March 17, 2011

Until It is Gone

It may be a cliché but is quite true: you don't know what you have until it is gone. That can apply to health, or financial stability, or in this case, friendship. Within the last few weeks someone I considered one of my closest friends severed ties with me (and a lot of others). Due to circumstances that aren't important to this narrative, he and his wife felt compelled to make a rather abrupt change to major parts of their lives. In doing so, I have lost two of the more important people in my life.

It hurts and has left a large hole. At first I was stunned and quite upset, almost upset enough to do something rash on my part. A day or two later I knew the more appropriate response was to take a deep breath and move on. But, the events of this period have made it abundantly clear to me the importance of friendship and the impermanence of a human relationship.

What bothers me about the loss, I admit, are  selfish concerns.  I will miss seeing this fellow on a regular basis. We used to have contact at least twice a week, sometimes more. I looked forward to being with him, sharing time and thoughts, and having him as a springboard for ideas and concerns. We had different political views and some of our spiritual beliefs were not entirely in sync. But, we still enjoyed each other's company in spite of, or maybe because of, our differences.

If I needed help I knew with complete certainty he would be there for me, and me for him. A ride somewhere, a shared meal, a question about a subject one of us had some expertise in, moral and spiritual support....there was never any doubt that we would be there for each other. Watching movies, eating home cooked meals as two couples...we shared quite a bit. Now, that link has been cut.

There is certainly the chance that this friendship will restart though I'm beginning to have my doubts. For now, I must wait for him to signal that that he wants to make contact again.

While this has been a disappointing experience for me, there is a broader message. Change in life is what happens. Anything that you or I think is rock solid, predictable, and dependable is an illusion. There is nothing that stays the same. There is nothing that can't be shattered in an instant.

Friendship is one of those things that makes our life richer and fuller. It is to be treasured and savored. It is to be nurtured and protected and fought for. But, if something happens that brings it to an end then be thankful for the time you had to enjoy and enrich each other. Wish the other person the very best and keep the door open for a new chapter together.

Then, move forward. It does me no good to try to turn back the clock, wonder what I am missing, or think I could have changed what happened. Friendship is one of those things that can't be forced and can't be prolonged. It is a gift for the time it is available. I press on, better for the experience and stronger for the events of the past two weeks.

Have you had an important friendship end? Was it because you or the other person moved or was it simply a falling out? How did you react? I'd appreciate your sharing. It would help me understand what I have gone through.


  1. A few months back I was told by my church of eight years that since I have publicly stated that I believe the earth is more than 6,000 years old they would be taking my membership privileges away from me. I told them that if that is the case my wife and I will be immediately leaving the congregation.

    My wife and I are like many in that most of our social life was in the church. Of course after leaving most of our then friends have unofficially severed contact with us. Being older this was quite a blow and given our limited social interaction in our senior years it will be hard to fill this hole in our lives.

    I have found a Christian denomination that is much more willing to accept different interpretations of the Bible but my wife is still not ready to move on. I am patiently waiting for her to come around but patience is definitely not one of my virtues :)

  2. RJ,

    The loss of friendships as we get older is especially difficult. There are usually years of history together that can't be replaced. For whatever reason it seems more difficult to develop deep friendships as we age.

    In your case all of this has caused a rift at home, too. I pray you and your wife will find the answers you both need. Thank you for sharing such a personal glimpse into your life.

  3. Hey Bob,
    I understand your hurt. My closest friend, growing up as a teenager,and I had drifted apart after my family moved to Arizona from Minnesota during our senior years of high school.
    He married before I did and traveled to AZ to be my best man when I was married in 1976. We both began working, supporting and raising our families and life seperated us for about 30 yrs. One day I was excited to reconnect with him on FB and discovered we had some common interests, specifically scuba diving. As we began to reconnect I made an insensitve comment about a subject that I knew we both had the same feelings about when we were young and I thought we still did. Turns out he had made a 180 degree change in some of his beliefs and was offended by my comment. I felt terrible and wrote him a very heart felt apology to which his only response was "apology accepted." He had nothing more to say. I was hurt by that and felt that if that was all he had to say that he really wasn't interested in being friends.
    We have both moved on but it still hurts.

  4. Good morning Duncan,

    The Bible says the tongue is the most dangerous part of the body. It can inflict wounds that never heal. It is also the part of the body we seem to use the most. That causes problems.

