Anyone who knows me well knows I’m notorious for losing friends – and so do you now, people of the internet! I guess first I should talk a bit about what I mean when I say I tend to lose friends. I don’t think people often realize that relationships – all relationships – have a lifespan. People regret it when friendships end or change, but I think most learn to deal with it. I don’t know, maybe I still haven’t yet. When people start to drift apart, I generally make an effort to be closer. Maybe I’m clingy sometimes. Maybe I don’t trust them to reach out first so to ‘grip’ the friendship, I hold on. When I realize that they really no longer want to be friends, I usually send off an email or a letter, thanking them for the time we had, but that it’s no longer working out for either of us. This is a bit like someone being fired from their job and yelling “Well I QUIT” as they walk out the door. Make no mistake, I’m rarely the one to leave first – but I am the one to flee. Flee out the door, slam it behind me, and never look back. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s because I’m sick – so sick – of reaching out at that point and waiting for them to make even the slightest effort.
I’ve never spoken to anyone after writing emails of finality like that – and there are easily more than 10 or so people, all who I’d consider ‘close’ to me at some point in my life who I never speak with now and don’t expect to in the future. Write email, send email, delete, sometimes block, erase phone number. Out of sight, out of mind.
I think at the end of the day, I have to address why people leave. People I genuinely admire, like to spend time with, and whose company I enjoy, often ‘drift’ away. Maybe I demand too much and am too clingy. Maybe my politics get in the way. Maybe I am ‘too angry’ all the time. Maybe I’m not there for them. There are no answers. For me, when friendship ends, it is as searing as I think other people view breakups – I don’t know, since I’ve never really dated.
If I am too clingy, maybe it’s because I don’t trust others to value me enough to reach out first. But it’s also true that this is reflected in my friendships: In most of my friendships, I tend to reach out and say hi more often, but the best friendships I have, the closest, the soundest, (not necessarily the ones with the most communication), are those where others also make an effort to just talk to me first. To say hi on their own initiative. It gets really awful and tricky quite quickly when people I respect and admire and genuinely like gradually drift away – that ‘drifting’ often signals to me that they just don’t care anymore. That I am tiring. And then I try harder, to talk more often with them, afraid that if I let them go, they will never want to speak to me.
I do now try to give more space or at least ask what’s going on – but I find the answers unsatisfactory, often – more on this later. Sometimes, letting go is for the best – and I am very good at letting go when it gets to that point. I leave – and I leave entirely. There is rarely room for amends at that point; I am too hurt, too proud, and too distrustful to really be able to connect with someone close who gradually drifts away, particularly after I’ve made repeated attempts to stay in touch. I cannot beg for a friendship to last; there’s only so much groveling I’m willing to do.
I am trying nowadays to value myself more – to trust myself more and to trust that I am still valuable to other people as a friend. I am trying to give more space in general to people. I am trying to love and understand and give more freely. But on New Year’s eve, I again said goodbye to two friends – and it’s likely goodbye forever. And that’s ok; both friendships I think were on their way to disintegration due to a variety of factors. I’m on the verge of losing another, if I haven’t already. And I can’t help but wonder what did I do wrong? What do I always do wrong? Why do people leave? Why am I incapable of being a good friend so many times over?
Now, this is someone who I think I’ve hurt, but who has also hurt me. Someone who hasn’t spoken to me in some time. But someone who has also really been there for me during very rough times, and convinced me to be kinder to myself and to others. Convinced me that, you know, it’s a good thing to trust a bit, to give a bit, to feel deeper. So while the urge was there to just cut and run, to say “ok you clearly don’t value me like you do your other friends/I am bad for you/you are repulsed by me”, I really feel I can’t just so easily write him off. There are other reasons as well; our friendship has often hinged on me reaching out first to talk, even at the best of times. So I inferred he was asking for space,based on his explanation as to how he was feeling – and it wasn’t particularly easy to infer this; his explanations centered around me being emotionally taxing, but in the same set of communications, he also affirmed that he had been feeling upset in general and that most of it had nothing to do with me. I had no idea how much space was enough, or what boundaries he wanted for space – did he want me to not reach out at all? What if he thought I didn’t care at that point? Since I have known him for quite some time, and I felt we were decent enough friends…I told him I would lessen the frequency of my communications as I felt there was some leeway and asked him if such a position was ‘alright’ – I received no response to my offer of space, other than an “Yeah I guess”, and I had no idea what those boundaries were. I waited nearly a week before getting in touch with him, just to check in and confirm plans or ideas we’d been discussing prior to our fight. Because he’s also inclined to not value himself as much, he might be pushing me away because he feels he’s not worthy of friendship. Maybe. Or he feels I deserve better. Maybe. (I find either of these hard to believe due to my own insecurities, for obvious reasons.) It is easier for me to believe he cannot reciprocate my friendship because I am overwhelming and too demanding – because that is always easier for me to believe.
