Friday nights are when Nadjah catches up with her friends back in Atlanta. As her mates are preparing to finish up sixth grade, she has just started the second term of seventh. This is a hard time for all of us, but Nadjah most especially. We’re dealing with puberty, popularity and what seems to be a never-ending cycle of parting ways with people whom we’ve held dear for years. It is that last concern that disquieted my daughter enough for her to come and seek my advice this Friday evening. It would appear that certain ones of her friends no longer wanted to have any contact with her, and she was distraught. Now that my daughter is a preteen and therefore less inclined to speak to me and more inclined to seek sullen solitude, I wanted to make the best of this rare opportunity. When she walked into the room, inquiring whether she could ask me a question, I sat up and smiled broadly, careful not to appear too eager.
“Have you ever had anybody walk out of your life without any explanation?” she asked. Her voice was earnest and shaky.
I laughed. Not because the question was silly or amusing, but because laughter is the reaction that is often elicited from me when I recognize the irony of a situation.
“I have people walk out of my life without any explanation all the time.” I tried to be measured and serious in my response. Losing friendships is a new sensation for her, whereas for me, it’s old hat. It’s like the first time you have an menses induced accident in math class and have to walk around school with your friend’s cardigan tied around your waist for the remainder of the day. You’re mortified and embarrassed. However, by the time you get to my age, you’re threatening to free-bleed all over public transportation, office chairs and the steps of City Hall. Some events no longer faze you after you’ve matured past a point in your life.
“As a matter of fact,” I continued, “I will probably have someone walk out of my life this week!”
Her question caused me to reflect on the numerous friendships I’ve lost in the last six years in particular. I have had relationships broken off with me without a word and also have discarded a few wordlessly. I draw the same conclusion from either circumstance.
“How did it make you feel” Nadjah asked. “How did you feel when someone you were so close to just stopped talking to you for no reason?”
“In the beginning, it was hard,” I admitted. “It hurt a lot. But by the time you get to 40, you kinda get used to it. People are going to walk in and out of your life all the time…and so will you.”
“But you’re not 40 yet,” she pointed out.
“Hush up and learn the lesson,” I retorted.
The conclusion I have drawn about people walking out of your life without an explanation is this: If you are willing to break a relationship with someone whom you’ve called a considered a friend without taking the time to seek reconciliation, then that person probably wasn’t a true friend anyway. If the effort of making a call or sending a text to say, “What you said/did really hurt me and here’s why” is not worth the kinetic energy to you, then that was never a friend to begin with.
We all go through seasons with our relationships – be they romantic, filial or cordial – that go through storms. Because we care about the people with whom we share some form of intimacy, the first reaction to a perceived slight is to say, “Hey! What you did wasn’t cool.” And if that person values those bonds of affection, their general response will be to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
We do this not because human beings are good, but because we’re selfish. We like how having that other person in our space makes us feel. We like to feed off of their skills, the banana they never seem to want in their lunch box or tingly feeling the thought of them elicits long after we’ve left their presence. All friendships are based on a need that the other person meets and therefore are all selfish endeavors. When that person stops meeting a specific need for you, or if you’ve determined that that gift is not requirement enough to maintain your affections, it is that same selfishness that will motivate you to break fellowship without a backwards glance or a single word.
Like I said, I’ve perpetrated this dastardly act, but I’ve been on the receiving end with far more frequency. When someone whom you’ve loved – genuinely loved for who they were – decides that you’re no longer good enough to be considered a sister/friend, it can have a devastating effect. But as I told my daughter, you get used to it the older you get. In a sick way, you come to expect it…especially when friendships are formed in their 30s and beyond. Unlike those bonds that are formed in first grade, the ones that you think are going to last forever, you have an understanding that these new friendships are provisional. Remember when you thought you were going to marry the first guy you dated? Yeah…We’re 30+ now. We know that most dating endeavors are not going to culminate in marriage unless he’s a really special guy who’s really committed.
There’s a big word: Commitment. Kids my daughter’s age are usually fiercely committed to each other. It’s why they form cliques and alliances, because everyone wants to belong to something/someone/some cause to believe in at that stage in their lives. That changes when you’re older. Yes, we believe in causes, but most of us aren’t going to wed ourselves to some newfangled ideology. That’s why young people are always out there marching on the frontlines, while the over 40 crowd is sitting at home watching the revolution on Google. We’ve had the commitment wrung out of us.
But back to friendships.
My favorite example of commitment in friendship is the one shared between Frodo and Sam. Samwise Gamgee was without a shred of doubt a far better friend than Frodo was to him. Through Frodo’s One Ring induced mood swings where he put a knife to Sam’s throat, almost let him drown, told him to bugger off when Gollum framed him for eating all the lembas bread and beat him in the face when he refused to throw the One Ring into the fire, Sam stood by him because he’d made a promise to do so and was committed. And you know what Sam’s reward was after all that? Frodo left him. Left him and went with the Elves to whatever distant shore they needed to go to in order to live eternal Elvish life. Unreal! But as Madea said in one of her numerous movies, “Chile, when somebody is ready to walk out of your life, sometimes you gotta let ‘em. You just gotta let folks go!”
What my daughter has to decide is if she’s going to be a Frodo or Samwise in her relationships. Personally, I prefer the Gandalf route. All these annoying little Hobbits running around here breaking my fireworks. Humph. I’m just going to jump into a fire pit and DIE on you. Maybe I’ll see you in the next life, but Imma be someone else when we next meet!