    I can't begin to count the number of times I have said something that I wish I could retract a second later, but here is no rewind in life.

    As a former president is famous for saying, "I can feel your pain." We have all been there, but that doesn't make it any easier to take. Thanks for sharing your story this morning, my friend.

  5. I have a one friendship that has, I guess, died a natural death. But I've never really understood why, and to this day, I am still bothered by it.

    I had another very strong friendship that seemed to have died also, but that one may be evolving into a more casual friendship now. That's different, but I think ultimately, that will be good.

  6. Good topic, and one thats not often talked about.
    It's a part of getting older that you really don't think about till it happens!

    In the last five years my three closest friends have moved a long way away. They are friends that I've had since my children were babies and before, our kids grew up together and we've been there for each other through divorces, sickness, ageing parents and child rearing. T

    At the same time I've been pretty disconnected from the world looking after Dad and then having a long period of illness. It feels very strange that they are not around and it's really not easy to make new friends when your busy working and not involved in things through the kids.

    Its odd that there is no one to call if something goes wrong. And strange having no friends that share the last 30 years with me, sort of a loss of some of my identity really.

    I guess it's all part of the changes we have to make, and new friends do come along as we get involved in different things.

  7. Syd & Louise,

    Both of you share the net result of the loss of a friend: hurt and confusion that doesn't quickly go away.

    When someone moves far away it is more understandable that a relationship is going to suffer. No matter how much we promise to write or call, being unable to have physical contact with someone really puts a strain on what was before.

    The friendship loss that is unexplained or left in limbo is the more difficult. You are not quite sure what to do or say. Should you "give them their space" or should you continue to reach out?

    Louise, the loneliness factor is very real. We all need someone to reach out to and be a shoulder to our crying. You have identified the only cure: involvement in new activities that expose us to new people.

    Ladies, thanks for your openness.

  8. Because this experience is quite personal I have removed the individual's name and posted it as anonymous. But, the story he tells is so strong and so much on point for this post I want to include his thoughts.

    Wow....what a kick in the teeth. Ouch! A few years ago I was kicked out of an informal rock band by my "friends" who thought I just wasn't a good enough musician. I had been under the impression that we were in it for fun and the joy of music, and I actually thought ( and never said) that we were pretty bad in general, but it didn't matter. Subsequently, I landed in a very good band and I'm having even more fun.
    What applies here is my interaction with my former fiends and bandmates in my small community. I encountered one of the guitarists soon after the split and he was, shall we say....cold. Then...another former bandmate joined the gym where I work out. I had a choice to make. I decided that I was not going to be the one who would be an ()hole like that guitarist. I was cordial, even friendly. My closest friend, who knows how hurt I had been, watched with astonishment....he also knows I have a temper. I just said it wasn't worth carrying around the load of hate that could easily fester and grow.
    I'm glad I took the high road. I encountered the other guitarist recently, and he seemed to want to make ammends. The guy at the gym and I are quite comfortable with each other. I have no desire to be friends with these people...I know they do not share my idea of what a committed friendship entails. I am glad that I curbed my initial angry impulses, acted the gentleman, and dispensed with the hurt. I am a bad person(?) because I feel a little self-satisfied about this. I certainly learned a lesson and will try to act "grown-up" again, if need be.

  9. There is nothing for me to add that would be any strong than what the gentleman has said about friendship gone bad and how we react.

  10. I GAVE UP HAVING FRIENDS BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL. Total waste of time. You could be friends for years but then say something stupid and oops, relationship over. I don't like that. I don't like goodbyes or developing a relationship with someone, only to have it end and then never see them again.

    Have you tried making friends on facebook? Much, much better. Don't get along? Just hit delete. Also, buy or rescue a dog. They make way better, loyal friends than anything.

  11. Hi Anonymous,

    While I don't agree with you about Facebook friends being a replacement for the real thing, I am with you on dogs. Their loyalty and steadfastness will never waver.

  12. We also have another couple from over 35 years ago, that we kept the friendship going, even though we both moved many times, and what a surprise to find out that they were building a house not far from us. However, they both had become born again Christians and tried to convert us many times. When they found out we did not want to study the bible with them, and pray all the time, they cut us out of their lives.

