When "Best Friends Forever" Suddenly Aren't
Three ways to respond when a close friendship ends.
Posted Apr 20, 2019
One of the most hurtful experiences any of us can have is when a wonderful friend suddenly disappears from our lives. It’s a jolt, and it’s very painful.
This situation is one I have run across frequently in my mediation and counseling practice. I have found three different ways of responding to it and thinking about it. They are radically different, and are:
Life is a Brownian motion of human beings, where we are always in constant process, connecting, disconnecting, reconnecting, caught up in an endless whirl of mutation and flux. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "The only thing constant is change. You can’t step in the same river twice, and if you could, you wouldn’t be the same person."
In addition, all of our lives are filled with mystery and mysteries. And sometimes events happen that dramatically reveal just how mysterious our lives really are. The deaths, by their own hands, of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are perplexing examples.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were both people who were wealthy, accomplished, successful, world-famous, attractive, charismatic, and were both loved and admired by universes of fans.
Yet they both found their lives so painful that they chose to end them.
It is an incomprehensible mystery.
So, to return to our original question, Why is it that sometimes "best friends forever" suddenly aren’t? The real answer may be that some things just don’t make sense and can’t really be explained. We just have to accept them.
2. A Proactive Repair Strategy
Strategy number one was acceptance, and strategy number two is the complete opposite. Strategy number two is a step-by-step strategy to repair the rift. Here are the steps:
1. Communicate to the other person verbally or by phone, if possible. If not, send a card or a letter. This is the message to communicate (in your own words): “We used to be very close. But then something happened, and now we’re not.”
2. “I’m not sure what it was that happened. I’m really not! And whatever it was that happened may have been my fault.”
3. “If whatever it was that happened was my fault, I apologize!”
4. “I would like to start over and be friends again, because I greatly value your friendship. Could we meet somewhere and have coffee and talk?”
This is a very simple four-step strategy. But all four steps are key and need to be done in sequence, with nothing omitted: 1. We used to be friends, and now we aren’t; 2. Something happened, and I don’t know what it was. It may have been my fault; 3. If it was my fault, I apologize; and 4. I value you and would like to be friends again.
Very simple, and yes, it’s hard to do. But it is highly effective. Of the three different responses to a friendship breakdown, this is the one I have used (for clients) most often and most successfully.
3. Understanding the Role of Identity in Friendship
We all have some primary “identity,” that personal, irreducible substrate that in some basic sense defines “who we are.” But we also have other secondary identities, which may arise organically out of our primary identity or, in various ways, be in tension or conflict with our primary identity. This is where it gets complicated.
We are constantly surrounded by other possible identities or ways to live our lives and think about ourselves. Some of those are imposed on us by external agencies (family, society, job). But others are aspirational: things we would like to do, or new ways we would like to live.
We are often in flux as to what identity most truly represents us. Or which identity could best fulfill who we would really like to be.
When a longtime, close friendship suddenly disrupts, the disruption may have come about because the other party is negotiating some kind of identity change.
Ironically, it may be that the other person may not be rejecting you. They may in fact be rejecting themselves, which you may now represent, because you remind them of their old, discarded identity!
There are many variations in human dynamics that stem from the choosing and rejecting of secondary personal identities.
We’re complex folks, we humans!
© 2019 David Evans