Is there a support group for friendship breakups? It has been a while since I truly went through one, but I find myself still haunted by friends long gone every now and again. What a strange and gut-punch of a thing it is when someone you care about very much has drops out of your life. As I reflect on every friend I’ve loved and lost, I've been thinking about the hard deal of being friends, and the heartbreak that comes when that deal doesn't work out.
I think, or at least, I like to think we've all been through a friendship breakup at one point or another in our lives. And every time it is newly devastating, and confusing, and hurts like a motherfucker, and still no one really talks about it.
Maybe we think it's only okay to get your heart broken by people who have also seen you naked. This is not entirely faulty logic, but I have to say that I love my friends pretty fucking fiercely, and when it doesn't work out it feels a little like someone is seeing me completely naked under fluorescent lights and cringing heavily. So it's at least comparable.
When I was in elementary school, I had a good friend, who I will call Melanie, that I one day decided not to be friends with anymore. I was a mean little girl for a bunch of reasons that ultimately sound like excuses for my shitty behavior. So we won't bother with that. But what it amounts to is that one day I decided to break up with Melanie. Because I didn't think she was fun anymore, and I didn't want to have to put up with her. And so I did what any responsible and embittered 9 year old would do, and took her for a walk during recess, to tell her we weren't going to be friends anymore. After having been best friends for almost half our tiny lives.
But what happened next is what I really remember. She cried and she said, "Well you're just being mean. And you're going to grow up and be old and alone in a rocking chair with no friends at all."
I think at the time, I laughed about it. I laughed about it a lot actually because I thought Melanie was boring and lame and I didn't want to be her friend anyway. What did I care if she thought I was going to be alone when I got old?
This was my first friendship break-up, but it wasn't my last. In middle school there would be full on warfare, with notes passed striking signed deals between people who'd agreed not to be friends with me anymore. In high school there would be a series of MySpace messages that culminated in the very blunt end of close friendships that had spanned nearly a decade. In college there would be several friends who dropped off the planet during relationships, and never orbited back my way. Every loss was painful in its own way, and every time I would think back to my stupid, smug laughing face in fifth grade when Melanie said I was going to end up alone in a rocking chair.
**Just very quickly, it’s okay! I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by some really wonderful, kind, generous, hilarious friends. But I do think often about all the friends I have lost on my way to this point. About how each of them is walking around with our shared memories and a little part of my heart, to this very day.**
In the years since my brutal walk with Melanie, I have regretted so much that I ever did that to her. I think all the time about how incredibly cruel it was, and what it must have felt like to be blindsided by a good friend who is suddenly hurting you on purpose because they have randomly decided to think you're boring. I ran into her once at a coffee house, several months ago now, but we interacted like we didn't recognize each other. I thought again and again about going back and apologizing to her for what I'd said in fifth grade. To tell her that I was a shitty kid, and that I am probably still pretty shitty, but that I thought she should know I felt terrible about it. And then I thought that I would really only be doing that for my own benefit. And I comforted myself to think that maybe she didn't even remember me at all or care. Maybe she was living a wonderful life full of amazing friends who valued her and that if and when she ever thought of me, it was only to think what an idiot I was for not seeing how great she is. In all honesty, I still hope this is true.
We ask our friends to become essential parts of our world. They're the people who are supposed to be around for everything we go through. So much so that people say, "relationships come and go, but friendships are forever." Insane. Because we sometimes treat our friends like they have no choice but to be friends with us. Like they will stick around no matter what kind of shit we throw at them, because somehow magically friendships are just going to last forever. We forget that every relationship takes work. It takes looking out for each other, it takes love and care and patience. It requires your full attention and not just when you can stand to look up from your phone. It requires stupid, uncomfortable conversations and honesty. To be worth anything it requires everything you've got to give. The friends you have are the family you build for yourself. They're the people you invite to be a part of your life, and who you ask to allow you to be part of theirs. They are everything you've got at the end of the day. Why do we take them for granted?
Some time around the shattered confidence that comes with adolescence, I found Melanie's words far less hilarious. I took them as a warning. Dedicated myself to being the best friend I could possibly be. And even still, I would fuck things up for years. I would continue to push people away, step on necks and underestimate the greatness of the people around me. And I hate to admit that I still do this. Though I've at least learned by now to apologize for it. I like to believe that if I always try to give people my best, the break ups will happen less. But inevitably they still happen. And when they do, try as I might to be bigger and stronger than it, they still hurt.
In a conversation with my mom once as I was trying to process a split with a close friend, she said, "Maybe you have to decide to close the door on this relationship. You know, to protect yourself from getting hurt anymore." I liked the idea of it. I think we all love the idea that we have the power to close the door on someone who is rejecting us. I imagined my life like some sort of incredible house party where me and all my friends were inside, and the front door was closed leaving anyone who'd rejected us on the front porch trying to guess what we were dancing to from the bass line they could feel through the floorboards.
But I couldn’t quite believe in that. I didn’t feel like I even had the door to close, just a open door frame where the wind blew through too cold to remind me of the lack of someone on the other side.
So instead I did the only real thing I could do, and waited out the hurt. I had as much fun as I could when I could, and I keep loving the friends I have as much as I can. I was nice to myself and watched Bob Ross videos on YouTube. I remembered that I still have a pretty fucking wonderful life, and anyone who doesn't want in on that party is welcome to decline.
And somewhere else, other people who share a bunch of my same memories are walking around with little parts of my heart in their pocket. I will not call and ask for them back. Instead, each time I think I hear their voice, each time a song reminds me of a time when our friendship was at its height, I will think of them with all the kindness they’ve left me, and I will wish them every happiness we never figured out how to give to each other. After all, friendships are forever.