Nobody wants to say that a friendship is dead.
Nobody wants to say that a romance is dead, either, but at least we have a script to fall back upon. Love is gone, someone cheated, life pulled you in different directions and neither of you wanted to make compromises… it hurts and it’s sad, and we tell stories about it (and make movies, record songs, write blogs on the Internet) to make ourselves feel better. There is plenty out there to tell the brokenhearted “Let it go. It’s time. You will pull through.”
When friendships die, we find ourselves lacking scripts. We tell ourselves that we need to hold on, because lovers go, but friends are forever. We call ourselves traitors and deserters. We put up with behavior we would never tolerate from a romantic partner, because of shared history, trauma, or because ‘it’s what we do for each other’.
When friendships die, as romances do, there is not always a clean break, a flash of realization, or a moment where you think “That’s it. I’m done.” But unlike romances, you can’t count on others to help you make that decisions. You think about it – think about telling your friends “I can’t deal with X anymore, I just can’t,” and you feel sick to your stomach because isn’t this the single most Mean Girl thing to say? You swore you would never be that person, and yet here you are… And so you hold on. And you keep on holding on, until the prospect of spending one more day with that person makes you want to scream.
When friendships die, there is no kindly soul to call the time, pull you aside, and give you a cup of tea and a hug. You pretend that everything is fine and you’re both too busy to meet up, but the truth is, you haven’t thought of them in a long while. You stopped texting. You don’t email. One day, you open up social media and find they’re engaged, and you didn’t even know they were that serious with their partner.
When friendships die, there is no grief protocol. If you were not sleeping together, the assumption goes, there’s nothing to be sad about. (Even though it’s friends we turn to when our lovers hurt and betray us.) You’re not supposed to miss emotional connections, the comfort of friendship. You’re not supposed to value platonic love the same way you do an erotic one.
When friendships die, you can’t tell what’s wrong. You know you were not owed anything, but still you feel robbed. You can’t shrug it off, say “que sera” and move on. You can’t swallow the disappointment. It hurts, and you can’t say why.
Shall I say it instead?
It hurts because you loved that person. You did not have sex, but for a brief time, your souls met, and they were incandescent.
It hurts because you were there with them, when no lover ever was, and you thought that would go on forever.
It hurts because you told them what you wouldn’t tell your own mother, and they loved you for it.
It hurts because they were the person you thought of when you got good news, and the first one you called when the bad ones struck.
It hurts because, whenever a disaster report came from their side of the world, your first thought was to make sure they were fine.
It hurts because you thought, through hell or high water, that they would be there for you.
It hurts because you thought you’d be there for them, too, but you can’t.
It hurts because it goes against everything you thought friendship was, everything you thought you stood for.
It hurts because holding onto them feels like drowning.
No-one gave us a vocabulary for this. And so we go on, dragging friendships around with us like corpses.