Friendship – It’s Complicated

My mother modelled what it was to be a great friend. She kept in touch with many people over many miles. Writing letters and taking road trips that kept her present in friendships that may not have otherwise survived the distance. A generous gift-giver, she went above and beyond. I learned these things from her.

In the presence of my peers I excelled at friendship. I was loyal and supportive. I never forgot a birthday and sent hand-made Christmas cards jammed with words that everyone loved to receive. I took annual road trips with several stops to visit with the kindred spirits I had picked up over the years. At home I would be the one to bus across town for dinners, making myself an easy friend to have. I spent nights in the crevices of other peoples basements or on couches, forfeiting my time the following day while awaiting the most convenient time for my hosts to drive me home, because I believed as a good friend, their time was more important than mine. I was lucky to have them and I didn’t want to push my needs on anyone. Showing up in this way made me feel good—it made my friends feel good—and we had a lot of fun without the constricts of time. My time. This was the pattern I created.

As the pandemic rolled in, I embraced the forced solitude with my cat. I didn’t mind the isolation, and took comfort in the self-care skills I had developed over the years. Actually I felt relieved to not have to show up for anyone in the way we had all become accustomed to. As my body took deep rest I began to see how my willingness to make friendship easy on my comrades had actually been a detriment. I trained people to believe I didn’t ever need them to make their friendship easier for me: a realization that left me feeling awful.

I began to thrive in isolation without having to uphold the expectations I had placed upon myself to arrive at this dinner or that event. Truth be told, I didn’t miss many people. I missed my work—putting my hands on bodies and sharing in boundaried connection. I didn’t miss pushing through exhaustion to arrive somewhere social after work. I decided that beyond the pandemic I would give my friendships the space to find their way to me instead.

As restrictions began to lift, the energy of renewal felt lonely as I witnessed those around me regain their social lives. My network became my clients, not quite friends, but human connection. I was somewhat excluded from my circle because of my daily interactions with the public, which was understandable. I wasn’t all that bothered about it, but I also stopped reaching out—because after months of solitude, I had begun to fill from the inside. I felt pangs of guilt for not making my usual efforts, but not enough to revert to the old me—which highlighted a new stability. I began to listen to the introvert who valued quality over quantity. I no longer wanted to spend my energy on making the cards and composing the words within—yes, sending a card (on time) is work, even for me. Although I gained so much pleasure from giving, something inside of me stopped wanting to work so hard to be liked.

In my younger years I had witnessed several cold wars within my mother’s relationships and developed a deep fear of becoming what I had interpreted as disagreeable. The end of a friendship, for me, was tied up in failure and an old narrative of not being good enough. But I see now how I had been setting myself up for this very thing. I had to fight against those old beliefs to allow my external efforts to wane, and as I did, some of my friends picked up the slack. Others disappeared entirely. Some have been losses that have taken time to grieve. Others, not so much.

I realize now that the end of a friendship is not a failure. For a friendship to end someone had to speak, and someone had to hear, some hard truths. At least one person had to set a boundary that they had previously been incapable of setting. Both parties had to either silently pull away from an unhealthy dynamic, or decide how to interpret the breakdown and choose to move forward, or not. The end of any relationship is emotionally distressing, which I believe honours its power. Losing a friend, while deeply painful, is actually a victory—for everyone involved.

Friendships come, and friendships go. We know this. I’m choosing to move forward while celebrating the loss as growth. Mine and that of my friends. 

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