How do you tell when a friend is gone? When do you know they just don’t care about you anymore? How and when do you stop trying and decide it’s time to let go?
There are so many signs, but how many will it take?
Is it when they stop replying to your attempts at online interaction? You keep doing your best to start some topical chatter, maybe based on something they posted on Facebook; or maybe you drop your best conversation starter into the text box, only to be greeted with… nothing. You leave attempts at witty comments on their statuses, but never get acknowledged. You send videos and music that you’re sure they’d love, but all you get in return is radio silence. The quiet seems ear-shatteringly loud, yet you keep on trying, scrabbling for contact. You can’t let it go just yet; you’ve worked so hard to keep it! Why won’t they come through? They’re probably just busy, you say. Keep trying. They’ll be back soon.
Is it when the deeply personal and fascinating face-to-face conversations you used to have turn into five minute general life updates, occurring only when they just happen to be stuck in your vicinity with no obvious escape route? You end up wondering where all the vigour of previous discussions disappeared to, and long desperately for its return. Are they staying to talk because they want to, or because they have no alternative? You analyse the look on their face: was that an expression of interest, or an impressive attempt to hide sheer contempt? Were they only talking to you because they wanted to be polite, or to avoid a scene? Did they only acknowledge you for the sake of their career? They say you should never burn a bridge, but you thought you were their friend, not a piece of professional infrastructure. Don’t you mean anything to them?
How long does it take to recognise your own tactics in their silence? You start to remember those people from high school, old co-workers or dodgy former housemates you hid from your social media feeds long ago and wonder if they ever noticed your quiet departure from their lives. They were more persistent than you, and you were softer in your rejection; you accepted their “friend” requests and let them believe you were listening to their inane and poorly spelled musings on the world, pretending to soak up their wedding and baby photos. But this is different: you are becoming more and more certain that there is nobody on the other end, where there used to be someone you could turn to reliably for comfort. They weren’t just someone whose name you vaguely remember from a conference, gig or graduation ceremony. You care about them. You showed them your true self. How could they be repaying you with nothing when you have given them so much, and kept so many of their secrets?
Then it comes, the realisation that perhaps you are just being a pest, an irritation, a creep. You start to become afraid that you’re impeding on their personal space, harassing them, overstepping a mark that you didn’t even realise was there. You want desperately to make contact, but find yourself certain that you’ll just smother them with your attention. You count days and weeks between attempts at contact and toss and turn over the thought of a friendly message, phone call or letter. The urge to get in touch is overwhelming, wanting to know what they’re up to and how they’re going and what they think of the latest episode of Game of Thrones or Doctor Who, but you’re certain that you’ll just annoy them. Give them time, give them space, you think. Surely you can wait a little longer? (You can’t. You’ll crack soon enough, only to be greeted by more silence, which in turn makes you anxious that you’re pestering them, rinse and repeat.)
You’ll be suspicious that they’re trying to shake you off their back, but you’ll never know for sure. Don’t expect them to tell you that they’ve had enough, no matter how many times you run over the scenario in your head. It won’t happen. Nobody is ever brave enough to tell the friends they are leaving behind what they need to hear. Half they time they don’t realise what they’ve done until it’s too late, and you’re nothing more than an afterthought on a rainy afternoon. (You know it’s true – you’re just as guilty as they are.)
I let a friend go months ago, but that was different. I wanted to escape from the way I was letting our relationship hurt me, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of spectacular catastrophe, simply by believing it was the only logical outcome. There could have been other possibilities, but the continuing expectation of inevitable disaster and my woe at that circumstance meant that they were all ruled out. I did end up running, and cutting hard and fast, until there I was: lost, without one of the best friendships I’d made in months. I chose to fling it away rather than let it fade, but the latter was always going to be what actually happened.
I tried to patch it up, and it worked for a while. We hung out and we drank and we talked, and then it stopped. One by one, I ticked off the symptoms, and the denial ran deep. I fretted, I got frustrated and I felt awful, knowing all my efforts were getting me nowhere. The cycle had started. The silence is deafening.
Whether he knows it or not, my friend has called off the game. We’re not pals any more; we’re just acquaintances, barely connected by distant shadows of care and shared history. We know each other, that’s all. It’s nice, but it’s also unreliable. You need to be able to rely on friends, and thus we no longer are.
And so I come back to my first question: how do you tell when you’ve lost a friend?
The answer is simple: you will know when you become tired, when the effort outweighs the reward and you are left wondering why you’re trying any more. The card to end the friendship is in their hand, but once it’s played, you will know, no matter how many months or years of denial it takes before you acknowledge it, no longer able to ignore the ache in your head and your heart and everything in between. Maybe they’ll come back to you, but for now you have to accept the loss for what it is. It will hurt like hell, but you will both be free, and that freedom is the best parting gift you can give, both to yourself and to the one you have left behind.
2 thoughts on “Farewell to a Friend (Or "Reluctance")”
Friends are either black holes or radiators : the first suck the life out of you and the second bathe you in a warm glow : figure out which one they are ASAP. Once you've identified the pattern, figure out which ones you are strong enough to keep.
Good luck Noni.
The comment above is true. I think the problem with some friendships, depending on the TYPE of friendship you have… dictates the way it ends.
Let me elaborate. If you find yourself making friends with someone of the opposite sex… someone you may find attractive, you will probably find yourself wanting to make that friendship “more”. Sadly I've had this experience far more times than I care to admit, and I've lost people who I've counted on because I allowed this to happen. I have recently cut ties with a friend who I considered one of my “Best” friends (of the opposite sex). She was kind to me, she was VERY attractive… and she was in a relationship with a guy who treated her like crap. I… fell for her in a way very early on, but I knew nothing would ever happen if I pursued such a relationship, so I kept her as my friend. We fell out of touch just after my last relationship fell off the wagon, when in a drunken stupor I mentioned I had a major crush on her. She took this much worse than I expected (all I wanted to do was laugh it off, but it must of struck a chord in her that I didn't hear) and she started dodging me. It became awkward to be friends, because I felt like I'd now let something out that should never have been said.
Anyway, I cut ties with her after that… because much like in your situation, I saw the end being drawn out and painful. I decided to cut it, and let it die quietly.
About a month ago, she pops up in my inbox asking me how I've been. We got to talking, talking led to arguments… and we sorta-settled our differences. I tried my best to start that friendship up again, but I just could not see the friendship we had months ago coming back… and she didn't make me feel like a friend. I was judging every move she made… and friends don't do that.
So I cut ties again. This time though, I confronted her and stated my reasons. It hit hard, but in the end it felt like the right thing to do.
This marks the second time I've replied to your blog posts with a story of my own, and I still don't arrive at a point that I started out trying to make.
I think, what I'm trying to say is: Maybe it ends up being for the best. Sometimes, fate has it's way of saying “This isn't meant to be”. Whether or not your friendship is platonic, or “something more”… it will show signs of being a waste of time eventually. Only the greatest of friendships survive after all.
I hope you find a light at the end of the tunnel on this issue. 🙂
Sorry again for the blog-post sized reply!