Social scientists report that one lose half one's friends every seven years. I don't think it is too much of a coincidence that one's cells have been completely replaced in this same amount of time, a sort of Ship of Theseus. As a society, we pretend that this gradual transformation isn't existentially terrifying but, on a cellular level, both parties have become completely different people. Perhaps these two people aren't that close. Perhaps, on the most biological of levels, one really does outgrow other people.
Seven years ago, I was twenty-five. My life seemed to revolve around my long term relationship with Emily and a small nucleus of friends that resisted all my attempts make them like one another for the sake of turning my life a sitcom. I was just finishing grad school, clinging to my long hair as an unneeded symbol of my individuality and identity, barely managing to imagine what adult life entailed because I had spend every year of it concerned with an eventual degree. I know some people from this time, but I am not close with many of them. Seven years before that, seventeen, drowning in fondness for my emotionally distant best-friend-turned-girlfriend while my other best friend resented me near to hatred for dating her. I was lost in a world of high school, as one must be at that age (and hopefully no time else). I mark some people I knew then as status updated about babies and drunkenness, but we don't really talk. With all but a very few, the fourteen years difference in context means that I'm not sure we'd even nod when passing on the street. I am likely to have more in common with strangers in a bookstore.
This seven year half-life doesn't mean that half of one's friends drop off all at once, of course, but it does mean that an innate characteristic of most friendships is an expiration date. I struggled with this concept for much of my life. I refused to see that friendships should be less than permanent. Yes, they might shift in character but they needn't go away entirely.
But they do.
Sometimes, it is that life drags two people apart and the friendship cannot withstand the distance. Hannah joined the Navy and, aside from being the maid of honor at her wedding and a couple of letters, that was pretty much it for our friendship, though I couldn't have guessed it at the time. We are no longer even friends on Facebook, an act done quietly and without my knowledge until I sought to send her a link to something. Zack, whom I was friends with for well over a decade, moved to Indiana to start a new life without letting most people in this area know. He apologized to me some years later for leaving without a goodbye, but much time had elapsed and this apology meant only that he regretted parting that way, but not that he regretted parting (nor should he, since he has gone on to lead a fulfilling and happy life from what I can tell). I think we have a regard for one another, but I understand that we are never again going to hang out in playgrounds. As longtime readers can attest, these were not minor friendships by any stretch and, were you to tell me that I would one day barely know the other person, I would have thought you were crazy.
Some fizzle on their own, through neglect. I was once friends with Conor and, though he was a bit flighty, whenever we connected, I had full faith that he cared deeply for me and missed me. About seven years ago, he stopped contacting me or replying to messages, even though he was no further than a town away then. I don't think I did anything to offend him, but I saw no plenty in continuing to pester him with questions. I am sure he is a fine man - I glean enough via Facebook to see that he is ostensibly happy teaching live action role playing to teenagers - but he isn't someone I will be calling up to go to a diner anymore. Our lives diverged at some point, perhaps more known to him than to me, and we grew apart in a more literal fashion than that cliche suggests.
Some friendships are simply born out of a need. Once the need is met or ceases - be it simply to feel less alone or to enable a leisure activity that cannot be done alone - there is a vacuum. The other party is left adrift, not quite knowing what has changed but knowing that something must have. It is always a matter of fitting into the narrative and, once you step out of the role, once you want to take in a b-movie instead of discussing the theme of plants in a Chekov play or decide you like female folk singers and not just German death metal, you are ushered offstage. I have heard this happening with people who enter Alcoholics Anonymous and all of those blood brothers from the bar no longer remember your number once you sober up.
And, yes, some friendships end because they can't continue in any healthy fashion. You just have no need for acting out in your life any longer and this slowly comes to mean you simply don't have space for them. People do not universally age out of things at the speed one requires, nor should they be expected to. However, the guy who is a blast when you are both eighteen is tough to have a conversation with when you are in your thirties, yet he is still eighteen in his mind. You get tired of being the one biting your tongue so you don't have to say "I told you so" for the twentieth time for someone who seems to know better until it comes to relationships, drugs, thrill-seeking. I've been cast into the role of surrogate father before, against my will. When I stood my ground and said I was done with having to be the one rebelled against, I was told I was just done knowing them period.
