Friends & other ghosts
they come and they go
life: examined is an invitation to get curious—a collection of ideas, and thoughts about living a creative, intentional life—written from my perch in Portugal.
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If you've found your way here from a recommendation of my essay Permission to Stop Doing the Thing via Steve Schlafman's newsletter Lightwaves, you're in kindred company. Thank you for taking a chance on life: examined (and thanks, Steve)!
Let’s dip into some late summer musings on those often confounding, sometimes delightful entanglements we call relationships.
Perhaps it's the time of year, the season of my life, or COVID + climate catastrophe + don't make me list ALL the other things that erosion is happening on friend mountain. Well, it's not much of a mountain, more of a hillock, but whatever it is, it's shrinking.
As an introvert and HSP, I'm often overwhelmed by activities and events that most people think are fun.
I'm particular about how and with whom I spend my time. I'm not a collector (people, things, etc.), so I stick to a few close friends who see me and get me. Sure, I know plenty of folks, but pursuing quantity over quality (hello, social media follows and likes, etc.) has never interested me.
I'm at my best and feel most like me when one-on-one or with just a few others.
I prefer to go deep, invest time in my friends, and nurture curiosity about their lives instead of skimming the surface with small talk. I guess this makes me intense. Oh well. So be it.
Change: The Unavoidable
Relationships, romantic or otherwise, continually change. That's the proverbial constant.
I've been a partner in some beautiful friendships throughout the years, and today, still. And while I'm philosophical about the inevitable loss of friendships, I mourn their passing.
Friends can be a sanctuary—they're comrades, laugh-generators, and secret-sharers—and they can be ghosts, haunting you at unexpected times.
Profound friendships based on mutual love, concern, history, and enough differences to keep things interesting are lifeblood, and they will transform. Some changes are subtle and positive, barely discernible.
But when friendships go sideways, there's bound to be lots of feelings.
The emotions are varied, with some surprises—feelings we consider good mixed in with the yuckier ones. The memories of shared experiences and petty resentments surprise you like lightning flashes on a clear day.
The feels that have come up for me around recent friend changes are:
Does anything in this list resonate with you?
Have you gone, or are you going through a friend hiccup or break-up? It's kinda tender and perplexing, isn't it?
Friendship at the Crossroads
I've been at the crossroads with a few friends this year.
Long-time friendships are unraveling in different ways. It's odd and organic, just happening, and no one talks about it.
Most of my friends don't like confrontation or view confrontation as fighting, but I'm a let's clear the air type, which is a challenging process to do alone.
This is not to say I don't play a part in these dissolutions, which are often the result of hurt egos, misunderstandings, and just plain moving on. Oh, and living abroad, thousands of kilometers away, has something to do with it, too.
I've come to terms with the fact that a crucial past relationships are just that—in the past. But reaching this state takes a while if the connection was (is) deep.
Age and experience have made me more forgiving of myself and others.
I was one hell of a grudge-holder in the past, but now I choose not to cultivate that poisonous garden. Holding grudges never did anything but eat me up inside and that's just stupid. Now, I strive for acceptance and the grace to move on, in time, without too much internal upheaval.
Accepting the reality of withering relationships is a sobering practice, one I'll keep working at but never master. I'm okay, mostly, with the messiness of life.
Space for the New
As I witness old relationships metamorphose, I see new ones developing. Most interesting are the few acquaintances moving from casual to the inner circle.
Strengthening bonds with people who were on the periphery of my life is delightful.
Who knew potential deep friendship could lie dormant in the cells of those we've known for years but not really known?
Then there’s former friends, those ghosts that return, with humility, curiosity, and real intent—intention to make things right—that's been the most surprising thing.
When the time is right, I can embrace old friends as new, starting over while acknowledging our shared history. Allowing ghosts back in is tricky and case-by-case as not all hurts can be mended, so your mileage may vary.
Transition periods are ripe and prickly and a cause for tears—of joy or sorrow. Growing hurts like hell. We can either fight change/growth and suffer or accept and adapt.
A therapist once told me, "It's hard to make new old friends."
She's right, of course. Old friends/friendships take time.
New-to-us people offer possibility, but like any risk, you can't know the outcome until you've hung in there for a while, taking time to discover one another and yourself in this new relationship.
You've got to put the time in without any promise of reward.
If I'm excited about a person as a potential new friend, I try to rein in my enthusiasm and not project my will you be my friend vibes onto them. This occasion is rare, as I seldom fall into friend-love at first sight. Being awkward, though? I do that often.
How do you handle the sorrow of fading or changing friendships? What helps you get through these transitions?
Tell me in the comments section, below.
JUST ONE GOOD LINK:
Once we have given up on the poisonous goal of respectability, we will at last be ready for friendship…
From The School of Life: Why Misfits Make Good Friends (we do!)
FAVORITE PORTUGUESE TO ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE WEEK:
Here are some delicious treats to whet your appetite:
In addition to lizards and cinnamon cookies, we produce other well-known references of the palate of the Portuguese: palm trees, venison tongues, cat tongues, churros and chocolate supremes.
Thank you Gloria, Teresa, Jeff, Lisa, Tovit, Don, and Bill for supporting life: examined through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity, in part, affords me time to write this letter to you each week(ish).
Whether a coffee, a comment, a like, or a share—I’m grateful you’re here. Until next time —> stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and thanks for reading life: examined!
Totally get what you are saying with you new newsletter.
Having moved either places or countries a few times in my life, I can totally relate to this.
I have been very fortunate to have been able to retain a few friends from the different places or chapters in my life.
It is so hard when deep friendships fade because of various and sometimes unbeknown reasons.
As I have grown older and more comfortable with myself, I have accepted these changes for it being an organic change that happens within life.
Everything changes and I have become better at accepting the changes especially within friendships. Just as seasons change so do our relationships.
Sending you hugs for the losses that might have been hard to deal with and celebrating with you on the new fledglings friendships that are blossoming.
Shanna, remarkable courage was necessary to reveal your own vulnerability in writing this beautiful piece. I, and many readers, will recognize this bit of lightening on a sunny day. There is a yearning for the comfort and safety of familiarity which includes friends. But new beginnings have a way of awakening our hearts in a way that is uniquely enriching. I have no doubt that you will always have a stunning bouquet of friends on your journey forward. XO