Then I thought about that frequency with which my mind alights on one or another of these losses, and I wondered: is this inappropriate? should I just let go, chalk it up to whatever, and forget about it?
FRIENDSHIP IN OUR LIVES
And then I decided to take that question to my wife, April. She's different from me in some ways that led me to believe that her opinion would give me a reality check. Part of the family culture that shaped me included, on my mother's side, some proclivity to get stuck on old grievances, rejections, slights. April's family culture has its own issues, but that's not one of them. So I figured she'd have a good nose for anything excessive that might be going on with me.
Also relevant to my wanting to consult with April is that, despite that difference between us, the two of us do share something else quite centrally relevant to the issue: we both cherish and cultivate friendship in our lives.
I have one friend I've had for more than fifty years. I have a half dozen close friendships that go back more than forty. When it comes to good friendships more than thirty years old, I count more than ten. And so on, with friendships continuing to form not frequently but all the while. I would guess that I have thirty-five to forty friendships that are fully worthy of the name. And every person I meet I approach with the spirit that friendship just might prove a possibility: I have friends who began as my dentist, or as my attorney, or as the salesman who sold me my stereo.
And April has, if anything, a wider circle of friends, also going back to elementary school and high school and college and continuing to be formed even as recently as since we returned to Virginia. April's at once a more universal donor (she's hard not to like, while I'm not everyone's cup of tea), and the criteria by which she chooses friends are more easily met than mine.
We both work at our friendships --developing friendships is both an art and a craft, taking attention and time and skill-- and we often discuss with each other whatever issues arise in our various friendships and how best to deal with them for the sake of strengthening and deepening the relationships involved. A couple of years ago, she and I did some work together on a book about friendship. We undertook this project --which at present appears unlikely to come to fruition-- because we think the subject so important and so interesting and so woven into our own lives that it felt like it could be both fun and worthwhile to put our understandings into systematic form for others to read.
So I went to April and asked, is there something wrong with me that the X's and the Y's, and our loss of their friendships, are something I think often about? Would it be healthier if I just put them out of mind?
The X's and the Y's are both couples. We had individual friendships among the couples, but both were people we could get together with as a foursome. In the case of the X's, the friendship had been going on for almost a decade, in the case of the Y's it was about five years.
The X's live in Virginia where we lived before and now live again after a six-year interval we spent in New Mexico. But even during those New Mexico years, we'd had visits together in both parts of the country. They are people who know well some of the main arts of friendship, like working to stay in touch, and they are very hospitable people.
The Y's live in Albuquerque and we'd been in each other's houses often. I felt a special gratitude toward them because, when I had to deal with a traumatic turn of events with an institution into which I had invested myself fully --events to which I've alluded here more than once-- it was the Y's more than anyone else who rallied to my support.
That gives a sketchy idea of the "what" of our loss. Here's a bit about the "how," just enough to provide a bit of concrete flesh to the abstraction, "the loss of friendship."
In each case, it seems that we stumbled into some place in one of the members of the other couple that was unsuspected-- a place where something got triggered, a place that took us out of the realm of healthy relationship into something weird. We've spent a good deal of time trying to understand these "weird" places, but in each case a certain amount of speculation has been required because the party involved has been wholly unwilling to discuss it. That refusal to discuss is in itself a breakdown of what we hope to achieve in friendships.
With the X's, it is clear what was the precipitant of the difficulty. I said something to Mr. X that caused offense. In the more-than-a-year since, I've consulted with three wise people of my acquaintance (all clinical psychologists, as it happens) and two of them see no good reason for Mr. X to have been offended, while the third understands how he might have taken some umbrage, but not so much as to a big deal. My words were not impulsive, but on the contrary I'd thought hard about them the night before and spoke in as careful a way as I could think of. But in any event, he took offense. In the time since then, he's stopped communicating. when I tried to talk to Mr. X about the matter, he repeatedly either ignored me or, finally, put me off, saying that when we met again face-t0-face in Virginia we'd discuss it.