Breaking up is hard to do
Have you ever had a friendship just kind of fizzle? It’s like you suddenly realize that someone you cared about isn’t a part of your life anymore. It’s a crummy feeling, especially if you’re not sure why it happened. How does one deal with this type of situation?
Well, there are several options. If you’re a normal person, you wonder about it, lament the loss for a total of 32 seconds, then move on to the daily tasks at hand. I, on the other hand, think about things like this rather obsessively. I try to imagine what I could have said or done to drive this person away, what casual faux pas one of my children might have committed at the last remembered family get together, or on what commemorative event I must surely have forgotten to send a card. (Believe me, it’s exhausting being me.)
Maybe you’ve even imagined approaching the person you lost and saying something like, “Hey, WTF? What the hell happened?” Here again I will draw the distinction between a normal person’s response and my own. The normal person might briefly imagine this type of curious interchange at some kind of random reunion at Costco. Then, realizing she has genuinely more pressing issues to which she must attend, our normal person lets go of the fantasy scenario, accepts that people move on in life, and goes back to folding laundry. I, however, will actually go to great lengths to seek out the estranged person, sometimes years after our final meeting, and will, in fact, inquire as to the reason for our alienation.
This, I assure you, is a bad idea. I now know that from my most recent foray into the land of hopeless friendship salvaging. You see, my husband and I ran into a couple from our past recently at one of our fave sushi places. The husband was cordial and warm. His wife, on the other hand, could have frozen a skin-scalding hot tub with one glance of her icy stare.
Even my husband was taken aback by the shiver. “Why do you suppose she acted like that?” I wondered out loud. “I don’t know,” he replied, “Maybe this time you really did do something to offend her.” Of course I pined over this for the next 48 hours and then finally decided to pen a good, old fashioned, snail mail note that I sent off the following day. The note basically said that I was sad that our friendship had faded and that I’d always wondered what had happened and that I was sincerely regretful if I had offended her in some way.
Now I know you’re not supposed to want a particular outcome when you write a letter like that. But somewhere, deep in my mind, I guess I hoped such a note might rekindle our friendship. I waited weeks for a response. What finally came was a stunner.
Her letter was curt and pointed. “How interesting it is that people remember things so differently,” she started. She then went on to recount an episode where the toilet in their guest casita had overflown and they’d had to cancel dinner plans with us. According to her, I’d been irritated by their last minute cancelation and hadn’t called the following day to make sure all was well. To her, that breach meant the end of the relationship.
I do actually remember the event. She was always a bit unreliable and had cancelled plans with us on several earlier occasions. When this happened, I recall thinking that an overflowing toilet was a lot like the old “I have to wash my hair” excuse our mothers used to use to get out of an unwanted date in the olden days. Maybe I was wrong, but since at least one of our toilets overflows on a daily basis, her catastrophe seemed barely trivial to me. And in truth, I didn’t react as if she’d been hit with a devastating deluge.
But I never in a million years would have thought that my failure to acknowledge her sewage inundation would have caused the total demise of our friendship. The letter ended abruptly noting that she and her husband had moved on and she certainly hoped that we would do the same. There was no mention of rekindling our friendship, no faint hint of sorrow at the loss of our relationship, not even a feigned pretense of gratitude for the bold honesty of my letter.
It was a little weird I have to admit. I mean, to end the friendship over a torrential toilet? And then to take the time to write back and say that because of this heinous insult, she and her mate had no intention of ever reconnecting with us in the future. I was kind of shocked. While she did concede that they would be publicly cordial if ever our paths were to cross, her dismissal felt more like that of an orthodox jewish parent’s whose only daughter had decided to marry an Episcopalian.
I’m trying not to obsess over this. Obviously they weren’t as good of friends as I thought. But is there something to be learned from this mishap? Perhaps I was mistaken in judging my friend’s misfortune. What seems superficial to one person might be cataclysmic to another. After all, as my father, the king of the overused cliche, used to say, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
I’ll leave you to figure that one out.