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On Letting Go of Friends
People naturally ebb and flow into and out of our lives.
Connecting with people is the best (and worst) part of life.
Friends enrich our lives with meaning, purpose, and lifelong memories. They inspire us with their wild creativity, ridiculous humor, and outrageous provocations. And yet they probably have little idea how much they mean to us.
But as wonderful as friends are, sometimes we must let them go.
I’m loyal, and my mom taught me to give people a second chance. Sometimes I give them a third, fourth, and fifth chance. Sometimes I think, “If I didn’t stay in touch with friends, I wouldn’t have any.” I suspect I’m not alone. As a recovering “people pleaser,” I want everyone to like me, occasionally to the point that I’m more loyal to others than myself. Perhaps that’s why it took me eight years to understand what Poonjaji meant when he said, “Marry the one who never leaves you.”
The natural rhythm of life includes the ebb and flow of people into and out of our lives—classmates, teachers, co-workers, acquaintances, neighbors, friends, siblings, parents, partners, and spouses. Every relationship eventually ends one way or another, whether we like it or not. Sometimes we lose people to life circumstances, such as a graduation, a corporate layoff, or a move to a new city. Other times, the people we care about die. Sometimes we choose to let people go because the timing is right.
Allow me to illustrate with a story.
Several years ago, I visited BC, a friend whose father was a renowned professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. BC is exceptionally well-read on philosophy, and we shared a lively conversation over lunch on his living room floor. During the conversation, he expressed his opinion about a particular politician. I listened without confirming or disconfirming his belief, which upset him. “BC, you’re my friend, and I love you,” I said. “I don’t care about this politician, but I do care about our friendship.” He was beside himself. Again, I reiterated how much he meant to me.
Unfortunately, my efforts were in vain. BC was too emotionally enrolled in his political beliefs to see that he chose ideology over love. A while later, I walked out of his apartment and into the sunshine, wondering, “Is this what it means to outgrow a friend?”
Letting go of people who no longer serve us is healthy, a way of honoring ourselves. If someone doesn’t appreciate us or is no longer aligned with our values, does hanging on to them make sense? Setting boundaries in this way is an act of self-love, a means for acknowledging and respecting our needs and wants.
Choosing ourselves first can be confusing in a world that frowns upon selfishness. After all, aren’t we supposed to serve others before serving ourselves? I would argue that the opposite is true—most people are not selfish enough. They attempt to care for others from a place of emotional emptiness. That’s like trying to beautify the neighborhood by mowing your neighbor’s lawn while yours is filled with weeds. Is it possible to truly love another without first accepting and loving ourselves and nurturing our wholeness?
It hurts when we’re on the receiving end and a friend leaves us. After school, a dear friend named Kalle moved east, and I moved west. For years, we stayed in touch while meeting up over the holidays, which was great. But over time, he grew increasingly distant and eventually began canceling plans at the last minute via email. After years of this, I finally dared to ask, “Kalle, you keep canceling plans at the last minute. Do you still want to be friends or not?” He replied, “No,” which hurt, and I still don’t know why. But he was being honest, so how could I fault him?
So what do we mean when we use the word “friend”?
A friend is someone willing to meet us in the middle and reciprocate our friendship over time. If we both appreciate and value each other, and you are eager to meet me halfway (unforeseen circumstances notwithstanding), our relationship will continue. If, on the hand, I regularly reach out, but you stop reciprocating, then perhaps it’s time to part ways. The ending of a friendship may be sad, but it doesn’t mean our life has to end too.
When it comes to letting go of people, there’s no easy way to know when or how best to do it. Only you can decide. Sometimes we hang onto friends for fear that if we let them go, we may not have any left. But fear is not a good foundation for decision-making. Trusting that God or the Universe will bring more friends into our lives allows us to decide about people from a place of abundance rather than scarcity.
Even so, I find it nearly impossible to put anyone out of my heart who has touched me, even in the slightest way. Therefore, I would happily welcome any friend back anytime and pick up where we left off. That would be a wonderful gift and a delightful surprise! But I don’t hold any expectations. In my mind, I’ve let go, simplified my life, and moved on healthily and maturely.
Of course, I still think about and miss Kalle and BC. Maybe someday we’ll reunite. In the meantime, I will continue living my days with courage and heart.
Until next time,
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