One of the most difficult issues I've had to face in midlife is letting go of an old friend. I've invested considerable time and energy in my men friends over the years, and our support for each other has never wavered. We've been there for each other through my devastation of losing a son and their worst times as well. Friendships are forever, right? Apparently not.
Because I don't take losing a friend casually, I struggled for a few years before finally feeling I had to let Jason go. I was aware that husbands and wives move apart, typically when one outgrows the other emotionally, but I hadn't considered that friends sometimes outgrow each other, too.
Jason and I met in college and had known each other for four decades. Although we'd lived on opposite sides of the country for most of that time and didn't see each other much, we frequently talked on the phone.
When I started my men's group 20 years ago, Jason dismissed it out-of-hand, insisting that men can't change, especially without the help of a therapist. He was skeptical and unsupportive when I began facing my issues, anger and the inability to sustain intimate relationships. As I worked through my issues with women, he seemed disappointed. He'd always enjoyed my stories about the long line of women and failed relationships I left behind; and it felt like he wanted that screwed-up guy back. The more emotional baggage I shed and the healthier and happier I became, the more he distanced himself. Frankly, I couldn't understand why he wasn't pleased for me. I'd cheered all his successes, but Jason clearly wasn't cheering mine.
The last time I mentioned my inner work, Jason's comment said everything about how he viewed change and growth. "You're always reinventing yourself, but I'm still the same guy I've been for 40 years." While I'd been facing down my demons and continue to free myself from them, he still hadn't opened his Pandora's box of issues, and was furiously hammering nails into it to keep it closed.
And no wonder. Jason had major issues. He'd been too terrified to get on a plane for decades, was a hypochondriac, controlled his adult children, was generally miserable, and seemed more afraid of living than dying.
As my friendships with other men deepened, he insisted he didn't need friends. When I asked him who he talked with regularly about his life, he flippantly replied, "A couple of guys I know on Wall Street." Pressed to name guys other than business relationships, he said nastily, "No one. I don't need anyone and I'm bored listening to you talk about how important friends are." As his only long-time friend, all I could say was, "Ouch!"
I wanted to hang in with Jason and urged him to consider working toward changing his life. I was living proof that men can change -- an angry man who learned to control his rage, a loner who found the courage to trust other men, a relationship failure who finally discovered how to open his heart to a woman. But Jason dismissed all that. His refusal to change wasn't being steady; it was being stubborn -- especially since his life wasn't working.
The last time I talked with him was when, after 25 years of not being able to commit to a woman, I was getting married. In response, he yelled at me, insisting that I was making a mistake -- even though he'd never met my fiancé -- and that I should live with her instead of marrying her. He treated me like a teenage boy and became so obnoxious and ungracious about one of the happiest events in my life, that I felt compelled to say good-bye. A friend doesn't rain on a friend's parade, ever.
All Jason had to offer me was unsolicited advice -- no support, no joy. He was stuck in a time warp, wanting to keep me where I was because my growth made him uncomfortable. Not supporting a friend's growth is the worst insult you can hurl at him -- and it marked the end of our friendship.
Still, leaving him behind hurt because we shared a lot of history. Letting go is painful. But sometimes friends outgrow each other, and sometimes there's no alternative.