Thinking about politics makes me tired. One of the main reasons for this is that people tend to get hung up on a particular topic, and then have the same conversation about it, with the same talking points, over and over again. I’ve been hearing the same bumper-sticker summaries of the same concepts for the thirty years I’ve been paying attention. It’s like that joke about the prisoners who only have to call out the code numbers for different jokes, because they’ve been telling the same ones for so long. What I really want to talk about, though, is that I think we also have a strong basic tendency to write off friendships for similar reasons. There are just certain things that we may perhaps let bother us more than they need to.
The fictional representation of friendship is one of boundless loyalty. Friends walk in rhythm and share a destiny. They’ll save each other’s lives, take bullets for each other, and nurse each other through fatal illnesses. They cry for each other. They let each other in to their deepest layers of emotion. Even when they fight, they can’t stay apart. The bonds are too strong. They snap back together and hug it out. This isn’t total fiction, though. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were friends who had a major falling-out over politics, then rebuilt, and remained fast friends until their near-simultaneous death. “While I breathe I shall be your friend,” wrote Adams.
Does this kind of friendship still exist? Could it have survived the advent of modern social media?
Why is it so easy to toss aside a friendship? It’s even easier to douse the spark of fresh acquaintance, to let the moment pass and just go home. There are so many reasons to let these social bonds weaken and slip away.
How can I be friends with someone who is always late? It’s so disrespectful.
How can I be friends with someone who votes that way? What an idiot.
We would hang out more, but it’s such a long drive. So. Tired.
I don’t need new friends. I barely have enough time to see the friends I already have.
Two words: Mommy Wars.
We would hang out, but all four of us don’t get along equally well.
We used to be friends, but that was before Facebook ruined it.
I can’t have anyone over with the house looking like this.
We had an argument that one time.
I mean, it makes perfect sense. We should only be friends with people who are never annoying. We shouldn’t bother being friends with people who are emotionally needy. We should only spend time with people who are always in “prime-time” mode and ready to make a 10/10 experience. Never a dull moment. If they’re not there for us 100% of the time, if they don’t always say just the right thing in just the right way, screw ‘em. We need to be on the lookout for people who improve our group photos. Not a value-add? Sorry, you can’t sit with us.
Can we be friends again after we’ve hurt each other’s feelings? Can we apologize, even when all that comes of it may be awkwardness and sorrow? Can we stand to tear open old wounds and look for our contribution to what went wrong? Can we make the first move? What does a friendship look like after we’ve made each other angry a few times?
A broken friendship can hit you in the gut the same way a romantic breakup can. You just feel nauseated even thinking about it. Being in the same room as That Person can thicken the air to the point that you’d rather just run away, physically run out the door. Surely there can be no moving past this. That sick feeling is just anxiety. It’s possible, though very hard, to sit with that feeling and work through it. At home, of course, in privacy, we can try to imagine a different outcome. We can picture that friendship, strengthened and deepened by true honesty and forgiveness. Sometimes the hurt feelings suddenly dissolve. They do, sometimes. Enough time has gone by, and it’s okay somehow.
We’re different people now. We’re older and wiser and we’ve started to realize that real friendships are not so common. We know there are bumps in the road. We’re big enough that we can go first and risk making ourselves vulnerable. We can send a note to say: Hello, I was thinking about you. I miss you. How are you?
It’s surprising, but true: Often, the response is, Hey, it’s nice to hear from you. Don’t worry about that other stuff.
Because friendship is one of the best things there is, and forgiveness is as easy as setting down a heavy backpack.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.