Our Friendships Evolve Because We Do

Relationships

Our Friendships Evolve Because We Do | Wit & Delight
Photo by Elise Wilcox on Unsplash

When I was sixteen, I wrote “Dear Ashley” on wide-ruled paper. This was our notebook. Decorated in old magazine cutouts, the gleaming words “HOT” and “KISS HIM” are taped down in hot pink blocks on the cover. On the inside, drawings, lists, and gutsy notes from one to the other in loopy handwriting. The shape of our letters changed based on our feelings at the time. I wrote to Ashley in all caps, testing out how it felt to yell. In between classes, we’d pass each other the book, a tightly spiraled diary covered in leafy papier-mâché. Ashley was my best friend.

But, it was all of my girlfriends that passed eager notes to each other in high school. I anticipated every single one, folded into an origami swan. A few of us kept shared journals. We called each one, “The Notebook.” 

We’d ask in feverish gusts after class, “Do you have The Notebook?”

I always had to be thinking about them, my girlfriends. I considered their reactions, movements, preferences. We leaned on each other when walking down the crowded halls, fondly pushing our blonde forearms together. We signed our letters by kissing the page wearing cheap lipstick or with an urgent demand: Respond to me RIGHT AWAY. 4 DaYs UntiL hoMeCominG.

We discussed relationships like breathing, always drastically heartbroken, going through something. We were shameless. Some relationships were lusty and competitive, brash and impeccably mean. These relationships were least bashful, consuming in their fiery. When we went off to college, I missed them like a limb. How could I go on without their throbbing coals keeping me warm?

College friendships were explorative. We changed drastically in those years. I found new girlfriends, and the love for them felt elastic. They saved me from harm I didn’t know existed. I vowed to keep them forever. Together, we could be sloppy and ugly and feel our most beautiful and treacherous. We could cry in stairwells and fall in love with strangers in bar bathrooms. We could spend hours summarizing our nights. “The Notebook” was collecting dust in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. I lost touch with people from high school, and it didn’t break my heart. I suddenly wanted so many friends. I had so much space for them. I had this innate capacity to love everybody.

Now, I am in my thirties. I have lost friends from my twenties but kept some close. I am team quality over quantity. I am tired, holistically, but open like a flower. Now, I select my friends like ripe fruit in a grocery store.

Now, I am in my thirties. I have lost friends from my twenties but kept some close. I am team quality over quantity. I am tired, holistically, but open like a flower. Now, I select my friends like ripe fruit in a grocery store. I’ve learned so many things about myself in the past ten years. My work colleagues become confidants. I seek out hobbies and gain lifetime friends from sharing matters of adoration. I’m less haphazard about who I hang out with, and friendship is meaningful, not merely a joyous, flighty space to fill. I don’t have time for fleeting girlfriends in corners and bars. That high school fearless girl-love has vanished with the notebooks. 

But that doesn’t mean I’m not heartbroken by the breakup; the evolution of friendship as it is. 

Friend breakups, no matter your age, are emotionally tolling. In my thirties, I’ve noticed an odd trend taking place. My friendships are changing out of my control. Deep, ethereal friendships built throughout adulthood are going away because we chose different paths. Four years are no longer placed carefully in front of us, a map of milestones and new experiences. They’re strewn about, a slab of unknowns and quick U-turns. 

The recipe is pretty simple. We change so our friendships change. They evolve as we grow. Women weave in and out. Their transformation is inevitable based on the way we reinvent ourselves. We can’t predict when a change takes place, so we can’t predict when friend breakups will unfold, get lost. Which, when examined closely, is beautiful.

Hear me out. I read this quote in Motherhood, a book by Sheila Heti: “It is only fear that makes us interrogate too deeply into our relationships and only a lust for power that makes us interrogate too deeply into the unknown…” 

It got me thinking… when it comes to friendships, what am I afraid of?

So, a personal exercise. I will write down everything I fear related to this topic. Deep breath (the list): Loss. Judgment. Misinterpretation. Uncertainty. Lack of explanation; the reality of the answers I would receive if I had an explanation. The unknown.

The scariest part? When I think of the unknown, I think of myself. I carry a lot of unknowns. I don’t know who I will be in a month or a year. I can’t predict my desires as much as I can predict someone else’s. The people we surround ourselves with reflect a light we carry like a mirror. With each other, we become one another. Our girlfriends knead their knuckles into our necks like racehorses down a stretch. Their support is earthmoving, a shared chest heartbeat. Friendships are so aligned with who we are at any given moment. So, when we decide to go a different direction, race another race, it hurts deeply to feel the loss. The mourning of a friend is an extended part of who we once were. And we mourn ourselves too.

The issue I have lately is the barren expectation. I don’t know when a friend will slip away. Perhaps it has something to do with how much I’m changing, and it bothers me to have no control over the sense of that, mourning a past self, the one invested in a friendship when it disappears. 

