The voice mail or e-mail arrive punctually every few months. “Have been thinking about you so much lately. I miss you. The reason why I haven’t been in touch is blah blah blah” and, at the end “I don’t even remember what happened between us but we should get together”.
My reply, mostly out of guilt and an inability to let go of people I loved, is a subtle variation on “we should definitely get together, this is what I am doing blah blah blah. Call me!”.
About four years ago I broke up with one of my best friends. Definitely the best friend I had in LA. It happened at a Pain Quotidien, over expensive bread and lentil loaf and, in a fit of rage, I told her what I thought and stormed out. All very dramatic really, but, in my (feeble) defense, I was not at my best, going through a rough patch in my private life that my friend had done her best to ease. She said the wrong thing and I jumped on it. And then I let go, regardless of the 13 years of steady friendship, a friendship I courted and that she, not often able to open up completely to even the closest people, trusted. I am sure, in her eyes, she felt betrayed.
In my eyes, everything I found hard about her and had swept under the carpet, suddenly became apparent. As months went by without the daily phone calls that would take up so much of my time, the recounting of perpetual (and funny) disasters that befell her life and her benevolent obsession with everything hip and celebrity driven, I realized I didn’t miss any of it. Or her. And I felt terribly guilty. This is a good person, a generous person – she is introduced me to my husband, she helped me in many ways more than once – how could I feel that way?
Four years in, I still feel ambivalent about not seeing her anymore. Discussing this with sofagirl a few weeks ago, she – more pragmatic in these matters than me – rolled her eyes and said “Why can’t you accept it’s over?”. Why indeed?
For a long time I operated under the premise that if I fell in love with someone, or was attracted to someone, for good reasons, what was the point of letting them go completely? Most of the important men in my life are still in it, in some form or another: the occasional e-mail or phone call or, in the case of one in particular, a close friendship carried on long distance. Just because love ended, it doesn’t mean I don’t still admire the qualities I was attracted to at the beginning.
When it comes to friendships, it’s a bit more complicated. Some friendships are born of shared circumstances or geographical location and you know going in they will die a natural death when circumstances or location change. My deepest bonds have survived moves, oceans, time differences and the like and are still going as strong as day one (sofagirl and my childhood friend Silvia are two cases in point). Recently I reconnected with my best friend in elementary school and found out we have more in common than I thought at 17, when our lives took different paths. I thrive within friendships, especially female ones, to the point of being incapable of letting them go when they are no longer healthy. It happens but, in my fairy book of friendships, it shouldn’t.
From a practical point, if we held on to every person we ever liked, life would be too crowded. It’s a matter of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Relationships are not immune to this evolutionary theory and recognizing when something has run its course is a blessing. The telling tale, in the case of my LA friend, was that I did not miss her chatter. Or her. At a remove, I looked at the circumstances she constantly complained about, as being caused by herself which I was complicit in perpetuating by indulging her stories. I loved her very much, and I still think of her as a beautiful person, inside and out, generous and smart and caring who taught me a lot. And it might be this perceived debt that makes it so hard to let her go completely. I can’t find the words to say “Our lives have moved on. It’s ok if we do too”.
In a conversation over a year ago, one of those phone calls I cram with facts and figures to skirt around the issue, I told her I had started blogging. “I don’t read blogs. On principle” she replied. I am sure for good personal reasons. But yet another passive aggressive sign we are not willing to share our daily occurrences anymore.
So, why pretend? The step from friend to acquaintance is an awkward one. I could do the cowardly thing and e-mail her this post. But, better still, I should pick up the phone and express my feelings with candor and love – if nothing else to lighten the load of things that sometimes keep me up at night (and to avoid sofagirl’s Skype eye rolling).
Images found in the public domain