Friendship Lost

A couple months ago, a dear friendship in my life came to an end. The constraints of physical distance had come between us over the years, but we always kept in touch and she remained an important fixture in my life. Then, something happened.

It took a long time for me to be certain that the friendship was over and when the dust finally settled, I was devastated.

I felt like my world was crumbling around me, and yet no one suspected anything was wrong. It seemed a very faux paus thing to talk about and the few times I mentioned it were met with awkward silences that brought the conversation to an abrupt and embarrassing halt.

I quickly learned not to broach the subject, even though silence compounded the hurt. In the absence of support (even my husband and other friends didn’t know how to help) I did what I always do when I’m going through something that I don’t understand: I found a book about it.

It was a crazy coincidence actually, this book (My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends) came out just as I accepted that the friendship was really over. I’d heard about the book at BlogHer, before I knew how much I would need it, and when I recognized its relevance to my situation, I looked it up to see if it was available.

It had been released, earlier that week in fact. I immediately ordered it and paid for it to arrive the next day.

The moment it landed on my doorstep, I set to work devouring it. Pages and pages of other women describing their own painful friendship loses. Their words were a healing salve spread gingerly over my wounded heart.

About half way through the selection of essays I came across this paragraph in Cheryl Suchors‘ “Going Without Sugar.”

“Through it all, I longed for people to acknowledge the depth of my loss. To send a card, perhaps. To check in on me or invite me out to ease the loneliness. To honor the importance of a 27-year friendship and assume that I’d mourn when it appeared to be ending.”

Yes! I thought, This! She expressed a truth I hadn’t yet articulated. I felt validated by her words and was so thankful to read them.
That desperate need to be understood, that deep ache for validation, I had felt it before. It was eerily familiar. And suddenly, I knew: It was four months after my ectopic and I felt utterly alone, like no one understood me. I was devouring About What Was Lost because the stories of other women’s miscarriages offered the only guides in navigating my grief, and because I didn’t know where else to turn.

How had I never before recognized the similarities between friendship and pregnancy loss? Both are shrouded in denial and taboo, how both are completely devastating and yet almost entirely unacknowledged.

I started seeing the parallels everywhere.

My friendship wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge and positive presence in my life and it left a raw, gaping hole when it was gone. It brought a smile to many moments throughout my day and now those same moments are strewn like landminds about my daily routine. Sometimes I forget I am stepping on one or the damage it will do until it’s too late.

Friendship loss, like pregnancy loss, changed my vision of the future. My previous assumptions are no longer relevant and I’ve had to reshape my expectations every day.

No one talks about it but sometimes, if I bring it up, women will share their own stories of friendships lost. It helps to know I’m not alone, and I wonder why these experiences aren’t a part of the cultural conversation.

In fact, just like with pregnancy loss, one thing that makes friendship loss so hard is its glaring absence from any dialogue. I have been dealing with a painful loss that is entirely unrecognized by society or those around me. There is no accepted ritual, no acknowledgment, no validation.

I know I should try again–to make other friends–but I’m not sure whether I can have faith in the process. Besides it won’t be my friend, the one I lost, so making a new one won’t really take away the pain. I must cling to hope for the future even though I’ve learned there are no guarantees. Hope must exist in the vacuum of uncertainty.

In the weeks after the loss of my friendship, I became obsessed with why it happened. Like with my ectopic, I had to answer Why? so I could prevent it from happening again. But as was the case with my pregnancy loss, there is no satisfying explanation. I eventually had to accept that I would never know exactly why it happened and that I could never really prevent it from happening again. I had to make new friends knowing I might eventually lose them, just like I had to get pregnant again knowing it might end in heartache instead of joy.

When I read Cheryl Suchors’ piece, I acknowledged how impossibly devastating the loss of a 27 year friendship would be. I compared the loss of my friendship–which hadn’t lasted nearly that long–and I wondered if I had a right to grieve so intensely. I was judging my own loss unworthy, as I did after my ectopic when I read of second and third trimester losses and I wondered if mine–at a measly 6.5 weeks–merited the pain and devastation I felt.

That is when I appreciated all the work I did grieving my lost pregnancy. I have learned how important it is to legitimize my own experience, even in the absence of validation from others. I know I have to take care of myself, to be gentle, to accept that the grief will not be a linear experience I can move through from beginning to end, but will circle back on itself, taking my breath away at unexpected moments. I have learned that my loss is worthy of the anguish I’ve felt, even if no one else confirms it. I can’t change the way I feel, only my expectations and actions surrounding those feelings.

In the past months I’ve given myself as much time and space to process these feelings as possible. I’ve been patient with my grief, I’ve let it surface when it rises up and settle when I’m feeling better. And while each day isn’t necessarily better than the day before, most of them are a lot easier than they were originally.

Already I wonder if this post is too much, if people will judge me for grieving the loss of a mere friendship. I’m scared to put this out there, but that is ultimately why I believe I should–if I don’t make it a part of the conversation, who will? When I lost my pregnancy I refused to let others belittle my grief. It was hard and sometimes I felt trampled on, but I like to think a few people learned from me along the way, and that even more felt validated when I shared my experience. I hope that is the case now, as well.

Have you suffered the loss of a friendship?

