Don't confront me with my failures/I have not forgotten them
November 7, 2019 6:55 PM   Subscribe

"I’m a mystery writer and this mystery tugs at me: Why do friendships end? Why did this friendship end? How do any friendships survive a lifespan? Do any friendships last a lifetime? Do I have any real friends? How bad a friend am I? Pretty bad, actually." "The Art of Losing Friends and Alienating People" is Laura Lippman's Longreads essay on failing as a friend.

Title stolen from this post's soundtrack: "These Days" (YT).
posted by MonkeyToes (16 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
That was a powerful essay. I ghosted on a friend once, out of embarrassment that turned into anxiety, really screwed things up to the point that she sent me an email telling me how I'd hurt her. I was a coward and didn't respond. She forgave me when I came to my senses and we're hanging out this weekend. But that was haunting. I can see the world where she didn't move back to our city and I never reconciled with her. And I dodged it by inches.

I've also cut a friend out of my life for similar reasons as her Charley friend did for her. I didn't feel great about it at the time, but my life has been better for it. Choosing friends is hard, but occasionally necessary.
posted by Hactar at 7:48 PM on November 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

I felt like by the end of this piece, I understood what happened in the ghost friendship even if Lippman has not. Her gut is trying to tell her.
posted by sallybrown at 9:11 PM on November 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

I enjoyed this essay. Losing any relationship, family, romantic, social can leave such a deep wound. And you're always second guessing yourself. Anyone with a job, with children, with health issues - with the innumerable pressures and stressors of "adult' life will never, can never, be the friend that they want to be.

I've grown mostly more sanguine about my failures as a friend as I've gotten older, and possibly more accepting of the limitations of others, too. I feel very lucky with the friends I have, and that they accept me, and my hesitance and unavailability. I sometimes wonder if they all know how much I value them; it feels weird to say that to people you only see in person once or twice a year, who undoubtedly have far more active and diverse social lives than me - but I must make an effort to let them know when I see them next.
posted by smoke at 10:52 PM on November 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

This essay feels superficial to me. I mean, if I were to enumerate my failings as a friend, "sometimes dropping out of touch when life gets extra busy" and "being weirdly imaginative about my friends' lives" would...barely register in the scale. I'm honestly too ashamed about the deeper failings to write about them here, or anywhere! Jumping straight in the essay to "I'm a shitty friend" without grappling with the details is just another form of evasion. If I were to suggest a place to start unpacking, it would be with "given that you are now apparently happily married yourself, why in the world are you fixated enviously on your friend's longer marriage?"
posted by praemunire at 11:42 PM on November 7, 2019 [17 favorites]

While it gave me a frame through which to consider my own broken friendship, I found this essay to be more performative than reflective.
...Charley, who enumerated my flaws only when I demanded that she do so. More than a decade ago, she retreated, seemingly done with me. I pursued, asking what I had done wrong. She ticked off my sins: Self-centered, shallow, superficial, materialistic. I was taken aback and a little defensive, but I could see her side of things, so I apologized. And it wasn’t a mealy-mouthed if-you-feel-offended-then-I’m-sorry apology. It was full-throated and sincere, a mea culpa that was all mea. Later, I found out she had gone through a huge crisis at about the time of our break and I thought that explained everything.
Boundary pushing
Attention seeking
Lacking care and empathy.

I've been Charley and I am better off for not having the shallow performer of a friend in my life.
posted by Thella at 3:19 AM on November 8, 2019 [20 favorites]

This reminds me of the the missing missing reasons. There are probably ample reasons why "Charley" ghosted, but this person is unwilling to see them--and that's very likely one of the reasons.

That said, I have ghosted and been ghosted. For me, ghosting usually involves knowing that talking to the person will be unproductive and cause more upset to both them and me than justified by catharsis. When other people do it, I feel sad--but I know it's usually better to respect that someone needs space. And sometimes friendships do just fade. It happens. It's part of life.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:46 AM on November 8, 2019 [26 favorites]

I feel like the way this essay skirts certain things reflects how women's friendships are simultaneously lionized and devalued in our culture.

You are supposed to have a girlfriend gang that operates like the Sex and the City group, while also managing your career, emotional labour at home, and putting family first...without a lot of templates for what a friend "commitment" means, what group vs. individual friendships are like, or how to structure conversations around those things.

So we don't really have a language for things. I have used 'mom-dating' for the process of finding friends that are parents; people around me have used 'cheating on' to describe a friend who used to come to a regular friend-group event who goes to a new friend-group event instead...all really inadequate. It's hard to structure thinking without language.

I do think a different writer would have provided more concrete information, but I also just feel that blank page about it. I've been a shitty friend and I've contemplated writing about it, but I always sort of get down to two things.