In early college, I lost a friend because I would not take her advice about clinging to an ex. As far as I know, she did not have a horse in this race, as it were, that would better explain her reaction. She opted to cut me out of her life rather than deal with the continuation of my bad decisions in regards to someone she never met. This hurt, since I did not know the cause of her evacuation until I ran into her online years later and confronted her for closure, but I mark now that I likely didn't lose much of a friend.
Yet there are some friends who continue in your life largely because they were present for the last cut and were somehow spared. Again and again, they fail to leave your life, becoming the proverbial beer poster from college that clashes with the rest of the decor but which you keep if only because you've had it so long. You wouldn't buy it now, but you can't shove it in the garage behind the Furbies and Tamagotchis because it hung on the wall for so many great memories, whether or not it played any role in them. There's no getting rid of it, no matter how often your friends, lovers, parents look askance whenever they sit near it.
I feel no animosity or sense of rejection now when I quietly grow apart from friends. They do not slight me by choosing other company, as there was not a guarantee of exclusivity (lovers being the exception, of course).
Losing friendships would have once worried at me, as though I were insufficient or as though I could only prove my worth by maintaining them. I know I have played this song before, but the lesson seems to need repeating, in my life if not the lives of my readership. I spent so long in my life needing other people to justify myself. I no longer do. I have my writing, I have myself. These are enough. Anyone else is in my life because I want them there, not out of a pathological compulsion to never willingly sit in solitude.
Loss can sometimes be the best of all possible states because it forces us to consider what we truly need and what we are clinging to long after it occupies a space in our life that could be put to a better use. I grow closer with others, amazing people that perhaps would never had been in my grasp had I clung to those who left. It was only owing to Emily leaving me that I sought out new friends online, finding Melanie and Daniel. Had I not closed the long chapter of my life starring her, I would not have had the confidence to move on. Only when Melanie left me did I attempt another circle, finding the women who hosted my first signing and, most importantly, Amber. At the moment, I have several close (in proximity as well as emotional attachment) friends that make clinging to ghosts seem even more pathological and ridiculous. I see Daniel several days a month, I go to movie night Thursdays with Holly and Dan (about whom more will be said in a future entry). They are not friends who exist only to fill a need, who are time and place specific. They are people who fit where I am in my life and who I want to continue seeing because they are whole without me and vice versa.
Yet I cannot say I am wholly copacetic with everyone who has slipped away. There is a woman with whom I was nearly as close as could be for years, having a platonic love affair and feeling infinite as only teenagers to early twenty-somethings can. We began to drift after four or five years of friendship and I couldn't put my finger on why, though I assumed it was because we had started down very different paths in our lives. I went to a series of colleges, she entered the working world immediately after high school. I avoided drugs and alcohol, she indulged. I stayed living with my parents off-and-on until I was in my mid-twenties, she moved in with her friends almost as soon as she could. She went farther from who I wanted her to be, what I expected of her. I received more than a few calls through the years, which I now realize to be drunk dials. Talking to her was painful to me, but I did still care about her, at the very least because I once loved her so much and I wanted to believe in the persistence of affection despite changes. Then she sought therapy, she began a stable job, she became a better woman than the one my adolescent self could have imagined. I've seen people beaten down by less, but she rose above and flourished. But we were no longer close. Even though I feel we could meet now and be the best of friends, the history between us is too much of a wedge. I am the man who cut her off and shouted at her for drunk dials, not the eighteen-year-old who ran up painful phone bills listening to her breathe. I am not even a thirty-two year old stranger who sees her as admirable and worth getting to know. I was not there when she needed someone to be, at her worst, so I do not warrant being there now that she is approaching her best and I must make my peace with that. It's been over seven years since we were close and I regret to say that I believe she falls into that half of my friends I have lost.
Soon in Xenology: Dan and Holly.