July 27, 2011

Until It is Gone....and Then Returns

In mid-March I wrote about the unexpected loss of a friendship. A couple, who my wife and I counted among our very best friends, suddenly pulled away from all contact with us and everyone else they knew. That post, Until it is Gone, generated as many passionate comments as any on this blog to date. It showcased the importance of relationships to a satisfying retirement.

The gain or loss of friendships can affect us deeply. Many of the comments left on that post talked about how friendships seem to fade away over time, leaving a gaping hole. Many times we don't even know the real reason why someone disappears from our life. At least in our situation we knew why the couple pulled away. Since it had nothing to do with us we hoped that when the particular storm had passed from their life we might re-establish a relationship, albeit somewhat different than before.

About two months ago we began to receive a trickle of contact from them: an e-mail here or there, a request for information, a forwarded video clip from someone else. We followed up with responses that were pleasant, but put no pressure on them to take any additional steps. If time heals most wounds we wanted to give them all the space they needed. Then, a few weeks later we received a direct invitation to join them at an event that they thought would interest us. Betty and I attended, again being careful to not make more out of that contact than was implied.

From that point on, the friendship rapidly reformed. Meals together and church functions we shared both as couples and as men and women begin to appear on our calendar. The original problem that caused the separation will always leave deep scars. But, the couple realized that pulling away from people who love them at exactly the time when that support is needed the most was not allowing them to move on.

I am happy to report that the friendship has been restored in all its former glory. The four of us have undergone some major adjustments in our lives but understand we are better together than apart. What lessons can I draw from this experience?

Authentic Friendship is worth fighting for. I don't know if it is as a result of social media or the fact that many of us stay home and use the TV or streaming movies as our entertainment option. But leaving the house to meet others and build friendship bonds seems to be happening less and less. As we age, friendships naturally fade away: people move, get sick, die, change interests, get divorced...the list is endless. It is harder to meet new folks and harder still to develop a deep connection. If there is an important friendship in your life, do everything you can to feed it and strengthen it.

Patience is required. We are an instant gratification society. When we want something we want it now. Reality check: what we want sometimes doesn't happen. The situation i have just described would have been either permanently damaged or set back for a time if I had pushed the other couple. I had to wait until they were ready and took the first tentative steps. Even then, I found it best to discuss what had caused them to separate from everyone only when they brought it up. Over time the issues have been exposed and now both couples are moving forward. Even better, that couple is initiating contact with others who were shut out so their social circle is reestablishing itself.

Being judgmental would have destroyed everything. There is no way I can judge whether our friends should have handled the situation differently because I am not them. My initial reaction was they handled it wrong. But, I think that was my hurt talking. Within just a few days of the breakup I was better able to process what had happened.

Betty and I talked quite a bit about the situation and how we should proceed. We both concluded that we may have responded in exactly the same way if we had been the ones experiencing what they had gone through. My initial judgment was selfish and incorrect. If I had expressed my flawed interpretations the friendship might have suffered fatal damage.

It feels so good to have this couple back in our life, actually stronger than before. It reminds us that friendship and human relationships are so much more important than debt ceilings, or politics, or ......just about anything. Our Satisfying Retirement depends on it.

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  1. There's an old saying (and I have learned the hard way to follow it) "if you want to have peace in your life, keep your mouth shut."

    I do. And I do.


  2. Morrison,

    I saw your post today. That seems to be speaking pretty loudly!

  3. I am delighted to learn that it WAS never really about you. I am also glad that you and your wife are wise enough to be open in friendship. That openness will continue to serve you well:>) Janette

  4. I am glad you learned that it was not about you. I am also delighted that you and your wife found the wisdom to keep the door open when they were ready to return to your friendship. Keep up the faith!

  5. Janette & JBO,

    Thank you both for the kind comments. We knew from the beginning the reason for the breakup and that it had nothing to do with us. Still, when a friend is hurting you want to be able to comfort and support him and that opportunity was missed.

    But, all is well now. As you both noted, I am so happy that it has worked out and I didn't compound the problems by acting for my best interests instead of theirs.

  6. Bob,
    I (we) don't have any such relationships. I suspect we don't know how to relate on that level. Therefore it is difficult to respond. Probably we have an empty part of our life but it is much like being born without an arm or leg. You manage and don't dwell. What it does make me wonder is how many people might have attempted to form a relationship with me over time. And what makes me blind to them- or more likely people recognize my limitations and just leave me alone. Way off from your topic. Reading your blog sometimes makes me feel like I'm spying on a different dimension.

  7. Ralph,

    Reading your blog and reading your comments I sometimes wonder if you are being too hard on yourself. Your blog writing shows someone who is perceptive of his strengths and shortcomings and is willing to make changes as required. Building a relationship may be out of your comfort zone but I have little doubt you are quite capable of doing so.

