Dear Carolyn: I ended my two closest friendships, one of which had lasted more than 25 years. One friend just never seemed to have time for our friendship anymore, while the other had taken advantage of our friendship one time too many. By ending these friendships I regained my self-esteem.
But was it worth it? I now have no close friends to talk to, and the phone doesn't ring. Worse, I find myself pushing away new friends because I do not want to risk being hurt. I believe the fear of ending up where I am is exactly why so many women cling to negative or hurtful relationships. Your thoughts?
Carolyn says: Your theory on hanging on to bad (or just expired) friendships makes sense. But I think people are needlessly fearful.
Since you're living your worst-case scenario, you're in a great position to weigh the merits of "ending up where I am."
Your phone doesn't ring, you're lonely, and you feel cast off and used, respectively, by your two closest friends. These are the obvious and painful downsides, and legitimate things to fear.
But that's not your whole story. Even if these friendships deteriorated well before they ended, that still leaves you with decades of quality friendship to recall fondly. And, you apparently have new friendship opportunities -- i.e., your social skills are up-to-date.
And, you feel good about setting some limits on how hard you'll work (or just how much crap you'll take) to make the phone ring. You feel good enough, in fact, to sign off with confidence that you did the right thing despite the pain it brought on.
By my math, then, your mistake wasn't that you trusted people to be your close friends. Your mistake was in holding on to these friends past the point where the friendships had plainly stopped working.
With a close friend, it's important to reach out when you sense s/he's drifting away. I certainly don't advocate churning through people, taking advantage for only as long as there are advantages to be had.
But sometimes your effort to reach out will fail. In that case, it's OK to start reaching elsewhere for companionship. It's possible to be a good friend and a decent person while still regarding friendship as dynamic -- even if it's just in retrospect, when you start thinking, "Maybe this friendship has run its course."
In fact, it's often only in retrospect that we realize our erstwhile close friendships were really just about living next door to each other, or raising kids together, or working in the same department, or being on countless other common paths we walk for limited times. While it may feel bankrupt to go into any relationship thinking, "This will do for now," there's no shame in looking back after it's over and thinking, "Well, it was good while it lasted."
Maybe you'll disagree with my calculation that you received more from your ex-friendships than you lost. Still, though, your two current choices leave no room for interpretation: Open yourself to new friendship possibilities, or sit home. Or, maybe more accurately, risk getting hurt, or guarantee feeling lonely. I can't choose for you -- but I've been hurt by old friends, too, and it's still a no-brainer to me.