I’m including today’s post as part of Spoons‘ “Thinking Out Loud” Thursday link-up. Although I guess it’s more like “feeling out loud”? 🙂
As I scrolled mindlessly through the News Feed, the faces and names I saw weren’t just floating on by in a sea of information overload as usual. This time, they were sparking memories. Memories of laughter – hearty laughter. Memories of conversations that lasted hours, words of wisdom in the lines of hungrily-devoured email updates, and the long-forgotten inside jokes that got us through the worst and weirdest moments.
Old friends are now all but strangers.
As I twirled gooey strands of melted cheese on my fork, I let myself get lost in these memories of friends come and gone. Examining my feelings, it struck me that something was wrong with how I was feeling. I shouldn’t be feeling resentment and bitterness toward these people for….what? Moving along in life? Not being the same person they were 1, 2, 5 years ago?
And that’s when something finally let go inside me. Suddenly, there was that relief that comes with finally being brutally honest with yourself. I realized that all my feelings toward these lost friendships boil down to one simple thing: it just hurts. It’s not them. It’s just sad.
It hurts when someone I used to interact with stops showing interest in my life. It hurts when a girlfriend I used to be close with just stops talking to me. It hurts when someone I’m trying to reach out to keeps flaking on plans or not returning messages or is always too busy.
(I’m going to go into vent mode for just a second, so bear with me)
After I posted about my marathon on Facebook, the picture got over 100 likes and several comments from well-wishers. People I barely knew were offering their congratulations….and yet, a few people I thought were good friends were nowhere to be found. Same thing when I posted about my promotion a few weeks later. I know this sounds like a terribly petty thing to gripe about: oh boo hoo, someone didn’t like my Facebook post! But it hurt my feelings, because these weren’t just any old Facebook posts. Something really big happened in my life, something I worked hard to accomplish and was very proud of, and people I thought were my friends, people who used to engage with me all the time, couldn’t even be bothered to acknowledge it. At all. Not even with a mindless click of the “like” button. I just don’t get it. Near-strangers recognized what an accomplishment this was for me, but my own friends couldn’t?
I can hear the responses already: that’s just how life is, Hanna. Friendships are always changing. You can’t be friends with everyone forever. It’s normal for people to go off in different directions, it just happens. You’ll make new friends in their place.
I can hear them because they are already playing in my own head. Or, if I’m in a less magnanimous state of mind, they sound something like this instead:
Who needs them, anyway? If they don’t want to talk to me, their loss! I’m better off without them, and I’ll show them! They’ll be the one missing me! I’ll just cut them out of my life and never look back!
These were the things running around my head when I sat there twirling cheese on a fork. I was shocked at how bitter and petty I sounded, until it hit me that these feelings were coming from a place of hurt that I hadn’t admitted to myself. For some reason, we humans find it easier to deal with anger than to deal with sadness, hence why people so often channel their hurt through spite and bitterness.
And then, after a good dose of bitterness comes the inevitable: What did I do wrong? Was it something I said?
You comb through your memory, searching for something – anything – you might have off-handedly said or did to send this person running.
But in most cases, there is nothing. No harsh words, no unforgivable actions, no big blowout or misunderstanding. Which is what makes it so hard: how can I be angry when no one is to blame? (cue cheesy 80s music….)
I’ve noticed that people tend to get more one-dimensional as they age out of college and into adulthood. After years of restless youthful exploration, we are left with this yearning to frame a more concrete identity for ourselves – in fact, in many ways the “real world” demands this of us. Limiting ourselves in this way also helps us to find communities of like-minded people and make our already crowded lives less overwhelming.
That doesn’t mean we all don’t have different interests and passions, of course. But I think most of us – myself included – tend to absorb ourselves in one or two way more than the others. I have been “that girl” in your Facebook feed who babbles on about running and posts workouts all the time (to my credit, I have really made an effort to be better about this and have been limiting my social media posting a lot lately). For another friend of mine, it’s his passion for rescue dogs, and he posts frequently about that. Several other friends, once they got engaged, began talking about wedding planning nonstop. Still others, it’s sports. Or their kids or their new house or their career or their political views….you get the idea.
There’s nothing wrong with letting go of many passions in favor of a select few, but this has the unintentional effect of making friends who don’t share those interests feel alienated and annoyed. Of course we should always try to make room for our other friends, but if we’re being honest, it is harder to connect with them and harder to want to connect with them. So, even though I still have a lot in common with those old friends, I guess I can understand that they don’t feel they can relate to me anymore. It’s sad, but…I’ve also felt the same way.
And I also know that all of this starts with the girl in the mirror. After all, I could have taken the time I spent writing this post and shot some of those old friends an email. But I didn’t.
So, to all the friends I’ve loved before: I’m not writing this post to lash out at you, or to ask for your friendship back (although I wouldn’t refuse it, of course). I’m writing because a friendship is a beautiful thing, and watching it perish just hurts. I wanted to both explore those feelings and be honest about them.
I still miss you sometimes, even though it must seem like we’ve both forgotten each other’s existence by now. It’s a shame that what we had couldn’t last. But I understand that you had to go. Life came to pull us in different directions and, with no regrets, we went along. It may have been for the best, but you know what? I’m sure there are at least a few things along my journey that I would trade for just one more of our great conversations or inside jokes.
I won’t be bitter toward you old friends, not anymore. You don’t deserve it. It’s just, well, you know me. I’m an ol’ sentimental fool and it’s hard to let go sometimes.
But, you know something? It’s moments like these that also remind me to be grateful of what I do have. For all the people who have drifted away, life has brought me many incredible people who haven’t. I’m sure more of them will eventually drift away as well, but at any point in my life, I can take stock and find a diverse inventory of many friends – some old, some new – who are still here. The presence of just one of you is enough to fill the void that many left behind, and I feel a need to hug you all a little tighter now.
(The pasta was just okay, by the way. Entirely too much cheese. )