I was wiser in my twenties than I give myself credit for.
In an old blog, in another time, I remember writing, at the tender age of twenty-two, that some friendships had use-by dates. Sadly, I didn’t remember my own advice, and I’ve struggled with the act of letting go all my life.
It’s caused me nothing but heartache. I’ve clung to friendships that were clearly over, to people who clearly didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore, and to scenarios where I was clearly the one without a clue.
I have often wondered, later, in the small still hours of the night, what on earth I was clinging to. Why, I would chastise myself, hands wringing sadly, head shaking sorrowfully, why, why, oh why did I put myself through that? In cases where I should have walked away a long time ago, I stayed; sometimes, inexplicably, I stayed for months. And then it suddenly hit me.
I wasn’t staying hoping to make things better, or hoping for good times to roll around again. I was staying because I couldn’t let go of the past.
It’s a common ailment that many of us face. Not being able to let go of the past. Not being able to bid adieu to the wonderful friend with whom I had so many good memories. Not being able to walk away from the relationship where love had clearly died – not just died, but decomposed – because I couldn’t forget the wonderful times when I had felt in love, and loved. It’s something that I’ve had to learn, and relearn, and constantly reassure myself that it’s okay to put myself first for a change.
Take a recent example of a good friend I’ve been friends with for years. We saw each other through some pretty horrendous times. She lifted me up when I needed it, and I did the same for her. We laughed, we cried, we connected, and we swore we’d be best friends forever.
About that last thing.
A few months ago it became all too obvious that all the reaching out was coming from my side. I confided in her only for her to receive my news coldly, and to dismiss my fears and experiences outright because it happened to a lot of people, not just me. While I blinked in confusion, she logged off abruptly, leaving me to hold my head and ask myself what had just happened.
I sent her a message privately on Facebook asking her if everything was okay, and if I’d done anything to upset her. Typically, I put it all on myself, assuming I had erred in some fashion. Perhaps I had been negligent. Perhaps I had been too caught up with my life to be interested in hers. Perhaps I hadn’t responded to an e-mail or to a message. Perhaps it was me.
In the conversation that had preceded the private message, I had confessed to my friend that I was suffering from severe anxiety attacks as a result of certain stressors in my life right now. She knew that this was the case when she saw the private message from me and then proceeded to ignore it for 24 hours.
Yes, dear reader. Facebook informed me that she had seen the message, because that’s what Facebook does. Then my friend, or so I had thought until that moment, ignored my message for 24 hours, despite knowing I was suffering from crippling anxiety attacks at the time.
While I reeled, freaked out, hyperventilated, and freaked out some more, there was a voice at the back of my mind saying ‘eh, it’s over’. I knew it was. I had known it, I think, for some time. However that didn’t stop me from trying to salvage it for all I was worth. Never mind that the person concerned didn’t care about me or my well-being any more. Never mind that the effort was all one-sided. Never mind that I wasn’t the one with the problem; it was her.
She replied the next day with one line: Nothing is wrong, I’m just busy/having a bad day/ill. I can’t remember which of those excuses she used, and frankly, I can’t be bothered going and digging it up to look. All I know is that it sounded remarkably blase; it was a note from someone who didn’t care. It was also a note from someone who, cruelly, had kept me waiting over 24 hours in a state of panic. Not, as you will surely admit, the actions of a friend.
She had also told a mutual friend of ours that there had been ‘problems’ between her and I for ‘a very long time’. It was the first time I was hearing of it, and it astounded me. You honestly could have knocked me down with a feather. I hadn’t realised that there were problems, and when I’d asked if everything was okay I was told that everything was okay. I realised that you only do that when you no longer care to keep someone around. When you can no longer be bothered to salvage your relationship with someone, you lie. She lied.
I began distancing myself from her right then and there. I no longer acknowledged her, and I no longer cared to. I tried to stop caring, but that took longer to accomplish. In fact, I don’t really think I’m there yet. Perhaps I never will be. Perhaps I will always remember the good times when she and I were friends, and perhaps that’s okay. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
This morning I realised she hadn’t showed up on my Facebook feed for a long time, so I went to see what she’d been up to. Her profile was absolutely blank. I could see nothing except a public change of her cover photo, and a new profile picture which was also public. Everything else was a blank.
I shrugged. What can you do? It had been done. To all intents and purposes, she had unfriended me, but she hadn’t yet hit the button. I wondered why she hadn’t done that. Perhaps she couldn’t let go of me. Hang on, I told myself. She’d already let go of me. Perhaps this then was about being the bad guy. She didn’t want to be the bad guy, unfriending me completely. Perhaps she didn’t want to explain to our mutual friends if I made a fuss. Or perhaps, if I unfriended her, she needed someone to vent to and blame me, as she had blamed me all along.
I didn’t even hesitate. I hit the unfriend button. I moved on.
You see, twenty-two year old me had been right. Some friendships do have a use-by date. Friendship is not a static thing. This is because human beings are not static. We grow, and we change. Some of us change in positive ways, and some of us change in not-so-positive ways. When all is said and done, sometimes, ten years later, the person you became friends with a decade ago isn’t the same person as she or he was a decade ago. Now, some friendships survive this. There is real love and honesty, and you both grow with each other, towards each other. Some of my oldest friendships are testament to this. When you care so fiercely about someone else, you make room for them in your life. Sometimes, you just stop caring. Sometimes, things just end.
Endings are okay.