ghosts of friendships past

It’s a strange sensation, losing a friend.

It can happen in a bunch of different ways, I guess. Sometimes you simply grow apart. You’re friends in grade school because you both like the same flavor of PopTarts and you have made up an entire saga about unicorns to play out on the playground at recess. Then, all of a sudden, you’re auditioning for the school musical and she’s joining the volleyball team. And from then on, you just see each other in English, exchanging polite smiles or working together on yet another PowerPoint presentation. You’re not enemies, but you’re not friends anymore either. It’s bittersweet for awhile, but you move on.

Sometimes, especially in the case of relationships born out of mere convenience, you start to see certain characteristics in a person that force you to grow apart. The girls who lived down the hall from you in your freshman dorm suddenly don’t have anything in common with you, and you realize they never actually did — you were just friends because you lived together. Your coworkers from your old job are harder to relate to because you don’t have work to talk about anymore. Your former biology lab partner suddenly has horrible taste in music and a fake, peppy smile that didn’t matter when you were dissecting a fetal pig, but now all of these things annoy you to no end. It’s not as hard to say goodbye to these relationships, because you realize they weren’t based on any sort of depth. You miss the friends, but you don’t miss the way they chewed their gum.

Other times, physical distance is what ends a relationship. Your best friend for years moves across the country, or you both go to separate colleges after high school. You make a conscious effort, Skyping once a week or writing old fashioned letters, but inevitably, you lose touch. You see her engagement pictures on Facebook, you catch up every once in awhile, but things will never be as they once were. You’ll never have coffee dates where you can actually get past the surface details of your own lives. “What have you been up to?” and “That sounds exciting!” are the center of your conversations, always. This is also bittersweet, but it’s a natural part of life and growing up.

But the most painful way to lose a friend is to watch it happen right in front of you. Slowly, this person you have come to connect yourself with, to love completely, begins to fade away from you. All of the things that you have become accustomed to — the secrets, the inside jokes, the knowing glances — disappear from your life. Who will you stay up until 2am with, doing nothing but staring at the ceiling? Who will distract you from Facebook while you sit at your favorite coffeeshop for five hours on a Saturday afternoon? Everything you do makes you feel alone, even the things you didn’t share with this person. Days pass, even weeks, without any text messages, any coffee dates, any significant words exchanged. The fault can’t be placed on only one of you, but you don’t know what words can be said to fix things. How do you say the things you can’t even say to yourself?

I guess it just strikes me how transient relationships are. Unlike in a romantic partnership, in a friendship the only thing you have tethering you together is this mutual bond of “being friends.” I mean, you have, in a sense, committed yourselves to one another, but you don’t have the explicitly stated exclusivity that husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends have. But just because you haven’t stated publicly or in a romantic ceremony in front of your family that you intend to be linked to this person, it doesn’t mean losing them hurts less. This is especially hard when you have a best friend. You can spend all the time together that you want, you can love each other with your entire hearts, but in the end, when you lose each other, it still feels like as much of a breakup as if you had been romantically linked to that person.

I think the key is to look fondly on the past relationships you’ve had, the friends you’ve lost, the people you’ve distanced yourself from. Don’t let those losses become tinged with negativity, with grudges and unhappiness. Celebrate the people you’ve had in your life for who they are, who you were when you were with them, and the fact that, for however long, you were able to share something together. Relationships are a unique part of the human experience — if anything, cherish the fact that you’re alive, you can love, and you have loved. Those lost relationships are only proof that your heart is working.

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