One is, to describe my shitty friend experience I have to write about people that in some cases have forgiven me and in others haven't, and I still feel the friend-code of confidentiality about it, in some ways something that I find more important to me than even a spouse-code, because of the lack of "jilted friend" memoirs, maybe. Two, is that I do feel like being a shitty wife would be easier to handle emotionally in some way than being a shitty friend is; I have lots to look at for information about how not to define myself as a good wife but someone who can't be a good friend starts to sound like a psychopath, I think. Which worries me not just in terms of perception but what if I really am that bad?

Fortunately for my life, I have friends from almost every era of my life past grade 5 and so instead of writing about them or the ones that got away I opt to hang out. Unfortunately for my writing, there it is.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:34 AM on November 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

I had one friend who I had ejected and re-admitted multiple times for various (serious) infractions - like borderline legal action serious - only to have them formally eject me, in writing, for not getting them a wedding gift, though I did spend thousands of dollars going to their destination wedding when I did not have all of those dollars. I, ever the sucker, felt wracked with guilt about this, and eventually got them a gift and wrote a sincere, eloquent apology letter. We saw each other a few times after that and became friends on social media, where I discovered that I did not actually like them very much after all. The distance, painful at first, allowed me to reflect on the friendship as a whole and come to the conclusion that it was a sense of obligation borne of our shared youth that was driving me to stay in touch and not, in fact, a valuable friendship. This friend was, in point of fact, an intensely selfish person who valued fealty above all else, like a low-rent cult leader.

It's really amazing what you'll put up with when you feel like a friendship is mandatory.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:02 AM on November 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

Written the night I moved out of a friends home....

I Am Still Your Friend

Whenever I separate from someone,
For whatever reason,
I feel that I have left them down.
Then I realize
That in spite of all the reasons I give,
The “truth” that I convince myself of,
And the righteousness of my decision
That it’s all bullshit.
I am still your friend.It’s not death I am afraid of.

I’ll know when it’s my time.
It’s leaving the joy of the connections
I’ve found while inhabiting this body.
All the joys of hurt, pain and sorrow.
All of everything
That has allowed me to feel
Unspeakable love
For all those I have met.

Closure is society’s trick.
One can’t stop in a doing Universe.
Instead, the degrees of love change
For nature does abhor a vacuum
As shown through the felt experience
Of those we have loved and left body.
Whose words and presence
Are more powerful
Then the words of 10,000 shamans.When I have a troubled sleep,

I say a love rosary that I began
For the woman who set the stage
For me to realize how to kiss softly.
The ritual has expanded
And contracted over the years.
And every now and then
Includes my family
For in loving them I relieve their pain.

For x people, I say 20 times, “I love…”
And then insert a name. It’s no secret.
I just go the way of the dream visitors
And the unfettered heart of Jesus.
On this road I can say “I love you”
Without shame or embarrassment
An “I love you” from a little boy
Who will always know
That there will always be enough.

Afterwards or during, I go to sleep.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m being heard.
Sometimes I’m pissed I’m not sleeping.
Sometimes it’s cold comfort,
Sometimes I know love’s being felt.
When I know, that’s enough.
Even if I’ll never see them while here,
Slender threads of connection remain
And I can breathe again.

A rational man who found his heart has said.
"I am, and will always be, your friend”
when I leave I will weep knowing
That his words are enough.
I can finish
And leave one heart to fill another
To keep the channels open
And the playing fields clear.
posted by goalyeehah at 7:12 AM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had many friends abandon our connection once they were on Facebook and I wasn’t—some told me bluntly that it was “too much work” to single me out with an e-mail, even to invite me to a party or gathering. If I expressed sorrow over this exclusion I was told that it was my fault for choosing not to be on Facebook—some saw my choice as a hostile act, in fact.

In a different vein, one longtime friend who was always difficult now has advancing dementia which exacerbates her mean side. She lives many hours away and has an attentive husband but few friends, and I fight guilt over not visiting. I’ve tried to call but she’s unable to use a phone and cannot make sense of texts or emails. I feel like I’m ghosting her at this point but don’t know if I can handle a visit.

Friendships are complicated. I’ve seen what I believed would be lifelong attachments fray over religion and politics, sometimes dissolving gradually, sometimes blowing up at once. Things change.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:53 AM on November 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

I essentially had to ghost an entire group of friends in order to move on psychologically from the hellscape that was my mid 20s to my early 30s that I blamed entirely on knowing them. It's a bit extreme, but it actually did help immensely, so I don't regret it. It's not as if any of them kept in touch anyway in any meaningful capacity, but I always was one to invest my time and energy in keeping the "group together." I'm pretty sure someone I considered a new comrade and friend (and eventually a romantic partner but that went nowhere) is currently slow fading me, which hurts, but whatever.

