When Friendships Die

I look back on my childhood with longing.  Not every aspect of it, of course, but life’s seeming simplicity is definitely something that I miss. Good and evil were black and white, pets lived forever and friendships lasted until the end of time.  I miss believing all of those things. There is something to be said for ignorance being bliss, but I have tried to avoid reaching that conclusion in my own life.  With that said, one of the hardest lessons has been how fleeting friendships can be.

I do not want to be overly harsh or dismissive.  Friendships can and do last for a lifetime. They are an unending source of motivation and encouragement.  Every friendship has its troubles and all friends fight, from time to time.  It seems that being able to fight and air unhappiness is an important quality of a good friendship (though that is best discussed elsewhere).  It may seem that the focus of this piece is pessimistic.  On the contrary, the fact that friendships do die and what that does to each and every one of us says something very crucial about the necessity of friends.

Why do friendships die?  The answer to that is as different and varied as the types of friendships that exist.  The most dramatic examples include fiery disagreements that result in both sides feeling nothing but corrosive hatred for one another. Then, there is the simple passage of time.  Existing without any kind of maintaining intervention, time even erodes relationships.  Can we say that time alone is responsible for ending friendships, then?  Time widens gaps, but is not sufficient to have created those gaps.  Distance, whether physical or emotional, is another common culprit.  Or, perhaps, the two people involved want fundamentally different things from the friendship.  Romantic feelings that arise from a friendship on the part of one party and are not reciprocated are a common example.

The reasons canvassed are hardly comprehensive.  The point is that the end of friendships find their genesis in a variety of factors and circumstances.  It is generally safe to assume that, the closer the friends involved are, the more resilient the friendship.  While this is encouraging, it also comes with a costly corollary: the closer the the friends involved are, the more traumatic an end to the friendship will be.  When the end is sudden and precipitated by a fairly large change or upheaval, it is often difficult to know what to do or say.  The sad irony is that, at a time when communication and interaction are the key to salvaging something, they are usually shunned.  Then again, it is difficult to be objective or know what the right path is when pain besieges someone from all sides.  

Can we judge the quality of a friendship by the ease or speed at which it is broken?  Seemingly reasonable, but doing so assumes that the force of the trauma or precipitating factor is always equal.  The reality is that circumstances and events can shatter the deepest, strongest friendships.  This is obviously a contentious realization.   Consider (as an example) that, statistically, the vast majority of parents of murdered children end up divorcing.  An extreme example, to be sure, but it illustrates the immense (and often tragic) role that outside events can have on truly committed relationships.  Even without such extreme happenings, great friendships can and do end quickly.  If any general platitude is to be gleaned, it might be that good, truly healthy friendships are less likely to end quickly than poorly formed, dysfunctional friendships.  

“Death” or “end” suggests finality.  Anyone reading this might be asking why such a conclusive fate needs to be considered.  If the friendship is deep enough and the parties are willing, isn’t anything salvageable?  Such a rosy outlook is attractive, but it is not necessarily realistic.  Firstly, there is no erasing the past…ever.  There are some hurts that run too deep and some damage that is not repairable without destroying something else, first.  Secondly, it might well be that both people are now better off apart.  The shattering of a friendship can be a changing process, after all, and the people involved may have changed substantially.  It is something of a cliche, but loving something or someone often does entail letting them go.  I would argue that loving yourself is also about letting certain things go and moving on from the past.  How can pain be alleviated if some things are not discarded?  

I am not advocating a quick or frivolous end to troubled friendships.  What I am suggesting is that it is not necessarily a failure of yours if a cherished friendship ends.  There is also no use in pretending that all friendships will continue in some capacity for the rest of your life.  Finally, there must come a point when you realize that a friendship is over and cannot be revived.  I do not say that this is easy and I do not claim to be the expert on determining this.  What you cannot allow yourself to do, however, is to live in a past that has ceased having any meaningful connection to the present.  

The fact that you have lost a friend can mean a multitude of things.  It may seem difficult and unfair and painful, but can we truly treasure or appreciate that which it is impossible to lose or be without?  Can we appreciate what we had if we’ll never know its absence?

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