The day we had the fight, I was gutted. I spent the afternoon feeling shocked, that numbness that envelops you like cotton wool, keeping in the frustration and anger and short circuiting any possibility for rational thinking.
It was my fault. At any rate, the final straw was placed by me. I didn’t answer a text for 8 days. If you know me well, you will know that isn’t an unusual scenario. I’m actually pretty shit at maintaining continuous contact and tend to connect sporadically, in short furious bursts of energy that are balanced with longer periods of introversion and introspection. For you, dear friend, that is experienced as silence. You may see me as an extrovert, and I DO love people, but I require large periods of silence and solitude in between so that I can recharge my batteries.
I unpacked that day so many times, reliving the drama and the unfairness of it all. Railing against the fact that She Was Wrong! It’s So Unfair! She Must Own Her Part! How Very Dare She! I spent some time marinating in the drama, in the loss I felt, and the hurt. I’ve spent many hours reflecting on the whys and wherefores. In the end, as always, it comes down to the same three things: lack of communication, unarticulated expectations, and inflexible rules.
Do I rock the boat? Or stay in the shallows? (Lack of Communication)
When we first met, we celebrated our sameness. We just clicked. Conversation was easy and we shared interests & values. We laughed a lot, and also shared the approach of vulnerability and openness that characterises my close friendships.
What we didn’t do was communicate on a more practical level, providing feedback about how we were feeling about our relationship. We didn’t talk about what was working, what wasn’t working, and what we could do better.
This is a common challenge: how do I communicate with my friend, without upsetting them? Most people opt not to rock the boat, and put up with their frustrations and hurts. I have a policy that I will always choose to have the difficult conversations with those I hold dear. That’s because it creates a moment in time where you can go deeper. Sit with each other and choose friendship. Find a greater capacity to communicate with kindness.
Let’s be honest, it could also all turn to shit. That’s a gamble I’m willing to take to find true connection. Fuck the nicey-nicey superficial stuff. Fuck beige.
Why Should I Have to Ask? (Unarticulated Expectations)
It can be tricky to identify the structure of relationships, and often we haven’t articulated the components (even to ourselves). We don’t really understand why we are acquaintances with one person, and best friends with another. We expect that others “just know” because “that’s how it’s done”. We don’t ask ourselves “What does this person do that makes me like them so much?” or “How do I become a better friend” or “What are the specific criteria for a great friendship?”
And that, my friends, is why my friendship imploded.
We talked about expectations, and I didn’t get granular enough. She wanted something from me, and never told me I wasn’t delivering. The ship was sinking and it was all too late.
The Invisible Rules of Engagement (Inflexible Rules)
This is my favourite part. The rules, when uncovered, are hilarious. We discover things that we believe to be true, that are pretty freaking weird tbh.
“She hasn’t called me for over a month. She doesn’t value our friendship as much as I do.”
Rule: Good friends call you at least once per month.
“I was invited over for coffee, and they only had instant! They don’t even try!”
Rule: A good host provides high quality coffee, and morning tea.
“He only ever calls when he wants something”
Rule: There is an appropriate ratio of wanting something: talking.
I started to notice that there may be unspoken rules when my friend started getting pissy when I was ready to leave. See, to me, a catch up was about 1-2 hours and beyond that I’m ready to wind it down and head home. One day I said “It seems like you feel annoyed when I want to go, how long is it that you were thinking I would be here?” Super helpful! 3 hours. Then I knew that was the length of time to anticipate we would be hanging out. There was, however, a sense of being held hostage. That the rules were rigid, and that any time I ‘broke’ them, I would be punished. She’d stop calling and back off. The rules were inflexible.
Not sure about your personal rules? Here is a great clue: check in with your hot buttons. You know- those stories you tell where you say “I can’t believe that just happened!” Or “who even does that?!” or “he obviously doesn’t value our friendship” …. You get the vibe… You are outraged because they crossed a line! They took it too far!
It’s been well over a year and it is only recently that I have finally closed that chapter. I know that it is closed because there is no longer that low level hum of emotion, the charge associated with the memory. She’s just somebody that I used to know. The breakthrough for me happened while I was processing a mean girl moment, and I realised that what was creating such a conflict for me was the way that I still felt about her.
You see, I really like her! She’s great! The emotional charge was because she doesn’t like me and that felt like a chasm I couldn’t bridge. I learned so much. My friendships are richer because of her.
Sometimes, it all turns to shit. And that’s a gamble I’m willing to take to find true connection.