Have you ever ended a friendship — or had a friend end a relationship with you? If so, how did it happen? Do you still think about it? Do you wish it had ended differently, or not at all?
In “How to End a Friendship,” Lauren Mechling writes that few relationships are meant to last forever:
The 16th-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne believed friendship should operate similarly, one companion at a time. For the “perfect friendship,” he wrote, “each one gives himself so wholly to his friend that he has nothing left to distribute elsewhere.”
Friendship these days is more like polyamory. We start aligning with people in early childhood, and our collections only grow. As we move through life we make friends for every occasion — college friends, work friends, mom friends, climbing-gym friends, divorce friends. We are told to nurture old relationships even — maybe especially — when new ones are formed, to “be there,” no matter how busy, or uninterested, we find ourselves.
But our social lives are never stagnant, and even bonds founded on that rare, deeply felt psychic connection between two people, such as the one that sustained me in early adulthood, are bound to fray. New romantic partners enter the picture, as do children, geographic relocations, unforeseeable victories and catastrophes. Priorities tilt in new directions.
And new friends come along. We are wired to pursue friendship: In the company of our favorite companions, studies have found, our brains release dopamine and oxytocin. The early stages of friendship are their own romance; when my husband finds me bent over my phone, absorbed in a finger-flurrying text exchange, the person on the other end is invariably a fascinating woman I’m still getting to know.
There are scandalous transgressions or betrayals that can kill a friendship. But more often, there’s no accounting for a friendship’s demise. The atmosphere changes; a sense of duty creeps in. Conversations that were once freewheeling shift into that less than enjoyable territory of “catching up.” Soon you realize social media is the only thing keeping a no-longer-friendship on life support.
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