Having spent the better part of my life abroad and far from family, strong bonds with friends have sustained in times both good and bad. Many of these friends are more like family than some of my actual family members. They are who I spend the holidays with, tell my deepest secrets to and whose children call me aunty. My husband notwithstanding, life would be empty without the love and companionship my friends bring.
In this blog we’ve covered the patterns of intimacy that form and cement relationships, namely reciprical self-disclosure, shared intimacy and social identity support. We’ve also talked about how to keep a friendship going. However, what happens with a close friendship finishes? In many ways it has the same emotional impact as a break-up, because our friendships are also in many ways like love affairs. There is the chemistry that begets a friendship, a heady beginning, time spent together, shared memories and intimacy, much like the process of falling in love. The following excerpt from the Huff Post Women’s blog discusses the different types of endings:
I believe some are easier to come to terms with than others. When we meet people at a certain stage, or a particular place in time — perhaps our kids are the same ages; we get along as couples, or we live near each other — it works because the fit is right. Early on, you might let some things go, or overlook little issues, that over time may cause cracks. Convenience and/or comfort makes for an easy blindfold. It’s easy to overlook smaller conflicts when you find someone you think will fit into the big picture — particularly when you’re a young parent/new to a place/going through life changes/ etc., and you hope to find a tribe. Over time, as things shift or change however, perhaps some of these friendships don’t hold up. If it’s a mutual break, and both parties can see that situations have changed, it’s much easier to accept, and move on. This has always made more sense to me, though any end has its unique bumps.
Then there are endings that are painfully one-sided. One party changes; one person is no longer interested or invested; two people drift apart and the ending feels unbalanced. I’ve been on both sides of that equation, and it never feels good; it’s never easy. If you’re being left behind, it’s hard not to wonder what you could do differently, or try to mend things. It’s hard not to feel injured and defensive. Been there, done that. If you’re the one moving on, it might feel like the right step, but it isn’t necessarily pain-free. It’s easy to feel guilty and torn, despite your conviction that the friendship isn’t right for you. If you share other friends, it’s even harder. There’s often an inevitable awkwardness socially, for both parties. Mutual friends may feel torn; you run into each other everywhere, and it can feel like you’re in a sticky mess all around. Whichever side of this situation you’re on, has its challenges.
In my mind, the hardest end to a friendship is when things just get screwed up, and there’s no turning back. Hurt feelings, difficult situations, and painful moves that lead two seemingly close friends, to separate and end a friendship, is like a death. Sadly, things don’t always go the way we want, and not all fractures mend. When you’ve done all you know how to do, all you can, when “I’m sorry,” doesn’t turn the tide, and wounds run too deep, there is an inevitable time when you have to cut the ties and let go. Most of us have been there. It sucks, and I’m terrible at it. Terrible.
The end of a good friendship is sad, we remember the laughter and cry for what is lost. However, time heals all wounds. Keeping this in mind in hard but helpful when one is suffering from loosing a close friend, whatever the reason for the closure. New friends come along and we move on. As with relationships, once a friendship has ended there are lessons to be learned. Did we take our side of the relationship too lightly or ask too much of our friends? An important part of our own personal development is this process of loss, reflection and learning, which leads to changed behaviour in future friendships.