    What hurts is that they kept other friends -we found out that they felt that as "best friends" and such long lasting friends, we should convert to their beliefs. Their other friends here did not even know they were born again and were never told so by them. I have not called them in over 4 years now and have no interest in trying to salvage this long term relationship. If they were truly good Christians, they would honor our wish that we are Catholic, happy being so and did not want to follow their religious belief. So sad that it came to that.
    I am sure there are many stories out there from others!

  13. Hi Amanda,

    That is sad that the friendship ended in such an unpleasant way. As I read the comments coming in today it is almost like reading about a divorce. The hurt and pain is every bit as deep.

    I sincerely appreciate your sharing.

  14. I feel your pain! My husband and I had a couple that we did almost everything with and while I did not like the wife that much, the two husbands were good friends, so I tolerated the wife when we did couple things. And we did a lot of movies, eating out and sightseeing together and sharing stories of our kids and grandkids.

    But, abruptly one day, she ended the friendship and her husband never had the nerve to call my husband and keep things going with him. I never knew why she decided to end it and never asked. I knew from past experience that she would latch onto a couple and once they slighted her (in her mind, but whenever she would tell me why she severed the former couple friends relationships, I always thought she was so wrong) she would eliminate them from their lives.

    I always joked with hubby that one of these days, it will be us. And I was not wrong. While this happened 3 years ago, it still hurts. While I understand we did no wrong, she perceived something incorrectly and decided to not find out the truth and cut us out of their lives. It hurts.

    Just wanted you to know that it does happen to all of us. We have moved on and have some couple friends that we socialize with, but never the same as before.

  15. Hello Anonymous,

    Again, I am reminded of the pain of a divorce when I read your story. Isn't it unfortunate how a misinterpretation can tear apart a friendship. You hope the person involved will give you the chance to talk it out, but that isn't always the case.

    Again, a painful memory I appreciate you sharing.

  16. Friendships have their own cycle. People do as well. Sometimes ties have to be severed to move together as a couple- and you will never know the reason. My overriding opinion is that you should always be open to the friend's return and be willing to just move forward- sometimes not even speaking about the past. Often, I have learned, it was never really about me- but about the place in time they were. If they are truly people to cherish, let them go through their "teen years" of friendship (tantrums, name calling) and be willing to be there for them as they grown (alone or together) into the elderly stage.
    Friends are VERY hard to find as we grow older. I am guessing that is why people tend to reconnect with childhood friends (as I have) or move very close to adult children (as my mother has).

  17. Hi Janette,

    A very thoughtful comment. I think you have summarized the most productive approach when you said, " I have learned, it was never really about me- but about the place in time they were."

    That strikes me as a great way of looking at this situation. It is painful, but it is really out of our control.

  18. Bob,
    I feel cheated because I have never been in such a situation. It's my own fault, I guess. I somehow never made a close friend in my life. The best thing you can say is that you never suffer like you did. I grew up suspicious of people and never risked letting my guard down, only making superficial relationships.
    I have never understood how I never learned this but I suspect I just repeated patterns I learned from my parents although maybe that's unfair.
    Anyway you have something to miss which is important in life. If you never have anything that is important enough to miss, there is something wrong. I just don't know what to do about it.

  19. Hi Ralph,

    By the time you read this you should be vacationing at Lake Tahoe. Enjoy your time away from computers and blogs!

    I am sorry that you have not experienced a close friendship. It does add a very important dimension to your life that can't be replicated in any other way.

    Men, in particular, are not good at friendship-building. I had lots of male acquaintances during my working days, but none that I would consider close. This post would never had been written 10 years ago because I didn't have a relationship that I cared that much about.

    Only after I retired have I had the time and mindset that allowed me to open up enough to get close to another person. Of course, that opens you up to disappointment and hurt. But, I've decided those risks are worth it.

  20. What an important message for me. I have two friendships that I continue to cling to although they are no longer reciprocated.

    One friend was my best friend growing up. Our adult lives went in different directions, but I always kept in touch with her and her parents, who were like my second parents. Her parents are now gone and I see that over the years the connection has been very one sided.

    The other friend has been the best friend of my adult life. In recent years, however, she has gradually quit reaching out to me. Like the other friendship, it has become one sided.

    Neither one has made an abrupt move like your friend, so it is harder, perhaps, for me to confront honestly the fact that these friendships no longer matter to them, or at least don't matter enough to make an effort to maintain them.

    Accepting change. Letting go. Moving on. I really needed to hear this. Thank you so much.

