Letting go of friendships.
Have you ever experienced the loss of a great friendship? I’m guessing yes, I feel it’s a universal truth. What I’m really interested in is how you dealt with it, because over the last year or so I’ve been through just that, and it’s taken a while to process the angst and come to terms with the fact that it’s time to let it go. We all know the adage that friends are either for a lifetime, reason or a season, but when the reality of that hits home it may have a greater impact than we imagine.
I’ve always held my friendships very near and dear in my life. Family is one thing, but it’s often said that friendships are the family we choose, so the connections can be strong. As the eldest of three, and the only girl in my family, my early friendships were like my sisters. Sharing highs and lows of childhood, the teenage years and the discovery of those wonderful creatures, boys! In my 20’s friends were for sharing good times and travels and starting to get a little more serious about life and career. As I hit my 30’s my friendships grew deeper, soulful, full of connection and shared values, as I negotiated life’s bigger journeys of marriage, divorce, fertility, career and then eventually raising a family. For me friendships are part of who I am, my identity and make up a huge part of my inner life. I’ve always prioritised them and cherished their presence.
Since I’ve clicked into my 40’s, I’ve found myself doing a stock-take of current friendships and the part they play in my life. I need them to be real and true, honest and compassionate and like all relationships a sense of being met by the other person. A wise friend once told me that I was a little bit too much all or nothing with my friendships, so you were either in or you were out, so I have been consciously aware over the last 10 years to fill my life with all kinds of friendships. The ones you cry with during life’s challenges and the ones you catch up with coffee for once in a while. All are cherished and valuable to me no matter the contact. The shift is recognising the role they play in your life.
Kerry Armstrong does a fabulous job of giving us a reference for this in her book “The Circles.” It helped me to understand my friendships and their impact on my identity. The greatest gift from this book was to know when it’s time to “untie the knot” and let those friends go who no longer want to be there or no longer need to be there.
This loss of friendship I’m referring to happened within my inner circle, my closest confidantes. The people you go to in a crisis, the ones you laugh with till your belly aches, who know all your stuff and love you just the same. These friendships accept you grumps and all, and by the next time you meet, have long forgotten your shortcomings. You can tell them all the things you hate about your husband without judgement. They understand you truly love him and you are just letting off steam. I reckon if you get to 40 and can count these friends on one hand you are doing pretty well. That was great advice from a besties mother and I have really taken it to my soul. I have been fortunate enough to have more than a handful of these friends in my life.
So, what happens when you let someone see you and they reject it? When they get angry, or hold a grudge towards you because you spoke your truth and it didn’t sit well with them. Well the honest truth is, it hurts like hell, well it did for me anyway. I learnt a long time ago that only you know your true intention, and even when you try to communicate it, the message is received how the other person wishes to perceive it. We all have a different reality, so trying to make someone understand your intention and your point of view is pointless. It will always be filtered by their truth, their way of seeing the world and will have their perception wrapped all around it and that’s ok, just something you need to constantly remind yourself of.
That’s my head talking, so how was I going to manage my heart? How was I going to move past this hurt and either salvage the friendship or let it go?
I decided it was time to coach myself. That old expression we teach what we most need to know could never have been more applicable, so I decided to put myself through some coaching questions. After all, a Coach is not an expert and is always learning from their own life experiences and that of their clients. I believe the coaches role is to support the client to find their own answers and inner wisdom so why couldn’t I help myself using the coaching style I use.
It went a little like this.
What in particular is causing the angst?
I’ve had a close friendship for a long time which has been a huge part of my life. I truly valued this person and the friendship we shared. There are times when it has been really close and other times when it hasn’t but I’ve always felt supported and cared for by this person.
So what I’m hearing you say is that you have a person in your life who is a close friend with whom you really value their friendship even though the friendship has been tested?
Yes, that’s correct, but even as I say that I can hear the past tense. Valued, shared, has been a huge part of my life.
What is different now in this friendship, how has it changed?
Well in the last year the friendship has become more distant due to a decision I made. I put my needs ahead of the needs of the other person and it wasn’t well received. Even though from my perspective that was what I needed to do.
What is it about this friendship that you are struggling to let go of?
Initially the actual relationship, but in reflection maybe more the idea of it and what it meant. How it hurts to realise this person no longer wants my friendship.
The rejection of my friendship is what really stung.
Just a short snippet of the inner dialogue I went through, but even in these 4 short questions I experience my own recognition of how the friendship had changed already and perhaps earlier than I thought. More importantly it wasn’t just the loss of the friendship I struggled with but the rejection of my friendship.
So how do you move on, let go of the old and make room for the relationships in your life that enrich your experience? Well you do just that. You have to let it go. Like any love relationship, if the other person doesn’t want it or is just not into you anymore, no amount of you holding on or trying to salvage it is going to make a difference. Perhaps it’s a case of one door closes and another one opens because since that time, I’ve been more conscious of the friendships I do have and have dedicated time to them. In the last year, I’ve have made some new friendships, soulmates even, that I know will be in my life for a long time to come. It seems that in some way letting go of this other friendship has cleared space for something new, energy to be redirected where it needs to go and in the end, a lot less angst for me.
It wasn’t a quick process but like anything time does heal. What’s really changed has been my acceptance of this shift. My acceptance of the other person’s points of view, and recognition that it’s time to move forward and focus what is in my life as opposed to what I’m lacking.
Isn’t this a lesson for us all? We are taught from such a young age to acknowledge our strengths and our weaknesses usually more comfortable with our faults. We discuss them in job interviews, with our friends and families and as a culture, Aussies are typically more comfortable discussing our weaknesses than our strengths. Often putting our attention on what is lacking in our life, rather than what is in front of us. Yet what if we focused on our strengths, played to them, enhanced them and lived from this place. Wouldn’t this lead to a culture of gratitude, of abundance, of pride and of what we have rather than what we haven’t.
All food for thought and perhaps my lesson here is the recognition of the wonderful, spirited people I have in my life and the space for more of the same.
Allowing myself time to grieve this friendship was critical. I got angry, sad, aloof and even at times felt really misunderstood, all necessary emotions when you experience a loss.
Now I’m able to remember the good moments, accept without judgement and am certainly in a more neutral position.
Does it still hurt? A little. In some ways, I still miss this friend in my life, but that’s the reality and part of life is living with loss.
For now, I will focus on the beautiful friendships I do have, the ones that show up for me and I for them. The connection, the love and the kindred spirits in my life and the gratitude I have for that.
Love and light