I don’t really know, since he’s started ignoring me, falling in the footsteps of so many others who I felt cast me aside, discarded me when I became inconvenient rather than talking to me about what it is that I’m doing that might be driving these people away.
And then there’s the recoil factor. Me wanting to get away from… everyone. Myself. Feeling as though others are repulsed by me and… I mean I want to get away from me sometimes when that feeling becomes overwhelming.
But I am trying to value myself a bit more, so when a mutual friend (MF) told me “ he doesn’t really feel all that friendly about anything with you”, all the oscillating feelings I had about staying or running immediately shifted into high gear sprinting. I do want to run away. After losing and cutting off so many friends – after feeling as though I’m rarely valued, it is not only a choice that makes sense, it’s a choice that always makes sense. And in the past I’d have never asked why, because it would have been – and still is – easy for me to believe that he (and countless others who I respect and admire and like) want nothing to do with me. It is EASY for me to believe that.
But because I’m trying to value myself a little more, I tried to ask, just audaciously (or so it seemed to me) – but… but why? What… did I do? What did I do wrong? Is there still room in this friendship for me to give him space, or whatever support he needs? Why am I being pushed away? So I tried asking MF why he didn’t feel friendly – all MF could say was “well it’s obvious; you get in touch – he doesn’t reciprocate” – which, like no shit Sherlock. I felt that way weeks ago – would have run weeks ago too, but since he’s responsible for me thinking differently about friendships, and if running always makes me eventually value myself less, then… then maybe sticking around a bit is a way to value myself more.
Maybe I can believe that I can be a good friend. That I am worthwhile to know, respect, and talk with. That… I’m not being discarded this time.
But what if I am? I don’t know, really. But I will choose to trust, wait, and give space. And maybe that will take weeks or months. Maybe years. But I choose to just… have a little faith in myself this time. That I will be ok no matter what. That I will be ok to still admire, love, and respect him. And be grateful to him too for the positive impact he has had on me thus far. And I choose to lean into trust a bit. Trust and hope that maybe friendship can still be had, that I am worthwhile, that he just needs time. And I will choose to trust myself too – to be able to heal and recover should he no longer want a friendship with me.
And actually, with recent communications, it’s clear that there was no leeway to begin with; I still don’t know what ‘space’ means for him; certainly, it’s very different from what it’s meant in the past with me and other friends. I’m inclined now more than ever to think that my insecurities in this case, rang clear: he did want nothing to do with me, and I misread “space” as “give me some time, and then we can talk – please don’t talk about things I specifically told you not to talk about” instead of “get the fuck out of my life until and unless I contact you”. Somewhere between the last request and his most recent communications, his thoughts went from mostly not blaming me (though feeling worn down around me), to foisting nearly all responsibility of how he’s feeling onto me. I struggle with that – with my own willingness to so easily accept the blame and with my role in just how much I have hurt a friend. I struggle with accepting I’ve invaded someone else’s space, and how to move beyond the guilt that accompanies that. I struggle to think about how I can avoid it in future. Regardless of whether or not I could have known what space meant, I hurt him.
And in accepting that, I am working on leaving now – it’s not hard because as with anything else, I have lots of practice; ironically, it was difficult for me to even reach out and not bolt when he first requested his undefined space. But let it be undefined; he has every right. I just wish I had acted on my original impulse to not reach out this time as it would have been better for both our sakes – more’s the pity that I didn’t do what I normally do; leave leave leave. I do think it’s difficult to know when to reach out and when to stay silent, particularly when friendships develop with one side consistently reaching out more often, even during good times.
