On Letting Go

Photo by Circa Survive

Photo by Circa Survive

We end a romantic relationship by breaking up. It’s broken and we wallow in chocolate and new casual encounters until we get over the feeling of loss. Then we move on. But friendships don’t have this finite break up. There’s rarely a specific point in time when friendships end. A stale friendship just flickers without ending like a broken light bulb that no longer serves it purpose of illuminating, but awkwardly lingers on.

It’s like the emo songs of old by Elton John, Circa Survive, and Less Than Jake about stories of friends moving on and growing apart become truer as days goes by. Wasn’t social media supposed to help us connect better? Our friendships are scattered into bite sized pieces among hundreds or thousands of digital friends, but those weak bonds have little hope of weathering the test of time. My roommate from France said to me, “If you don’t feed friendships, they die.” I don’t understand why the threads of great friendships end up fraying like a couple of worn out travel bracelets unraveling after many adventures.

I recently heard some advice: don’t get so attached to people or things. Perhaps we should allow dimming friendships to fade out with grace rather than clinging on to fragments of what used to be. Facebook gives us the perception that we’re still connected to a person who’s merely a ghost of our past. It feels like friendship, but in reality, paths are diverging. So do we take after Queen Elsa and let it go? It’s deeply painful to forgo something that once brought joy and comfort. Not to mention the ever-present fear of missing out and the fear of being lonely. But a phoenix sets itself ablaze so that new life can rise from its ashes, right?

On the other hand, to invest all that time and energy into something that merely dissolves into nothing… it’s a shame and a waste: a shwaste.

General Stanley McChrystal gave a talk that sways me to believe that mending the fibers of fading friendships is the optimal thing to do. McChrystal commanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during the height of the Afghanistan War. JSOC is a U.S. military unit that comprises elite soldiers from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, all of whom come from different military backgrounds and cultures. He stated that under his command, JSOC initially wasn’t working as planned even though the excellence of its individual members was extraordinary. He said the soldiers needed human level connections in order to efficiently work together. His team needed to excel both on an intellectual and emotional level together – meaning, everyone knows everyone and everyone has total awareness. Friendship had to be present.

There’s immense value in friendship, but if two paths are meant to diverge, what can we do? We can’t backtrack along our paths; we’ve got to move forward. Perhaps holding the good memories near and dear is about all that’s left. I don’t know what comes next, but I do know that assuming all friendships will last forever is a vehicle for disappointment.

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