This past winter, an article in the New York Times ("It's Not Me, It's You" by Alex Williams, January 28, 2012) shed light on how the Facebook act of "defriending" mirrors what happens in our real, offline lives. Not all friendships are meant to last a lifetime and some should probably dissolve sooner rather than later. As the newspaper article was shared on Facebook among my female acquaintances, we all felt we could relate to one of the interview subjects who could no longer relate to her friend and had decided to back out of the friendship (employing what Williams coined "the bad-boyfriend approach"). The interview subject, reflecting on the experience years later, expressed her regrets with taking this approach. She said she could have handled things differently by giving the friend an explanation about why she was avoiding her and essentially, abandoning the friendship.
The reality is that explanations are hurtful. I will never forget when Karen dumped me in the third grade. "I don't want to be your 'best friend' anymore," she stated coldly, "Michelle is my new best friend." I cried on the spot and then cried for days afterwards. Michelle was a new student in our school who wore frillier, more expensive dresses than I did and had long, silky hair. She took ballet lessons and spoke fluent Hebrew. She knew how to give the cliquey once-over look that all the popular girls so excelled at when torturing the "nerds." Michelle had potential to be way more popular than I felt I could be at the time. But forget about Michelle, I wanted Karen to be my best friend. Karen was fun and cute and the type of girl everyone else wanted as a pal and for years now, she had been my number one girl.
Years later, I would date and find the experience brutal but I don't remember it hurting any less -- and I'm straight.
I would not only be the one who was dumped but, in time, the one to do the dumping. Farrah was a high school classmate who could be kind and compassionate but was also a proven compulsive liar. However it wasn't her lies that would eventually get to me but her brutal, no-holds-barred honesty. She would say things she knew were hurtful and continue to say them all in the name of being "completely upfront" (something she felt blatantly defensive about). My strategy to elude Farrah involved busying myself with other friendships. However, when you are in a small, all-female high school class, it is difficult to avoid someone who is in your group of friends. So, it was after high school when I finally had the opportunity to completely distance myself from her -- unfortunately, while on the same college campus and among mutual friends. Farrah mentioned feeling slighted by me to those friends and then came the jealous sentiments. Although my "friends" really shouldn't have shared all that Farrah had to say, it was further proof that the friendship had always been a "toxic" one.
In my early 20s I would learn that some friends leave you when they get married and you stay single, and in my late 20s I would realize that when you get married (as I did at 27), some of your friends' husbands won't click perfectly with your own, making it harder to get together as often. In my 30s I would see that not all friendships would prove healthy or sustainable or even appropriate. I would absorb the fact that therapy and friendship don't always mix and that it takes a really special friend to help you through a hard time without being judgmental. I would ascertain that there are definitely certain things you can only say to certain people.
And those friendships that couldn't last would be mourned, some much more meaningfully than others. I would come to see, after repeating the same mistakes multiple times and ignoring my own intuition, that sometimes you need to walk away and you need to do it immediately.
Back in elementary school, I idealized the notion of having "tons of friends" and being adored by "everyone." Now I know through experience that it's not about quantity (either in real life or on Facebook), and not everyone will like you. Even people who don't have what you would consider to be "valid" reasons will dislike you. However, meaningful relationships have no median. They stretch on a continuum towards a fulfilling infinity, ensuring that even during times of solitude you are never really alone.
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