    I can only speak for me, but a few solid male friends are important to me. I don't spend a lot of time with them in any particular week. But, I know they are there when I need them.

  8. It is good to have some friends of your own-eventually either you or your spouse will die. Noone likes to think about these things. But if you have friends, they can make all the difference.

  9. Donna,

    Good point about the future. Besides family I want to be able to have someone else I can call on and I can be there for them.

  10. Hi, Bob... I read your post on returning friendships with great interest. I did so because I'm always troubled whenever a friendship ends. I seem to have a difficult time with the separation. But the truth is that friendships evolve... sometimes they strengthen, sometimes they don't. Another interesting thing which I've observed is that friendships have a purpose. That is, we befriend another because we have something in common. But, as time goes on, and as our lives change, we may well find that we've (both we and our friend) have moved in different directions. In fact, I have a few friends who, were I to first meet them today, we wouldn't now become friends. That's because, though we had something significant in common those many years ago, we have little in common today. Bill

  11. Hi Bill,

    The evolving nature of friendships, actually all human relationships, is an excellent point. I tried to restart a friendship with a fellow who I roomed with while working at a radio station in the late 60s in upstate New York. He ended up in San Diego were we arranged to meet at a bar and catch up. We hadn't seen each other in 35 years...and had nothing in common to talk about. After a rather strained 45 minutes we parted.

    Marriage is a common victim of the growing differently. Luckily for me (and you & Wendy) we have figured that part out!

  12. I just had a conversation earlier today with a friend about friendships that have faded with time. Patience and lack of judgment or pressure might keep the door open for reconnection, and that is certainly what I have tried to do. However, from time to time I wonder if it would be better to let go and move on. Each relationship is different, of course. Your post has given me a different perspective to consider with respect to the two friendships I have in mind. Thank you. Meanwhile, I have noticed that in my new retirement life, I have made more time for new friends and I'm enjoying building these new relationships.

  13. Galen,

    Since all of life is about change in one form or another, friendships follow along. One of the exciting things about our changing churches recently is we can hold on to old friends and meet new folks, too. It takes work but it makes life more meaningful. Good luck in your friendship issues.

  14. As a teenager, I was ridiculously shy around my peers and missed a glorious opportunity to make lifelong friendships. I was just beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin and, for the first time, forging something that could (perhaps generously) be called friendship with my high school classmates, when suddenly school was over.

    I naively assumed that, as a group, we would continue to connect with each other during holidays or summer break, but within about 18 months, I had seen most of them for the last time, save for a single class reunion some dozen years after graduation.

    Moving into the work world, I found it much easier to fit in with colleagues who knew nothing of my social shortcomings of just a few years earlier. But, the thing that I have noticed with stunning regularity over 30 odd years in the work force is that even friendships that seem destined to last forever come to a rather abrupt end when the working relationship no longer exists. I'm quite confident that, if I left my current employer today, I would never see anyone from that company again, unless by accident.

    And, after an undefined "cooling off" period, I find it awkward to even attempt to carry on a decent conversation with former office friends that I might run into from time to time. I don't know how (or if I should even make the effort) to bridge the gap between who I was when we worked together and who I am now.

    Now in my early 50's, as someone someone who gets along with most people who cross my path (and tolerates the rest), if I was to take inventory of the real friendships retained from over 3 decades in the work force, I would only come up with one name. Childhood friends are long gone and it recently occurred to me that I have no current contact with anyone (aside from immediate family) who knew me before I was about 35 years of age.

    I've gone from someone who, in my 20's and 30's, would be the first arrival at every party and the last to leave, to someone who never socializes and who easily goes all year without making or receiving a personal phone call, (again, aside from immediate family).

    Right this minute, I don't consider this growing isolation to be much of a hardship, but as I stare into the looming abyss of retirement, I wonder how it will affect me.

  15. Anonymous,

    You story is probably quite common. I know I can relate. I had lots of friends in junior and senior high school, but didn't stay in touch as soon as I left for college.

    While attending Syracuse University I had a few close friends, enough so that two of them attending my wedding in West Virginia several years later. But, I'd have absolutely no idea where they are now. That wedding day 35 years ago was the last time we had contact.

    I worked alone for the last twenty years of my career so friendships were few and far between.

    Just within the past six or seven years have I made a concerted effort to develop solid adult friendships.

    Because so few of us are born, grow up, and age in one area, this impermanence of friendships is the norm. And, that is too bad. I know two couples who were born in Phoenix and have spent their entire lives here. They have friendships and relationships with any number of folks. But, there story is not typical.

    Like you, I worry about isolation as I age so I taking active steps to change my pattern.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your story and thoughts.


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