Now that I’ve received a clearer (and quite honestly, an unjustly crueler) message, me running away fits perfectly with his need for space. I will struggle with the hows and whys of my violation of his space, I think, for a long time to come. I hope I never, ever do that to anyone again. Since what he wants from me, or how he thinks of me translates into messages so closely fitting a worldview of me feeling unwanted or discarded, I think I will be more prone to thinking I am imposing on friends in future – but isn’t that better than actually imposing on them? This and other events in the past do make me question the kind of legitimacy I hold in people’s lives – do I have the place or right or responsibility to reach out, or even apologise? If I don’t, does it seem like I don’t care? If I do, do I suffocate them? Should I ask people to define their spaces better so mistakes and hurt like this don’t happen better – or do I not have the right to demand that? Instead, should I always assume that they mean the worst: that they want nothing to do with me, (not even check-ins or plans discussed long before a rift occurred)? Should I assume silence is always “no I don’t want to talk to you”, rather than “no i don’t want to talk in general” particularly when silence hasn’t always meant that in other relationships or in other circumstances? I know that we live in spaces of grey, but I wonder how to move forward, how to ensure I never make a mistake like this again.
Sometimes, there is no space. After checking in and ‘arranging’ a few things I’d been planning for some time, prior to our conflict, I decided it was time to say goodbye for a longer while. delete+hope=new worldview? It was then that I received another message, true and honest to his feelings, but so willing to trample over mine. I also know that with a clearer message like that, in this case at least, it is time to flee. And while I remain open to him reaching out, I think I am also ambivalent as to what future shape a friendship like this could have. When one’s space is violated, there are ways of reaching out and affirming friendship while still affirming that one needs distance…and I don’t think that happened this time. Either I unknowingly hurt him too much before he could, or he felt a total disregard for our friendship by this point due to other concerns. I don’t know. I will likely never know.
As someone who has rarely been in the position of demanding space, I had to dig deep to think of two instances where I demanded space from people. In one instance, I wanted to work on the friendship, and made that clear. In another, I thought I could have…but when it deteriorated (them responding quite snarkily to me), I knew I no longer could. I think about the former now, how she tried to connect with me, reach out, offer little messages of hope and sincerity, but without making any demands of me. And I appreciated her willingness to put herself out there, give me time to just read, and respond back much later when I could resolve some of the ways in which I had felt hurt by her in the past.
But in all fairness, not everyone reacts or responds positively to ‘checking in’ when they demand space. And while I was never snarky to him, I was invasive by just checking in and making arrangements for Christmas presents I’d long ago planned on giving. That is all it takes to violate space, I have found. And I doubt he will be able to find it in his heart to forgive me for that. (and I have no strength or desire to ask for forgiveness like that. I wish him well; that is all I wish coming out of this) And if he does, I do wonder, with all my baggage about friendships, what possible friendship could arise from him reaching out, when I rarely feel secure in reaching out to most people, least of all him? Still, I choose to hope, without expectation, that friendships are fluid – that there is always room for recovery, hope, and healing. It is again, alien for me to think this way.
But I have to if I choose compassion over resentment, and forgiveness (of myself and others) over lasting grudges and pain. (I know the road that travels there, and it is a thorny, terrible one. Fastest way to create a hell in your own headspace? Start hating someone. No, really hate. No, not like for a week. Try 8 years’ worth. Up your dosage if you don’t feel parts of your heart turn to stone)
And that is a conscious, painful choice at first, choosing compassion, forgiveness, hope….dear god trust – and I can’t do that for all my relationships – but maybe I owe him that much. Maybe I owe it to him and to myself to get out, flee, since we are so clearly toxic and hurtful to each other, but still hope for some understanding between us. Trust that I will come to terms with all the ways in which I feel hurt, or my character maligned, or the harm I’ve done. And hope that he will too – for his sake.
Anyway, to friends I do have – if I’m insecure sometimes. Well. I’m sorry. Just, maybe try to understand that I have a history of being insecure about friendships. That I have often not been treated well, and that drifting really does worry me sometimes. That if I’m bugging you, let me know before it’s too late! Perhaps my feelings will change; granted I have some of the closest friendships I have ever had in my life right now. And I apologise for not appreciating you more; thank you for being around and for understanding that if I think I’m imposing… it’s because I have in the past – and that too, to good people who don’t deserve it. I am sorry if I insult you by thinking I’m imposing. I’m even more sorry though if I actually do impose. And I don’t ever want to be that person again. Once in a lifetime is really enough. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m still learning how to be a good friend.