the other of us feels. I’m open to meeting you to listen and discuss, and really don’t know how it will play out.
Thank you for responding so promptly. I think we should take a temporary break from each other and perhaps we can reconnect one day in the future keeping our 18 year friendship in mind.