I walked away from some twenty-years-long friendships back in 2019 or so. There was a confrontation in which I realized deeply that whatever I thought we had started with as a foundation to our relationships either never existed or was completely gone.
I understood we were in these friendships in order to perform a function: iron sharpening iron. I thought we had agreed to hold each other accountable and confront each other when we saw something that needed it. For me, the relationships were functional first, and then relational-touchy-feely-fun after that, really as a result of that function where my understanding was that we held real purpose in one another’s lives. On the day of the final encounter, I was made aware that I had been wrong about that.
From my perspective now, coming up on five years later, I can see a few things. First, there is always my own dysfunction that contributes to scenarios like this. I had an expectation which was met with resistance, which surprised me, and I reacted in shame and hurt, and consequently removed myself from the relationship. I admit this. It has been a pattern all my life.
You see, I always do the Icarus thing. I start feeling confident about myself, I start to relax, and I begin to fly. Then I get full of myself and I overdo it. It always takes someone else pointing this out to me, I never see it myself. When I am called to account on flying too close to the sun, on being too confident and brash, on forgetting to be humble, I wake from the dream of flying and tumble to the ground, weighted by shame, that old familiar friend who never seems to leave me alone for too long.
So there’s that. But over the years I have decided that in ending these particular friendships, there was more than just my shame involved. There were also some very reasonable and charitable motives from me toward them and from me toward myself.
I’m not the kind of person who needs friendships just because. Whenever I do a friendship it is intentional – wait, who am I kidding? I don’t really do friendships. Since I broke off these long term friendships, I’ve been pretty alone except for my family. I intentionally set up coffee dates with my adult children and maybe once or twice a year I get together with the one or two people who I think would consider me a friend – really they’re probably more my husband’s friends and not mine. I’m just there too because of round numbers. But it works out.
Anyway, I don’t need friends for the sake of being able to say I have friends. I don’t need to surround myself with people who I can be close to. There’s nothing wrong with needing people just to be close to them. In fact, I wish I were more like that. But I’m not. I’m kind of a loner. So extracting myself from the obligations of these long term friendships was a favor to myself. That sounds blunt and maybe a little harsh. It isn’t meant that way. We were very different people and I wasn’t even in their social class. I didn’t understand them fully. And they didn’t understand me.
And because I am kind of a shitty friend: blunt, awkward, idealistic, shame-driven, not chatty… wait, what are some of my good qualities… I’m loyal, honest, motivated to see the best in you, driven to bring it out, analytical, problem solver, emotional, creative… but still all in all a shitty friend… well, the truth is, they are better off without me. I am not saying that in a whiny whinging way or passive aggressive. It’s just flat out true.
My former friends were so very kind in recruiting me to be a part of their togetherness and for 20 years I was a member in a most wonderful association of women. I felt honored, accepted and loved and even comfortable for a while. I was inspired in my faith journey, driven to become a better person, knowing that I was surrounded by other women who were on the same path as me, at least in some ways. And in the ways we were not, I was content to pretend I was more like them then I actually was. It made me feel good about myself. For a while.
We had a lot of fun too. We ate a lot, drank quite a lot, laughed, connected, cried, painted toenails and dyed hair, stared at the waves. It was everything I had always wanted: to be included. Remembering those times brings me joy and tears.
It’s just that eventually, it became obvious that we were not on the same journeys anymore. One by one, we “peeled off” into our own directions. For some, that doesn’t matter because they are friendship driven first. But for me, diverging paths, different world views, conflicting goals – these pull at the fabric of the relationship until eventually there is nothing left to hold it up.
And that was what happened on the day my shame was revealed to me; when my hubris at confronting my dear friend about something we didn’t see eye to eye on caused a disagreement that couldn’t be solved. The last thread in the fabric that had held up our relationship was snipped; the wax was melted from my wings and oh, how hard I fell.
I wish I had handled it better but honestly I still don’t know what that would have looked like. Maybe it had to happen the way it did. Awkward and kind of ugly. Kind of shitty. Hurtful.
Right after I made the break, some horrible, hard, and tragic things happened in my life, things that took me even further into my own issues and myself, and away from any kind of focus on writing the final words of our story together and ending it with a flourish and a loving send off. I wish that had happened, but it didn’t.
I’ve often thought about sending a letter, trying to explain things, trying to formulate a decent apology.
And maybe they’ve thought about that too – not about apologizing of course, because they didn’t do anything wrong – but maybe to ask for an explanation or to see what exactly was going on. But I was always the confrontational one, not them. So no, we haven’t had any contact.
I don’t think a letter could ever fully explain what happened, and I would worry that it would make it seem like there were expectations when there were not – well, maybe there would be just a little expectation. And I don’t want to hurt myself and them again.
I think about them often and wonder how their lives are going. There will always be a little twinge of pain when I remember, I think. A little regret. A longing for everything to be set right. But life makes it clear sometimes that our longed-for tidy resolutions are not always possible. Life is messy, muddy, unclear. How unfortunate.
It’s very quiet here in this corner of my living room. The clouds have been gathering all morning and it looks like rain. I have my coffee and my keyboard, and later on my husband will come home and we’ll have dinner and chat for a while. Then I’ll go to sleep, wake up and do another day: quiet solitude, puttering around, pecking out words and watching them pile up. More time to think, more time to wonder.