Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When It's Time To Let Go (Or, That Rose DeWitt Bukater Was One Smart Cookie)

Several years ago, I made the decision to end a friendship. It had been a close friendship that meant a lot to me at one time.  In fact, when I ended it, it still meant a lot to me.  Letting go of that friendship was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.  And it wasn't a throwing away. It was truly a letting go, the same way that, in the movie Titanic, Rose lets go of Jack when she realizes that he is beyond saving.

The friendship was beyond saving.

Whatever it was that had brought us together as friends, the thing that continued to bind us had become unhealthy and unwieldy.  There were unkind words spoken and boundaries broken, on both sides, that had slowly eroded the foundation of the friendship.  The final blow was, I'll confess, my doing.  I had suffered a loss - a death in the close family - and this loss had caused my ordinarily temperamental and difficult family to be even more so.  After months of caring for a very ill old man, all of us were frayed and damaged and just plain exhausted.  We had no patience for each other.

There were a handful of friends who picked me up during that time and carried me through that very difficult time by being loving and supportive, by handing me some really useful advice, based on their own recent losses, and by just plain telling me they loved me and, no matter when I called, they would pick up the phone.

And they did.

But she - this friend I released - wasn't one of them.  Instead, she said some harsh things to me that hurt badly, and then when asked to apologize, simply couldn't bring herself to do it. Our final, sad email exchanges sit in a folder in my Outlook - me asking for an unqualified "I'm sorry", and her saying, "Well, I am sorry you misunderstood," or "Well, I'm sorry, but here are all the things you've done to me."  I didn't want to hear that right then. My old man was dead, my heart was broken, my spirit was depleted, and what I wanted to hear was, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. What can I do to help you now?" If I had heard that, all would have been forgiven and the slate would have been cleaned.

When I compared her treatment of me over the past couple of years with that of my other friends, I realized I had a choice to make. A hard choice. I could go on in a friendship that took more energy than I had at that time, that occasionally resulted in emotional and psychological bumps and bruises, and that somehow didn't seem to serve either of us anymore, since she seemed unhappy and dissatisfied as well. Or I could just find a way to walk away.  When I put the choices about this friendship into my mental centrifuge, trying to separate the useless product from what really mattered, I kept coming up with the same results.

Love shouldn't hurt.

This love did. So I did what I needed to do, and said "good-bye".  It was hard. As she got smaller and smaller in my life, more and more distant, I wanted to reach out and scream, "No, come back!" I knew I would miss her.  I would miss the inside jokes. I would miss the movie dates and brunches and birthdays.  I would miss hearing her voice and her laugh.  She was a good friend, whom I'd loved dearly, whom I still love in some small way.

Yet when I said goodbye, when I let the frozen hands of that friendship slip slowly into the metaphorical Atlantic and then turned my attention to saving my own life, as Rose did, I realized that there was a lot more out there for me. My life became a little less chaotic, a little less painful. I missed our good times, but those had become fewer and fewer.  I had thought at one time I'd never be able to survive without her in my life.  In fact, I believe she said nearly these exact words to me.  I did survive, though. I thrived, in fact.

This experience was an invaluable lesson to me. Sometimes, friendships are like Volvos. Sometimes, they're like Yugos.  Ours was somewhere in between - maybe a Ford Fiesta.  But what I learned was that when it's time to get out of that vehicle and into something that better suits my life, I don't have to hesitate.

I don't do that anymore. When the car breaks down, and can't be reliably repaired, I have the right to go. I was reminded this past week that it's all about boundaries.  And sometimes it's about self-salvation.  I can pull those frozen fingers away from my hands and free myself.

Life is short, and I have a lifeboat to catch.

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