When is a friendship finally over? That’s the question I’ve been grappling with lately with regards to my friend Sally.
When Sally (not her real name) and I spend time together it’s lovely. She’s very warm and easy to talk to and is inspiring on so many levels.
But it’s been months since we last met for coffee. Since then I’ve had surgery and not heard from her and when I tried to arrange to meet up a few weeks ago she said she was too busy and would get back to me. I haven’t heard back from her.
As hurt as I am, I have to admit that we have grown apart. When we first met we shared a common profession but I have since moved on to other things. Sally has become very successful in her career and has formed many new relationships with people in the same line of work.
It’s not only that which has signalled to me that our friendship has been on an uneven footing for a long time. Thinking about it, it was usually me who initiated meeting up and persisted in seeing her. For all I know Sally may have been trying to end our friendship for years but hadn’t been able to because I have persisted in trying to meet up. It’s hard to admit but I think she was far more important to me than I was to her.
When is a Friendship Over?
Now I’m at the stage where, as sad as it makes me feel, I have to acknowledge that the friendship is probably over. The problem I’ve been grappling with is how does one break up with a friend? My instinct is just to silently retreat and to nurse my hurt until it’s healed with time. Is there any sense in telling Sally how I feel? I have the sense that it’s a case of out of sight out of mind for her and I’m sure she’s totally unaware of how she’s hurt my feelings. Either way, I don’t want to invest emotion in a friendship that feels little more like an exercise in rejection.
I’ve had friendships before which ebb and flow between periods of drifting apart and other times of fun, love and sharing. But I’ve usually never felt as rejected.
What are the Rules of Friendship?
Friendships are tricky to negotiate. Forming a strong friendship is a bit like falling in love – you entrust the other person with intimate details of your life, spend time learning about and supporting each other, and spending time together. If I had been in a relationship with Sally there would have been a set of rules for me to play by. The protocol would have been to confront her about her hurtful and distant behaviour, talk it through, argue, cry and either make-up or break-up at the end.
But with friendships, especially friendships between women, there are no rules. As women we tend to read between the lines, nurse our wounded pride, talk about it with other friends but very rarely with the actual friend concerned. Often, the only signals we send are not calling and not getting together. But those signals could mean that a friend is busy, has a crisis in her life or is trying to avoid you and signal that she wants to end the friendship.
Taking Friends for Granted
This crisis with Sally has also made me question the way I have treated friends in the past and still do. There are some friendships I have where I very rarely call and initiate a get-together. I tend to take the fact that the friend will call for granted. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with them, it’s just that they’re more proactive and normally call first. I realise now how hurtful that can be and I intend to be a better friend from now on.
It’s also made me think about the kind of friends I do want in my life. The older I get the harder I find it to make new friends. Most people in their 40s are settled in their lives, very busy and often don’t have the time or the will to make new friends. I would still love to make a few good new friends. The type of friendship that is based on deep connection, honesty and laughter.
So, for now, I will grieve for the friendship I once enjoyed with Sally. And then it will be time to move on and enjoy the friendship and company of people who do want to spend time with me. And, in time, I will make new friends and strengthen existing friendships and learn to accept that sometimes in life you grow apart and move on. That’s just the way friendships and relationships work.