Friends aren’t “supposed” to break up. But they do.
Unlike a divorce, which has pretty clear parameters for dissolution, when friendships break, you’re on your own. No papers to sign. No lawyers to pay. No support groups, no one standing by ready to fix you up with a new best friend, telling you there are plenty of other fish in the sea, to get back in the saddle, or some other animal metaphor that does not help one bit. No one makes movies about the end of friendship, unless they star Katherine Heigl and end with joyfully teary reconciliations set to a jubilant Katie Perry tune. Maybe that’s why it’s taken me more than ten years to get over the fact that the woman who had been my best friend since we were eight years old dumped me without explanation.
After nearly thirty years of friendship, we’d had our shares of ups and downs. There were times we were super close, and times we weren’t. There were fights and laughs, vacations together, petty jealousies and all-out joy for each other’s successes. Marriages, divorces, miscarriages, and babies. Life. Sometimes we were super close, sometimes not. In short: it was a three decades long friendship with all that entailed. But at some point, she decided she didn’t want to ride out our latest lull. To me, that’s all it was. We hadn’t been fighting; we just hadn’t been connecting for several months. But she decided she didn’t want to talk to me ever again. “We’ve just grown apart.” she said. “It’s not like I hate you.”
So I knew she kinda did.
I went through the stages of grief. I was shocked. We hadn’t had a big fight, after all. Just a slow fading of our friendship. I was in denial: she’ll be back. She can’t have really meant it. I was angry. But mostly I was sad. It had never occurred to me that she would cease to be a major part of my life. For a while, I called every few months and left a simple message: “Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.” She never called back. It was worse than a break up, because the dissolution of a friendship? That is NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. I was alone in my grief, and as I’m not a huge fan of sweets, I couldn’t even drown my sorrows in a pint of icecream. Eating a wheel of brie, I suspected, just wouldn’t have the same soothing effect.
A year into our break, her husband invited me to her surprise birthday party. After much agonizing, I went. She didn’t take my attendance as a pleasant surprise. But when her father died, a year later, again I went. “It was surreal to see you there.” said the note that came, not quite thanking me for attending.
And that’s it. Nothing for 8 more years.
Of course I’m to blame, too. I wasn’t the best friend I could have been. I know I can be hypercritical sometimes. Oftentimes. Though this journey on the Road to Fuck it has mellowed me quite a bit. Not that she would know, she was long gone by then. But back then, I could be tough. She was beautiful. I was jealous. She was popular, I was resentful of it. She was spontaneous. I was serious. I was a stellar student, she was criticzed by her parents for not being more like me and getting good grades. I liked to analyze things, face the tough issues — some might say dwell on them. But she wanted to ignore the things that were problematic in her life and move on. Ultimately, that meant ignoring me, too.
For those eight years I thought of her all the time. Not daily, but close. In truth, our friendship had become less about who we were at the time than who we had been as kids. She was a twice (now four-time) married fun-loving party girl; I was a long-married serious (ok boring) business owner. She was glamorous and beautiful. Me? I often heard the words zaftig and ethnic. But we shared a narrative in which we were life-long best friends. And I had no road map telling me how that story could just end.
So what finally made me get over it? She did. When our 30 year High School reunion was coming up, I decided to give her a call and check in. I couldn’t imagine showing up and just seeing her there after all those years of silence, and I figured I had nothing to lose. So I called. We caught up. It was a nice — if awkward — conversation. It felt like the possibility of a new beginning.
And then she must have Googled me. And she came upon a post I had written about the end of our friendship. She was furious about the piece which didn’t name her, but which anyone who knew us would have known was about her. “Who would share something so personal on the internet?” she wrote in the comments. And I realized, she didn’t know me at all anymore. I share everything on the internet, I have for more than a decade. It’s who I am, it’s what I do.
She emailed me to say I clearly was not genuine in my interest in reconnecting. That the piece — which had been mostly about my sadness at losing her — somehow betrayed her trust. “I never want to speak to you again.” She concluded.
I read and re-read the piece. Was it negative? Had I laid all the blame on her? Was it petty or unfair? I didn’t think so. I asked my sister — never afraid to tell me the truth about things — if she thought the essay made a reconciliation impossible. No, she assured me, the essay was fine. My ex-friend had seen in it what she wanted to see: not a eulogy for a friendship lost, but an excoriation of her. It isn’t what the essay said. It certainly wasn’t its intent. But she saw what she was looking for. There wasn’t anything I could do about it.
And just like that, I was free. Her own inability to see me as I was: missing her, mourning the loss of our relationship, and instead seeing me as devious and hurtful had somehow ended my endless second guessing about what had gone wrong, and what I could have done — could still do — to change it. All at once — a decade into our rift — I stopped thinking about her, rehearsing what I’d say if I bumped into her one day. I let go of my anger, my self-doubt, the niggling feeling that it was all my fault. I still care. I’m writing this essay, after all. But I realize that there was nothing, truly nothing, I could say or do to change it, that while I may hold at least half of the responsibility for the dissolution of our friendship, its failure to renew is squarely on her.
Of course, it is literally impossible for me to find a new friend to experience all the firsts with: first kiss, first break up, getting our drivers licenses, going to prom, going to college. And that is a loss. It is shared history that I can’t share with anyone else. My only other lifelong friend, a friend with whom I never had a rift, never, I think, even had a cross word, died last winter of a rare form of cancer. Losing her put things in perspective, too. That was a loss of someone who was a friend in the truest sense, giving me love and support, fun and laughter. She loved me as I was, faults acknowledged and accepted. As for me, I don’t think I ever saw in her any faults at all. Losing a friend like that is a loss for what really was — not what I’d hoped could be.
The older I get, the more I realize that there isn’t time to dwell on things that are out of my control, whether that’s wrinkly kneecaps or a friendship that has run its course. Friendships are complicated. People are complicated. If I only wanted perfect friends, I’d have no friends. If my friends only wanted me to be perfect —they wouldn’t be my friends. Becasue I’m far from perfect — and I’m OK with that. But some friendships just don’t work. Maybe the question about the two of us isn’t why our friendship ended, but why it lasted so long in the first place.
At this point, I’m old enough that friends I met during and just after college or when my kids were young, have now been my friends for more than a quarter century. They are old friends now. Old friends who have been there for me through the last few decades when my oldest friend chose not to be.
I wish her well. But I wish myself well, too. So I’ll hold on to the happy memories that are part of that old friendship’s history, and build my future with the friends I have, the friends that love me — wrinkly kneecaps and all.