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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

When Friendships Fray

I hear tell that a lot of close ties have been broken lately over politics. Nope, I'm not going there. Where I am going is the more basic timing of when we call it a day, throw in the towel, realize that there are some things that we cannot or choose not to fix. That's a tough order, given that one of our "assigned" roles as women is to make nice and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. (I wish Nancy Pelosi would offer a webinar on "Telling Others To Take Their Toys and Shove It.")

Okay, I said I wasn't going to go there. I lied. But back to the matter at hand: Do you have a sibling, a cousin, a longtime friend whose name remains in your Contacts list, even though you haven't talked, emailed, private messaged for months, maybe years? (Crap, I've got friends who have been dead for years. Literally, dead. I could Select and Delete but then they'd really be gone.)

If you're like me, you've parted ways with some wonderful people for a variety of reasons--misunderstandings, discomfort, diverging interests, lack of support. (Oh, yah, I'll add politics to the list.) Sometimes, you're the Decider; sometimes, you get kicked to the curb. The hurt can smart big time and hang around like a lost puppy. Or the relief of not having to manage a toxic relationship can trump (Sorry!) any feelings of guilt or what ifs.

One of My Stories (I Have Several)

I got to know a second or third cousin (I've never figured that one out) when we were both in our 40s. She was an old hippie to my more conservative former self. She'd spent the Summer of Love in San Francisco, dancing and drugging in Golden Gate Park. The closest I got to letting it all hang out was watching "Woodstock" in a local movie theatre, high on marijuana brownies. Maybe it was our core differences that made us so interested in each other. Though she lived in California, some 3,000 miles away, we spoke regularly, emailed and, when possible, spent time together. We signed our communications "sister/cousin."

And then maybe two years ago, things began to go south. My sister/cousin was never available to talk. "I've got a lot of work," she said. "Maybe in a couple of weeks." She was putting me off, and I had no idea why. This cat and mouse game continued for months. At first, I was confused, then angry and, ultimately, indifferent. When I finally asked her what the hell was up, she told me she was pissed that I'd included her in my political emails. "What ever happened to peace and love?" she said. "Hell," I said, ever the peace maker. "Why didn't you just tell me? I would have removed you from the list. Politics is not the cornerstone of our relationship. We have plenty of other things to talk about."

Apparently, we did not. And when she started reaching out to me, I always had an excuse. "I'm sick with a bad cold." "I'm busy." "We're traveling." Eventually, she emailed that the "waiting didn't feel comfortable," and that she was butting out or pulling back or whatever she said.

And that was that. Actually, I did follow the advice I offered in a book I wrote about siblings and presented her with one more olive branch. I sent her a photo I discovered of her, her twin brother and her mother. Her curt response: "I'm not interested."

I think about my ex sister/cousin with sorrow but not regret. As an older woman (73), I remember the lyrics of a song that must have been part of the repertoire of my college sorority's song book. "Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver; the other is gold."

To those lyrics, I add: "But there are times when things go wrong. Honor the past and then move on."


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