With two words, I have just ended a friendship of six years, give or take a few months. They—those words, best left to your imagination—have been waiting in the wings for a while; the other night I looked hard at them for about thirty seconds and then gave the nod. This is unfortunate for several reasons, the first being that email was involved, the second because it’s never a cause for celebration when you’ve had enough of someone whose company you used to like.
The world is full of advice on how to navigate relationships, whether familial, marital, amicable or commercial, and what to do with the ones that don’t work. We—and by ‘we’ I mean women, since men don’t seem to have the same issues—are often encouraged to free ourselves from the confines of judgemental relationships and one-way connections, to detoxify our lives, to cull the people who don’t fulfil us.
I don’t entirely disagree, but that kind of counsel seems lacking in nuance. Why toss people out instead of recycling/repurposing them? Could I have tried harder to understand her? Will I have regrets? Will she? And was I fair? The answer to that last question—which niggles at me most—is ‘probably not’, given my unavoidably subjective view of her behaviour, which I interpreted as critical, controlling and wholly lacking in self-awareness.
I have previously lamented the loss of a long-time friend who purposefully went radio silent without any warning, or at least none that I picked up on. It took me years to stop wondering what had gone wrong, and only then because I ran into her and asked for an explanation (there wasn’t one). I did, however, feel better for having been able to say, matter-of-factly, how much it had hurt to lose her.
Then there were other friendships that simply ran out of gas. Lack of communality, proximity or plain disinterest rather than a disagreement are, I would guess, the way many of us don’t bother to put energy into s long as both parties are lukewarm, it’s an understandable, unlamented outcome. We are enriched by situational and temporary relationships, but there’s no rule that says they all have to last a lifetime.
Last summer, after spending a week together on a boat, a friend of twenty years suggested we call it quits. Yes, it’s true that close quarters and stressful situations can make or break a bond, and in this case, the trip served to highlight things we didn’t appreciate about the other. Rather than opting out of future holidays together, my friend figured we’d be better off with an amicable divorce. Without enough love to counterbalance the dislike, it was a reasonable thing to do, although months later she second-guessed that decision. We are currently in a sort of DMZ, trying to figure out if there’s enough left to give it another go.
Nobody really likes confrontation. Some engage in it willingly enough, but I’m pretty sure that, deep down, they don’t enjoy it. Deliberately and openly ending a friendship—especially while pissed off—without getting into that superheated territory, however, requires a level of skill and control that I do not possess. In this most recent parting my irritation morphed into anger and, best buds with adrenalin that it is, overwhelmed any diplomacy I might have had.
In the days since, I’ve had to remind myself of the long lead-up to that moment and rationalized the positive aspect of being unambiguous. My friend and I would have drifted apart at some near-future point, of that I’m sure, but the whole thing feels like having to put the cat down—you know the end is inevitable, but it feels crappy to do it.
My youngest son, an astute observer of human behaviour, is perplexed by this sort of thing. He sees no point to drawing lines in the sand and thinks that friends should be appreciated for their good points without dwelling on their shortcomings. Guys don’t dump guys for the kind of behaviours that bother women, he says, and unscientific study of men I am acquainted with would suggest that he’s right.
On the other hand, when men do let a friendship go, they tend to get past it and not agonize over the decision. Maybe they’re on to something.