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  • Tami McCandlish

Friends I Can't Keep

My heart breaks for the friends I can’t keep.

The ones who stop returning phone calls.

Whose texts fade to unresponsiveness.

Who move away and never engage again.

Life happens. People are distracted. Everyone has stuff going on, stuff that’s none of my business. Priorities change. Seasons end. Phones fail. Emails float off into space. I get it. It happens to me too.

I do my best to give grace and space, knowing I’m as flawed as anyone, but for people like me, whose pasts include relational trauma, it can feel maddening when a friend goes silent.

I know many wonderful people. People I've shared significant moments with. People who I could call and ask a favor. People who express appreciation for me and consider me a friend. I have see-you-at-the-gym friends, wish-you-lived-closer friends, pick-up-where-we-left-off friends, and haven’t-seen-you-in-forever-but-feels-like-yesterday friends. I love all of these people and mean no disrespect to anyone’s perspective of our relationship.

There is a place for all kinds of friendships.

But I want more than connections on social media. More than quarterly catch-up texts, business relationships, or the occasional run-in at the grocery store.

I want show-up-unannounced-with-chips-and-salsa friends who come to sit on my porch to talk about everything and nothing.

I want people who pause and soak in all that friendship is supposed to be with me and who allow me to do the same with them.

I try my darndest to pull friendship out of people, but it's the most challenging thing to budge. I’ve resurrected relationships meant to stay dead. I’ve forced friendships with people who weren’t right for me (nor me for them). And I’ve probably screwed things up more times than I can ever know.

I try to figure out why it’s so hard to keep friends, why I struggle to hurdle from casual association to deep connection.

Do I come on too strong?

Talk too much?

Was it the comment I made when I finally felt safe enough to share it?

Is it because we're living in different seasons?

Or because they already have friends, and there’s no room for me?

Why do others erect a wall when I’m so willing to demolish mine?

It’s one of the most difficult things not to personalize, especially because each incident returns me to the moments that were so painfully personal.

The friends I can’t have remind me of the friends I didn’t keep.

It feels pathetic to admit. Part of me fears that sharing this will cause more people to avoid me. I certainly don't want to be someone who projects what went wrong onto others in anticipation of what I fear will go wrong.

I just want friendship to happen without thinking about it.

But I do think about it, because the experiences I've had affect my perceptions.

I realize most people think nothing of it, mean nothing by it. I guess that’s why it feels violating. Because stuff like returned phone calls, mutual reach outs, and reciprocal conversations are so important to me that I want them to be important to others. And when they’re not, I’m sent back to the places friendship failed, and it's piercing.

It's possible that if I shared my heart, connections would deepen, but I have to weigh whether it’s worth expressing my feelings to those who won’t answer. Most of the time, it's just easier to let them go rather than fight for those who don't seem to want to fight for me.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I recently reunited with a childhood friend who shares the same sentiments. Because friendship means so much to us, I know it means just as much to others too.

And maybe that's why I struggle with this—because each hurt teaches me more about how to move on and how to love others in the moving on. Because sharing what I learn connects me to those who can relate.

The sad reality is we can’t force people to stay or deepen their connection with us. Some relationships aren’t meant to survive no matter how much we try to resuscitate them. Sometimes, we just have to release and recheck our belief systems.

We can choose to process every painful experience with the thinking we developed from our most relationally traumatic incidents, giving way to distrust and isolation, or we can shift our perspectives away from feeling personally attacked and unknowingly responsible.

We don’t have to limit ourselves based upon others entering and exiting our lives. We can accept that we don’t know why, we might never know why, and we don’t need to know why. And in releasing the friends we can't keep, we can grow our compassion for those we will keep.

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