There was a moment recently when something profound happened. It’s not a particularly unique moment—it’s something all human people go through—still, when it happens, the impact crater it leaves is inescapably large. Recently, one of my friendships shifted. It shifted from that person being considered a close-knit-friend-family-member to a cordial-acquaintance-with-a-shared-history. It happened so quickly. Yet it’s happened so slowly.
This wasn’t something I decided. It wasn’t a situation where this friend had to be cut out because they were bad for me, there wasn’t a Chernobyl-scale argument in which un-retractable things were spoken, and it wasn’t the effect of an ideological deal breaker that popped up during an arduous political debate. It just happened like the way rust breaks off over time or the way the wind shifts and brings in Mary Poppins. Our friendship had slowly rusted and this weekend, it snapped off, blown away like Mary and her chatty umbrella.
But that happens right? Some friendships have expiration dates and some don’t, that’s just the way interpersonal relationships work. The ones that last tend to be the ones that are continuously tended to. As I’ve said before, true friendship takes concentrated effort to maintain. Like hedges or a beard. When one person gives up on tending to the relationship, there’s only so much the other person can do to keep it going before the rust breaks off.
That being said, I didn’t want this to happen. If I had my way, I’d still be bosom buddies with all of the people I’ve ever been close to, connected in one giant sharing circle, holding a bottle of Coca Cola in one hand and a peace sign in the other, singing about living in perfect harmony. But that’s not how life works, though it would be amazing if it was.
So in a moment, a decade-long friendship shifted in front of my eyes. It’s the “in front of my eyes” part that’s important because the truth is, it shifted a while ago. It’d been shifting under the surface like tectonic plates for some time but because of the geographical distance that separated us, we couldn’t notice it until it was physically staring us in the face. What used to feel easy and old-hat now felt clunky and slippery. It felt foreign—this friend felt foreign—and as much as I wanted to pick up where we left off like I can with my forever-friends, it just wasn’t in the cards.
I have a few forever-friends. It’s something I didn’t really know was a thing until I was out of college. Once all of our hormonal laser tag has leveled out and we’re established as real people doing real jobs and working toward real dreams, the importance and novelty of forever-friends begins to materialize. I really have Tiffany to blame/thank for this concept.
Tiffany is my oldest friend. We’ve known each other since we were in elementary school and though we sat on opposite sides of the kid’s church room, we were friends. That divide wasn’t our decision. We sat so far apart because boys and girls were segregated on Sunday mornings in a way that was supposed to be playful and competitive—a boys-versus-girls way of playing games before the sermons. Looking back, perhaps it was a cooties-induced way to let us know that co-mingling with the opposite gender would only lead to sin and sex and babies. Anyway, Tiff and I have been in each other’s lives for more years than we haven’t—by a wide margin.
Her first kiss with her teenage boyfriend happened in the backseat of my car while I was driving her home from church one Sunday night. The Boyz II Men Christmas album was playing and they were in puppy love. It would’ve been a very romantic moment had it not taken place in the back seat of my car while I, the driver, sang the baritone harmony of “Let It Snow.” Whatever.
Unlike so many teenagers were in the late 90s, Tiff and I weren’t phone friends. I don’t think we’ve ever had a phone conversation of any real length. We were friends who were doers. We actually did things together. Mostly, we spent our summers together. We led VBS by putting on skits and puppet shows. We were on drama teams and traveled across the country acting and singing in choirs. Once a week, we went to Six Flags in a carefully plotted out routine that allowed us to ride all of our favorite rides with minimal waiting time. Each of these trips culminated in relaxing in the air-conditioned Southern Palace Theater while watching the musical revue show, after which we left the park, got Taco Bell and dove into her backyard pool. It was simple, it was easy, we loved it.
We’ve remained friends since. Through maturing and marriage and miles, we’ve remained the type of friends who can pick up where they left off. As years go by, it’s become more and more evident how rare this really is. Tiffany lasted but not everyone did.
When I was in high school, I imagined my high school church cohorts would be my forever friends and that our fun would never have an expiration date. That concept unraveled fairly quickly. In college, that same concept materialized again but in a different way. There were people I connected with in such a visceral way that I knew they’d be in my life for a long time. Some of that translated to forever and some of that translated to a few post-college transitional years. This friendship that has shifted was supposed to be the forever kind. It was supposed to be concrete and dependable. But it wasn’t.
College Me would overthink this. College Me would fight this. College Me would try to orchestrate a reunion full of memories and emotional triggers. Adult Me knows better. Adult Me knows when to let it go; when to let them go. Adult Me knows this is how the circle works. It’s not that there’s any love lost or a lingering sense of resentment that’s caused me to let go. No, this is a cease fire with my fixer nature, a white flag toward my Olivia Pope-esque desire to “handle it,” a bathroom break for my inner conductor who wants to orchestrate perfect harmony among all the players in the band. It’s a moment of surrender to what’s been in front of me for a long time.
There’s a natural arch to each of our lives, a natural evolution of our personalities, our experiential vocabularies and our values. This makes sense the older we become. I look at the evolution as an adventure but as much as I want that adventure to include all the people with whom my heart and soul has felt interconnected, it doesn’t play out that way. So this weekend, something shifted. It was a big something and it doesn’t sit where it sat before. Now what?
What do you do when someone you considered to be a constant has turned into a variable; when the person you thought was a forever friend becomes a sometimes friend? I’ve been wrestling with this for a long time and I keep coming back to the same questions: Is this fading-into-past-tense friendship going to fill me with something substantive today? Is the space they will take up in my brain today filled with positive or cumbersome thoughts? Am I going to waste moments today pining after something that was or am I going to spend my moments being present in what is? The answer is fairly obvious. I have to let them go.
Letting them go doesn’t negate the great times we had together or leave a strain on the times we needed each other. Those moments and memories are wonderful—precious even—but the fact that there won’t be any more of them isn’t a bad thing. It’s just how it is. The shift has happened. Life will go on for both of us and hopefully, it will do so with many new adventures. And should our paths cross again, it will be great to catch up and learn about the newness in each other’s lives. But it’s okay that our friendship has shifted. The time we shared was great and it will always be remembered as such but for the sake of my present, I have to let this past-tense-friend go.