Today I read this WaPo article by a woman whose best friend stopped communicating with her with no explanation, and how ten years later the author still grieves the loss of their friendship and is mystified by it.
I could relate, because it’s happened to me, only it was someone I’d known and been very good friends with much longer than the woman in the story, who was nineteen at the time it happened. I was about to turn fifty when my friend stopped returning my phone calls, and we had been good friends since the age of eight.
I never really understood what had happened, although I tried to find out. I wrote her a note saying that, although upset, I accepted her decision, but that it would really help me if she could just tell me what had happened, so perhaps I could learn from the experience. She didn’t reply. I called her mother, whom I knew very well from my childhood. Her mother was so upset that she wept, but when she asked her daughter what had happened, my ex-friend refused to discuss it with her, either.
About a decade later, my friend died. And although I had actually encountered her unexpectedly a few years earlier at a class reunion and we had managed a short conversation, when I’d asked her what had happened she gave some cryptic replies. They will have to do, though, and I’m grateful for them, because to have had that conversation was definitely better than nothing. But the meeting occurred by accident.
I still grieve both the end of our friendship and her death.
When I looked at the comments to that WaPo piece, I was surprised at how mean-spirited many of them were, more or less saying “Quit whining; get over it already” and/or “Have you ever wondered what you did wrong to make this happen?”
Well, I think this woman has gotten over it, because she seems to be functioning and going about her business. Does “getting over” something mean one doesn’t bear the scars, or doesn’t think about it very sadly sometimes? Is that our new standard, to wipe all pain from our memory banks in order to prove how stalwart we are? And why would people think the writer hadn’t examined whatever her own role might have been, and searched for an explanation there? Just because she didn’t devote paragraphs to that pursuit in what is meant to be a rather short essay about the effects of a loss of friendship?
As for “quit whining,” I think it’s pretty clear that the writer wanted her article to let other people who’ve had similar experiences know that their strong reactions aren’t that unusual, and to suggest to others who might leave without saying goodbye that perhaps it would be good, when “breaking up” with an old and once-dear friend, to offer a simple word of explanation.
It certainly would have helped me.
I think that people are used to the idea that there’s a lot of grief with a romantic breakup. But friendships—even deep, long-term friendships—are considered more fungible. They’re not, at least not for many people. For many many people, the loss of a friend—especially when the friend doesn’t confront the issue head-on and explain, if only in a relatively perfunctory way (“we’ve grown apart,” “I’m angry at you because…”)—the reaction can be extraordinarily painful, all the more so because there’s little acknowledgement about how painful it can be. Do we have songs about how our best friends drift away? I can’t think of any offhand (maybe you can, though), although there are countless laments about the heartache involved in the loss of a lover, and rightly so.
[NOTE: Some people might say that once a friendship has reached that point, it’s the point of no return and repair isn’t possible, so why not just walk away and make it easy on everyone. But my observation is that although walking away is usually easier on the one who makes the decision to leave, it’s rarely easier on the one who is left, although the leaver may sincerely think it will be. Telling the truth about why you left is almost undoubtedly hard for most people, but it’s much kinder in the end.
I also have had serious fallings-out with good friends that have been repaired—sometimes quickly, sometimes over a number of years. So it can be done, if both people are motivated to do it.]