On the Surrender of Friendships

I was reviewing my calendar for the week ahead when I realized that one item that hadn’t moved in my to-do list for months was writing to a number of old friends for the general purpose of “staying in touch.” I was on the verge of postponing the task for yet another week when I stopped and ask myself: “Why am I even doing this?”

The answer that came readily enough to mind was: “Because I love these people and because they’re thousands of miles away, I have to exert more effort than normal to maintain the friendship.”

But why maintain the relationship? At the very least, why maintain a friendship that provides nothing more than a few occasions to indulge in nostalgia? Less than a handful of my friendships have lasted for more than a decade long, and it’s almost entirely due to the contemporary phenomenon of frequent migration. Either I’ve moved away or my friends have moved away or my friends and I have moved away and the steadily corrosive effects of distance have succeeded in loosening what at first seemed to be the most indestructible of bonds. I spent a good part of my younger years grieving (and even railing) against these losses, but in more recent years, the anger has given way to a kind of wistful acceptance punctuated by determined efforts to salvage the most “important” ties.

Now, however, I think I’ve come to a point where the wistful acceptance has matured into a kind of serene gratitude. In a much earlier blog post On the Acuity of Longing, I wrote that much of love “is the perpetuation of a presence whose physicality may have long been effaced or whose origins may have long been forgotten.” But now, I’m tempering that insight with the realization that the perpetuation of presence is a beautiful thing only if it doesn’t get in the way of one’s experience of the present. As well-intentioned as my efforts are to maintain my connections with old friends, they have, frankly speaking, degenerated into obligations whose ultimate intentions are to spare me the burdens of a guilty conscience. I don’t want to be blamed as the one who “let go”—so I’ll keep in touch even if the exercise devolves into something as perfunctory as a one-line note. The cost of this self-deceptive defensive mechanism, however, is that I spend more time memorializing past friendships than celebrating present ones. And I just don’t want to do that anymore.

So with that realization, I’m just . . . letting go. I thank every single person who’s come into my life and blessed me with their affection, their friendship and their love, and I’m not holding on anymore. If my path should cross theirs once again, and should my life intertwine with theirs once more, then a new friendship can supplant the old one. But until then, it’s fare well for now: I thank you for everything—and I love you.


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