Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Grieving When Long-distance Friendship Fails

As summer rolls around, we start throwing terms around like "summer fling" or "just something for the summer" etc. I'm a "ride or die" type of gal -- I'll love you forever if you let me -- so that type of transient relationship has never really appealed to me. But lately I have been realizing more and more that maybe a lot of relationships are seasonal, and for my own protection, maybe I need to think of my relationships in that light.

If I had things my way, like I said, I would keep in touch with most friends forever, writing letters back and forth or giving a phone call every month. But the past few years -- this year in particular -- have drenched me with an ice cold bucket of Reality that people don't tend to work that way.

It first started when I was at college: On break, I would want to text back and forth with my friends. Nothing too intense, just keeping in touch and maybe complaining about some of the frustrations of being home. But I quickly found that most of my friends, once they were home, were immediately re-immersed in whatever their little world back there was. Completely understandable given the whirlwind that friends and family can sweep you up into whenever you're back home after a long stretch away, but still a little disappointing. Of course, that was nothing compared to what was to come.

After a horrible bout of depression during my junior year of college, I decided to leave the school I had attended for three years and stay home for a semester before transferring to a school close to home. Just before the school year started up, I sent an email out to friends to let them know I wouldn't be back but that I would love to keep in touch and wished them all the best, etc. It was long, yes, but I just sent it to people I had been friends with, whether one year or all three. Out of maybe fifteen to twenty people I sent it to, I received a handful of responses. Some people I could understand not hearing from, but others had been people I would have long conversations with and considered close friends. It felt like a slap in the face to not have them acknowledge that I would, 1) no longer be in their lives regularly and 2) was going through enough that I had to withdraw from school just before my senior year.

As the months at home stretched on and life as usual at college played out before my eyes on friends' social media, I felt more and more alone. I would try to text people to say hello and sometimes wouldn't even receive a reply. When people did write me months later, it was usually a light-hearted conversation that never asked how I was or made reference to what had happened to me. My heart was broken over and over again as old friends resurfaced in my life only to fade out again just as quickly.

Sometimes today, three years later, it still happens. And it still breaks my heart.

This past year, I graduated from the college I transferred to, where I had made some lovely new friends though since I was a commuter (and perhaps a little guarded because of my recent past), none of the relationships were quite as intense as those from my first school. After graduation, I moved on to an internship 10 hours away from home. I lived with several people who were in the program with me, so I formed a couple tight-knit friendships from spending hours and hours together with people, commiserating over the stressful schedule. And one of those friendships turned into a case of unrequited love on my part.

The days after the internship finished and I moved back home were brutal. My life went from 100mph to 0mph and I was sometimes suicidal with the pain of no longer being with the man I loved. I assumed that our light-hearted banter and honest confessions would continue even after separation. But while occasionally he would indulge me with a conversation here and there, my expectations were sorely disappointed. I was an absolute mess, lying awake at night trying to figure out what our relationship was, how he felt, whether I had done something wrong. Crying my eyes out when he didn't send a letter -- as he had promised -- to respond to one I had given him at the end of our time together.

I moved back up north again and got a new internship and his communication got even spottier. Eventually I just stopped talking to him for a month to see if he would initiate conversation.

Nope. Silence.

It was a pretty dark time for me -- some points were "just stay alive tonight, that's you're one goal" kind of times. I couldn't grasp at the time what was happening in the relationship, but looking back I almost feel embarrassed at how clingy I was.

Now I've come to realize that most people will just go back to their bubble once they're no longer around you. This can be tough if you're the brand of introvert, like me, who craves friendship and social contact but doesn't necessarily have the wherewithal to cultivate a social scene for his/herself. I cling to those relationships I had because I love those people and it's hard for me to meet new people, but those people, once they're back at home, shift their focus back onto their new surroundings. It's an understandable habit, but a hurtful one.

This process repeated itself two more times that year: I would live with a person, we would both open up to each other and connect over struggles and shared interests, I would get attached and they would express affection for me while we were together, getting my hopes up, but then once we parted ways geographically, I would drop off their mental radar. When I would write asking after them, I would get either no reply or a "Hey, thanks! I'm busy!" To make it all better, a friend or two from College #1 also resurfaced for emotional support and then bobbed back under once they were reconnected with friends they liked better.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me three times, shame on me.

The past two months, I've been dealing with the most recent falling out of communication. Since early 2018, I've been coming to grips with the reality that most people just can't seem to handle long-distance relationships of any kind (romantic or platonic.) As I developed a really close (platonic) bond with a woman I was living and working with at yet another internship, I kept telling myself, "Just enjoy hanging out and talking now but don't expect her to continue things once this is over." Only problem was she kept insisting we would be lifelong friends, etc. And I fell for it, thinking we could text back and forth and keep up-to-date like we weren't really apart, meeting up in person every so often. We were supposed to be inseparable.

Months later, I am living in reality: People are busy. I typically am not.

In summation, I'm realizing that maybe relationships are seasonal. I always struggled with the thought that you could date or even be married to a person for years and years and then separate -- it seemed like wasted time -- but I've been trying to make myself see that oftentimes relationships fit a certain part of your life -- who you are, what you're going through -- but then are meant to sail on a different path. This can be really tough.

Having people leave your life can make you feel like you are inadequate and people don't want to be around you. But the reality is that it often doesn't have to do with you. Maybe that person is just in a different place emotionally or in terms of their season of life, and they need different friends. More often, I think people are just consumed with what's directly in front of them and who's surrounding them. They don't tend to have the bandwidth to check in with others, no matter how beloved.

So if you're having trouble letting go (I know I am), it's okay to loosen your fingers a bit -- that was for that season, maybe somebody is around the bend for this season. Maybe that means initiating conversation less if you're always the one starting things. Maybe it's not checking their social media every day. Maybe it's not listening to that song that reminds you of them on repeat.

If you're questioning your worth because people have let you go of you, remember that it's not necessarily about you.

When the seasons change, it can seem too soon. The buds fall off the trees just when it got sunny enough for you to finally take a stroll outside. The leaves are starting to litter the road and fade to brown before you had the chance to take a picture of them crowning the road on tree branches. Relationships can feel like this too -- over too fast, cut short, robbed of possibility. All I can say is I'm sorry. It's tricky.

Sometimes you can communicate your hurt and repair the relationship, but often no matter how hard you try, it will never be the same as when you were together. That takes some adjustment, which often takes some hurt. It's okay to grieve. It's okay to be a little angry. It's okay to hurt, even after many years. But hopefully you can also start to put it into perspective as a page of your past, a piece of your puzzle, a line of your story. And accept that maybe now, if the relationship if making you more sad than happy, it may be time to end the scene.

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