When we get older, people seek out such different timelines. In high school, college, our twenties, we are often standing at the same starting gate. We have class at 9 p.m. We want to drink on a Wednesday. Our goals are centered: college and then career. Our worries and values are the same. We make big mistakes alongside each other. We only look outward, shoot stars. 

And then we’re thirty. Houses and husbands and wives and children and no children and careers and traveling across the world and deep, aggravating grief consume us. Life is no longer a circle or a straight line. It’s a flooded riverbed, branching out in a million directions. That’s the most heartbreaking part for me. Suddenly, I’ve left a friend because I caught a heavier current and slipped away. 

In my experience, ending a friendship doesn’t provide closure. Lost friendships sit in a gray space of the unknown, their lack not black or white. There’s not a blown-out argument, infidelity, or an invisible prenup. Friendship guts are one-dimensional, 100% ego-based, and emotional. You don’t pick up your clothes from their house or avoid them in the grocery store (or, maybe you do). You see them often if you have the same friends. The breakup itself wasn’t ugly. It was soft and happened as carefully as a butterfly bopping through the air, a growing apartness. Women share so many of these stories. Perhaps a friend thought you were becoming selfish, too needy, too obsessed with your career. In my experience, losing a woman is such a deep betrayal compared to losing a man. Perhaps I don’t remember any of the men I dated in college because they weren’t part of me at all.  

In an article in Elle about the lingering wounds of friendship breakups, the author writes, “Losing a close friendship can feel like a death, yet no one thinks to hold a shiva.”

We talk about romantic relationships way more than we discuss friendship breakups. We have podcasts and self-help books that offer humility and advice. We know how to let them run their course. We seek help and advice from others. Why aren’t we doing this with our friendships? Instead, we keep our lost friendships to ourselves, left in a frosted, isolated shed of feelings.

In January, Wit & Delight writers are prioritizing what matters most to them. Friendships are a priority for all of us. But, we rarely talk about what it’s like when they run their course. When we organize our lives, we have to make space. Prioritize hanging friendships on a line and letting them dry. Prioritize the territory that allows you to fill in your new self. The evolution of friendships is the evolution of us. And that’s wonderful. 

Friendships are love stories. We love one another as deeply as romantic love, perhaps even more. We kick and scream for them, cry tears of joy for their presence and mourn their absence. 

Recently, one of my best girlfriends experienced a life change. One that, in another world, could potentially pull us apart. We were together sipping wine late into the evening, talking through things, and she looked at me in tears and said, “But my biggest fear about this whole thing is losing you. I can’t lose you.” And I broke, a human mirror, so grateful for her feelings. “I was worried about that, too. You won’t lose me. We won’t lose each other.” And we hugged and cried.

Friendships are love stories. We love one another as deeply as romantic love, perhaps even more. We kick and scream for them, cry tears of joy for their presence and mourn their absence. 

To the friendships I’ve lost, I still mourn you in some way. Women that drifted out of my life twenty years ago are still a part of me. I don’t think friendship breakups are rejections. They’re emotional, platonic shifts, physical reminders that we expand beyond what they can support, a deep truth in how we become who we are today.

BY Brittany Chaffee - January 13, 2022

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Lili
January 13, 2022 11:28 am

Wow so poignant and touching. Huge fan of your writing, and I agree that friendship break ups deserve more priority and attention. When I first lost a best friend at 21, it was so painful and took years to process. It wasn’t like a romantic break up where I could cry for a week and vent to other platonic friends. Instead I shut down, didn’t talk about it, and tried my best to forget my old best friend. Also at the time, it felt humiliating to talk about my best friend leaving me. I felt like I was a terrible… Read more »

erin
January 13, 2022 6:01 pm

Thank you for sharing this. You have found so many of the twists and turns in the loss of friendship. A year-and-a-half ago my friend of 25 years ended our friendship in a text with no explanation–she’d just invited me to visit her for a few weeks after i’d been harassed by a former student. It makes no sense. I am learning to grieve it. But there is very little language to talk about that grief. And there was so much shame at the beginning–what did I do? was I too needy? was I to blame for getting myself in… Read more »

mika
January 13, 2022 11:48 pm

What a beautiful article, Brittany. I’ve found myself thinking about this topic A LOT during covid/isolation. I’ve had to disconnect from some close friends due to pure exhaustion -mentally and physically, and to preserve my mental health. Writing catch up emails, texts, and even making phone calls nowadays feels exhausting because, well, life is exhausting and stressful. I think you should propose a book on this topic! 🙂

Jenifer
January 14, 2022 12:39 pm

Thank you for sharing your views on friendships and loss. The first time I heard about a friendship break up from another friend, “she broke up with me” I was shocked to even think someone could do that but it does happen and sometimes for the better. Lisa Rubisch wrote an excellent article on this subject on Cup of JO last year entitled Have you ever had a friendship breakup? I highly recommend reading that as well.

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