The term “friendship break-up” has gained popularity in recent years. I often read articles and think what an ordeal to have somebody you cherished and shared so much with slowly morph into a stranger. How gruesome it must be to walk past a former friend on the street and not know how to greet them. I often count myself lucky at having a spectacular teaming mass of friends in my life and at never having to experience the rotting corpse of a dead friendship.
Except that’s not the case. I realised that when it comes to friends, I have dozens of exes – I just don’t see them in the same way. I honestly think there is a point where it just becomes impossible to be friends with somebody and the friendship ends. Sometimes a person moves away and it’s physically too difficult to keep in touch. Sometimes a person just makes so many changes to themselves or their life that you cannot find a way to communicate. Sometimes it’s a conflict of belief: there are certain things that just sit wrongly with me and I realise I’ve cut out a number of friends I disagreed with without even realising.
There was the friend who tried to enter the sex trade in an ignorant, uninformed way; the friend that voted Leave because she didn’t think it was fair that French gets taught in schools; the friend who didn’t come to our other friend’s funeral despite being personally invited by the parents; the friend who missed another’s wedding because there was a new Topshop collection out. None of these things make sense to me. I realise that I stop talking to these people and in all cases, completely forget about it until a mutual friend (for it’s rarely the ex that comes to ask) brings it up.
That is the kind of relationship end I know; an end that leaves barely even an absence. There’s no pining, no wondering what they’re up to, no confusing replay of our last conversations and trying to work out where it went wrong. In other words: no break-up. Just a fade to black. After a few months pass, there’s an occasional jolt when somebody says, “Hey, what happened to so and so?” and me thinking, “Oh, I haven’t seen them in a while”, before recalling some argument or reason or other, something that simply got left where it was and was never solved between us before it was dismissed from my mind.
Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, or maybe we just weren’t good enough friends for me to care. Either way, I rarely re-visit these things. There are just a handful of people I regularly think “I wish we’d not lost contact” before forgetting about them. I have a happy life, I have amazing friends currently in my life, and it would be stupid to go through and analyse all the people I no longer speak to. I am not a person who does well if I dwell too much on those kinds of things. I’m impatient and restless. I’d rather go meet a new friend for a drink than theorise on the thought process of an old one.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss problems when they arise, or that you should sack everyone off who doesn’t agree with you. It’s just important to recognise that this is a part of life. There’s a lot of tired sentences I could include about “growth” and “change” and “becoming different people” and so on, but what it comes down to is the tiny differences in beliefs, differences that can start a tiny crack and end up a huge rift. You can choose if you throw yourself in the chasm. Yes, some friendships do end in a dramatic break-up; but others will simply fade out and be forgotten and that’s fine too. Life is way too short to try to address everything you find problematic in a person; a certain amount of acceptance is required in every relationship but when one outweighs the other sometimes it’s just easier to let it drift.
Last week I talked to a friend about another friend neither of us speak to anymore. “I just want to understand” she said, “did we do something wrong? Did we have a misunderstanding? Did she find better friends?”. The truth is, I don’t know, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. We’re good people; it’s unlikely we did something bad. Maybe she hates us for some unknown reason, or maybe she decided we no longer align with her personal compass, or maybe (and I think this is the most likely option) like me, she is just going about her life and hasn’t really registered that we’re not in it anymore. It doesn’t need to be hostile, or questioned, or deeply sad, or an opportunity for us to reflect on ourselves. If you want it to be, or need it to be, then that’s fine but it doesn’t have to be like that.
Sometimes a person just starts to gradually fade from memory, from recognition. From your phonebook, or the photos on your wall, or your diary entries. There’s an infinite number of reasons why this might happen and so they get further and further away – you just go weeks without really thinking of somebody, and they do the same for you. You stay where you are, with your life and your work and your bedroom full of plants, and they blur and shrink into a tiny dot, disappearing into the distance. At some point they’ll hit the vanishing point on the horizon, the place where friendships end.