My childhood best friend and I had it all figured out at age 5. Both of us knew that one day we would end the childhood chapter of our lives, but we agreed that our time together was not just a chapter, but rather lasted the entire novel. We carefully planned our future living as artists in a house we owned together on a farm with 100 horses. Yes, exactly 100. My 5-year-old mind imagined the perfect 2D picture of this guaranteed future, both of us the wobbly humanoid characters from a child’s drawing wearing aprons and standing in front of easels holding paint palettes dotted with perfect circles of primary colors. I could not fathom us not being together forever.
A similar thing happened with the college family that I formed during those fragile months of living away from home and all familiar things for the first time. We all found one another at a time of feeling lost and being fraught with unspoken apprehension, realities that no one mentioned but none could avoid at that point of young adulthood in which one must abruptly wean oneself from the nuclear family. I imagined the day this new and perfect tribe would graduate, disband, and break familial ties, but I refused to dwell on these unpleasant thoughts of that very possible future.
The truth is my childhood best friend and I no longer speak, not as the result of a falling-out, but merely due to drastically different life paths. Much of my college clan has dispersed and, even in the era of endless connectivity, fails to stay in touch and take interest in one other’s daily lives.
We’ve all seen that visualization of a social network as several person-figures connected by thin straight lines, with another person-figure and another and another weaving in and across tangles of thin straight lines to reach other person-figures until all of these permutations of personal connections become too much to follow. When we each consider our own social network, we often fail to recognize that these points are not static, and most of these thin straight lines do not stretch or bend. And our connection points do not shift through life together as a synchronized block; we all travel dynamically and differently to unexpected and interesting places.
As we move, the threads that connect us snap, some so loudly and full of tension that the frayed ends whip backwards and give one or both parties painful welts that take oh so long to fade. This happens when we try to avoid the inevitable, when we stretch what remains of the bond much longer than is healthy or necessary. Sometimes the two points move apart with equal and opposite momentum, but all too often one lonely point receives the full recoil of pain and regret as the deserter flies swiftly off the map forever.
Then there are those who disconnect with no recoil whatsoever. These are the ones that quietly let go of the lines that connect them, or forget about them and merely drop them at a moment of diverted attention. We do not immediately miss these people when they leave. It can take us months or even years to notice their absence, and we comprehend that span of time as worse than the span of space that now divides us. However, there is really no tragedy in this scenario. We merely feel guilty for failing to miss them without realizing that they don’t miss us either, and there’s no foul in letting go of some ties in order to take a turn in a direction that leads to happiness.
We do not have to mourn the unraveling of our webs. The ones that fall off are not meant to stay, and one must let them go peacefully. We are all wild and unpredictable in our own ways, and we cannot be corralled.