14 Comments

  1. Glad you put this out there – I think we’ve all felt like this to some degree at some point, though no one talks about it. I have a 16 year friendship that I need to end (as it causes me significantly more heartache than happiness and has consistently for several years now), but it’s hard to pull the plug on that much history (plus, what if my life REALLY falls apart? Surely she’d be there for me then, right? Maybe?). Sorry you’re hurting…

    1. The history really does make it hard. Really hard. When I moved away from Hong Kong in middle school I stayed friends with my best friend there, and we remained really close all the way through high school and college, despite living states away. This was even before email, so it took a lot of effort to maintain that friendship. Then we had a falling out and it was really, really hard. Since then I’ve tried to reconnect, because she has literally no online presence and doesn’t even seem to use email much. I know I just need to let that friendship go but I try to reconnect every once in a while, and when she doesn’t reciprocate it’s like pulling off a scab and dealing with a fresh wound every time. I need to let it go, but the history, and the sheer effort it required to stay close all those years, makes it hard to fully let her go. So I know what you mean about shared history being a strong force–there is a lot of gravity there.

  2. I haven’t had a friendship “breakup” per se, but I do sometimes mourn the drifting of really meaningful, life-sustaining friendships into mere acquaintances. Never a conscious choice to stop being friends, but more lack of effort into maintaining the relationship. This is the second blog post about this book I’ve read this week—good to get this conversation going, you’re right there is no space or language to discuss this kind of painful experience. I hope you are healing.

    1. I have lost a lot of friendships in that way too, and while I approach each of them with varying amounts of regret, the experience of losing friendships gradually, over time, is less painful (unless of course I have continually tried to keep up the friendship and the other person has gradually drifted away, that feels different). I wonder sometimes if it’s easier to gradually drift away from people now that social media tricks us into thinking we are connected, when in reality we are not.

  3. To be honest, I’ve lost most of my close friendships. Moving two time zones away plus my job schedule and the fact that I’m not much of a phone person became a fatal elixir for my friendships. It’s mostly my fault, but the one friendship that I have tried really hard to keep up with hasn’t been reciprocated in a long time and that makes me sad. I never thought about the fact that we don’t talk about lost friendships; thanks for bringing it up.

  4. Yes, I’ve lost a few. The first were my college friends. Several years ago when my mother died-my mother was absolutely my best friend- I was devastated. And my closest college friends were contacted. None of them bothered to send an email, call or acknowledge it in anyway. I was so hurt, and more so a few months later when I got Christmas cards that said things like “hope you had a great year!” that I cut off contact. More recently I had a friend go absolutely crazy on me and call me names and sever all ties because I wouldn’t share proprietary information. She cut ties and while the backlash has been ugly, my life will end up being better for it once I get over the betrayal. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. And I appreciate the book recommendation

    1. I lost my mum in July 14. She was my best friend and a wonderful mum to me, my siblings and many other children in her life. So many of my friends have stayed at our house as teenagers, been driven to parties and we’ve had so many dinners at our house. I have been shocked and very hurt by the lack of people checking in on me, sending me messages or seeing how I’m going. Half of my facebook friends know how much I would be struggling but unless I write a sad status no one cares. I got 2 texts and 1 fb message on Mother’s Day and that is the only time people apart from my best friend check in with me. I guess I thought I had better friends but people are too busy with their own lives to care. Saying that you think about me but don’t make contact doesn’t count πŸ™

  5. I am so sorry for the loss of your friendship and the grief you are going through. I’ve never had an abrupt end to a friendship due to a falling out, but I have had several friendships drift away due to life circumstances. I am drifting further and further from one of my once closest friends right now because we are just in 2 totally different stages of parenting, and it’s hard to really relate and/or coincide our schedules to get together. It hurts, but I’m really not sure what to do about it. I hope that in the coming months, you develop some new friendships and maybe the pain of this loss will subside.

  6. Noemi, I’m so glad that you found your way to allowing yourself to value your own grief, your own losses. We women are raised, often anyway, to compare everything about ourselves with someone else. I’ve done it myself a million times, so I know the trap from falling into it over and over.

    I’m so sorry you lost your friend. I’m sad that you feel the emptiness without her. I wish it had not happened to you. I wish you joy in moving onβ€”when you’ve finished mourning.

    Thank you so much for connecting to and commenting on my story. You make the work of writing it worthwhile.

  7. I’m so glad you posted the link for the book. I had seen Suzanne Barston’s announcement about it on the Fearless Formula Feeder’s Facebook page (that’s a lot of alliteration! πŸ˜‰ ), but then I couldn’t track it down again. I’m ordering it today. I’m sorry that you also find yourself mourning a friendship. I also struggle with the “why” aspect of it all. Why was the friendship more important to me than her? Why did she no longer value me as a part of her life? Why would she just end it with no explanation given? My list of questions could go on for days. I wish you peace as you continue to work through the grief.

  8. I know how painful this post was to write: the ache is apparent in the silent spaces between the words. I’m glad that this new blog home is already a safe space where you feel you can grieve openly about this – and I’m so sorry for this loss.

  9. I wrote a post earlier this year about my first-year university roommate and how we have drifted apart over the years. Since then she responded to my mass email in July, advising about my job loss and change in contact info, and made noises about “getting together for lunch” but of course I haven’t heard from her since then. πŸ™ I wouldn’t say our friendship is over, but it’s most certainly still in deep limbo. πŸ™

    http://theroadlesstravelledlb.blogspot.ca/2014/05/i-saw-her-standing-there.html

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