Friendship drift happens for lots of reasons. I’ve personally experienced it due to someone going back to school, getting married, breaking up, having children, moving, health issues, and taking a new job. These are all normal things that facilitate a person, who was once a very important part of your life and you theirs, drifting apart. You see them less often, talk to them less often, connect less often. The nature of the relationship changes, but in most cases, you remain friends on some level. Or at the very least, you have few if any hard feelings about the drift. It’s just something that happens naturally without discussion or drama. And someday, when circumstances are different, you might once again begin to connect more.
Recently, though, I had a friend who I’ve known for about 15 years formally end our friendship via email. It was a really long email, but the gist of it was “it’s not me, it’s you.” Reading through a list of accusations followed by the conditions this person required to even consider renewing our friendship was both painful and baffling, as I fundamentally disagreed with their assessment of the situation (I was disloyal because I didn’t espouse her view that an enemy of my friend is my enemy) and the path to remedy it (ending my friendship with the person she considered her enemy), and it got me thinking why relationships end for good. In this case, our values diverged in two very different directions. And when that happens, sometimes things just aren’t salvageable.
This situation prompted me to reflect on my thoughts about forgiveness and holding grudges. I came upon this article by Josho Pat Phelan called The Practice of Forgiveness. In it she discusses the personal benefits of forgiving others and ourselves. She says:
“Someone told me that A Course in Miracles described forgiveness as giving up all hope for a better past. In the context of practice, forgiveness is something we do primarily for ourselves, it’s something that lightens and frees our own state of mind. And although I think forgiveness has a wider effect which goes beyond ourselves; in forgiveness we primarily work with our own state of mind and in this context, forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron compared holding a grudge to ‘…eating rat poison and thinking the rat will die.'”
The real truth of is that we cannot change anyone else’s actions. We can only change our own, and when we screw up or can’t be what someone else needs us to be, we have to let that go. Right now, I can’t be the friend this person wants. It is sad. It is disappointing. But it also is how it is. I could resent that disappointment, give into anger or self-righteousness or a myriad of other unhelpful emotions. Or I can acknowledge my hurt and the hurt of my friend, learn from that practice, and ultimately let it go. Joko Beck said, “Our incapacity to forgive is directly related to out inability to feel joy in our life.” So I honor the pain of friendship drift but I don’t dwell on it either. I keep on walking. Who knows what the future may bring?