When Friendships Fail

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships. Friendships, in particular. It isn’t often that I find myself ruminating over the whereabouts of people I haven’t seen in literally decades. Friends from college, old roommates, past lovers – they all tend to belong to different chapters in my life and, as such, have been relegated to the dusty bin of a scattershot memory.

Oh, there are some with whom I still keep in contact. Facebook is good for that, if not much else. But for every social media reconnection, there are dozens who are lost to time. Faces barely recognizable in old photos. Unfamiliar names and phone numbers scribbled on faded scraps of paper. Flashes of lurid recollection, without context or even chronological placement.

Thanks… who are you?

But what about the boon companions I thought would be there forever? There are some I thought would always be there for me and their absences are notable, especially in these times of adversity. One never expects misfortune or hardship to shake the very foundations of our existence, but when it does, family and friends are what get us through it. It’s in those moments that one truly feels the loss.

Is this the way it’s supposed to be, I wonder? Are all friendships like that? Advantageous in the moment, incompatible years later, due to shifts in attitude or geographic migration? Not all, obviously, as even I have remained friends with people I knew in high school, college and beyond. Not many. A handful, really. The vast majority have faded back into the miasma of my mind. But the people I once considered best friends, who have since “moved on,” what about them?

To better understand this situation, I referred back to something I had read a long time ago, by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. About 23 centuries ago, the old Greek indentified three different types of friendship: friendships of utility (ties that are mutually beneficial to both parties), friendships of pleasure (people with whom you share an interest or hobby) and friendships of virtue (based on mutual respect and admiration).

Aristotle broke it down centuries ago.

Needless to say, the latter is the harder to achieve and hold onto. As Aristotle points out, virtuous friendships take a lot of time and care to establish and maintain. They are, by their very nature, special. You can spend a lot of time with workmates, neighbors, colleagues or members of your Zumba class, but once the situation changes – whether it be job, city or class – friendships of utility and pleasure disperse. Friendships of virtue, on the other hand, are supposed to have meaning and longevity.

What, then, do we make of those friendships we valued so highly that we considered the other person to be a bff, confidante, or soulmate? How is it that friendships, which burned so brightly and seemed unshakable at the time, can go the way of the dodo over time? Is it because we put more into the relationship than the other person? Did we confuse a friendship of utility for one of virtue? Or did we simply let our pleasure centers misconstrue the intent?

I don’t have an answer for any of those questions. Instead, I have large holes in my heart where people I thought were important enough to invest time, energy and trust have failed me. Which has made me very wary of dropping my guard with anybody anymore. I’m working on it, but one thing I have realized during these last few months, is that nothing matters quite so much as the moment. The people I surround myself with now. The smiling faces I see on a daily basis.

A broken heart takes time to heal.

Grieving over ties that no longer exist is a waste of what time I have left. Instead, I am finding the path of least resistance is to fill in those holes and bury the past. Doesn’t mean I won’t think about those people from time to time, but my hope is that when I do, it won’t be with resentment or regret, but rather with gratefulness that they were there when I needed them, then. I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for the friendships I’ve forged, whether they be utilitarian, pleasurable or virtuous.

I’ve still got a long way to go. Some wounds are deep and some betrayals still sting. I need only to find the lessons learned in each situation, and move beyond the pain. Tomorrow is another day and life is best lived in the present. I’d like to enjoy it while I can and if, in the course of that enjoyment, I find comfort in a smile, a gesture or a brief conversation, so much the better. I won’t go so far a to say friendship is overrated, but it certainly isn’t the apogee of achievement I once believed it to be.


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