Here comes a significantly more personal post than standard, but I think it’s a good topic to touch on, since writers can deal with this in books just as much as they can in person–and most people won’t quite get this right unless they’ve lived it, I think. This is an interesting post for me to write, and one that’s been bobbling around my brain for a while now. The title comes from a song off the Road to El Dorado soundtrack (a wonderful animated Dreamworks film, if you haven’t seen it) and was often the focus of a former friend of mine and me, in regards to our friendship. We were huge fans of the movie, and it was our touchstone for a friendship.
…But note how our friendship stands now.
I’ve come across two quotes within the past few months that get me absolutely riled up about the concept of friendship and how people view it nowadays, and how those views can–potentially–do serious damage to people.
The quotes are as follows:
“If a friendship lasts longer than seven years, psychologists say it will last a lifetime.”
“A friend is someone who says ‘I’m there for you’ and proves it.”
Now, to some extent, I agree with both of these quotes. I don’t know where exactly the seven years guideline came from, but it makes sense; my best friend and I have been friends for something like nineteen years now and I see no reason why we’d stop being friends any time soon. And I fully believe that a good friend is someone you can count on no matter what, and will follow through on that as they can.
But I also think that no matter how long a friendship, it can always end–and there comes a time when even after you’ve proved you’re there time and time again, you need to walk away.
Because here’s the problem. When I was in high school, I was very good friends with a girl I’ll call Missy. Readily considered one of my closest friends, we were constantly together and had created entire worlds to make-believe in. We were writers and improv artists, sculpting a world we liked better than the closed-minded high school world we found ourselves in. Everything was wonderful.
But I made friends with a new girl–we can call her Alice–and things started shifting. I started not being able to balance my time as well, because I’d keep hearing from my friends that they felt they never saw me. I didn’t spend time with them anymore. So of course I would go to my friend–and hear from the other that they then felt neglected. I felt awful. I’d never had many friends, so clearly I’d never learned the proper methods of balancing time. I tried my best, and fought as hard as I could to be a good friend.
But by the time I was a senior, it had me in tears. I was fighting with Missy constantly. I was consistently letting her down, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it better. Nothing I promised would stick in my head; I couldn’t knock the incorrect behaviours. I was being a terrible friend and nothing ever made it better. I just wanted to go to college and hope that everything would work itself out in my absence, because it was all I had left.
Of course, college only helped a little. It put me several hours away from both Missy and Alice, which meant that any attention they gained from me was via the Internet, save for the few times I came home. When Alice went to college further away, I thought for sure the trouble was solved.
But I was wrong. Missy and I had still had our share of fights during my college years, and when I came back home after graduation, it appeared that none of my behaviours had gotten any better. I was still not doing well as a friend. I was rigid, I played favorites, I took advantage of her generosity, I only wanted to see her on my terms…and every time I promised to be better, it sounded hollow to both of us because we both knew I’d said those same words over and over again, and we continued to have the fights. I didn’t know how to be better, but each time, I wept and I promised to try. I said I’d do anything she asked, if only I had another chance to prove that I meant it, that I wanted to be her friend.
I fully believed that I was the sole problem in the friendship, because for eleven years, my best friend had told me that. For eleven years, I knew that while we each had our troubles, Missy had done all in her power to accommodate for an inflexible me, and I was letting her down. And if you can’t believe your best friend, well…who can you believe?
I said I was there for Missy, and I tried to prove it again and again. She would say she was there for me. We were friends for eleven years.
It took five close online friends of mine, in addition to my father’s assurance, to convince me that I was being manipulated, and that my friendship with Missy was toxic.
When I cut ties with her, I lost three other close friends, because they believed that after that long of a friendships, that friends didn’t say goodbye. How could I count myself as a friend if I was willing to just walk away from eleven years? Didn’t that mean anything to me? Hadn’t I just said that everything was going to be fine? That we’d worked through the issue?
Yes, I’d said that everything was fine…because I’d agreed to change myself for her–again. I’d given in because I hated the fighting. I’d wanted to salvage my friendship more than I’d wanted to save my sanity. So yes, in that regard, everything was fine. Everything would have gone back to the way it had been.
But that wasn’t healthy. That wasn’t good. That wasn’t friendship.
It’s been just about a year and a half since I last spoke to Missy, and a little over a year since Alice and my friendship ended–since she was one who fell out in the aftermath from Missy as well. She’s contacted me since then, but a combination of my own mental state and a certain lack of change in her part keeps me arm’s distance from her. I’m not sure I can let any of those people back into my life.
I moved hours away and found an entirely new friend group. Later today, I will drive out to visit the vast majority of those friends, and spend the weekend in the arms of two people who have absolutely changed my life for the better–and who have let me see what real friendship looks like. I’ve had more intense fallings-out with one of them than I ever had with Missy, and have spent a fair time in tears because of it, but I know as soon as I see him, I will be welcomed in with open arms and a forgiving heart, because that’s how friendship works. I am open with him about when I am hurt, and we work through it. We see what can be changed on both sides, and keep the communication channels open. It’s not blaming. It’s not fighting. It’s discussion, and problem-solving. It’s compromise. Letting other people into your life is always compromise.
So yes. If you’re friends for a long time, you are more likely to be friends forever–but not always.
Yes, friends say that they are there for you and prove it–but there can be a time to walk away. A time when it’s left the realm of friendship, and one must recognize that.
Missy was a dear friend of mine, and I do not regret a moment I spent with her. The same goes for Alice.
But by the time I left home, they weren’t my friends anymore, and hadn’t been for some time.
And I think that’s just as important to remember.