  21. I personally ended a relationship with a friend. Bottom line we began growing in different directions. She was one of the first friends I made when moving to AZ 3 years ago. Met her at a networking group.

    I think of her as my transitional friend. She helped me with my transition and I shared my wisdom with her for different situations.

    I've learned that when friends move on it's a gift for both. I gave her room in her life for another friend and made room in my own for a new friend.

    I was to the point I dreaded being with her...she deserved to have a friend enjoy her.

    There is a meditation you can do for "cutting the emtional cord." It may help...Google it.

  22. Hi Galen,

    It has been awhile since I've seen a comment from you. Glad you stopped by!

    The "unrequited" type of friendship fade is probably worse than when there is a clean break. You just don't know where you stand and aren't sure how to proceed.

    "Accepting change. Letting Go." Your approach for dealing with these friends is the most logical one to take.

  23. Good afternoon, Tess,

    The type of friendship that is maintained even after it has served its purpose for both parties is probably rather common. We are creatures of habit who resist change until the bitter end.

    I like the idea that the end of a friendship can be a gift for both. And, I will definitely Google "cutting the emotional cord."

  24. Here in New Zealand,I thought it was just me with the previous problems people have.So its great to see i'm not alone,and maybe it not me but life.I have many friends as I belong to 9 different clubs,BUT its the close friends that are hard to develop,and keep,one in particular have known for 10 years spent a lot of time together traveling in our motorhomes and know all there idiosyncratic ways and now find them odd,this is sad,I assume they may find us odd to.But at 63 I guess I will have to suffice with out the long term friends
    kind regards lyn (MR)
    ps this is my first attempt at a blog or blog reply,very greatfull to have found it

  25. Hi Lordlyn,

    I am so pleased your first blog comment was here. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts. I hope you will be a regular reader and visitor. I put up a fresh post every Monday and Thursday (Tues & Fri for you!).

    You are absolutely correct: it is the close friend that is most difficult to hang onto as we age. They change, we change. What made the friendship work so well just doesn't click anymore.

    Most of the comments so far make it clear that this is just the nature of things. We should be grateful for the memories and move forward.

    And, you are definitely not alone.

  26. Bob, I often stop by but don't always comment. Your blog is terrific and I wouldn't miss it!

    As for the friendship fade, I'm encouraging myself to move on, but without consistent success. For example, I just left a message the other day for one of the friends I mentioned. Not surprising, she didn't call back. Sigh. I might need to read yoru post again!

  27. Hi Galen,

    One way friendships don't work, do they! A few non-returned calls or messages could have a very innocent explanation. But, after several over a period of time the message is rather clear.

    Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I'm glad you enjoy it. If it helps I'll be your cyber-friend!

  28. Hi Bob,

    Strange how I clicked on your post right after a lady told me she no longer wanted to follow my blog because I did not visit hers often enough and comment. We all have different interests and cannot "force" ourselves to feel a connection when there isn't one. At least that's in the blogging world. As far as "true" friends, I've had to sever two relationships in my life, and the only reason was because in both cases, I felt "used." My husband agreed with me. Both were ladies, about 15 years older than me, who after a year or so, expected me to be available to drop everything and be with them several times a week, when I had my own family, kids, and no time. I liked them a lot and sometimes put them before my family, which forced me to end the relationships. I found out that others had dropped them before me, and could not understand why, until I suffocated. They could not understand this. It does hurt though. Knowing the reason why? makes it seem less painful perhaps.

  29. To all who have left comments on this post:

    Just so you know, my wife and I went to church and had a great breakfast together with another dear set of friends. They were caught up in the same abrupt change referred to in the post. The four of us agreed this morning that time very well might heal the break. In the meantime we'll enjoy each other's company and be glad we are together.

  30. Hi Gutsywriter (Sonia),

    I must admit the response to this post has really amazed me. I had no idea so many were suffering from this particular aspect of "friendship gone bad."

    The situation where someone begins to think that you "owe them" or that it is your duty to make them happy can degenerate into something quite toxic. While I haven't experienced what you describe I can certainly understand it happening.

    Blogging is an odd beast: you share personal parts of yourself but can't really develop a normal relationship with a reader because most of the usual interactions are missing. That said, dropping someone from your life because of a lack of comments on a blog doesn't seem particularly rational.

  31. I would be honored and pleased to be your cyber-friend. Thanks!