Hello! In the last few weeks I posted about some of my experiences of ended friendships and tried to give a picture of what that grief looks like, in terms of my thoughts, feelings and behaviours. In one of the posts, I mentioned that if someone tries to leave me, I am a firm believer in letting them go.
My post on the blog called “what to do when a friend is pushing you away?” is by far one of the most popular I have written, and received very mixed reviews. Some of you found it extremely helpful, while others found it depressing, to say the least. I can understand both viewpoints, as I have lost friends, that maybe I didn’t need to, because I didn’t try hard enough.
I like to believe that giving someone the space they need, and the freedom to come and go from my life is a healthy sign of respect for my friend, myself and our friendship, and that not making them ask me directly for space, but picking up on their subtle hints that they aren’t as invested as I am right now, and giving it to them is a gift. Potentially a final gift of friendship – I will let you go and not make you feel bad about it.
To be clear, I came about this by doing the exact opposite, and becoming insecure when my friends pulled away from me. I became needier and pressed for answers. I demanded to know if our friendship was over or not. In essence, this often sealed my fate in the opposite direction I was hoping for to be honest. I like to describe it as handing my friend a gun, backing her into a corner, and making her shoot me with it, then playing the victim. Why, oh why, did I do this? Who benefited from this? They felt terrible for hurting me, but I wouldn’t let it go until they did. I felt no less terrible being certain than I had feeling uncertain, (but pretty sure! ) Nobody wins.
So, I adopted a much more casual attitude, in part when I tried this previous strategy, and failed. My friend refused to shoot me, but she also refused to step up and show me what I wanted to see. I had no choice but to admit our friendship was less than it had been and move forwards emotionally. I could have ended it myself, but I didn’t want it to end. I wanted us to be what we had been before. So I endured far less frequent contact, which felt empty in comparison to what we had once shared, and accepted that while we still used the word friend, the sentiment had definitely changed. I found new people, in time, and it hurt less and less as my expectations of this person lessened….
A few years later, a beautiful thing happened, and we once again became close. This time I keep my expectations lower, and my investments lower perhaps, but I am so glad this friend and I were able to reconnect. Reconnecting is something that proved much harder with my original strategy. So I learned, that when people want space from you, grant it. Let them walk away, and don’t make them feel bad about it. Allow them to feel free to live their lives without any obligation to you and know that they are in your life by choice, and you make it easy for them to go if they so choose. That you know it isn’t about you, but about what they are going through, their circumstances and their needs. When you learn to stop taking it personally, it really helps you let go. (Example, this friend had a partner at the time who demanded all of her attention. She could not please us both and it was unrealistic to expect she would choose me over him. Her distance was never personal, she just couldn’t show me what I wanted to see anymore.)
So from that I decided to have a more detached attitude to my friendships. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important to me. If they weren’t, this blog wouldn’t exist. At first it meant, because I was hurt, “I will no longer chase after people. If they want to be my friend, they will.” Not that I had much choice as many painful attempts had shown me, that you cannot force friendships on people. This alone as so powerful for me. I enjoyed my friendships, but a part of me was always quietly waiting for the end. Another reason this strategy worked for me was because I loathe confrontation, so letting someone go quietly actually felt safer. And mirroring is supposed to be fantastic for friendships. If I get more vulnerable, you get more vulnerable. If you get more distant, I get more distant. As a whole, it works.
In thinking about the people who really reacted strongly and negatively, I wondered, what were they hoping I would say? They were hoping for a list of ideas they could try to rekindle the friendship. Because the friendship was too important to just let it go as if they had never cared, when they do care so much! In pondering that, I realised that dealing with things this way, did indeed cost me a few friendships, perhaps needlessly.
I have to wonder, if I had of just said to the friend I lost, because I let her walk away without another word “I don’t want you to go” if things may have turned out differently? It’s not asking her to stay if she must go, and it’s not intended to make her feel guilty. It simply shows that I noticed she was going and I cared enough just to imply “I’ll miss you.” I can think of certain circumstances where that would have made no difference, but yet others when it probably would have made all the difference.
So for those of you who are struggling to let go of someone who is pushing you away, meet their distance with your own, but perhaps be brave enough to say “I don’t want to lose you. I miss you and I hope we can be as close as we were again someday.” At least then you know there was nothing more you could do, you knew they were pulling back, and you cared enough to say “If this is what you want, I respect that because I love you, but just know, it isn’t what I wanted and I hope for something different in the future.” Then, if you can, keep an open mind and heart towards that person in the future.
Your Best Friend ForNever