We never anticipate a friendship to end.
In the beginning, you meet someone, make a connection. As you start to do more and more together, you optimistically think that it is a friendship that will last for years to come. You go out, have fun, and form close bonds. You laugh together. Cry together. Share your fears and dreams. That person becomes the someone that you call on whenever anything happens in your life, good or bad. They become a sounding ground. A friend that you can trust to give you honest advice, even if isn’t what you want to hear. You go to the mall or a movie together. Join a gym to get in shape together. Or simply stay in to vent about your day and have a glass of wine.
Then suddenly, without warning, things are different. You aren’t talking as often, and conversations become stiff and short. Seeing one another becomes basically non-existent. When those friendships come to a screeching halt, you wonder what happened. When it is someone you consider to be a best friend, it makes the severed tie is even more painful.
This very thing happened to me recently. A really good friend decided to call it quits just as quickly as we’d become close.
Natalie and I met on a Monday by chance as part of a new women’s walking group that was starting up in our neighborhood. We were the only two to actually show up, so we decided to walk anyway. What was planned to be a half hour walk turned into over an hour and a half as we got to know one another. Natalie was one of those people that you felt you’d known your entire life. With her high energy, outgoing personality, and cheerful spirit, she was easy to talk to. My usually quiet self didn’t have any problem filling in the blank spaces in conversation with her. Before we knew it, it was growing dark. We agreed to meet up again on Wednesday to walk again.
Those walks turned into 2-3 times per week, sometimes ending in a glass of wine at one of our houses when we still hadn’t said all we wanted for the evening. Walks and wine turned into trips to the mall. We double dated with our husbands, and had each other over for game nights. If one of us had a bad day, the other would be over in an instant with ice cream and a shoulder to cry on. We started planning vacations together. When moving from the neighborhood came up in conversation, we even talked about moving to the same area so that we still lived close by. Over the course of just a couple of months, Natalie and I became super close.
Natalie’s birthday was coming up. She wanted to get away for her big day and talked about my husband and myself going away for a weekend with her and her husband. The guys had no interest in going, as it turns out. We still talked about and planned the trip anyway, deciding to go without them. A couple more of her friends were invited, turning it into a girls trip. We chatted about that trip nearly every day during our walks, when we went out, or through text. We got advice over what clothes to bring, places we wanted to check out, and how excited we were to get away.
The trip came and went, and although I had a lot of fun, I did feel excluded at times. Maybe it is my quiet nature, but I do tend to sit back and observe when in a group of more than two or three. I wait to be spoken to, not one to jump in on a conversation that I feel doesn’t concern me. On top of that, my opinion on the trip was always asked last. I brought this up to Natalie on the way home, telling her my feelings were a little hurt. After all, we’d shared everything with one another. She was one of the few people that I felt I could let my guard down with and truly express myself.
That conversation changed everything.
Instead of talking about it, Natalie pulled back. After talking nearly every single day, we were hardly communicating at all. She felt that I needed her undivided attention, and couldn’t be part of a group. She also brought up that she was upset that I didn’t take her advice on my job situation or our upcoming adoption. Because of this, she said that she needed to take a break. Even though we’d done things as a group before the trip, suddenly I was made to be irrational, and I believed it. I kicked myself for bringing it up in the first place. That if I’d just held my feelings in, things would be fine between us. That if I was more outgoing like her other friends, we would still be close.
I cried, let my feelings out to my husband, and spent countless hours wondering what I did wrong and regretting opening myself up to her. The what if’s kept me up at night, replaying the scenario out in my mind. I re-read the few text messages we’d exchanged, trying to read between the lines and find fault in what I’d said. I wondered what would have happened if I had acted on what she’d advised me to do.
Then suddenly I realized, I didn’t do anything wrong. True, I wasn’t perfect in the situation, but things weren’t completely my fault either. If our friendship had been as strong as I’d thought, my one comment wouldn’t have broken us. We should have been able to talk and sort things out, then move on with our lives just as close as before. I realized that her advice was just that; advice. If what she thought wasn’t right for myself and my husband, it didn’t have to be acted upon. Above all, I shouldn’t have had to hide my feelings and walk on eggshells for fear of the outcome.
It’s true that in losing a friend, you still go through the five stages of grief. At first, I denied anything was wrong between us, then I became angry at myself for speaking up. I bargained, wondering what I could have done differently, feeling like it could have changed the outcome. The depression lasted the longest. But then the sadness turned in to accepting that things were not going to go back to how they were. And you know what? I was okay with that. After four months, I was able to find closure in Natalie’s decision to pull back from our friendship. It’s as if a weight has lifted from my shoulders in accepting how things turned out.
Beginning the Healing Process
Finding closure was not an overnight process. It did take time, and certain actions had to be taken. Below are a few things I found really helped in letting go of the anger and finding happiness again:
- Writing a Letter.
The purpose of the letter isn’t to actually send it. It’s to let everything out into the open. It is so therapeutic to just let it all out. All of the feelings, the hurt, and the anger. You can certainly send the letter if you want to. I chose not to send mine. I didn’t see how, in my situation, it would help. But it did end up being four pages of clearing my head, and that is when I finally started to feel better.
- Finding New Interests
Find new interests or get back into something you love and enjoy. It may be something you put on the back burner. Join a club or a group to meet new people or do something for yourself. Get your hair done. Get a manicure or pick out a new outfit. Make it something that will make you feel good. You may find a new passion you never knew you had. For me, it was picking up writing again.
- Accept and Forgive
Don’t get too caught up in feelings of anger and hatred over whatever happened. Accept what happened and forgive. Forgive the (ex) friend and forgive yourself. Don’t play the ‘what-if’ game. It can go on forever if you let it. Realize that the outcome was what it was. Learn something from it if you can and take the lessons with you into future relationships. It does no good to blame yourself or anyone else.
- Remembering the Good Times.
This one comes later, but it is okay to remember the good times with a smile. After all, the person was a special part of your life at one point, so you likely do have more good memories than bad. It doesn’t have to be just remembering how it ended or in feelings of bitterness.
Natalie and I still exchange words now and then, but it is usually just asking how each other are every few weeks. We don’t elaborate on our lives any longer, and the conversations are short. We’ve seen one another just a handful of times, but it definitely isn’t the same. We’re more of acquaintances, keeping it cordial and exchanging pleasantries. Will our friendship ever repair itself? I don’t know. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility. It will have to be something that we both want and there will have to be a lot of healing. Then again, it may turn out that we just stop talking altogether. I’m in a place of acceptance, so whatever does happen between us, I am okay with it.