I had a friend from college, with whom I had a great long-distance post-graduation relationship. He’d call me on my birthday and croon “Happy Birthday” into the message machine, complete with vibrato. We exchanged funny letters and referenced various private jokes. It was a nice, light, uncomplicated relationship. Despite not seeing him for years at a time, I still felt very close to him and felt his presence in the world as one of my treasured friends.
Suddenly, one day, he stopped responding to my emails. He offered no explanation. I wrote several times, apologizing for whatever I did to offend him. Finally I asked him to just explain and then I would go away. NOTHING. One day, he emailed me by mistake from his office, referencing some business matter that was clearly meant for someone close to my name in the alphabet, but not for me. THAT was really weird. I wrote back to say, “Hey! Can we be friends again?” Silence.
I suspect that his wife didn’t like our relationship or saw it as a threat to their relationship, which it really was not. I say this because it is too hurtful to think that someone I thought I knew would just turn his back on me forever, so it feels better to blame the wife.
Friends come and friends go, but usually there is a reason. Someone gets offended, someone gets hurt, someone’s interests change, someone gets much busier than the other friend, and so on. Maybe the reason we state isn’t always the accurate reason, but usually there is some kind of explanation. It may not make sense to the recipient, but at least there’s something to ponder. This was so different. I can’t make sense of it.
I have had friends who were once interesting but then became boring. As my husband said after we visited one of these old friends and her husband, “That was about as exciting as watching paint dry.” I guess some people enjoy living a surface-level kind of superficial life, and do not choose to open up or give of themselves. They probably have good reasons – past hurts and so on – but it does not make for an interesting evening. So what is one to do?
Sometimes, for old times’ sake, I will suck it up and continue to see the friend, maybe once or twice a year, figuring I should be able to spare a few hours (I can bring my knitting, or we can meet at a fun shopping center so it isn’t a total waste of my time). Sometimes, though, it becomes unbearable. Usually this is not due to boringness, but more to smugness or one-upmanship or the spouse is the type of jerk who can make himself feel good only by putting everyone else down.
That is when the dilemma of ending the friendship looms. In some cases, our children remained friends, and that made it especially difficult. It felt bad either way I chose.
Lately, I have decided to try to reframe this awkward feeling in an effort to lose those guilty feelings. I was in the waiting room of my new chiropractor the other day, and who should walk in but my OLD chiropractor. Apparently OC goes to NC for his adjustments (I guess they can’t adjust themselves). He spoke to the staff at the window but ended up leaving because he didn’t want to wait while others went before him. Before that, though, I was DYING, thinking he would sit down in the waiting room where I was and realize I was not seeing him any more, but instead going to this other chiropractor. I felt so embarrassed, and then hugely relieved when he left. But why should I feel embarrassed? I don’t owe him anything. HE’s the one who lost a patient. HE should be embarrassed.
But it doesn’t seem to work that way for me. I decided not to represent someone last week, and wrote her a letter explaining we can’t represent all the people who need us and I was sorry but sure she would find some other attorney to help her (the private bar represents poor people in Social Security hearings because they can be paid from the retroactive benefits if the client wins).
This is not easy for me to do, but since having pneumonia earlier this year, I am trying not to take cases for clients from whom I get a certain dishonest vibe. I have been a legal aid attorney for 21 years, and I have developed special antennae that warn me. In the past, I would try to look past that feeling (often the dishonesty is part of the client’s illness) and just try to persevere with the nuts and bolts of the case, but for the moment, I am unable to do that. So what happened? The client called and left a long sobbing message on my voice mail begging me to take her case, how could I do this to her, what will she do now, etc. I felt just awful but luckily my devoted assistant was willing to call her back, comfort her and point her in the right direction.
Causing endings, receiving endings, and wallowing in between – all are problematic. I would love to hear how others deal with this.