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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/31/08

How Important is the Loss of Friendship?

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But I've been back almost four months, as Mr. X knows, and he shows no interest in any such face-to-face meeting:  whatever the issue is for him seems to be something that he can't get past.  Mrs. X, meanwhile, seems to be trapped into staying with her husband on the same side of the line Mr. X has drawn.   We invited them to a gathering here, Mrs. X replied that they were otherwise committed, and there's been no communication since.  And this is the state of things that, I expect, will continue henceforth.  And in the meanwhile, Mr. X's whole handling of the matter has called into question in my mind whether this friendship is one I'd be wise to invest in further in that friendship even if the opportunity presented itself.  

With the Y's, there was no explicit precipitant of the rupture in our connection, though April and I have our theory.  Last spring, living in Albuquerque in the same general part of town as the Y's, we were on excellent terms with the Y's such that, when they went off on a two-month trip to some far corners of the world, it was I who drove them to the airport, with warm and friendly conviviality between us, and it was April who took care of a variety of their domestic and other needs in their absence, watering plants, taking weekly care of a prized possession of Mrs. Y's, and mailing a few dozen items for Mrs. Y according to an elaborately laid-out schedule.  But by the time they came home, it soon became clear, something had poisoned the well of the friendship.  

What accounted for this change?  Evidence points to a combination of two things.  1) During that period we decided to leave Albuquerque to return to Virginia, and let them know in one of our email contacts during their travels, so they wouldn't find out by seeing the For Sale sign in front of our house.  April immediately noticed a change in the email communications from Mrs. Y.  But subsquent toxic expressions from Mrs. Y suggest that even more important was our choice of a realtor to help us sell our house.

Even before we told the Y's that we were going to move, we decided to use the wonderful realtor we'd used to buy the place six years before.  When Mrs. Y. --herself recently retired as a realtor-- learned that we were going to sell, she had a different realtor to recommend.  But we stuck with our original choice.  We believe it was this that took us into a weird space with the Y's, engendering that "toxicity" I referred to above.  I won't go into the details of that toxicity, except to say that our last real contact with either of them occurred when Mrs. Y came to our house and, under the guise of trying to be helpful to April in making our house more saleable, enacted what seemed to be some covert agenda of humiliating her as much as possible.  

When the Y's behavior seemed so changed --actually, it seemed to be just Mrs. Y, with Mr. Y just acquiescing in the emotional field created by his wife-- we made several attempts to find out what it was about so that it could be discussed.  But that there was any problem, anything at all to discuss, was never acknowledged and, after that attempt at humiliation, we ventured only two more gestures.  We invited them to our farewell party, which they declined to attend.  And I gave them a loaf of my homemade bread, which they'd always loved.  In exchange for the bread, I got a cursory thank you back from Mrs. Y, which seemed designed to serve to maintain the fiction that nothing was amiss.

Several weeks later we moved away without so much as a farewell from people who'd been valued friends.  

As a final act, April and I decided some weeks ago to send a letter to them saying how sad and strange we find this ending to our friendship.  We expected no response and we got none, and we regard the story as done.


Two friendships that had once seemed, if not the closest or deepest of our friendships, nonetheless real and valuable, have thus come to an end.  It's different from losing a friendship to death, a kind of loss of which I've had but a few experiences.  That's straight-forward grief.  But this kind of loss --violating what had seemed the "rules" of the relationship, and showing a different face-- calls into question just what it was that existed before the loss.  This is a different kind of pain.  And I don't just shrug it off.

So I think of this loss of friendship often, and I went to ask April if she thought there was something "off" about my doing so.  Her reply was, "I think of them pretty often, too, and I find it painful."


That led me to reflect further, and then I came to see our feelings --the returning to behold this picture of the deterioration of friendship, to touch repeatedly upon the sadness-- as the other side of the same coin as our commitment to friendship as a central value in our lives.  

To just "forget about it" would mean that nothing all that important had happened.  It would mean that a friend is not so important a thing.  More than that, it would mean that the sense --given us by friendship-- of truly knowing and understanding another human being does not much matter.  It would mean that  the trust and commitment on which friendship is founded are of no great moment.  It would mean that the intimacy and promise to communicate and make things work that we try to build into our bonds with friends are insignificant.

These are the values and commitments and promises that friendship is about, and it is these that these two sad stories of the loss of friendship have violated.

Just as our outrage at the violation of our society's deepest principles is a way of honoring those principles, so also, it seems to me, does attending to these losses of friendship a means of affirming the values that are at stake in the sacred domain of friendship.


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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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