If children can be hard to understand than adults are impossible; as we mature, experience life, and take on new roles our minds become more complex. What we gain in knowledge, we also gain in emotional layers. When we were children our needs and emotional responses tended to be straightforward. If we cried or threw a tantrum you could generally assume you were either tired or hungry. Now, we have decades of life experience to sort through as to why we do what we do.
So how do we make sense of it? How do we accept a failed friendship?
You might be thinking to yourself—I did it all. I tried so hard. I shared my burdens; I listened to their own. I loved with action. I kept it simple. And at the end of it all I always remembered to forgive.
Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. But, the friendship still failed.
It happens. And this is where you can conclude that friendships only fail for one of two reasons: because of you or because of them.
Motivation, for abandoning a friendship—a good, solid friendship that has weathered storms—will always be a you or them issue. Some friendships that are less serious and more aligned with an acquaintance may fizzle because of distance, availability, or a lack of need. It’s not to say that the friendship failed per-se, but it didn’t develop into something greater. We have to remember we can’t hold depth with everyone. Casual friendships can be great. And on the same foot, we can’t only have casual friendships—depth is paramount to surviving life. It’s paramount to developing trust, safety, and love. Which in turn develops joy, a sense of belonging, and the rich feeling of fullness when you look at the bigger emotional picture of our day to day.
So, was it you or was them? The answer is it doesn’t matter. And as complicated as hearing this might be, it is generally a little bit of both. If someone walks away with no rhyme or reason than the assumption holds deeply that it most likely is a you issue. Think about it. If I had zero issues with you, and you were someone I held a deep friendship with, someone I loved, trusted, and felt loyalty to, why would I ever walk away without explaining myself unless it was because I couldn’t say the real words, I couldn’t admit that you had done something or said something to cause me pain. If it was because of something going on inside myself—depression, exhaustion, marital problems—that should be easily shared and easily understood. We give silence when we are incapable of sharing the truth, undoubtedly because of fear.
Fear of confrontation. Fear of the response. Fear of not being understood. Fear of being told our feelings aren’t valid or our pain wasn’t intentionally inflicted. Because sometimes we are irrational in our emotional responses, but even when we are aware of this it doesn’t take away the actual emotion. We still feel what we feel and even if it’s irrational it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share it. We can’t learn from our emotions unless we are being honest about them.
When fear is planted and takes root in any relationship it is bound to fail. But this isn’t grade school and we certainly aren’t getting report cards so failure is never permanent unless we make it. Any friendship is still salvageable if both parties deem it so.
The key to any working relationship is mutuality. You cannot force them to stay in the friendship with you no matter what you say or do. Nor do you want someone to stay if their heart isn’t in it. But there are several things you can do to work toward saving a failed friendship if it’s worth it:
1. Push aside the blame: So often we get caught up in who did what. We revert back to our thirteen-year-old self and want to be vindicated in our actions. Don’t. Remember the emotional layers that you’ve both built in becoming adults and realize that sometimes our actions make no sense. Even when we try to explain them they may only make sense to ourselves. Figuring out the you/them equation doesn’t have an absolute answer so don’t make it an absolute issue.
2. Take action: Write. Email. Text. Call. Do what needs to be done to aggressively pursue the friend in question. If you let them walk away without running after them, then you are no better than them. There is no room for pride in a healthy relationship. More so there is no room for pride when it comes to someone you love. Ask questions. Be honest. Seek out the trigger. Try and resolve it—no matter what.
3. Love: Remember those emotional layers? Maybe your action is getting no reaction. Maybe your pushing and persistence is causing them to run away even more. Sometimes things don’t make sense so don’t try making sense of them. This person is important to you. Don’t forget that. Even when their actions are hurting us they are still important. So love them anyway. Remind them of that love. Show them that love. Don’t worry about what they are going to do with it, just hand it over.
4. Peacefully walk away: At this point if you’ve still received no response. If you’ve pushed aside the blame, taken action, and loved on them then it’s time to walk away. A healthy person doesn’t force another person into a friendship, nor do they pine after them, or pester them. The beauty of this decision now though, is that you’ve arrived at it peacefully. You can let them go and walk away from the friendship knowing that you did everything you could to salvage it. And the only thing preventing it was them.
A lot of things in life will never make sense. Relationships that fail oftentimes can fall into that category, but taking heed of the above steps will release you from a lifetime of guilt and questioning. You won’t need their reasoning once you’ve ensured you didn’t give them a reason of your own.
*Look for our third and final article in Finding Friendship in Adulthood next week. We will be discussing “Walking Away” how to know when to do it and when to accept when it’s been done to you.
What about if we include an asterisk here with an annotation below about the third article about “walking away”
Meaning you followed the four steps and didn’t add to the problem regardless of what the initial problem was. You tried to resolve it and were met with silence. In those circumstances, people need to be let go. They are too egocentric to resolve anything.
Feel free to delete this sentence if it still reads funny to you ;) It doesn’t need to end on it.