I haven’t written in the last few weeks because but life has been busy!. I finished my second book ‘Taking the Stress Out of Leadership!’, and except for having the cover designed, this will be sent to Amazon for its print on demand section soon. I will also turn it into an e-book at the right time.
I then want to finish my first e-book in the series ‘Small Books, Big Topics, which is about relationships. So, as you can see, I like writing!
This blog is about friendships and what they do for us. I’ve written about this before both on my site and in previous blogs, but this time it is based on article I read in a Sunday paper by Lucy Coslett. She was writing about how friendships end in some cases, and how painful this is. The premise was that long-term friendships are very meaningful to people and therefore when they end, it represents significant loss in their lives. This is incredibly understandable as all of us thrive when we love and feel loved. Friendships are no different. What was different about this piece though, was the intensity of disappointment and pain. The individuals she had interviewed had all experienced the kind of ending to their friendships that could only be described as traumatic! Each person found themselves to be given the cold shoulder, or what is now termed ghosted. Their friend of many years simply decided not to talk to them, get in touch in any way, respond to any overtures or emails, or explain themselves. As a result, they felt incredibly hurt.
When I read this, I was stunned. I often am. It’s not that the friendship had to end perhaps, although this was definitely part of the issue, but that it had been done so brutally. I wanted to ask why? Why would someone cut another off without any explanation? What’s in it for them, and what do they hope will come of it?
In discussing this with friends and colleagues, I believe it is down to 2 or 3 things: one, it is simply easier. To ghost someone is to refuse to interact. In the case of Internet dating this might be okay if you haven’t yet met, or dated often, and they latch on or you’re unhappy or disinterested. Then perhaps it is easier, and less of a struggle, to cut them off rather than explain yourself. But to do this when you’ve known someone for a long time and then not explain yourself, may be easier for the person doing it, but very hard and even cruel, for the recipient. This is what was being described in the piece. The tragedy was in the impact, of this. Not only did it leave the recipient bereft but in the absence of any explanation, the reality is we fill in the gap. We go over every recent conversation and everything we have done, or haven’t done, in an attempt to find the one thing (or even multiple things), to explain it.
If you are someone about to do this I urge you not to. The pain you will inflict is much more intense if you don’t give a reason and isn’t it bad enough that you have grown tired, or disengaged from this relationship, without inflicting further distress? The key, it seems to me, is in recognising that friendships are just as much of a relationship as any close marriage is. When a marriage ends there is always one person who feels less than the other for that is surely why it ends? However, I have always urged that just like a marriage you treat the individual you are separating from with the utmost respect for at one time you did care.
Reasons and explanations help a person understand and with understanding can come acceptance. The second reason is for not contacting someone is that we are probably afraid of confrontation. It makes us uncomfortable and anxious. We may have experienced a volatile parent in the past who has ‘set us up’ to fear speaking out or expressing our unhappiness. Another explanation might be that we become ‘wired’ for approval in life therefore disapproval can feel really tough! Avoiding conflict and/or disapproval are strong drivers but to me the issue still feels harsh.
When I think of friendships that have ended in my life I know I could have handled some people better than I did. Sometimes we are quite simply busy, and we miss the point, not realising that we haven’t touched base often enough or remembered something significant. Not as obvious as missing a birthday but perhaps still important to the friend and often it’s therefore about what we are ‘not’ doing as much as what we are! One friend I knew some years ago was a great person, there for me on several occasions, as I like to think I was for her, but then life got busy and we saw each other less. When her life grew particularly difficult she was hurt that I didn’t get in touch enough and when I finally did, it became clear I’d let her down – but she didn’t say that, so I couldn’t change it. When I tried, the apology wasn’t enough, and she didn’t want it. Instead she’s been content to drop the friendship.
Similarly, I had a client who was extremely upset that his efforts to apologise to his friend after failing to make a funeral, fell on deaf ears. His friend refused to accept the apology and made the whole experience repeatedly painful. Eventually, my client sought help and when he did he began to realise that whatever he had done it wasn’t worth this torture. He also realised that any amount of effort on his behalf was still going to lead to rejection, so he recognised the whole process was futile. Then he stopped trying. Some of you may read that and think he didn’t make enough effort, but I believe it’s important to know when to give up.
I’ve done both the rejecting and been rejected in the past. When the let downs have become too much you lose heart and drop back, contacting them less or giving excuses when they ask to meet up. Sometimes it is quite simply a brave thing to do to admit that you are unhappy, or that you feel it’s worthwhile explaining yourself. I guess you have to feel there is a point in doing so; that it will benefit you, or that you actually have a wish to renew things should you try. If at the end of the day, you don’t really want the friendship any more I guess that explains why some people pull away and simply stop communicating.
