About three months ago, right around Thanksgiving, I lost one of my best friends. No, he didn’t die; he just decided that we weren’t friends anymore and stopped talking to me. I’ve recently spent some time thinking about what happened and I took away a few helpful nuggets that I thought I’d share here, both for myself as well as for anyone else who may find themselves in similar situations that are out of their control.
To this day I still don’t completely know how to feel about it, but I believe I have a decent attitude about how to deal with it. It’s the classic high school story (albeit, neither him nor I are in high school anymore), boy meets girl and boy cuts off existing friendships. A girl he’d been friendly with all his life came back from a mission for the Mormon church and they hit it off in a way they hadn’t before she left. For one, he was Mormon when she left and an atheist when she came back. Naturally, I’m sure they had a lot to talk about. I don’t know how she responded to his deconversion, but it’s safe to say that she either embraced it or decided to tolerate it, because they quickly became an item. I was really happy for him, because until that point his love life seemed somewhat non-existent.
I considered (and still consider) him to be one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I just assumed at the time that I’d be hearing about this exciting new relationship from him more often. Not only was that not the case, but for some reason he stopped talking to me completely. I waited nearly a month before confronting him about why he wouldn’t talk to me anymore. I was a little fervent but tried to make it clear that I was only upset because I cared. After a vague reply basically “shooing” me off I decided to make a final effort via email. It was heartfelt and I was very clear about how much I appreciated our friendship and how supportive I was of his new relationship just in case he had the mistaken idea that I wasn’t. He never replied.
I waited about another month before finally just accepting that we weren’t friends anymore. I took back the things I had purchased for the upcoming Christmas holiday. It hurt and I wanted to go to great lengths to rectify whatever it was that ruined our friendship, but I had already sent him a pretty sappy email; without a reply, any additional attempts to contact him would just be desperate and would likely only make things worse.
Ever since this happened I’ve often contemplated about what I could have done differently. I’ve hated social drama since I was young; in an effort to avoid drama I’m usually quick to analyze my own behavior and find the faults so I can just eat the crow I need to eat in order to make things alright again. In this instance though, I start down that path and then quickly realize that there isn’t much else I can do without crossing the lines he’s clearly drawn. We may not be friends anymore but if someone doesn’t want anything to do with me then the least I can do is respect that wish and not be weird or pathetic about it. It was just a friendship after all, not a romantic relationship, but I’ll be honest that in some ways that almost hurts a little worse.
I realized later that I likely just had the wrong idea about our friendship and that we just never were the brother-like friends that I thought we were. I’ve wanted a friendship like that my whole life; it’s entirely possible that I was just a clingy friend and projected my own wants for a friend I can call a brother, onto him. Maybe I made an otherwise normal friendship weird? Who knows, but there’s no use beating myself up about it. The mind runs wild in the absence of information and the real motive behind his decision is probably a lot less complicated than I keep guessing it is.
I’ve learned that in order to stay sane and confidently tackle the future that the best thing I can do in negative situations like this one, where I have no control, is to approach it totally analytically and take away as much silver lining as I can. Rather than petty and spiteful silver linings like “well, at least I didn’t have to spend that money on Christmas!” I was thinking I’d try to take away something a little more profound.
As an atheist, I am well-versed in how to deal with things that are beyond my control. Religion is a great example of something that I cannot control. I used to spend a lot more mental power worrying about things that are out of my grasp; I spent about a year focusing on nothing but motivational materials, trying to gain perspective on my life. I finally realized that most of my stress and unhappiness was coming from things around me that I had no control over. From the weather to the political climate, I was just a “grumpy” person. I still get fervent about some of those topics but I’ve since learned how to scale back my personal mental investment in them.
The first thing I ask myself in a negative situation is whether or not there’s anything I can reasonably do about it. If there is something I can do about it, is it practical? If not, is it worth the extra effort required to pull it off? If there’s nothing reasonable I can do about the issue then I let it go. This principle applies to pretty much anything, from arguing with the Christian right, to managing my finances, and even to losing a good friend. I did my part and made a sincere effort to reconcile the friendship and without some kind of reciprocation there isn’t anything else I could reasonably do that I could be certain wouldn’t just cause drama rather than fix the situation.
I put the ball in his court; he took the ball and went home. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes for a minute and think about what I would do if I were them. Were I the one to receive a heartfelt email from a friend who is confused about my lack of contact with him, what would I do? Well the first thing to consider is whether or not I do actually want to continue being friends. No matter how upset I am at the individual, if I want to be friends still then communication is a must. If I cared about the friendship then I would reply. I would either let him know how he screwed up, or I would let him know the real reason for my lack of contact and assure him we’re still friends. Ultimately I concluded that if he still wanted to be friends then he would have replied by now, even if he was angry or upset about something.
In conclusion, I decided to feel proud about the way I handled a strange situation. I got irrational for a moment in the beginning but I quickly turned that into a heartfelt message of friendship. When that didn’t work I gave the other person time and patience. When that still didn’t work I accepted the situation and analyzed it in case there was any way I could have handled it better. If there was anything else I could have done better, then I’m still unaware of it and it would likely have had to happen before the friendship dissolved anyway. So at this point there really does appear to be nothing left to do. I did feel bad for taking back his Christmas gift, but it felt weird to give a gift when it was clear that he preferred I didn’t, and almost certainly wasn’t going to give one himself.
The status of our friendship was sealed when my birthday rolled around earlier this month and didn’t hear anything from him. In a way, that fact provides some closure since it signifies that he is pretty dedicated to staying out of contact. That does suck, a lot, but I think it makes the overall acceptance a bit easier. The only unknown now is why he cut off contact, but that is merely a curiosity. Luckily, the actionable information such as whether or not the friendship could continue, is pretty clear cut.
I’ve really been trying hard for a while now to be an all around happier and more patient person. I think I can safely say that the way I handled a potentially dramatic situation is indicative of some of that personal progress. It still hurts to think about but I suspect that a proper analysis of the situation as I’ve just done will really help alleviate some of that anxiety. Besides, nothing that has happened can change the past. I am glad we were friends, even for just the few years that we were. Being a happy confident person with a clear head is bound to earn me new friends in the future, too.