“How to end a friendship.” Really?

In an article in the New York Times Review section last Sunday, Lauren Mechling wrote about “How to End a Friendship.” In it she describes the day she was having a phone conversation with her best friend of many years. Suddenly the friend interrupted to say that she had to take another call and would ring right back. She didn’t. Not then, not ever. Mechling was hurt and baffled and tried repeatedly to find out what was wrong, but was never able to.

As I was reading this, I was feeling sympathy for Mechling. I’ve had that experience of a friend suddenly disappearing, and I’ve taken it hard.

But then she comes to this startling conclusion: “[O]ften, there’s no accounting for a friendship’s demise. The atmosphere changes; a sense of duty creeps in. Conversations that were once freewheeling shift into that less than enjoyable territory of ‘catching up.’ Soon you realize social media is the only thing keeping a no-longer-friendship on life support.”

Really? It’s okay for a close friendship to simply wither and die because one of the friends wants it to? In my opinion, Mechling’s friend acted cruelly by shutting her out without any explanation. That boredom or just a yen to move could be justifiable grounds for severing a friendship seems horrible to me.

But I’ve been aware that I take friendships personally, maybe too personally. If someone is a friend at one point in my life, she or he is a friend forever. And when someone suddenly drops out of my life, I’ve tried—at times to excess—to wrest them back. Once I tried for three years to repair a friendship, convinced that if my friend and I could only sit down together and each take responsibility for what had gone wrong, we could resolve a minor (in my opinion) rift. Nope. He never reciprocated and I finally gave up. Recently, a woman who’s been my friend for almost forty years and who has a chronic illness failed to return my phone calls and emails. Increasingly afraid that she might be in the last stage of illness, I made increasingly urgent efforts to get in touch with her. Finally, she wrote a curt email saying that there was a lot going on in her life right now and “you’re not at the top of my things to deal with.” I felt deeply wounded.

But as time went on, I realized that I’ve got to be more accepting of my friends’ view of friendship. I think Lauren Mechling’s friend should have been honest enough to tell her why she didn’t want to stay in touch. But I realize not everyone can do that. I also have to accept that that, when the signs are clear that the other person is simply no longer interested, I need to let go, and a lot sooner than I have in the past.

I’d love to know about your experiences with friendship and I’ll bet other readers of this blog would too. Please post in the COMMENTS section below.

What I’m reading

I’m rereading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I saw it in the Strand Bookstore recently and decided to buy it. I remember my experience of reading it the first time much more vividly than I remember the novel itself. I was 16 and living in Omaha. It was summertime. Thanks to my wonderful English teacher of the year before, I was beginning to distinguish real literature from simply reading, which I had done avidly all my life. And now I finally had my own room. I would sit up there on my bed for hours during that summer, reading Steinbeck and feeling extremely proud of myself that I was able to grasp the mythological and biblical themes he was recasting. Now I find the book sexist and a bit obvious in its symbolism. But it’s summertime and it’s still a good story.

Savory Moment

The young man who is painting our house came over in the rain last week to start washing it with the power washer. There was a nest of baby catbirds in a bush by one corner and I asked Mike to cover it with a tarp before he started spraying in that area. An hour or so later, I looked out to see him very gently and conscientiously arranging the tarp over the busy, leaving space on one side for the mother to fly in and out. There is something so moving about catching a person unawares when they are in the midst of doing something kindly.

Upcoming Schedule

July 12-14 I’ll once again be part of an incredible literary event in this rural corner of Pennsylvania. It’s called The Gathering and in the past 12 it’s featured writers like Diane Ackerman, Tracy K. Smith, and Salman Rushdie. This year the theme is “Refugees and Immigrants” Who are They and Who am I?” I’ll be leading an experiential (writing and solo walking) called “Moving with the Ancestors.”



5 thoughts on ““How to end a friendship.” Really?”

  1. Hi Trebbe, My mom clipped that NYT article and sent it to me as I’d just experienced a “friend loss.” I have only know this woman for about four years but we really clicked and had a lot in common (e.g. same age children, same profession). Suddenly the whole thing unravelled. The article helped me let go and more on more swiftly.

    On another note, I had a 14-year silence from a friend of 20 years. I wrote/called/emailed/pleaded that we sort out what happened. No dice. Last summer, we had a semi-chance encounter. We simply fell into one another’s arms, all forgiven and now we are back in touch regularly.

    I guess my point is, you really cannot predict the directions of friendships and hearts. And you never know when the sands will shift and the person will reappear in your life.

    Love your blog posts so much. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    1. Madeleine—Thank you for writing. That’s wonderful that you were reunited with your old friend in such a spontaneous, heartfelt way. As for the friend who inspired this blog, she wrote me about a year ago. An oversight on my part that she had a right to be annoyed about got worked over and over and over in her imagination until she was convinced I had all kinds of nasty, plotting motives not only about that incident but about others I had no recollection of. She wanted to see if we could make it up, and we had a phone call during which I apologized for what I did do wrong. But I told her that that kind of projection and years of silence made her unrecognizable to me and I couldn’t rebuild the friendship.

  2. I have an older copy of Orion and am reading your article “Gaze Even Here” and I am stunned with its beauty. Thank you.

  3. I had a close friend of several years just cut me out, and I wish I knew why. I have an idea, but am not sure. And another friend I had known on and off for 40 years and we were BFFS and she had done something that hurt me, and I found out she wasn’t being truthful to me, and I wrote her and asked her to think about why and that we needed to talk about it. I said she could have some time. Anyway, 8 months later, still no talking about it (after we had been in almost daily conversation) and the original issues were not resolved but the fact that she did not respond to my request for us to talk, was just too much for me. Hard time to lose good friends, or those you thought were good friends.

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