Sunday, February 20, 2005

Friends: When to Give Up

A million years ago, in another universe called College, I became friends with a girl I'll call Raven-Haired Beauty. I can't quite remember the moment we met, but I do remember the night we convinced Gerard and two of his friends to join in our dramatic performance of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" near the front of campus. We had them doing pirouettes and everything. She dubbed me The Queen Mother and I called her The Court Jester. She introduced me to Dan Fogelberg's music. We sang, we giggled, we wore matching neon hot-pink sweatshirts that announced "Airhead Alert!" and when college ended, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding and I was a bridesmaid in hers.

When her second baby was three weeks old, I flew out to see her and slept on her couch. I was in the midst of the black cloud of infertility at the time, but I had hope that our adoption would happen soon. Our visit was hectic, of course, but it was lovely to see her in her new role as wife and mother. That was in 1992, I think. I haven't seen her since because she lives in the Midwest and I live in the Pacific Northwest.

She's never been particularly good at staying in touch--some people just can't manage to maintain a long-distance friendship and I totally understand that--but when her third child was born and I didn't get a baby announcement, I was a little miffed. By then, I was a mother myself and I knew exactly how busy life can get, so I overlooked it.

But she never returned my letters. She seldom even returned an email. Yet, I still did my best to maintain a connection--Christmas letters, occasional phone calls, snail mail, email. Then, one night I called to see how she'd been and she said, rather off-handedly, "Oh, I'm expecting again." I was surprised that she hadn't told me previously--after all, as an infertile, I considered pregnancy news worth a telephone call. She was five months pregnant. Five months and she hadn't bothered to tell me. I began to understand that our friendship was slipping away.

I realized that I was one who put our friendshp on life-support. I initiated every contact. When we talked, everything was about her. I said to myself, "Self, that's it. No more. You've done your part."

But then the day came when I realized suddenly, hey, I think her baby was due last week. Curiosity prompted me to telephone her and she answered the phone, sort of out of breath. I said, "Hey, what's up?" and she said, "I just got back from my baby's funeral."


So, I listened to her heartbreaking story of her baby boy (her first son) and how his cord strangled him nine days before his due date. Her labor was induced so she could deliver her stillborn son and the day I called happened to be the day of his funeral. Having already experienced the loss of my father when I was 24, I listened and asked gentle questions. She cried and I cried.

I decided that I would call her every month, around the date she lost her precious baby boy. I did so, for the next year, even though I had vowed to myself that I was done with this friendship. I sent cards. I sent notes. I did what you do when someone has experienced great loss.

After that year passed and my phone calls weren't as regular, she got pregnant again. She didn't even tell me. She didn't send a birth announcement. I was bewildered. Our friendship felt more one-sided than ever. Then, a year or so ago, I telephoned her. She didn't return my call.

Listen. I understand being busy. I do. I also know that people make time for things and people that matter to them.

Last time I heard from her, she was pregnant again. I never heard when the baby was born. So, a few weeks ago, I found her number and telephoned, more out of curiosity than anything. Did she have a boy or girl? That's what I wanted to know. She had four daughters, had lost a son and I wondered if she had another son or another daughter.

She didn't return my call. Over the next week, I called at random times, always getting her answering machine. Finally, a few days ago, she picked up the telephone. My questions were answered. She'd had a son fifteen months ago. And she's busy, so busy, really, really busy. She got my phone call, but she's just been so busy, too busy to answer it . . . she babysits now, a 2 year old and an infant (sound familiar?) and her 15-month old is a handful and her preschooler is busy and her school-aged daughters are busy.

Yes. So? I said, "Are you homeschooling?" Oh no, she said, but her oldest daughter is a freshman in high school and she gets straight A's and she plays basketball and they are just so busy. "Well," I said, "At least you have older children to help you with the little ones." And she said, Oh no, they are just so busy with their own lives. "How's your husband's job?" I asked. And she said, Oh, he's busy, so busy, really, really busy. Everyone, they are all so busy.

I'm busy, too, but I make time for people who matter to me. I'm not asking for a weekly telephone call, but how about a baby announcement? Or an email? How much time does it take to write an email? How much time does it take to scrawl a line on the bottom of a Christmas card? Honestly, it's pretty easy to make me happy.

So, I'm letting this friendship die the natural death it's been limping toward for the past ten years. No more phone calls from me. I'm done trying.

The thing that she must not realize is that I am a true-blue, forever kind of friend. When I become your friend, I am a friend for life. I am loyal. I am faithful. I value friends as much as I value family. As the saying goes, "Friends are family you pick out yourself."

Too bad she doesn't feel the same. Her loss. I kind of wished I'd realized that before, though, a long time before, so I hadn't wasted any time watering and nurturing a plant that turned out to be plastic.

(And, in response to the comments I've already received on this topic: I do not intend to tell her what I've just told you. I believe this friendship has been so one-sided that she can't imagine why I might feel neglected. She's moved on. She won't even notice that she doesn't hear from me anymore. Sad, huh?)


Blogger Jennifer said...

I understamd and I'm the same type of friend. Losing friends isn't a walk in the park, but it happens for whatever reasons. I guess it's a reminder to cherish the friends you have now.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Debra said...

Hi Mel... I could have written most of this post--I so know what you mean. But a few years ago I learned something which has helped me so much and I wrote about it here:

The Bible says to *everything* there is a season, and when I applied that to friendship, too, I saw friendship in a whole different light. My relationships became easier to understand and appreciate.
I hope this helps a little... Thanks so much for your comments at my blog! God bless... Debra

3:29 AM  
Blogger QQ said...

I have a few of these wilting friendships myself. I, like you....just can't let them die. It is painful...especially when you invest your heart and whole being.

I have to learn to walk away from without exploding and smashing the the plant into the wall.

4:59 AM  
Blogger QQ said...

I have a few of these wilting friendships myself. I, like you....just can't let them die. It is painful...especially when you invest your heart and whole being.

I have to learn to walk away from without exploding and smashing the the plant into the wall.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Stacy said...

I've had friendships that died a slow painful death, too...because I wouldn't let go, but someone (a friend who was cutting me loose) sent me an email a couple years back that helped me. It was about how some friends are the forever kind and some are just for a season. I saved it. If I can ever find it (I'm looking) I'll send you a copy.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Life's Laundry said...

There are many things I'd like to say but the most important right now is that I am eternally greatful to call you my "forever friend".

6:26 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I guess I must confess that I used ot be a bit that way. Then I realized that wasn't good at all and found a way to get in touch with a number of old friends. Most were ready to reciprocate.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Too real, Mel, too too real.

11:24 AM  
Blogger k said...

Wow! Wish I had read this about a year ago & maybe I would've been able to spare myself a great deal of heartache. Friendship, Relationship... any kind of ship, The boat only goes in circles if'n you're the only one paddling! As for the plastic plant analogy--it only reminded me of the time I house sat for friends and got a HUGE ladder out to water the plants in the skylights -- only to realize that they were plastic.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

I think it's heartbreaking to let a friendship go...but I think it's a little worse to do the one sided thing...


7:41 AM  

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