“The one who would be constant in happiness must frequently change.” ~Anthony de Mello, Awareness
Last year, I had a falling out with a long time friend.
I’d like to say that the friendship ended amicably, but, well, it didn’t.
The falling out really took about a year and half to fully materialize, and the ultimate dissolution of the relationship caught me completely off guard.
It included a significant and surprising amount of personal insults directed at me that, in all honesty, felt totally unwarranted and arose entirely out of the blue.
At least from my perspective.
I was shell-shocked and heartbroken, as more than a decade’s worth of grievances was laid out before me to highlight just how terrible I apparently am as a person.
And I found myself wondering why this friend had waited so damn long to break up with me if, indeed, she found so much about me to be so horribly undesirable and infuriating and seemingly repulsive.
I shed a lot of tears in the aftermath of the relationship’s finale, as I absorbed the pages of vitriol that had been sent to me over text message (text message? really?) after months of radio silence.
Followed by a freeze-out that denied me an opportunity to respond to the attack.
I gave myself permission to feel the full weight of what had been said and to cry it out for a few hours. And then I made the decision to move on, refusing to allow another person’s projections to rob me of my own joy.
Over the past several months, I have occasionally thought about this former friend, wished her well in my head, and then continued on with my life.
And, mostly, I’ve managed to remain relatively unbothered by the memory of how things went down as the friendship ceased to exist.
The past few weeks, however, I’ve found myself dreaming about this friend. Being reminded of all the terrible things that were said and revisiting the hurt feelings and brokenheartedness I thought I’d left behind me.
It has not been my favorite thing.
But it has gotten me thinking a lot about expectations. And projections. And the evolution of self.
And about how all of these things intersect.
Which can happen beautifully and naturally and gracefully, if you allow it.
Depending upon how well you’re able to release your attachment to sameness.
And how bravely you own and articulate your truth. Even as that truth inevitably shifts throughout your lifetime.
Because it will. And you will move through various manifestations and evolutionary phases of your own identity, which will affect how you relate to other people.
And, sometimes, who you choose to relate to at all.
So while I’ve been disappointed to find myself encountering feelings I thought I’d long ago expressed and released, it has also afforded me the opportunity to really reflect on what went awry as this once so solid friendship dissolved into the ether.
And to consider what I might say to my former friend given the chance to do so now.
At the top of that list?
In the time that’s passed between the dissolution of the relationship and this moment right now, I’ve realized that the friendship ended largely because this girl and I took off in pretty different directions in our lives.
And I changed. A lot.
(Chances are, she did, too.)
These changes inevitably altered our ability to relate to each other in the same ways we once had. Our roles in each other’s lives shifted — or, they would have, had we allowed that to happen.
Our capacities to deeply connect to one another’s experiences declined. Our worlds became less aligned and far less overlapping in scope.
We both became different versions of ourselves.
Which was, ultimately, better for both of us. But it also meant the friendship between us needed to evolve, in order to accommodate the changes taking place for each of us in our individual lives.
Expectations needed to change. Big time.
One of us needed to stand up and declare: “This isn’t working anymore.”
That person should have been me. Because I felt it happening, but was too afraid of disappointing my friend to be bold and admit it was true.
Instead, expectations stayed the same and resentments built up between us, and I ended up disappointing this friend in much bigger and more devastating ways.
And she ended up hurting me more deeply than I thought possible.
It got ugly. And it absolutely didn’t have to be that way.
We could have reexamined our expectations and redefined our relationship.
Maybe we would have drifted apart gradually until we found ourselves on the fringes of each other’s lives when we had once been at the center.
Maybe space would have opened up and separated us completely and indefinitely.
Or maybe we would have given ourselves permission to disengage from the friendship long enough to explore our ever-evolving identities before eventually rekindling a close relationship on new and more appropriate terms.
Who fucking knows?
I’m not sure a friendship between this girl and I would ever have made sense again. But I do know that the way we exited each other’s lives still saddens me on a variety of levels.
Because I loved her for thirteen years of my life.
Thirteen of the most tumultuous, challenging, formative, and transformative years of my life. And the fact that I changed in ways I never imagined I might, becoming more of myself even as I moved farther and farther away from the close connection I once had with this friend, does nothing to diminish the closeness we shared for a third of our lives.
I only wish I’d been strong enough and wise enough to let the friendship evolve naturally, to allow us both our space to grow, to release expectations that had become increasingly outdated and unfair, and to admit to my friend — and to myself — that I could not be for her the friend I once had been.
That would have been the mature and brave and kind thing to do.
And it would have saved us both a lot of heartache in the end.
So, what’s the point of this article?
To advocate for being realistic about what you expect from others.
And to be explicit about those expectations when necessary. To set the people in your life up for success in their relationships with you by being clear about what you need, and allowing those who can’t meet your needs at this time freedom from the responsibility of doing so.
To suggest that you question your inclination to take everything so personally.
To encourage you to no longer imagine the worst if someone in your life takes a step back from you, assuming it has anything to do with you or your worth or even how much that person cares about you.
Because you just never know what’s going on behind the scenes. And maybe, just maybe, that person’s decision to take a little extra space is actually the kindest thing he or she can do.
Attachment is a tricky, tricky thing, you guys.
And I don’t pretend to have all the answers.
But I do know that fiercely clinging to things the way they are right now, in this exact moment, is a recipe for some major disappointment somewhere down the road.
And that when you fail to leave room for things to change and evolve — for people (including yourself) to change and evolve — resentment can often be the result.
A wise woman I know once observed that life in its entirety is just one giant identity crisis. And that it never really stops being that way. That we’re all just kind of wandering around looking for ourselves — hopefully turning our gaze inward more often than not as we go.
Everyone around you is in the process of becoming. Of figuring this being alive shit out.
It’s difficult. And it’s messy. Which is why apocalypse teams are essential.
But also: The people who comprise that team are bound to change as well along the way. You’ll have some lifers, sure (Hi, Saren!), but you’ll also have some players who only suit up for a season or a few games before finding a more appropriate team on which to play.
And this is how it should be, I think.
The former friend with whom I parted ways in a not-so-awesome way? Her apocalypse team is better without me on it. And mine? Is better without her.
I only wish I’d been courageous enough to make my exit gracefully before it was too late to do so.
So, let’s not resent each other our evolution as individuals.
Let’s not cling to outdated expectations or refuse to make room for growth in our relationships.
And let’s assume good in each other more often than not.
Because, in most cases, people are doing the very best they can.*