Do you ever wish you could go back to save a friendship from your past, armed with the knowledge you have now? Maybe five or ten years have passed, and you recognize that if you were then who you are now, the friendship might have survived? It’ll be a while before I forget Devon*. We became friends in eighth grade and into high school. We ran track together our sophomore year of high school. Our post practice ritual was driving five minutes to the local Dairy Queen to down chocolate chip cookie dough blizzards. She excelled at track. I came in dead last during a mile run (to be fair, y’all, it was the first week of practice!). Devon was a lighter complexion. She wore make-up, got her hair relaxed and nails French manicured at a beauty salon. My skin was darker, and I rocked braids to hide the new growth from my mother haphazardly chopping off my perm after deeming the hair damaged. My nails were unpainted stubs, and I got my hair done in a woman’s basement while watching Lifetime movies on a television that was missing a volume knob. My outfit of cool back then was a white baby tee paired with the classic jean overalls (one strap undone) and black Nike high tops.
All this to say that being opposites was most likely what connected us as friends, but this was also what allowed jealousy to sprout. And it did in small ways. Like when we both applied for a summer program I had told her about, and she was the one accepted. Or when guys talked to me only so I could talk to her on their behalf. Or when we went off to separate colleges, and during freshman year, she met the man (Chris*) that she’d eventually marry, and I dealt with the angst of dating. She got engaged to Chris right after college and was married at twenty-two. I moved to a new city in the same state for my first real job out of college. I invited her to see my new apartment; she seemed to show little enthusiasm for this new stage in my life, which felt hurtful considering I had shown excitement for her wedding and new home with Chris. We hung out for the last time a couple years after her wedding. I was more confident and finishing up graduate school. I was also working, dating, and living in a new state. During our meet-up, she spoke with a tinge of envy about my life and tried to talk to me about how she felt she was missing out because she had married young. But you’re married, was my thought so I could not understand her dilemma. We talked past each other that night, not truly listening to our anxieties or feelings. After that dinner, we must have both recognized that the friendship was drifting apart. We eventually stopped communicating.
That was over a decade ago, and I’ve reflected on this friendship through the years. I realize that many factors led to its dissolution. We were young, naïve, and inexperienced about the disruptions that impact a friendship with each life stage. We were inept at navigating these progressive stages. We let them happen to us without knowing that we had to actively adjust. I was unaware of how hard or isolating marriage must have been for her at such a young age. She was unaware of the difficulties of moving to a new state alone and building community. Her husband, Chris, was a little controlling and often dismissive of her friends. I was unaware of how a partner can influence the course and sustainability of your friendships. She was probably learning to assert herself in that relationship. People also constantly compared our love lives so I often felt like I fell short of some standard. But what if I had rejected the social comparisons, taken stock of my own emotions and addressed them with her? We lacked the tools, maturity, and foresight to consider the interplay of these factors on the health of the friendship.
This experience made me wonder about present friendships. What mistakes might we be making in a current friendship that we’ll regret in a few years time? How much do we resist doing the hard work necessary to maintain a friendship so we excuse ourselves and state that the friendship is doomed because we are in different life stages? Oh, she’s single, she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t have any kids, she’s clueless about how much time this takes. She’s got her dream job, she won’t know what this feels like. She’s divorced, she can’t help me with this situation. We also make assumptions about how friends will react to us sharing our new stage of life with them (e.g., she doesn’t want to hear about me changing diapers). Based on our assumptions, we are tempted to shut down instead of offering advice or experiences that might help a friend who may be planning to one day enter into our current stage of life. We may become self-centered, wondering how our needs can be fulfilled instead of genuinely seeking to serve the friendship. We fail to understand that new stages of life can be lonely, painful, confusing, or challenging. How can you give your friend the time or space to adjust to a new promotion, career change, first year of marriage, master’s program, illness, divorce, caring for an infant, or the loss of a parent? Instead of demanding that she maintain the same level of communication, how do you show grace and understand that the friendship might no longer function as it once did? Depending on the level of friendship, it may also be worth it to initiate a conversation about expectations and adjustments.
We know the adage that some friends are only in your life for a season. Not every friendship that is withering needs revival. I was a friendship paramedic for years—stressing myself out, trying to hold on when it was obvious a friendship was dying. I’m not advocating that we hold on when it’s time to let go. But we should consider in what ways we might look back ten years from now and wish we had been more patient, gracious, compassionate, or thoughtful about the stage of life in which a friend currently finds herself.
Written by A.Kurian for The Beautiful Project
Photography by Madylin Nixon-Taplet