On Losing a Friendship

Yesterday I was cleaning and came across some floppy drives (ha!).  One of them contained very old emails and I reread a handful.  Most were from a close friend I haven’t been in touch with for about five years, much to my chagrin.  It saddened me to remember how frequently we used to talk and what a sweet, easy intimacy has been lost.

The main reason I don’t hear from this friend anymore is that he is married (I’m not) and lives very far away.  I didn’t expect our friendship to stay the same once he had a wife, but for him to ignore my attempts to just touch base has been very hurtful.  To give you a little background, we dated for a little while when we were young and were then very good friends for more than ten years.  I always thought I would know him forever, and I think he did, too.  Even though we never lived in the same place, we always kept in good touch and visited a couple times a year.

I realize in retrospect that somewhere along the way I came to love him, and I wonder now if I should have suggested the possibility of dating once we were into our 20s.  It’s too late now, but maybe I should have married him.  People who knew both of us often claimed we were destined to end up together.  Sometimes I felt like he looked at me with a question, but then the moment passed and I thought I must have imagined it.  He was my “safety” if we were still single at 40.  I believe all things work as out they are meant to, and there are things that make me think we wouldn’t have worked out, but I wish I had realized how amazing he is when I could still do something about it.  To reread an email that includes him saying “I really miss you, buddy.  I love you.” makes me chide my younger self, the one who thought soulmates could be found around every corner.

When I was younger, I definitely thought it was possible for men and women to be “just friends.”  Now I think it’s extremely rare that there are no other layers.  I remember many conversations between high school and the end of my 20s when people discussed whether the possibility of romance with a specific friend of theirs was worth the potential of “ruining the friendship.”  Now I know you might as well try, because once one of you is in a serious relationship any sort of deep friendship will be lost, as it probably should.

Many opposite-sex friendships fall to this fate, and I’ve certainly had a number of other friendships essentially end when the guy got married.  (Some friendships with girls change dramatically when they wed, too, to be fair.)  I have no doubt that this friend still cares about me and has his reasons for staying distant.  But I know that once I love someone, romantically or not, it’s hard to let them go.  I just feel like a piece of me is missing.  I hate it that I have never even seen a picture of his kids, and that he has no idea what I’ve been through in recent years.

Since he walked away, I’ve had many new friends come into my life and a few loves come and go, and for that I’m thankful.  I know eventually I won’t really miss him, but simply think of him as a dear companion for a long season.  But right now I have to say “I really miss you, buddy.  I love you.”  I wish he could hear it.

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On Owning One’s Singlehood

I have some friends who intended to build careers or have adventures before they settled down.  They were all married by about 25.  Then many of us who just assumed we would be married by 25 took much longer.  I’m one of those who has lingered past 35 with no husband in sight.

It’s doubtful that even those girls who wanted to delay marriage planned to be single.  It’s hard to do something well without willing role models or trailblazers.  It’s hard to do something well when you made no accommodation for it in your plans.  I avoid singles’ events, publications–even the label itself.  I have no interest in being a spokesperson for singleness or someone people pity or someone younger single women look up to.  Yet somehow I have become all of those by default.  It feels like a burden or punishment, not a calling.

I’ve gone through various phases over the years.  The “I’m-really-fine-alone (aka-I’m-in-denial)” phase, the “I-think-it’s-right-around-the-corner” phase, the “I’m-tired-of-thinking-about-it-so-I-give-up” phase, and the “I’m-tired-of-thinking-about-it-so-I-give-up-but-I’m-actually-hoping-if-I-give-up-the-guy-will-show-up-since-‘It-always-happens-when-you’re-not-looking'” phase.  What I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced is true acceptance and patience.

As the years have ticked by without a lasting relationship, as I’ve navigated heartbreak after disappointment after “if only,” it’s become harder and harder to keep singleness from defining me.  When you’re young, you can blame the “guys out there;” when you’re older you know you’re the common denominator.  People ask you why you’re not married, meaning it as a compliment, but what is really means is “What is wrong with you that we can’t see, and how can we fix it?”  It’s impossible to be happy and fulfilled without a mate, right?

Well, there are a lot of lonely married people, from what I hear.  There are a lot of people who got married for the wrong reasons.  There are a lot worse things than being single.

Being a follower of Christ adds a whole extra dimension to the experience.  Do I trust God to bring me a good man at the right time?  Is there “The One” or could it be one of several people?  Did I pass up someone He sent me?  Did I mess up a relationship that could have worked with my selfishness and immaturity?  Did God forget to create someone who fits with the unusual person I am?  Am I being punished or disciplined?  I could certainly argue most of these away with scripture.  But the truth is, most of the scripture only gets as far as my head, and the heart is still panting.  Or when the truth penetrates deeply and I experience some peace, it tends to last for about a week.

I have come to a point where I can own how much it hurts me to have “failed to marry,” much as I wish I were healthier.  It’s been important, and difficult, for me to tear down the wall of self-sufficiency and independence and to let the hard emotions surface.  I know I was designed for relationship, I know I want to experience real love, and I also know I will someday.  I would really like to get to the point where I am fully cognizant that this is something I want, but also fully alive and proud of myself in the present moment.

I have lots of theories about why singleness is becoming so pervasive and about my own story but I’m not sure I have any answers.  Still, let me take a moment to remember some good things in this time since thankfulness always helps:

  • I control the remote
  • If I feel like eating cereal, it’s fine by me
  • I don’t have to deal with in-laws or decide where to spend holidays
  • I have lots of time for my friends and I get to help with their babies
  • I have deep friendships with guys that will be inappropriate when I’m married
  • I laugh and commiserate and swap dating stories with my single friends
  • I meet a lot of interesting people
  • I have time to figure out who I really am, independent of how a mate sways me
  • I can focus on developing a deeper intimacy with God
  • I have time and energy for ministry and service
  • I don’t have to consult anyone on how to spend money
  • No one complains about the number of shoes I own
  • If I want to travel, I travel.  If I want to read in bed all day, I do.  If I feel like watching “Runaway Bride” for the 20th time, I do.
  • There’s a luxury of time for reading, writing, and hobbies
  • I can salsa dance with strangers
  • Whenever love does come, I will think of it as a miracle and be unlikely to take it for granted
  • No one snores

I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the above.  🙂