The other night, my Wabi Sabi group met to talk about lost friends, particularly the ones who disappeared without a trace. Unfortunately, every woman I share this theme with immediately knows what I’m talking about. Just about all of us have friends who, without explanation, simply stopped answering our phone calls or emails, and when we did awkwardly run into them in bakeries or bookstores, tell us there was nothing wrong, they were just busy or exhausted.
The topic was ripe for me for two reasons: for several years I’ve been grappling with two lost friends, and a few weeks ago, I saw a book in the window of the Dusty Bookshelf (a great used bookstore in Lawrence) entitled What Did I Do Wrong: When Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship is Over by Liz Pryor. I immediately bought and read the book, which confirmed for me my own experience and also gave us wider perspective. It seems it’s all too common for women to end friendships with a whimper, not a bang. Pryor discusses how, when it comes to ending romances, there’s a protocol — a lunch with “It’s not you, it’s me” or some other vague explanation (“I realized I’m still in love with my old girlfriend,” “I’m not ready for a relationship,” “I realized I’m gay”). With women, there’s no cultural norms for how to say, “This isn’t working for me anymore” or “Being with you brings up all my unresolved issues, and I’m too chickenshit to face those at the moment.” Instead, there’s just silence on the other end of the line, or a cool formality with promises to be in touch that never materialize.
Of course, we all had stories, and those stories were haunting to hear and to live. It’s a double loss to lose a loved one and to be betrayed with silence and distance. Most of us had badgered ourselves with “What did I do wrong?” and carried around the losses like little pins still stinging our hearts — at least for months or years.
At the same time, sitting on my front porch on this warm night with a group of friends, I felt the opposite of those losses. Riches surrounded me — old friends, new ones, women who had gone further done the years than me and women coming up behind me. Together, in our group and in our lives running into each other and getting together for movies or lunches, we continually share with each other incredible gifts of women’s friendships. I look around the circle and realize how much I’ve learned and am learning from each woman there about how to live with grace, humor and tenderness, about how to be a vital woman.
Picture of Reva, one of my oldest friends, and me.