The stay-at-home orders that kept us all cooped up in our homes in recent months made big changes in relationships for a lot of people. Some reconnected with friends and relatives they hadn’t spoken to in a long time. Some even found a new closer bond with their spouse or live-in partner with the sudden extra time together.
And in some cases, it brought an awareness that perhaps a relationship, platonic or otherwise, might not be worth the effort anymore.
For me, I found that many of my friendships were strengthened in one way or another. I spent more time chatting with longtime friends — people I’ve known since high school or before — because we both had the time for it now.
I was able to connect more with family as we all had more time to share about our lives on social media.
But as happy as I was to rebuild these bonds, they also highlighted the fraying of a couple of others.
And those frayed bonds are the ones I’m contemplating today as I try to decide what to do about them.
One friend is a guy I’ve known for more than 20 years. This friendship is one that’s always been a little unusual anyway. We spent a few years going back and forth between being just friends and dating — always to discover that dating wasn’t the best idea for us.
At this point, it’s been about eight months since we last spoke. The history of our friendship says that eight months is really nothing. We’ve had a period of several years where we didn’t speak and though we were friends on social media, had no interaction at all.
Reconnecting and having that friendship be as vibrant as ever has never been an issue.
And yet, something is different this time. I’m not able to put a finger on it. I can’t say this is a decision I’m making or one he’s making. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s a decision at all.
The silence this time has seemed deafening.
I’ve tried to justify it.
We’re both busy. But we’ve always been busy and our conversations have flowed around that. We talk when we can, conversations ending abruptly and picking back up right where they left off, whether it’s been hours, days, weeks, or even months.
Things had gotten awkward the last time we saw each other in person. But it wasn’t the first time things had been awkward so I had no reason to think it was the last time. But maybe this time the awkwardness was just more than either of us could overcome?
Or maybe we’ve just decided, consciously or not, that we don’t want to overcome it this time? Maybe the feelings of friendship and care have faded to such a degree that we don’t think there’s a friendship there anymore?
It’s hard to say.
The second friend is someone I’ve known for a shorter period. Our friendship began over the common connection of our children and the lifestyles we chose to live as parents. As a shy introvert, I often felt a closer connection to this friend who dealt with social anxiety and so much of the time we spent together was just us with our kids, just us, or just us with her spouse.
It’s been a year since this friend and I spoke. This is very unusual for this friendship. We didn’t speak daily, or even weekly, but as a rule, we did speak at least once a month or so. We had hung out just a month or so prior to the last time we spoke. Our kids are still friends.
More so than my first friend, I’m confused on what to do with this friendship. I’ve considered whether I might have said something that offended or hurt her, searching our conversations over and over in my mind and on the screen, trying to find something that I might have said that would explain this. If I could find something, I’d apologize in a heartbeat, but I don’t see anything that stands out.
I’ve tried chalking it up to being busy but considering the way our state was locked down for a while, that doesn’t really fly. She might have been busy with her kids or even her grandkids, but I’m sure she could have found time to reach out.
Of course, that goes both ways. I could have reached out too. And that’s where I come to my internal debate over both of these friendships.
Before social media and cell phones that allowed you to move across the country and still keep the same phone number if you choose, the end of a friendship was pretty simple. If you hadn’t spoken in a long time, the friendship was over. Upon moving or changing your phone number for whatever reason, the ability to be reached was gone and so was the friendship.
But now it’s gotten rather complicated. I made the deliberate decision to change my cell phone number late last year but before that, I’d had the old number for a decade. Social media has allowed me to reconnect with other old friends and allowed ex-boyfriends to find me.
And that same social media makes defining whether a friendship is over or not more difficult. If we haven’t spoken in six months or a year, but we’re still friends on Facebook, are we still friends? Or is it just that we have so many friends that we didn’t think to go in and unfriend this person?
Should we unfriend someone if we haven’t talked to them in a certain amount of time? Or should we just let that friendship linger on, letting them have access to our life and vice versa, though we might never speak again in the next however many years before we die?
With both of these friends, I’ve begun to feel as though the distance between us is just too much now. Whatever happened, or didn’t happen, put a wedge between us and that wedge seems to have made the gap wider and wider until it now feels like it can’t be crossed.
But the dilemma remains. The question of whether to quietly unfriend them on social media and cut that final tie so that the friendship is truly dead or to let sleeping dogs lie.
But perhaps the deeper question that needs to be answered is why would I leave that door open? Do I miss these two people in my life? Do I miss their friendship, our conversations, the laughter we shared?
In some ways, yes. We had good times. But I don’t feel like I’m grieving these friendships, as if they’re a significant loss in my life. I don’t mean that to sound as if I think they were insignificant because I don’t. I think both of these people played a role in my life for a reason and I think without their presence, my life would have been different.
But I’m questioning now whether perhaps those friendships have run their course and are meant to end now. Yet still, I struggle.
I’ve written before about how to know when to end a friendship. Based on that, the answer should be clear. But still, I struggle.
I’ve also written about how to revive a friendship when this has happened. So I should also know what to do to bring those relationships back to life. And yet, I struggle.
Even when things seem clear, they’re clouded by emotions, doubts, and uncertainty. Will I regret it if I end these friendships for sure? Will they even notice if I do? Will it hurt their feelings? Am I overthinking? Am I missing something?
Sometimes the decision to cut off a friend is easy. When someone I considered a close friend turned on me last year, it was a no-brainer to block her and cut her off.
But not every friendship ends with someone screaming obscenities, making threats, and otherwise making it clear that this is the end.
And when it’s not that clear, when it’s much more subtle, it’s harder to know if it’s time to let go. You relive memories or remember shared secrets and it leaves you wondering… what should I do?
Is this friendship at an end? Or is this merely a phase that will pass if given enough time? And just what is enough time?
One thing is clear: No matter how old you are or how much you work on personal growth, the fact is that relationships are complicated. And sometimes there are no easy answers.
Wendy Miller is a Certified Happiness Coach, freelance writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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