Nothing involving other people should be this difficult.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:22 AM on November 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oof. Don't think I can read this right now. As I've moved into middle age, I've lost several friends who I thought would be lifetime friends, mostly because I didn't have enough time for them (at least I think that's why). I tend to very myopically focused on the needs of the present -- my partners, my job, finances, navigating my own mental health issues, trying to stay physically active. I just don't have any energy or attention left after all of that. I feel terrible for not thinking of them more and making more of an effort to stay in touch but at the same time I don't see how it could have been different. Maybe it's a sign I should finally talk to my doctor about ADD treatment. Or maybe I'm just a self-centered and thoughtless asshole. Both? I really don't know.
posted by treepour at 9:26 AM on November 8, 2019

> Nothing involving other people should be this difficult.

It seems (to me at least) everything involving other people is difficult.
posted by CheapB at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

In the wake of Rob’s death, I was asked to write about him for various publications. I didn’t feel good about this. It seemed dishonest, fake. I imagined my other ghost-friend, the still-living one, judging me from afar. Still all about you, isn’t it, Laura? It’s so much easier to eulogize a friend than to be one.

i ghosted most of the friends i made over the last five years in a mess of mental illness and leftover teenager emotions, and i still feel this way about existing online where i'm expecting them to see and judge me, and i majorly feel this way about my recent ex. like, i messed up and behaved badly in my relationships, and i feel a ton of guilt about it even if i'm glad to no longer have those relationships. it is a hard thing to have to carry with you with no avenue for making up it, and it's also just really weird and nerve-wracking to be in adjacent social circles with no-contact ex-friends.

but i also relate to her not being open or vulnerable with her current friends, and for me, it's just a powerful shame about existing in general and a feeling like i've never done enough to earn being supported. analyzing individual relationship failures does nothing for me unless i tackle that core belief, it just kind of takes me in circles and justifies me beating myself up.
posted by gaybobbie at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

I had a good friend who, like the author, always went AWOL during times of upheaval - breakups, job changes, family-of-origin stuff, whatever. I was always there when she re-emerged, and she was the first friend I told when I was pregnant - I told her months before anyone else because I was helping her move out of an apartment so she could move back to her home state. I didn’t hear from her again for 5 fucking years. She stopped responding to my emails, I didn’t have extra minutes on my phone to call her because I was using them all on calls with doctor offices and my health insurance, and in that massive postpartum shit storm I blocked her on social media because only my true inner circle deserved updates about my critically ill baby. POOF, “mutual” ghosting.

She popped up 5 years later with an email stating that she was coming to town for a wedding and would like to reconnect and meet my child, and I said yes, but that visit was so weird and she never apologized and I was too non-confrontational to demand an apology... I should have been like that author’s “Charley” and ignored that email. But honestly, if someone pulls that shit again when I’m 60 I hope to tell them straight up what I think and let things fall as they may. Life is too short to deal with years of ambiguity.
posted by Maarika at 11:24 AM on November 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Life is too short to deal with years of ambiguity.

Is it ambiguous, though? It seems like you know where you stand.

I think of the friendships I've made deliberate steps away from, and overwhelmingly it was because their presence in my life brought me more pain than joy. The friend who always gleefully shared mean things mutual friends had said about me. The toxic woman who put me on edge and occasionally verbally abused me over text if I missed a message from her. The friend who seemed to use me as a means to social climb. Honestly, I'm the type of person who is actually very content to let friendships wax and wane--I'm fine with a visit every five or ten years when you're driving through town, a message once in a blue moon when you've seen a meme you think I'd like. I understand that emotional closeness is likely to come out of physical proximity and similar life experiences but view continued contact after circumstances change as a kind of nice bonus. Honestly, over the years, I've grown to view people who come on with emotional intensity and high neediness with hesitation. Because of my familial background, I once was instinctively attracted to these kind of people only to realize later that they weren't the kind of people I actually wanted as close friends. So now I guard my heart more, am warier, slower to make those connections. But the people I connect with seem more apt to be on the same page as me.

When a friend is a safe, good friend, I think friendship can withstand gentle call-ins and boundary firming, on both sides. But the bigger things, the chronic things--the things that would make you want to just end a friendship--I don't always think it's a good idea to discuss those feelings. When you know someone well, you can know what kind of behavior to expect from them. I have a very old, dear friend who will always be short on the tip when we split the bill. I know this. I roll my eyes and ask for separate checks. That's the cost of doing business with him. I have another old friend--and honestly, I think our friendship might be in its death throes--who has always clearly viewed me almost as a possession, acting jealously toward other people I love. It's been going on for decades. What can be done about that? People rarely change, and they almost never change in respond to workshopping.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:09 PM on November 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

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