One of life’s mysteries is what sometimes happens to friendships.
Or, to use the modern term, relationships.
I think of this each time I watch ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. Men and women from several wars gather to honor their compatriots, dead or living. As these veterans salute their comrades-in-arms, I wonder how many of these survivors will know each other’s whereabouts 10 years from now.
The same question goes for civilians who, at one time, had close friends or colleagues, but who then let their relationships drift and dwindle as time and distance do their sad work.
Like you, I’ve known men and women who would gladly risk their lives for each other, but who would never think of writing one letter a year to keep their friendship going.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and I have no special insights as to why it happens. However, I can think of some possible reasons.
One is that each of us is a creature of the here and now. Life demands that we look to this day. First things come first. We must earn our daily bread and feed the daily fires. Only later are we inclined to become reflective, and say “I wonder how Harry is doing, out there in Denver?”
A second reason is that — if possible — a friendship should be a two-way street. What good is done if I write, email or phone Harry, and Harry never gets back to me? After two or three overtures, can I be blamed for giving up?
False pride may also enter in. As the years pass, Sally fails to achieve the personal or professional success she had dreamed of. Her marriage goes on the rocks, and she never completes her doctoral thesis. Meanwhile she suspects that her college roommate Gloria has soared to great heights.
The result: the last thing Sally wants to do is stay in touch with Gloria. So their friendship goes down the drain, a year at a time.
Before we get too hard on ourselves, let’s admit the real reason that some of our friendships lose their zip: our common interests also fade. During four years together on the police force or six bloody months in Iraq, men and women are bonded by virtually identical goals and concerns.
But when it’s over, these concerns diverge and scatter, just as the people do. A few years later, two formerly best friends meet and are appalled to discover they have almost nothing to talk about.
After half an hour of “Whatever happened to Ralph, or Marge?” and similar catching-up questions, the conversation lags and mutual embarrassment sets in.
The embarrassment comes from the old friends’ awareness that time has sabotaged them, and that they no longer are riding the same train together.
That’s when the saying “We must do this again” comes in handy. Both people mean it, sort of. Neither wants to lose touch completely. But both are honest enough to admit, privately, that they may no longer have enough in common to keep the friendship going.
Maybe the most we can hope for, then, is to keep our phones, emails and address books updated and ready for action, in case one day we’re swept away by a wild impulse to get back in touch with dear old Marge or Julio. Rather than feel guilty, we should relax and allow friendships to set their own level. After all, if Harry in Denver really is my pal, he’ll get in touch with me sooner or later. Right?
At the very least, we can all hold on to the good old days. Time and tide should not be allowed to sabotage our memories of the old days. Sometimes memories can prove to be friendship’s most enduring link.