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gif of broken pinky swear between best friends by elizabeth brockway
Elizabeth Brockway
Relationships

My Bestie Stopped Our Friendship Cold

What hurt the most is that she wouldn’t tell me why.

It was clear she’d quit me. When I asked her why, she withheld the truth. I couldn’t work with that.

We met through our kids because … of course, we did. We grew close, fast. She seemed the sister I’ve always wished for and the confidante we each needed. We each enjoyed the other’s company. We were honest with each other, especially about the hard-to-admit things. We didn’t Pollyanna one another to death, and we didn’t pull any punches when it came to agreeing this life is tough and so we just need to be tougher. We emboldened each other to be tougher.

She and I were a love match for years. And then one day, quite literally, we weren’t. I felt the shift immediately, and I tried to both give space and preserve the friendship, alternately. I tried to meet her where she was while honoring my needs at the same time. The tenuousness culminated during a last-ditch, coffee-date attempt to Hail Mary-style win back her friendship.

You can already see where this is going, right? For you can’t “win” friendship. Friendship is gifted and bestowed by those who have it within them to give. You can’t, and shouldn’t have to, play the lottery or buy raffle tickets in order to garner an ally or companion.

It went mostly like this: Hey, this is me, this is you. No need for subterfuge or avoidance. Just lay it on me. What happened for you? What have I done? Please don’t hold back; I can take it and I’d love the chance to work through whatever it is and make it right.

To which she said mostly this: Nah, girl. It’s not you, it’s me. We’re good.

And no amount of any other well-intentioned tactics I tried convinced her to lean into me over our steaming cups and blow off any steam of her own. It was just so much easier for her to blow me off instead.

It has gone down like this twice with friends I thought I’d grow old with. Both times, I leaned into the obvious malcontent, willing to own my role and make things right if I could — only to be met in return with a whole lot o’ nope in the form of all-out retreat.

It’s conflict that creates intimacy and can cement relationships. Conflict between people, friends even, is normal and fairly inevitable. It’s not that discord arises, so much as how we address it when it does. It’s whether we use the opportunity embedded in a clash of psyches to come closer together or let it drive us apart.

My friend’s unwillingness to go there with me felt like insult ladled on top of injury. When a relationship is important to me, I don’t fear facing conflict with that person as much as I fear the day I may no longer care enough to face conflict with them.

How did I divine her I’m-done-with-you mentality when she wouldn’t cop to it? Because I never heard from her again. My Hail Mary attempt to save us only worked to push her all the way away. It seems I’ll never know what changed for her and what stopped our friendship cold. And to me, that’s cruel, if not unusual.

It’s not what we say to people, it’s more how we say it. The way she said she was no longer interested in our friendship stung so acutely because she wasn’t willing to say anything at all. I don’t know how or why I fell so far from any grace she had to give — and I may never. What I know instead is I will tell others the truth that I myself thirst for.

It’s not easy to let someone know how they’ve let you down. It grieves the heart to hurt another’s. When the intention, though, isn’t to cause pain but to work through conflict in hopes of creating a more intimate, stronger connection, then the hurt can be transformed into more heart for each other.

A friendship worth preserving is worth the temporary discomfort of conflict. When we won’t go there with someone, what we don’t express says loudly and clearly: This friendship is no longer valuable to me. At least that’s the story I make up when someone won’t tell me what’s going on in their head.

Being pushed aside is hard enough, even if inevitable for us all. To have no idea why you were left makes it doubly challenging. Today, I’m perched on a seesaw of sometimes missing her terribly but also feeling indignant about her behavior. Such is the process I use for working my way ’round to letting go of loss and moving forward in life — toward mutual love with others.

There’s no easy way to extricate yourself from a friendship. There’s no one right way to depart from someone’s life. I favor truth and the comfort of closure, though. And so I offer that, too.

Sometimes the best that others have to offer us through their actions is a certainty about how we want to treat the people in our lives.

As well as the dawning that it really wasn’t us. It was them.

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children. She flings her life wide open and tells her stories to connect pain to pain and struggle to struggle in hopes others will feel less alone inside their own stories and more at home in their hearts, minds and relationships. Connect with her on her blog Utter Imperfection and on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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