At the heart of it does seem to be the skill of communicating. I have written before about life skills and I think the ability to explain ourselves and cope even when the conversation might be a tough one, is valuable. I’ve noticed that this is difficult for some people to learn, perhaps because they do not see it modelled in their parents or even in their peers. However it comes about, a lack of ability to communicate, results in the same end; the relationship dies and the friendship stops.
There seems some benefit in thinking about how to avoid this and I have some suggestions below: –
- Don’t expect all your friends to be the same.
One of the great things about having friends is feeling free to be ourselves – and this cuts both ways. Don’t try to force your friend to be someone they’re not or push the boundary of the friendship beyond its natural limits. Some people are happy to be on the other end of the phone at 2am when your relationship has ended with your other ½ or your favourite pet has died. Some would feel very uncomfortable doing that but would lend you £100 at the drop of a hat, no questions asked. Others are good for a night out and a trip to the shops, while you’ll have many happy camping holidays with another person and their family. Not all friends are good for all situations – and that should be ok?. Enjoy your friends for who they are and what you can bring to your life without trying to fit everyone into the same mould.
- Make sure it’s balanced.
Yes, most close friendships go through times when one person needs a lot more than the other – for example, during the birth of a child, illness, job loss or even trauma. During those times, you may feel like you’re giving a lot more than you’re getting, and you’re the one changing your plans at the last minute to be a shoulder to cry on or looking after her kids while she tries to patch things up with her husband during a particularly rocky domestic time. But if you’re feeling resentful about always being “the one” to drop things in a crisis, or do whatever your friend feels like doing, then you need to have a think about what you’re getting from your friendship. One of the lovely things about friendships is that you tend to keep score a lot less than in love relationships, but you still need a sense of give and take, and that you’re getting as much as you’re putting in, over the long term.
If you do feel you’re giving more than you’re getting, you don’t necessarily have to confront the issue, just pull back, and let the friendship find its natural balance. If you feel resentful that you’re always the one to get in touch and arrange meetings, try and stop doing it for a while. If your friend picks up the cue and steps in, you’ll feel a lot happier. If they don’t and the friendship loses some of its momentum, then maybe you’ve discovered they’re not as good a friend as you’d thought when you were putting in all the effort. This can be disappointing, but there’s not much to be gained by grieving and not resolving it.
- Get comfortable with being Uncomfortable
Luvvie Ajayi in her TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/luvvie_ajayi_get_comfortable_with_being_uncomfortable
Speaks about getting used to being uncomfortable. It’s worth watching. In it she describes a wonderful process of understanding ‘that you do no one any good by staying quiet’. She believes this with good reason and her talk is enlightening
- Consider having friendships with both sexes.
Make sure that your partner, parent or child isn’t the only person of the opposite sex in your life. Having lots of male and female friends is hugely enriching and can often provide you with a much-needed different perspective. While in previous generations, having friends of the opposite sex might have been viewed with some suspicion, it is fortunately now acceptable and normal to have friendships with no suggestion of sexual attraction or involvement. Some people have partners or spouses who don’t like them to have close friendships of the opposite sex, but if this is the case for you then this might say more about your relationship and its boundaries, than it does about your friendship. Consider being wary of starting a relationship with someone who is jealous of your friends of the opposite sex for these friends will be around if the relationship hits the rocks, so please try not to drop someone from your life on the grounds that your partner feels threatened by their existence.
- Do fun stuff together.
While it’s lovely to go down the pub or go out for meals with friends and put the world to rights or catch up on what you’ve been doing recently, it’s incredibly enriching to do things with these friends other than just eating or drinking. Taking a course together, going on holiday, visiting an exhibition, seeing a film – having shared experiences will move your friendship forward and deepen your bond.
- Pay attention to the good ones
When we’ve shared a lot with a close friend and they do something that hurts us, and we feel betrayed or let down, it can be easy to shut them out and think they’re “only” a friend as we can live without them in our lives. Sure, making things up after a fallout with a close friend doesn’t feel as much of a priority as sorting out issues with a partner, but don’t let a close or long-term friendship disappear over something that might feel important at the time but a few weeks later feels silly. People aren’t perfect and they make mistakes so try not to be too quick to judge.
- Be quicker to forgive than to judge
Look at the bigger picture and be quick to forgive, so that you cherish the ones who go the distance with you. Forgiveness can be tough and if the issue really matters to you then I am not wishing to downplay it, but holding a grudge becomes scoring points rather than making a point. If the friend was worth it a month ago then they may well be worth it a month from now so step back and decide if tackling the issue is going to achieve anything or if time alone may ease it. If it really doesn’t then it is worth saying something. Even if you have to write a short note (though I urge you to make that a handwritten one rather than email), give it a go. You may still get it wrong but at least you’ve tried.
I wish you luck, enjoy your friendships, and try to decide whoever you are friends with, you and they, are worth a great deal, so be kind.