We can tell our real friends anything. It’s kind of the idea: You are extremely close, and have formed a voluntary bond based entirely on who you are as individuals, so they should be the go-to for when something difficult-to-discuss comes up. Throughout all of your time together, you can recall a million times where you told them a secret you once imagined you would take to the grave, where they were presented with a piece of information that a lesser person could clearly hold against you, and they loved you just the same. So when you find yourself with your hand over the “send” button on an ominous text message about needing to talk, not sure of how they’re going to respond, nothing could feel more foreign between you.
When a friendship starts dissolving, it feels like a kind of sickness. You can feel it somewhere near your bones, under layers of scarred and aching muscles, festering in you like an infection for which you have no antibiotic. There are small offenses which are at first easily brushed off, slights where they did not call you back or an argument that lasted much too long for either of your liking. But the most insidious kind of sickness, the one that will take root inside you and grow like ivy over all of your insecurities, is when they seem to stop caring. You can feel that, where there was once dedication and an understood stasis of compassion, there is now a sense of profound apathy. Sometimes it will be punctuated by moments of obligatory “we are still friends, look at all the history we have,” but they are usually rendered somewhat pathetic in the face of how far the both of you have come.
It was the third time in as many days that I had initiated a conversation with her about what we were going to do this weekend. It was one of those things where you talk about doing something without really thinking about it, pretty far in advance, and the idea is that you will catch up later in the week to firm things up. Sometimes it is hard to notice when you have become the only one who makes an effort, when you have gone from being someone that they want to give their time to, to someone who is a mild irritant on the periphery of their vision. Where I would write paragraphs, I would get a “haha” or “yeah” in return. We didn’t see each other that weekend, but that was the least of our worries.
What could be harder to say than “I don’t feel like you care about me,” especially to someone whom you couldn’t pretend for a moment not to care about yourself? This isn’t a relationship where you are expected to go on regular soul-searching moments of communication, or even consider a clear break-up. This is a friendship, and so many of us live under the false assumption that it’s just a smooth ride from the moment you meet until you are two old coots laughing in big hats on some unnamed porch, sipping tea. Sometimes things start to break while you are trying to make plans for a weekend out and there is nothing you are even sure you’re supposed to say.
No one wants to be desperate. No one wants to look like the open wound who cannot take a hint, or has to bring the painful, awkward conversation about what has happened to the two of you in front of their face. Many people are happy just letting uncomfortable truths go unspoken until they decide to bury them indefinitely. It’s certainly a path of less resistance, and can leave you feeling like you were the good guy in your silence. But sometimes we need to feel like there is a real explanation, that we have made ourselves understood, that we have gotten some kind of closure to something that was otherwise going to be left to fray in the wind. You don’t know exactly what you’re looking for when you say that you want to talk — and you know that you’re going to look like that needy friend who has to take everything so personally, but you have to do it. And that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you, even if it is more difficult than just letting things silently disappear. It just means that you are full of love, and soft spots which are easily bruised when some of that love dies away. You are sensitive, but that is not an insult, even if someone wants to convince you that it is.
I wrote her a long letter talking about how I didn’t quite know what had happened between us, but that I felt things were different. I told her I missed the old us. I told her that I loved her and hoped she was okay, that what I felt wasn’t the symptom of some bigger problem in her life, but that she could talk to me if it was. She responded with a few dismissive words, and I decided that, from then on, I would let her initiate contact. She didn’t.
The next time we saw each other, it was after a few years of not really speaking, and she was all smiles and affection. “How are you,” she cooed, “I haven’t seen you in forever!” She then told me, in a strange, almost paternal tone, that I looked like I had lost weight. Even in that moment, I knew that it would be wrong to tell her that I simply felt lighter when I wasn’t still carrying our friendship.