- 2003 23 Apr
Friendships die with a bang or a whimper. Those that whimper simply dissolve from neglect, having run their natural course. They quietly cross some threshold, and the break comes to pass without much fanfare. It is normal, even appropriate, to shed friends throughout our lives when we leave school, when we change jobs, when we move to a new city, even when we drop an aerobics class. Start a new romance, get married, have children, and you probably leave behind a wake of friends.
Friendships ending with a bang are more likely the result of an unexpected change or a more dreadful betrayal. You amass enough incremental bitterness (or it comes in one lump sum) and you have one too many unsatisfying encounters, then one of you erupts. You come to the end of your journey together, you say good riddance, and take different paths.
Regardless of how a friendship breaks, with a bang or a whimper, you will inevitably find yourself wondering whether it should be repaired, whether you should do what you can to salvage what is left or just let it go. That’s a good question, by the way, because not every friendship should be saved. Sometimes the cost is just too high. But there’s no hard-and-fast rule; each of us has to decide what is and isn’t fundamentally important to us.
If you value a relationship that has come to the end of the road, we urge you not to write it off completely-at least not just yet. Okay, so you’ve been burned, betrayed in a way you never deserved. You want to get even. But you have a choice: You can experience some momentary satisfaction by slamming the door shut and keeping it locked with resentment, or you can give yourself space and time to cool off and collect your thoughts. The point is that if you cherish a friendship you shouldn’t be too quick to burn all of your bridges-even if you’re far apart at the moment. It may be a cliché, but time really does have a way of healing deep hurts. Time allows forgiveness to wash away anger and keep us healthy.
Since we’re tossing around clichés, allow us to remind you of another: "A friend in need is a friend indeed." What this means is that when life deals you a bitter hand it will be your old friends you seek out. When a tragedy happens-a career setback or the loss of a parent, for example-you realize life’s too short to hold on to grudges. Tragedy reminds us what is really important in life: our relationships. It can spur us on to rebuild bridges once burned in anger. Talking with an old friend, after all, can remind us that life was not always so bleak, and it can give us hope that our world will regain its equilibrium. So do what you can to leave the door open.
But let’s be honest. Sometimes we simply cannot repair a friendship, even though we’ve tried and tried and tried. Sometimes, no matter how terribly sad it makes us, we have to accept the fact that a friendship has died. After all, no friendship can weather a crisis if only one person wants to preserve the relationship. When that’s the case, the best we can do is grieve the loss. We must note those things we will miss because that person is no longer a central part of our life and accept the fact that the relationship is over. We must give ourselves permission to feel sad, and we must move on.
Many broken friendships are destined to stay that way. Renewals are mostly reserved for those special, intimate friendships, the ones that brought meaning to our lives. Even then it can often seem impossible to fit the pieces back together. But there are good reasons to try. The restored relationship can give us perspective on our experiences and deepen our lives. The stronger for being broken, such a friendship can help us carry on our lives with greater satisfaction.