I ran into an old friend today. Ok, it was an ex-friend. The kind of friend that you have so long that you don’t really have anything invested in the friendship except that you’ve been friends for so long, and you’re constantly questioning why you’re friends with this person, but to stop being friends, well, feels like a failure.
I have no idea what caused the final split. It wasn’t like an ex-boyfriend, where there is a definitive, solid reason (or, in some cases, manifesto) for why you shouldn’t be together anymore, but more like coming away from conversations with feelings of confusion, disconnectedness, and, my absolute favourite activity: judging. The friendship had fallen apart, years before, with her quietly, yet clearly unfriending me (this was before Facebook, so it was particularly jarring), but we reconnected and seemed to patch things up, without ever talking about why we had come apart in the first place. The more recent – and final – time was a little over three years ago. Up to that point, we talked, emailed daily, and saw each other once in a while, but anyone who knows me knows that I can give a lot, as long as you’re not asking for time. I can be supportive, funny, judgy-against-your-enemies, commiserating… I can bake, lend you stuff, but I can’t give you coffee dates or shopping afternoons or wine dates or dinner. Time doing that makes me feel guilty for not being with my husband, my children, my house, going to the gym, knitting mittens or stockings…you name it, which makes a night out stressful. (See also, Failing at Everything.) I like to think that what I have to give is, well, the written word and/or occasional skype date… when I have time.
Ok, so maybe reading that over shows me that I’m a terrible friend. But maybe that’s just the kind of friend I want for myself. I love getting letters, emails and texts. I don’t delete emails from my friends – I keep them and read them over, and laugh at what you’ve said, at my response, at your response. I write and rewrite my letters and responses. I choose my words carefully. That is the time I have, and that is the friend I am.
So, three years ago, this ex-friend and I were having a mild conflict during an email discussion, and I tried to de-escalate. “I’ll talk to you Monday,” I think I wrote.
I waited that Monday…Tuesday… thinking that if I meant something to her, or at least our friendship meant something, that she would eventually reach out. She never did. I still think of her all the time, and she shows up in my dreams, and it’s fine, until I wake up. I’m always wondering how she’s doing, how her son is. I’m not on Facebook, so I really have no window into her life. It still hurts.
So today, when I saw her at the gym, I was stunned and shaken. I walked up and said, SO awkwardly, “Hey.” Her nonchalant “hey” makes me think that she had seen me first, but didn’t want to talk to me. I walked away (awkwardly). Later, in the changeroom, I was still shaking. I overheard her and her friend talking about me – no, not talking about me, but referring to me – and when I turned around to say, “Please talk to me – tell me to my face what you want to say,” she was gone. When she got out of the showers, I waited till she was not naked (I’m cool like that), and walked up again, asked about how her son was doing, and she asked about my kids. It felt weird and awful, like trying to talk to someone who has no use for you but is trying to end the conversation quickly. I left, nauseous and shaky and awkward.
I’m sad that she’s out of my life, without actually missing her. I’m sad for the experiences we shared together, and not knowing what went wrong, without wanting her back in my life. It’s a strange place to be, but I feel that, after a week or so of obsessing over this, I might just be able to let her go.
In the meantime, is anyone out there looking for a lousy friend? I’m (sometimes) available.